Monday, December 25, 2017

Quality of Life in Dungeon Fighter Online

Merry Christmas, everyone! Hope that you're enjoying some time off, or at least a less hectic time of year. I don't really expect anyone to be reading this today, but it's Monday, so that means a new blog post (and I wrote this ahead of time).

As one can guess from my post last week, I been delving into Dungeon Fighter Online. I'm not generally a big MMO person, I've played a few free ones here and there, but the only tentpole AAA MMORPG I've played is World of Warcraft, and I've discovered some quality of life things that I really like in DFO that I now wish were in WoW.

So this is more or less a wishlist of things I've noticed that I wished were in World of Warcraft, so I'll be using that game as the baseline. Most of these are quality of life issues.

1) Buying customized quantities on the Auction House

Sometimes you just need seven of a particular item, no more, no less, but the only options in the auction house are Seller #1 listing 200 of Item A for 50 gold each, or Seller #2 listing 10 of Item A for 70 gold each. I could buy from Seller #2 and eat the higher price, hoping to unload the few leftovers individually myself, or I could buy the larger bundle from Seller #1 and be stuck with even more inventory to unload.

DFO lets you buy the specific quantity that you want from the seller that you want. So I could buy seven of Item A for 50 gold each. As a buyer this is the best option since you don't end up with more than you need. And arguably, for a seller, you're sure to sell something as long as it's in demand.

This also solves the ridiculous flooding problem in WoW where someone individually lists two pages of Item A at a high price because the system reads the lowest aggregate price on a bundle rather than the lowest individual price when it presents the lists by price to the buyer. DFO, however, only acknowledges the lowest individual price (since quantity is chosen by the buyer) so all those overpriced one-offs would rightfully be listed at the end.

2) Seeing the prices of other Auction House sellers when you list something

Using the vanilla auction house interface in WoW, it's only possible to see other people's listing for Item A if you search for it and look. Listing the item happens on a separate panel so you can't see the prices while you're listing.

DFO lets you see the prices as you list, and since prices are listed by how much they are individually being sold for, it's easy to decide exactly what you want for your asking price. If everyone else is selling Item A for 500 gold. You can list 495 gold and the game will math out the total price if someone were to buy you out, no additional player hoops needed.

Yes, WoW has mods that will do that for you, but DFO goes a step further with this next item.

3) Showing the average auction price for any listed item (assuming it's listed often enough to have a record)

Whether you're a buyer or seller, the DFO auction house will tell you the historical average price something goes for. If you're a seller and the auction house is currently empty of that item, you have a baseline to set your buyout for. This also tells you whether or not everyone else is currently gouging.

I'm not sure how this is determined, but I assume it's over a period of several days as I've seen the average price change over the course of days, but not over hours. So as a buyer, it lets you know whether something is currently overpriced, and you can choose to wait (or not) as your pocketbook allows. This was immensely helpful as a new player who was looking to buy some quest items. They looked ridiculously expensive, but without the average price helper, I wouldn't have known they were currently overpriced. I waited until the next day and was able to buy them for a third of the previous days' listings. (They were still overpriced, but low enough that I could tolerate it.)

4) Account bound banks

I'm an alt person. Rather than focusing super hard on one character, I like to have lots of them stuck in various stages of development. In WoW that means that if I want to send something to an alt, I have to put in a mailbox. Sometimes, because of the number of alts, I'm not even sure who needs an item most so certain items might end up in a ridiculous mailbox daisy chain bouncing between alts until I find who needs it.

In DFO this is solved by a special bank for any items that are bind on account or capable of being traded between unrelated characters. So things that are "soulbound," to use WoW parlance, are still stuck with whoever earned them, but everything else can be shoved into the account bound and retrieved by alts as needed. No shuffling things through mailboxes.

5) In game encyclopedia of where every equipment drop in the game comes from

WoW has a nice dungeon feature which has in-game maps, boss strategies, etc. for every dungeon and raid in the game. By clicking on each boss, it's possible to see what loot they have. This is nice when you're going on a raid, but if you're looking for a very specific item and you don't know where to start, you usually just end up asking someone or going to a third party web site like Wowhead and typing it in to search.

DFO allows you to open up an encyclopedia in game and you can look for every piece of equipment based on rarity and equipment type, and then from there it's possible to look at the individual item stats and where they drop or where they can be bought/crafted. You can also see the stats while you're at it, so you can decide whether you want that item in preference to another.

I suspect there are mods that allow this as well, but again, this is not something natively supported.

6) Mileage system

I think WoW has tried to find ways to reward players just for playing and doing what they want, but the game doesn't feel like it's ever quite hit the mark, because it generally boils down to giving people gear, and better gear comes from raids. It's not that there are only gear-based rewards, but a lot of times it feels like the rewards are gated behind having the gear to do something.

For instance, it's common to have a special cosmetic reward for having completed a difficult challenge. And while it's fine to have something to strive to, there's no "thank you for simply playing."

DFO has something called "Mileage," which is earned by completing dungeons of an appropriate level (which can be done solo and is what the player has already been doing the entire game anyway). The character does not need to be max level and a level 30 character earns mileage as the same rate as a level 90.

Mileage can be used to buy a variety of things, from avatar appearances to in-game tokens that can be exchanged for equipment, to experience boosting potions to use while leveling, and other consumables specific to the DFO ecosystem. While nothing in there is so incredible I'd go out of my way to earn mileage for them, they're very nice quality of life things to get after I've already been playing.

As of this writing I have enough Mileage to buy 390 Demon Invitations, which is a hefty bonus as DIs are used for chances at epic equipment during special dungeon runs. It would take me 13 million gold to buy this normally, and while 13 million does not go as far in DFO as it would in WoW it is still a fair chunk of money.

But the reality is, I probably won't spend all my Mileage on DIs because I don't expect to become an end game raider. So I will probably spend a good chunk of my Mileage on avatar appearances and potions to increase the amount of gold dropped during my next few dungeon runs.

It's nice having this kind of flexibility. And while WoW has activities where you can gradually accumulate currency or reputations towards something, it's always tied to a particular faction or activity. There's no general purpose bucket, so there's no happy surprise where you can suddenly get something that you want without realizing that you've been working to earn it this entire time.


It isn't that I think DFO is wildly better in WoW, particularly since they take very different approaches to their games, but having spent most of my MMO life in the World of Warcraft ecosystem, I haven't had much opportunity to see how other companies do things. Prior to DFO I didn't think things were particularly better on the other side, especially when so many games end up ape-ing WoW to some degree or another.

Even then, these are mostly quality of life issues, particularly with the Auction House. I don't use it too heavily in DFO yet, but the Auction House has been a great source of in-game wealth for me in WoW and now that I've seen how DFO's works it irks me that we don't have some of these things as a baseline in World of Warcraft. It would save so much hassle!

Monday, December 18, 2017

RPG Talk: Dungeon Fighter Online

In which I talk (write) about RPGs from a storytelling perspective...

Platform: PC (standalone and on Steam)
Release: 2010 (original) and 2015 (global relaunch)

I debated whether or not to write an RPG Talk for this one, because the game is rather story lite in that the plot mainly serves as an excuse to move the player from one setting to another as they brawl their way through the fantasy world of Arad. But that said, Dungeon Fighter Online does some interesting things that I think are worth talking about, some of which requires real world context.

I don't remember when I made my first DFO account, but it was during the original Nexon release, and while I had fun, I eventually put down the game and was a little sad to hear in 2013 that the North American servers were shutting down. Because I had played during this period, I was aware of what is now known as the pre-Metastasis world. I'd adventured in it.

When DFO returned in 2015 as a worldwide edition under the umbrella of its original Korean developers, Arad had gone through a massive event called the Great Metastasis that upended the world. On a whim, I logged in on my new account in 2017 expecting to relive my glory days in Grand Flores only to discover that the newbie forest had burned down!

I'm not sure if the overhaul was a reboot intended for the relaunch, or something that happened in the Korean original (like how World of Warcraft's Cataclysm expansion transformed old Azeroth), but it was definitely a surprise and if tied specifically to the relaunch, then there was no better way to do it.

Though an online game, DFO is closer to being a side scrolling Diablo series in execution. Barring a few instances, gameplay can be done completely solo (though there are shared town instances so players will see each other while in shared areas).

The new storyline has the player character going through Arad after the Great Metastasis, which has torn the world so badly that the formerly subterranean city of Underfoot is now on the surface, serving as the main player hub, and the Sky Tower which connected Arad with the land of Empyrean has been destroyed.

Following the Metastasis, a malevolent force called the Black Nightmare has infected Arad. Its tendrils reach everywhere, making elemental spirits go mad, bringing the dead back to life. It's much the usual fantasy world bad mojo and the player character gets roped into helping various people investigate it.

There apparently were four great heroes who faced off with one of the Apostles (incredibly powerful and not necessarily evil entities) and gained fame because of it. The timeline's a bit fuzzy, but this seems to have happened before Metastasis since it's clear a fair bit of time has passed for them and the Metastasis itself may have been about ten years before the game starts, and it wasn't just a physical remaking of the world. Reality itself changed, so some characters who were previously enemies in the original timeline could be allies in the current one, and the interesting thing is we get to visit the original timeline at a few points.

Much like Diablo III, each character class gets a class-based introductory sequence that explains who they are and how they came to the starting point of the game. For classes with different genders, they will have two entirely different sequences depending on whether the character is male or female. (This carries over to gameplay as well, as characters of different genders will play a little differently even if they're the same base class.) In some cases, the character's past will come up during the story, though never to the point where it interferes with the plot. For instance, the demonic lancer was once a famous gladiatorial slave in the imperial arena and when he meets Vaughn, an imperial knight, he hopes that Vaughn doesn't recognize him. It has no relevance to the main story, but it's a nice touch.

Beyond the occasional class-based nod, the player character dialogue appears to be similar across classes, though as of this writing I've only spent a significant amount of time with the male mage and the demonic lancer (the latter of which is currently a male only option, but might open up to a female variant later as most of the older classes were single gender at the start and eventually got male/female variants). The result is occasionally odd as the same dialogue doesn't always feel appropriate depending on which class the player is playing.

Compounding that, the Korean to English translation was clearly not done by a native English speaker, and the translation quality varies wildly. A game like this is large enough that there were probably multiple translators. The result feels like a fantasy adventure written by a kid. It's been spellchecked, but sometimes the wording is a little strange and the dialogue feels like it fell out of a cartoon. (For instance, while writing this, I found this gem from an enemy: "Sonic waves never miss! Dang!") Quests are typically workmanlike, go here and do that, and when there is an attempt at humor, it feels forced. The cinematic subtitles are actually worse than the rest of the game and have that "Engrish" feel of older Japanese to English game translations.

I'm not sure if DFO reads this clunky in Korean, it's not a deep story to begin with, but I feel like some opportunities were lost.

For instance, there are two clearly sad moments in the main story. The first is when Iris is revealed as a traitor. She begins helping the player early on in the first third of the story, and by the final third, we learn that she was an instrumental part in causing the Great Metastasis. In fact, she's been manipulating the player since they'd met.

Her betrayal is played for tragedy, because it was out of her control, but even with the requisite soft piano music, it wasn't enough to feel like it really meant something. Clearly it was supposed to be, but I just didn't feel it.

The other moment has to deal with Vaughn, who is probably the most complicated character in the story. Vaughn is one of the heroes who defeated Sirocco, but he's flighty, gives his men a hard time, and is constantly talking about his wife, Emily. He also clearly has an agenda as we discover he was involved with the Metastasis experiment that caused the tragedy (not to mention whatever the hell it was he grabbed off the last boss in that final cinematic).

Emily never appears in the game, but Vaughn uses her as an excuse to go disappear an awful lot, or talks about how he wants to be with her. It turns out that Emily dies during the storyline while Vaughn is helping the land of Empyrean get under control again. There is no indication at the moment it happens, because Vaughn behaves completely normally (doing the usual gushing about how he's going to see her and it'll be so sweet). The player finds out much later, in the final leg of the game, that Emily passed away.

The fact that Vaughn hid that should have revealed something about his character, but he more or less says that he didn't want his men to worry. While that is a reason, it didn't feel like an honest one, because we never see him interact with any of his soldiers aside from Hartz, who takes just about everything in stride.

Eventually the player tracks down the origin of the Black Nightmare to the Apostle Luke (I'm not sure if he was named after the Luke in the Bible because 11 of the 13 Apostles do not have Biblical names) and it's funny how fighting the Nightmare is everything to the people of Arad, and yet it's merely a means to an end for Luke. Luke, ironically, had a vision that foretold of his death, and he's been using the Black Nightmare to collect energy so he can strengthen himself and survive. But in doing so, he brought about his own end.

This isn't lost on the other Apostles who help bring him down.

The Apostles are interesting, because they're not a united front. They come from different realities and eventually arrived in the land of Pandemonium. They are not able to kill each other, and there seems to be some sort of mechanic that forces them to acknowledge those of a similar power. But they don't have to like each other and may scheme to have another killed by the hands of mortals. Though the storyline currently ends with Luke's death, it's implied that Hilder, who was the one behind Iris, has plans that can now be enacted due to Luke's death.

The world of Dungeon Fighter Online is an interesting mash-up of genres, which helps since the gameplay largely consists of punching through dungeons upon dungeons of enemies. Though Arad is more or less medieval fantasy, the land of Empyrean is an Asian-influenced future with energy plants, robots, and a train that cuts across the ocean. Yes, DFO has the usual goblins and minotaurs (called "taus" in this world), and various demonic threats, but the player also faces pirate crocodiles, biker gangs, and robot insects. It's an everything and the kitchen sink approach, but it oddly works as the enemies are themed to where they appear and though biker gangs aren't appropriate to medieval fantasy, they work well enough in the more modern Empyrean.

Arad is a little unusual though, using a dark elf city for its main hub, and the human empire on Arad is oddly unnamed for most of the story. When I finally found it, it turned out to be cultural mishmash with De Los Empire being led by Emperor Leon Heinrich (not to mention that "De Los Empire" sounds like it was named by someone who knew what Spanish looked like, but not what it meant). And though the empire is typically portrayed as the evil empire, it has redeeming qualities in the individuals who represent it, showing that it's not the monolith it appears to be.

From my understanding, the current storyline is at its end, and there has already been a soft reboot of the world on the Korean servers. It will probably remain playable for a few months, maybe even half a year or more, on the global servers, and it's not bad. If you're looking for a RPG brawler, it's enough to keep you entertained.

Monday, December 11, 2017

VN Talk: Collar x Malice - Part 7: "Hidden Route"

This is the final entry in my Collar x Malice VN Talk series. You can find my other entries for the five main routes using the Collar x Malice label on my blog or the RPG/VN Talk tab above, once I have a chance to update it.

Note: This route spoils everything in case you got here without checking out the rest of the game. I was debating whether or not to write an entry for it, but I realized over the course of playing Yanagi's route that I would spend way too much time unpacking this guy's story on a blog post that was supposed to be dedicated to a romantic lead, so I decided it was best to split them in two. And at least as far as the PSN trophies are concerned, this is a legit route, granting its own trophy and an in-game CG with Hoshino and her new partner.

So… Due to how this route is accessed (through Yanagi's playthrough) I'm not going to spend much time talking about it from the perspective of playing through the game so much discussing Yuzuru Saeki and how the game uses him.

Saeki first shows up in the prologue as Hoshino's police academy buddy. He's friendly, he has her back, and whenever she's down he's one of the first to cheer her up. And the relationship is totally platonic. Yanagi thinks it might not be, but Saeki never hits on her and I really like the heterosexual buddy vibe.

I suspect most players will like pre-reveal Saeki. I know when I first was going through the game I was disappointed he wasn't a romance option because he was just so fun to be around (even as I was applauding the game for having a just-friends relationship).

Of course, as anyone who's gone through Yanagi's route knows, Saeki is secretly Zero, the person who put the poison collar on around Hoshino's neck, and also the head of the Adonis organization.

From a meta perspective some players figured out his identity due to being the only non-romanceable male around Hoshino's age who appears on all routes (and if you're good at visual cues, the visible part of Zero's face under his hood is identical to Saeki's). Most notably, observant players will notice that the only route where Adonis falls apart due to lack of leadership is on Enomoto's route, where Saeki is shot and unconscious in the hospital. Within the context of the main story itself though, there are a few clues as to Zero's civilian identity, and I think most players will eventually figure it out by the time they're asked to do so on Yanagi's route.

Saeki is a different kind of villain than I expected. Adonis is laying down terrorist attacks to revolutionize Japan and is completely ruthless in doing so. So when it becomes obvious that Saeki is Zero, it's interesting how little his personality changes between being Hoshino's academy buddy and the leader of a terrorist organization.

A lot of Saeki's words about why he became a cop and how he wants to protect people are actually values he upholds even as Zero. As we know, all of Adonis's X-Day crimes are revenge killings on behalf of people who didn't get justice due to a failure in the system. Saeki is looking to create a world where those who don't have power are able to feel safe (though as pointed out by Okazaki on his route, when taken to extremes there won't be anybody left in such as world, because people are always hurting each other, even if unintentionally).

Saeki's route itself is kind of random. It happens in the later part of Yanagi's route when Hoshino takes it upon herself to confront him about his true identity, but it's not clear why it plays out so differently depending on whether or not she shoots him, so it feels more like a bonus.

What his ending does is make his reasoning a bit more sympathetic. Saeki is not entirely wrong, though he's going about his solution in an extreme manner, and there's an element of tragedy as Hoshino takes his hand to join him while surrounded by the bodies of her friends. While she now understands his point of view, she also realizes that once their work is done she will have to kill him as the root of all the sorrow he's caused, and Saeki wants that.

As I'd mentioned on Yanagi's route, it's odd how the strongest relationship in the room during the showdown at the church is between Hoshino and Saeki rather than Hoshino and Yanagi. Saeki's fate is the one that determines how Hoshino feels about herself.

If she disables him without killing, there isn't much thrill in the arrest. The game handles Saeki in an unconventional manner for bringing down the boss of a terrorist organization. Rather than being upset or vengeful, Saeki is honestly perplexed why she wouldn't kill him. After all, he's going get the death penalty anyway. Instead he looks sad and filled with regret that he could not convince her to follow in his path.

We learn that Saeki wishes to create a world where anyone can achieve justice for themselves, no matter how powerless they feel. He sees himself as a champion of the weak, the underprivileged, those who the police and the law are either unable or unwilling to help. Hoshino is actually pretty close to him in some ways, in that she wants the best for everyone and is willing to hear out any complaint, no matter how minor, in the hopes that a solution can be found.

Because they both want to save the same people, Saeki hoped that she would be convinced help him rid the world of malice, which he views as the root cause of the world's sorrow. And a part of that, involves killing the malice so it cannot spread. Saeki, being a bringer of malice himself in order to create his malice-free world, needs to be judged according his own philosophy, and that is why he wants Hoshino. His hope is for her see his point of view, kill him, and then carry on his work.

It was a satisfying enough ending. I ended up enjoying the reveal of Saeki as Zero and he's an interesting villain because he never loses sight of the fact his ultimate goal is to help people, especially victims. Life isn't fair, and he's trying to balance the scales for those too weak to manage on their own.

Viewing the Criminal chapter after beating the game can be painful depending on personal experiences. It expands the backstory behind Saeki and each of the executors so we see more of what made them the people they became and Zero brings up good points. What allows one person to place a value on another's pain?

Zero found people at the end of their emotional rope and told them that their pain was real and that they could do something about it. They were wanted, and they could make a better world for others like them.

Barring Rei Mikuni, all the executors were ordinary people, and Zero intended it to be that way. He wanted a world where ordinary people would feel comfortable administering justice themselves instead of relying on weak laws and a corrupt police force.

What makes Saeki a more interesting villain is that he's not above his own ideals. Even when he begins sacrificing executors so that Hoshino will discover the truth, Saeki is doing so under the belief that he should be judged as well, because the world he wants has no place for a person like him.

The Collar x Malice Unlimited fan disc has been announced in Japan as of this writing. I don't know if it'll make it over stateside, but ends on a tease with someone taking the hand of another who is wearing a black glove, which is part of Saeki's appearance as Zero. It's very likely that the fan disc will include a longer Saeki route of some kind.

I would rather his route have been included to begin with, as Otomate has certainly included villain routes in the base game before, and six routes isn't that unusual, but the game already has a redeemed villain in Shiraishi, and I think it would ruin Saeki's character for him to give up on being Zero, so I'm not sure what angle the story would take. Saeki's cause is a sympathetic one, even if his methods are extreme, so I suppose the fan disc could blow that out and have Hoshino join him as an equal rather than a victim.

Monday, December 4, 2017

VN Talk: Collar x Malice - Part 6: Aiji Yanagi

Whoops! Missed posting last week. Conventions will do that to. Today I'm going to cover my next installment my Collar x Malice VN Talk series. You can find my VN Talks for the other four routes using the Collar x Malice label on my blog.

Aiji Yanagi's route took a while for me to get into, because it wasn't the warm fuzzies I was originally expecting when I started the game, nor did it ever get as dark as the preview visuals that came with his route unlock, which happens after the player finishes their fourth route. Given that preview and the blood soaking the screen I was totally wondering what kind of violent past Yanagi was hiding!

As with Code: Realize's Lupin, Yanagi's route is pretty much the canon route as everything is revealed here. Everyone has something to do, and their personal stories are more or less addressed so life can go on.

Yanagi's route is also the longest. He has two extra chapters, one that takes place before the prologue, showing how he assembled his X-Day investigation team, and one additional chapter in the main story. The reason for this, is that Yanagi's storyline manages to touch on nearly all the X-Day Incidents while also giving adequate time to the romance between him and Hoshino, the truth behind X-Day, and Hoshino's relationship to Zero.

That's a lot of ground to cover, but the extra chapter gives it the room that I think Shiraishi's lacked, and it's good thing because Yanagi's romance takes a while to warm up. It's not without reason, because Yanagi and Hoshino have a shared history she blocked out due to trauma, but it didn't feel like it had the emotional payoff it should have.

When Hoshino was nine she was kidnapped and badly beaten by her kidnapper. She was rescued by a black monster covered in blood that bludgeoned a screaming man until the screaming stopped. Unsurprisingly, she locked that memory away as she grew up. This memory doesn't come up in the other routes, though in the common prologue she does realize there's something familiar with Yanagi and he comments on not wanting something to happen like the last time.

It turns out that then teenage Yanagi had tried rescuing her, failed initially, resulting in his own beating and capture, and then broke free. Afraid for his life and that of the kid next to him, Yanagi took a metal pipe and beat the kidnapper into a coma from which he never woke. He then freed Hoshino, who was scared and recoiled away from him, much to his dismay. No charges were pressed against Yanagi since the assault was ruled self-defense, but he continued to feel guilty about it as he got older.

From his route we learn that Yanagi is actually not close to anyone, and he doesn't like to be. Even though he is kind and friendly, and honestly wants to help as many people as he can, he also wants to keep any relationship professional, which is the obstacle in getting any romance to happen. He also struggles with the magnitude of what he believes in, because after nearly killing the kidnapper, he found out that he doesn't want to kill in any situation at all, which is what caused him to eventually leave the police force.

Adonis is aware of this struggle and how Yanagi's act of violence against the kidnapper places him in the same circumstance as an executor, but they also notice how he is held back by his sense of morality. I get the feeling that Adonis didn't really research him well, because Yanagi's fear of killing someone is so strong that he nearly botches a rescue attempt out of fear of misusing his gun.

That's not really something I expected to be dealing with on his route, especially since he openly carries his sidearm and until that point, seems comfortable with it. He's not like Sasazuka who refuses to carry and dislikes the fact that anyone could. In fact, one of the things I was most hoping for on his route was some dynamic team-ups with him and Hoshino kicking ass together.

It does happen once, but not at the climax, and Yanagi needs to be reassured before he'll go for it. Failure leads to a bad ending.

Since Yanagi is initially distant and reluctant to get close, the game contrives situations to throw him and Hoshino together, whether it's over her brother, helping a lost child, or just investigating the numerous December X-Day Incidents together. Because most of the executors are swapping crimes with each other, this means that his route also delves into many of the cases, at least on a superficial level, so the story can tie everything together. I am also amused by the fact that the Uno siblings are the only executors not dealt with on his route, which contributes to their status as the odd ducks who did a crime that doesn't fit the MO.

All this takes time. Yanagi doesn't fully open up to her until the second to last chapter, and even then, he needs a little help from Hoshino's coworkers. They take her out drinking and find out about her non-existent Christmas plans, but that she likes someone, so they convince her to give Yanagi a call asking him to show up at the bar.

It's funny and awkward, especially since they know who Yanagi is, having dealt with him before while he was still on the police force. And when they leave, Hoshino finally has the chance to confess her feelings to him, which is nice because rather than having her waffle over "What are these feelings I'm having?" like she does on some of the other routes, she comes out and says she loves him first.

As far as the main story goes, Hoshino eventually figures out that Zero is her coworker, Yuzuru Saeki. Given the criteria that Zero would have to fit in order to have accomplished Hoshino's kidnapping, he's the only possible culprit. He knows when she leaves work, he knows her as a person, and he works for the police.

I was a bit disappointed that Saeki wasn't able to play off Yanagi more. The two of them actually don't have much of a face-off, since Saeki's interest is almost entirely on Hoshino. While that's not bad, because she is the protagonist, there's nothing about Yanagi's storyline that really make clear that he had to be the canon route. He just happens to be, because he's the team leader and the poster boy of the game.

The thing is, his mysterious backstory was kind of cool, but dealt with in the first half, and he's not really tempted by Adonis. It's not like Sasazuka's route where you get the feeling he honestly could turn. I'm not sure why Saeki chose his group to be the one to rescue Hoshino unless it was specifically because he wanted to take advantage of Shiraishi's presence to monitor her.

Yanagi's route is still good as a story, and the plot revelations about Adonis and Zero live up to expectation. We have the guys running into Adonis headquarters like big damn heroes and Shiraishi comes clean to help everyone. I just wanted something that made Yanagi a little more critical to the plot of his own route, especially since once the romance does come out, he's terribly sweet and he's the only love interest to propose to Hoshino at the end of his story.

When we get to the finale in the church where everything started, Hoshino and Yanagi meet Saeki there and Yanagi mostly ends up being a dude in distress with Saeki shooting him in order to provoke Hoshino. The strongest relationship in the room at that moment is not Hoshino and Yanagi, but Hoshino and Saeki. She's concerned about her boyfriend, yes, but the relationship that matters, the one that's going to change the outcome of their confrontation, is the one she has with Saeki, and it's actually pretty strong.

In fact, if the player fails at shooting to disable Saeki, she accidentally ends up killing him and the weight of having done so is bad enough that she leaves Yanagi forever. Though Hoshino can't have a romantic relationship with Saeki, he is damn important to her, and the player will know this because Saeki has constantly been showing up throughout the game as a friend in her ordinary work life.

Yanagi's route does have the best ending though, because as the canon route we get to see everyone, and I mean everyone other than the Adonis members, show up at Yanagi's agency for a final hurrah. The get-together allows Collar x Malice to show off the best of its romantic comedy bits, and the ensuing fistfight with Enomoto, the invitation from Yanagi for Hoshino to stay the night, are a pleasant way to end the story.

Unfortunately, I do want to bring up that Yanagi's route suffers from the most text errors in the game. Normally I wouldn't call something like this out, but Collar x Malice is a detective game as much as an otome so inaccurate information is a headache.

This wouldn't be a problem if it was just typos or the occasional missing connector word, but at various points the text has switched around the months of two of the incidents, mentioned the wrong month entirely, scrambled the dialogue breaks so that Hoshino name appears on the bottom of the dialogue box and her actual dialogue appeared in the character name box on the next screen, and the worst one made one of the player choices nonsensical when it was the correct choice.

Just before the climax when Hoshino is drawing conclusions about Saeki's motivations and his current location, she has two options for the reason he collared her. One is because they were friends (which was my original choice) and the other is "He wanted to kill me."

Saeki does kill her through the collar in a couple endings, but that's not why he collared her. While I don't have access to the original Japanese, it's clear from the rest of the game that his goal is to have her kill him. She can't fulfill his plan for her if she's dead. Unfortunately it means that anyone who is not using a guide will probably get this choice wrong on their first playthrough because a translator mixed up who needs to kill who.

Now, there's going to be just one more post in this series. And that's because there's a lot more that I want to unpack about Saeki, who has his own route, of sorts.