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.