Visual novels and dating sims go together like peanut butter and chocolate, but sometimes dating doesn’t exactly suit the darker tone of a story. I’m all for love, romance and cuddles, but it’s hard to deny the appeal of the constant tension provided by a game like Danganronpa for example. As a general rule I’d say that when in mortal peril that love probably shouldn’t be the main thing on your mind, but nobody told Otomate that when they created their latest Otome game Charade Maniacs.
Our protagonist Hiyori Sena is your everyday 22nd century high schooler, living her best life in the Japan of the future. Alongside her childhood friend Tomose Banjo, she spends her days studying, worrying about grades, and chatting away about all the latest rumours. One of these rumours is based around “The Other World Stream”, a mysterious video in which the people who take part are granted anything their heart desires. Sena and Banjo get to find out about this first hand, when they blackout and find themselves in a strange world.
This world is controlled by The Director, and at first it seems great. You, Banjo, and seven other boys have all been transported to this shady location, and for the first couple of days are just told to hang out in a lovely house. Not only that, but anything in the world you all desire can be provided just by asking. Some things are just too good to be true though, and after this initial period the real fun begins.
The reason all these characters have been gathered together in this paradise is so they’ll act on the Other World Stream. At any time the futuristic bangles on their arms might activate, and when they do they’ll be mysteriously transported onto a set and given a script to follow. You might think this doesn’t sound too bad, but eventually what’s expected of the cast in the script becomes more and more sinister. Anyone who refuses to act out a scene will be forced to play The Punishment Game (which is horrendous as it sounds) and the only way for them to escape back to their normal life is to earn enough points by performing well or by discovering who The Producer is.
While the gloriously camp Director is the one who tells the cast what they need to do in this other world, The Producer is the one pulling the strings behind the scenes – and it’s one of you. Yes there’s a traitor among the characters you’re getting to know and love, which means Sena can’t trust anyone. There’s deception, death, and even unexpected romance packed into the story of Charade Maniacs, and I loved my time with the boys acting my little heart out.
As you’d probably expect from an Otome game, there’s a nice variety of hunky lads that you’ll be spending your time with here. Whether you’re into bad boy chefs, board game buffs, or hoping for a childhood friend to turn into something more, Charade Maniacs has you covered. The only issue with the setup of the game though is that because so much of the focus of the story is the fact you’re stuck in a horrific situation, you don’t really get to spend a whole lot of time one on one with your potential partners until very late in the game – and at that point it feels a bit rushed.
I was also a little disappointed by the lack of choice in the majority of Charade Maniacs. There are hour-long portions of the game that play out without a single narrative choice to be made, and it just makes everything feel a bit static. I’m all for a traditional visual novel that’s full of text to read and not a lot else, but without expecting me to make a few decisions along the way some of the fun is taken away.
Charade Maniacs is a great concept for a visual novel, but a lack of narrative choices prevents it from being a top notch Otome game. The setting and characters are really interesting, but you don’t really get to spend enough time with all the lovely boys to really get to know them. If you’re looking for some Otome action with a bit of an edge then you could definitely do much worse, but my personal preference would lie elsewhere.
An engaging story full of twists and turns
A darker take on Otome games
There's a distinct lack of narrative choices
Not a lot time spent with individual characters