London Detective Mysteria (PS Vita) Review
Release Date: December 18, 2018
Publisher/Developer:Xseed Games/Karin Entertainment
Platform: PS Vita (Reviewed), PC
Originally released in 2013 on the PlayStation Portable in Japan and a Vita update in 2016 with additional features, London Detective Mysteria has been translated for international audiences with a December 2018 release date. LDM is an otome game, which means that it is story-focused with a "choose your own adventure" style gameplay. Focus of gameplay centers around your female character's choices and opinions that weigh on the minds of the men around you. As the game goes on, your tailored choices may win the heart of a suitor and lead to a romantic conclusion.
I've ran a few of these games for review before, and they all so far had been set in feudal Japan. London Detective Mysteria changes this to late 19th Century England. While I get that aesthetic is a thing in otome games, let alone the natural talents of the artists, I can't help but see the aesthetics mismatch with not only anime styled art, but flat out anime bishounen everywhere I look. Your butler has Sephiroth hair, and the character representing Watson's son has a wondrous flowing hip-length hair style (ponytail? mullet?) as well. Again, this is a design choice.
In this story, you play as Emily Whitely, a young aristocrat with a pedigree in sleuthing. She has moved back to the city after absconding to the countryside when her parents were mysteriously murdered, and she has begun her first year of detective academy. In her school are all the children or relatives of classic literary characters. You have Sherlock Holmes' son, as you do Watson's. Other characters are based on Lupin, Jack the Ripper, and more. It's one of those "all too convenient" scenarios. Why children of villains and heroes alike all happen to go to the same school AND take after their parents just screams of an easy way to age all these classic characters down to a romantic level.
Emily Whitely starts sleuthing from her first day at school. From tracking down a thief to deducting an attempted murderer and hunting a serial killer, she definitely has a lot on her plate. As it tends to go with otome games, most of your time is spent reading, with a few choices here and there. Make the right choices in front of the right character and you fill their "inkwell" on a status page. If it fills to the top, a romantic interaction may occur. Strangely enough, Emily may fill a traditional role and fall for Holmes, but you also may end up seeing the kind heart behind Jack the Ripper and your story may divert from the norm. The game has multiple endings, and a few romances you can't even unlock until you've beaten the game once. While London Detective Mysteria has several romances, some seem more fleshed out than others. Given that the game runs an estimated 30 hours I have not seen every route, but I have investigated and am glad to see that the stories do vary (likely why two romances are locked until after you beat the game once). From what I read, there's even a positive no-romance ending.
Reviewing an otome game really boils down to interface, where London Detective Mysteria really shines. I've played several story-based games where it feels as if there's no real way to see it all. You might have a choice but it's an hour or two before you see the results of the choice. Mysteria has an in-game option to fast-forward or rewind to the nearest possible choice. It will instantly stop and play normal speed if you get to a part you haven't heard before, and offers 40 save slots to branch out to your heart's content. There's no real way to label these saves, but they're spread out across eight pages so you can sort them in a way that makes sense. There are absolutely no auto-saves nor are there reminders to save your game between chapters so keep that Vita battery charged or save often.
I appreciated some of the choices that I have in this game. When I reviewed the Hakuoki series for The Gamer's Lounge before, I lamented that our heroine seemed to play the Poor Innocent Me card, really only giving her opinion when asked and succumbing to decisions made by the Men. Emily Whiteley is chastised by Holmes, but that's Holmes and his ego for you. Whiteley stands up for herself and approaches others with gusto. This is refreshing for a visual novel in that you aren't just watching others go about life, you are truly a part of the detective work. At times you are presented with a question about the case and there is a time limit to answer. Again, this brings the game more into an interactive story and less of a harem of men waiting for you to fall for them. There were a few moments I felt as if I lost the chance to choose. At one point you are with a female friend and catch a criminal. She gives a sob story. I was waiting to say they were going to jail anyways, when my female friend let them go. Most of the choices make Emily feel like a well fleshed out character, but she zipped her lips at what I felt was an integral moment.
As I've said many a time before, these otome games are really out of my wheelhouse, being a heterosexual, happily married, monogamous male following a story where a woman actively romances several young suitors at once. So far, London Detective Mysteria has held my interest the most of all the otome games I've reviewed, and knowing that there are paths to happiness that don't just fall into romance is intriguing to me. It feels a bit tropey when all the children of famous London literary stars just happen to go to the same school and all look like they'd fit in a group of Japanese bishounen, but they are well written and entirely voiced (Japanese only). Another bonus is the detail of characters' portraits. Many games like this have one or two poses per character, one outfit, and they swap out facial expressions. I've seen several characters change clothes (in versus out of school uniform, some more than that) and have quite a few poses to mix and match to better fit the current situation.
Overall, London Detective Mysteria is a fun story. Thanks to the well-crafted skip and rewind system, it felt like reading my old Choose Your Own Adventure novels and the massive amount of save states lets you "keep a thumb bookmark" at an old choice to go back to if you don't like where the story is heading. It's not going to turn the heads of people who don't know what an otome novel game is, but fans of the genre are in for quite a treat.
-This is the ideal setup for visual novels, with ease of access to previous and next choices
-Characters are well fleshed out, the romance is a nice addition instead of the glaring "elephant in the room" storyline
-Several character portraits allow more variety as the tale is told
-Emily can find satisfaction even without romance
-Zero reminders or autosaves mean you have to pay attention or risk losing progress
-Butler is an interesting character that I'd have seen as a suitor
-I’d appreciate an English voice track in a story steeped in London culture
-A few spots where I wanted to choose but couldn't
-Using set characters (or their children) and following predictable paths you can guesstimate story beats pretty easily
Special thanks to XSeed and Karin Entertainment for providing a code for review!