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Admittedly visual novels are not a genre that I have spent much time with. Ultimately I think that worked to my benefit as I began my journey into Kotodama: The 7 Mysteries of Fujisawa. Kotodama refers to the Japanese belief that mystical powers dwell in words. This is the basis of PQube and Art Co.’s foray into this mystery novel with puzzle elements.
Spoiler alert… I won’t go in-depth into the story as it is integral to the enjoyment of KD. What I will say is that Fujisawa Academy, the central location of the story, is a bustling high stakes school where its student body fills all the stereotypical roles while also dealing with the extreme pressures that come with just as high expectations. Themes of self-harm, loss, bullying, and suicide are central to the characters you will meet along your journey. Playing a faceless transfer student you are briskly swept along on a campus tour and immediately introduced to Nanami Kagura. Interactions with her are open the game/story up to the titular 7 Mysteries surrounding the campus. These urban legends are popular myths are a popular subject amongst the student body and this is prevalent through the Quaker, in-game twitter, feed that keeps you up to date on the goings-on of campus. While this sounds pretty mundane, it’s knowing that Mon-Chan, a cat-like demon, has been assigned to you is also overseeing all the proceedings. This added supernatural element takes the simple-sounding story and opens up to a ton of new possibilities. Visible only to you Mon-Chan is a witty little sidekick offering further insight into motives while also pushing you to further investigate things that might be of importance to you. However, Mon-Chan’s introduction of Kotodama is what is key here. Mon-Chan teaches you to look for keywords and phrases that can ultimately be used to entrance characters to “unlock” their minds.
This is where the game shifts to puzzle-based match 3 game. The key difference is that you remove a gem from its location placing it at the top in order to create matches. Each character has a different gem that affects them more. These gems are upgraded by finding keywords through conversations with the various staff and students. While engaged in the puzzle you are limited to a certain number of moves per level of enchantment. This is where we get a touch sideways. When you first begin, the character you are unlocking appears fully clothed with the ultimate goal of completing enough matches to raise their happy meter. Each level along this journey removes a layer of clothing culminating screams of ecstasy. Running low on moves affords the player the option to use one of four tickle devices. These range in their effectiveness of 90% for 1 move to 30% for a chance at 5 moves. Successfully unlocking a character will see them in a trance-like state as they tell the truth about whatever it is they are trying to hide from you on your journey. These puzzles were not overly difficult but did break the monotony of pressing “A” repeatedly to bring up more dialogue.
Learning Japanese would have been a huge bonus as the game is completely voice acted and quite well from what I can tell. The voices reflect the moods of the students and even while I was limited to reading the dialogue I got a sense of joy and sorrow from the dialogue just in its tones. Musically the game is very serviceable and fits the expected norms associated with the genre. Admittedly I had to play the puzzle sections with headphones on as I didn’t feel my daughter needed to be exposed to the sexual nature of the accompanying sounds. Each of the characters (male and female..or demon) moan with utter pleasure as you progressively disrobe them in your quest for the truth.
Visually, KD is beautiful. The wonderful hand-drawn characters burst off the screen. Little effects like the slight movement in the eyes breathe life into these characters. Each character is truly their own uniques person and running into groups of them you will be able to place who is who. Being able to read the emotion on the characters faces is a nice touch and lends itself well the overall illusion. The environments are equally well done. While lacking any extra punch, they do a great job of setting up where you are in the school even at different times of the day. The puzzle boards pop looking as if they were ripped from an unannounced Bejeweled sequel. The full-body character models in these scenarios are minimally animated but do pull off the effect of not being drawings on a flat canvas.
Kotodama: The 7 Mysteries of Fujisawa is a decently written visual novel with a touch of the risque. The twists and turns coupled with an initial false finish breathe life into what on the surface seemed like a flat story with a shock gimmick in the puzzle aspects. By the end, I was relieved to have finished the tale but happy to have gone on the journey. This was not at all what I expected but also not for everyone.