I’m a big fan of handsome anime men and have dabbled in otome and visual novel games in the past, but I must say I’m no expert in those genres. However, when offered the chance to try out Charade Maniacs, a game that promises equal amounts of romance and mystery, I was intrigued. Upon further research, I found out that the game originally came out as a Japanese exclusive on PS Vita back in 2018. This further increased my hype as surely if it’s worth an English rerelease it can’t be too bad.
Well, after taking the game for a spin, I can definitely say it’s not too bad… but is it actually any good? Let me give you a brief synopsis of the story to try and the set scene. You play as a teenage girl named Hiyori Sena who lives the life of a normal high school student until one day she’s kidnapped and taken to a mysterious world named Arcadia. In this weird new place, she and nine other people must take part in TV dramas that are livestreamed to the people of Arcadia.
During these dramas, you earn points that you can use to make wishes and eventually accumulate enough to go home. However, if you refuse to act, you meet a dead end and your life is over. You soon learn that at least two of the ten people who are in Arcadia with you are traitors, meaning no one can be trusted, and, as this is an otome game, you may slowly be falling in love with someone evil.
Intriguing, right? The deeper you get into the story the more it unravels and more questions arise. On my first playthrough, I chose the most handsome character, Ryoichi Futami, but this was maybe the worst choice I could have made. Like plenty of other otome games before it, Charade Maniacs wants you to play through multiple times and romance numerous men to get the full picture. However, after reaching a conclusion with almost zero answers and an incredibly abrupt ending, I was a little put off going back in case I played hours more for another questionable ending.
I would have perhaps appreciated a light nudge in the direction of a more beginner-friendly path. In saying that, there is a post-game flowchart option that allows you to choose certain points in the story to start from, however, as someone with a particularly poor memory it’s not clear which starting points it’s showing you and it doesn’t feel very user-friendly. So, despite the intriguing story and very handsome people, the ambiguous ending you may receive and a few unanswered questions from multiple playthroughs are pretty off-putting.
Despite my qualms with the story, I must give the character design some props. As I mentioned, Futami is absolutely gorgeous (despite his questionable personality…), Mizuki Iochi is a non-binary character who keeps everyone else grounded, and Mei Dazai is a quiet fellow who your character believes has a good heart. The rest of the boys also bring their own charm and are drawn with a fantastic anime art style. And really… what else actually matters in an otome game if we’re being real.
Along with the handsome people, the game also treats you to some gorgeous art of Hiyori and other characters when you get closer to them. I would love to see more of these, but the ones you do unlock are always treats that improve the game and help immerse you a little deeper into the world.
Now what about gameplay? Well, Charade Maniacs is very much a visual novel, and the English translation is almost perfect. There are at least one or two errors, but these didn’t detract too much from my enjoyment of the game. My main issue is that there are very few choices to make – it must have been at least three or four hours of nothing but reading before I got to actually make a decision, and then there were very few more sprinkled throughout.
This isn’t inherently bad, but I prefer a little more game in my games. Maybe a nice menu with bios on each of the characters, more choices, or different gauges that let you know how well you’re doing on certain paths. Perhaps I’m asking too much from what’s generally expected of the genre – but, while I’m not that picky, I do think you need a pretty great story to get away with the limited gameplay you find in some of these otome games.
Charade Maniacs review
Charade Maniacs is a visual novel otome game with some drop-dead gorgeous characters and an intriguing story. However, with fewer choices than I’d like and numerous ambiguous endings, it may leave you feeling a little confused.