Lulled into a false sense of confidence by the near-lack of interaction required for Kindred Spirits, I have once again attempted a game for you. Black Closet by Hanako Games is, in every way, as far from Kindred Spirits as a Visual Novel can be and still share a one-line description. Black Closet is a visual novel set at an all-girl school. After that, everything is completely different.
While Black Closet is a Visual Novel, it is also a mystery-solving game in which you, the Student Council President must solve mysteries in order to preserve the school’s reputation, sustain the student council’s karma and and generally be a badass President, which will, ultimately, get you a chance for romance and even to create custom characters.
After a spin or two with the storyline/gameplay, I felt completely out of my depth, so I brought in a “designated gamer” to help me out, one of Yuricon’s most dedicated supporters and my dear friend Kelli, who designed Yuricon’s very first “I Love Yuri” logo and contributed a great deal of Yuri and Midori fanart to Yuricon’s gallery over the years. Kelli is an experienced gamer, and loves mystery games so I had confidence in her opinion. And her opinion matched mine – this is a very complicated game.
As the Student Council President, you have several council members, among whom is a traitor. You must use the skills they possess to weed out clues, match them up with students and situations to solve these mysteries, by “persuading” or “questioning” or “guarding” or even “stalking or “assassinating” …but there is a tremendous amount of randomness in the game. You might do all the right things and still not solve the mystery – or solve it and really have no idea why.
After saving a game, I found a file that suddenly had useful notes about that “week”, but I couldn’t access those until after I saved – and you can only save after a week is complete. (You can suspend your progress anytime and return to the game where you left it, but you can only save the case at the weekend, which the game tells you and then you can see the case notes…something that is not explained anywhere. I just had to figure it out.
For instance, I knew which student I had to persuade to tutor an important student in French – and I was able to persuade her to do so, but the important student simply didn’t care and I didn’t succeed in solving the case. In Kelli’s case, she noted that “There was this one case where I was staking out this hallway and I was sure that was the right action… I did it several nights in a row… then the one night I don’t do it, a student tries to burn down the school”
Each case has a finite amount of time to “solve” and you get basically one action/turn a day. As Kelli said, “A couple of times, I was sure I would solve it the next day or two but then it just failed. It would tell me why it failed and at least once, I know I did the assignment that could have prevented it but apparently I didn’t do it on the right day.”
Kelli also noted that “there’s not a lot of back story to the game world and that makes it hard to get into the characters. Every weekend, you get to spend time with one or two and these little episodes can give you insight into them… but not much. I played it for about three hours off and on and I’m still kind of clueless. I’m hoping that a few more “weeks” of cases might bring up more story but if it’s there I haven’t gotten to it yet.”
You’re told that there is history between you and most of the council…but not what that history is. And several of the members seem impossible to please. Both Kelli and I noted that the game appears to want you to be mean and suspicious all the time, which seems like a stupid way to play, but I guess you couple play the game as a jerk to see what happens.
So gameplay-wise there is a *lot* going on. Maybe, even. a little too much. I think I’d have to play a lot more to bring the characters to the point where they develop a bit, as Kelli noted “if the characters don’t start becoming interesting soon, the gameplay isn’t going to carry me through to the end.” And we agree that “As your characters get more skill ups it would be easier to catch the bad guys, but that means a lot of initial failures,” and it’s hard to tell if the game is giving you any leeway or it’s got a rigid set-up at first.
Personally, I liked the weekends with the council members. I played a few weekend visits over several times, and so far haven’t unlocked anything critical in the choices. No one seems to care if you serve tea and shortbread or sandwiches, I still managed to gain loyalty points. But I never tried them being a jerk and maybe that might change things. So some choices don’t matter, but the actions in the game do.
On the positive side – the game is stylish. Really stylish. Not just good character designs (they range from cute to straight-guy-idea-of-sexy, with probably someone to appeal to everyone) but even the text boxes fit the mood. and setting. No boring box across the bottom here. And presumably, if you keep playing, there’s romance (although the screencap for “romance” feels awfully like I’m suddenly watching Speed Grapher‘s ubiquitous masked secret sex club scenes.
I would recommend it, with slight reservations. IF you really want to be involved in the story, then yes, definitely get it! There’s a LOT of content here and it deserves someone figuring it all out. If you prefer a linear narrative and/or just prefer a click-through story, you might find this VN to be more work than you want.
I’ve played five scenarios, one three times and still don’t quite get how the game works, really. ^_^ But I sort of want to be able to break it and make it work for me. OTOH, I have the patience of a four-year old child when it comes to games. So we’ll see if I get anywhere. ^_^
Art – 8
Gameplay – 7 A lot of mechanics to get used to, but once you do, it makes sense. Unless it doesn’t
Story – 6 I barely scratched the surface, playing five scenarios, and three weekends and I wish it had given me a bit more to work with.
Characters – 7 You know that’s what I care about but, like the story, I made Vonne smile once, Althea smile once and fed Rowan cookies and that’s about all I have for you.
Overall – 7, with potential for more. It’s almost like the game is a standoffish person on a date, that you want to get to know better, but it’s not giving you anything to work with!
Once again I asked the game creator about the name and the answer I got as awesome:
I have a great weakness for multi-level puns/references. Out of ‘black’ and ‘closet’ we get:black room / cabinet noir: which works as a secret location for our detectives to be spying on everyoneblack ops: clandestine work for the government which will deny all knowledge of it, again connecting to a lot of the secret work that the council is doing for the school to protect its reputationblack bag jobs: breaking-and-entering into locations to get evidence, which is something the student council does when it wants to search students’ roomscloset: a general place people keep secrets, secret discussions between a restricted few (like a jury), and the obvious associations with hidden sexualitySince the game came out I believe some horror TV show has also had a “black closet” which is possibly where the torture equipment is kept? I think I’ve also encountered a black closet in fiction where someone kept her BDSM toys, but I don’t think that one’s too commonly known. :)I don’t expect anyone but me to think about it in QUITE that much detail, though.