Reimagining the Greats
When designing a character, an author can only hope that their creation will be one to stand the test of time. A character that readers decades from now, maybe even centuries, will still be able to enjoy and relate to in a way. A character that even those who haven’t read the works they were created for can still recognize.
Of course, another option for an author is just to use these legendary characters for themselves. That’s not to say taking this option is a lazy way out (although it certainly can be in some situation). Putting your own spin on a well-known character can be a fun way to surprise an audience. Also, who knows, maybe the changes and additions you make may even become a permanent part of that character in the future?
The game we’re looking at today follows the latter path, borrowing world-famous literary characters and putting its own spin on them…while also letting you date them.
Developed by Karin Entertainment and published by XSeed Games, the previously Vita-exclusive London Detective Mysteria was released on PC on July 31st, 2019.
Love and Death in London
London Detective Mysteria take place in, of course, London – the late 19th century to be precise. Emily Whiteley is attending the Queen’s birthday party, an event where she was to make her debut into high society. However, she stumbles upon a conversation that changes the direction of her life – the Queen’s cat is missing!
After helping to find said cat, she winds up earning a recommendation to attend a special school, one that’s focused on training detectives. Amongst her classmates are a number of boys related to real and fictional people from the game’s time period, including the son of Sherlock Holmes and a boy who is apparently famed mass murderer Jack the Ripper. So begins an education in solving crimes and finding criminals…but perhaps Emily will also be able to find something else: a boyfriend!
Yup, London Detective Mysteria is an otome game about dating cute anime versions of famous detectives (or, rather, their kids), wrapped in a shell of solving mysteries in 19th century London. I’m definitely not the target audience for these kind of games, but my experience with the Hakuoki series has shown me not to take this genre at face value, so I was somewhat excited to dive in and see what kind of story was here aside from the flirty stuff.
Unfortunately, what I found was nowhere near as enthralling as Hakuoki. Despite a similarly dark setting – a crime-ridden London – Mysteria was just a bit too happy-go-lucky in much of its tone. The few times it would take its setting seriously caused some whiplash, going from graphic descriptions of the prostitutes murdered by Jack the Ripper to Emily’s butler poking fun at her for gaining a bit of extra weight.
Mysteria follows the typical visual novel formula, with a “common route” introducting you to all the characters, followed by various character routes focused on whichever boy you set your sights on. The common route plays out across ten chapters, each usually focusing on a single mystery that needs to be solved. These run the gamut from “oh bother, somebody stole my favorite plates” to “someone is being actively poisoned to death and we need to figure out who is doing it.” Even the more dire mysteries wind up being uninteresting, wrapping up quickly and conveniently and often involving characters created specifically for said mysteries, so I had no attachment to them.
Games with romantic themes like this live or die by their characters, and unfortunately, I can’t say I came to like any of the characters in this game. Emily is a somewhat loopy young woman prone to throwing herself into danger, constantly requiring the boys around her to help her out – a personality that quickly becomes annoying as the story progresses.
The dateable cast are mostly based off of characters from detective stories, and they don’t fare much better. We get two stoic and impersonal archetypes in Herlock Homes (what a name, though) and Kenichirou Akechi. Two others, Jean Lupin and Jack the Ripper, are mostly characterized by the duality between their school life selves and their real selves (the graceful gentlemanly thief Lupin is a nerdy and klutzy kid at school, who knew?). The only one that actually felt somewhat like a real person was William Watson, so of course I went after his route first.
The character routes fair a bit better when it comes to overarching plot. These routes change the game from episodic to a singular plot, introducing a villain that, while similarly shallow in characterization as the rest of the cast, is just so vile that he’s fun to hate. These routes also bring the romantic aspects of the game to the forefront, and while the various budding romances are cute, they probably would’ve been much more interesting if I game a damn about any of the characters.
The prose itself is somewhat dry and simple, as well. Aside from a couple more humorous characters and those from the East End of London speaking with incredibly heavy Cockney accents, the rest of the writing is fairly boring. On the positive side, it’s easy to read, letting me put my speed reading skills to work.
Lastly, Mysteria attempts to convince you in the beginning that you’ll be doing some real detective work. You’re given a few logic puzzles to solve in the first chapter, and there’s a built-in function that lets you save lines of dialogue in a journal to reference later. All of this is for naught, though, as you rarely if ever actually contribute to any of the mysteries in the game. There’s only one or two moments where you actually have to decide who a culprit is; the rest of the game just takes you along for the ride while the characters figure the mysteries out on their own.
Colors of the Past
Much to my surprise, I actually became a fan of the art style here in Mysteria. I’ve heard that the style here is fairly common in otome games, but Mysteria‘s aesthetic just fits the game perfectly. The color work is great, along with some great use of lighting during more dramatic or romantic moments.
Character designs are noteworthy as well – while most of the characters themselves are one-note and uninteresting, the personality traits are clearly represented in their designs. Watson’s seemingly-sentient mullet was a bit off-putting, though.
As far as sound-work, it’s mostly average. I can’t say there were any music tracks that stood out in particular, and the vocal performances get the job done decently. There’s nothing straight-out bad here, but nothing noteworthy either.
A Dull Blade
With the game’s promise of darker themes, I went into London Detective Mysteria hoping for an experience similar to the Hakuoki games, and have come out the other side disappointed. The tone of the game is all over the place, and none of the characters were particularly interesting.
If anything, at least the game looks stunning. The character designs and artwork are easily the standout of this entire package. However, with the rest of the experience they’re attached to, I can’t say it’s worth picking up the game just for some pretty pictures.
While London Detective Mysteria may appeal more to otome fans specifically, for those (such as myself) just looking for a good story, you’ll struggle to find it here.
Review copy provided by XSeed Games for PC. Screenshots taken by reviewer.