In the original Collar X Malice, Ichika Hoshino was a rookie police officer placed in mortal danger when a terrorist organization known as Adonis selected her to wear a poisoned collar during what is referred to as the X-Day Incidents. The X-Day Incidents were a series of horrific events that rocked Shinjuku, its citizens living in constant fear for months. Ichika found herself investigating these terrorist activities alongside a group of private investigators comprised of three former police members and a forensics officer, all while trying to balance her job, her strained relationship with her little brother, and her own sense of justice in light of her new circumstances. Depending on the paths taken by the players in the first Collar X Malice, she may have even discovered love along the way. The main plot of Collar X Malice -Unlimited- is set after the original, providing an epilogue to Ichika’s story.
To say that there’s a lot of narrative content in Collar X Malice -Unlimited- is an understatement.
Collar X Malice -Unlimited- is a fandisc to the original otome visual novel featuring four different story modes for players to peruse. The first is a Prologue side story to the original Collar X Malice where Ichika and company investigate another crime potentially linked to Adonis and the X-Day Incidents. Completing at least one prologue playthrough will start opening up After Stories, which are set some time after the original game’s endings and delve into Ichika’s relationships with the five suitors from that title. Eventually Collar X Malice -Unlimited- grants access to Another Story (Adonis), a darker what-if continuation of a bad ending in the original game that further explores the members of Adonis. Finally, players will open up Side Stories that offer insight into other characters in the cast, such as Ichika’s brother and his friends, and even explore two other potential romances for Ichika. These modes are all interconnected, as the Prologue has to be played first before unlocking any of the After Stories, then two of the After Stories have to be completed before opening up the Adonis story route. Finishing the remaining three After Stories unlocks the three Side Stories. To say there’s a lot of narrative content in Collar X Malice -Unlimited- is an understatement, as there are also short extra stories that can be perused in the Extras tab of the game once one obtains a Best Ending in an After Story.
Unfortunately, I had to go through quite a bit of trial and error in order to figure out how to open the differing story routes. The explanation given in Collar X Malice -Unlimited-, especially for unlocking the Adonis route, is rather unclear. The game states you have to go through the Prologue a second time, when in reality you have to use the Prologue to open up yet another After Story that you’ll then need to play through instead. Truth be told, I ultimately lucked out in opening up the Side Stories entirely. A more concise explanation behind the mechanics of unlocking the various story modes would have been greatly appreciated.
The Prologue itself plays very similarly to the original Collar X Malice, as Ichika is tasked with various decisions and actions that determine which original suitor’s ending, and subsequent After Story, will be unlocked. I found that it was an interesting way to present the beginning stages of the fandisc because it provided a slight recap of the original game’s storyline. Honestly, the Prologue doesn’t take a lot of time to complete even if you’re playing for all five After Stories, though it does get a bit repetitive in the beginning.
After Stories is probably the portion of Collar X Malice -Unlimited- with the most meat; each of the five main suitors has a lengthy epilogue comprising of four chapters each, with the player-as-Ichika making decisions that will ultimately affect whether or not a Best Ending is achieved. Each After Story was rather interesting, especially in light of how Ichika’s relationships change depending on revelations from the X-Day Incidents investigations in the original game’s endings. For instance, there is one character in particular who is a major walking spoiler with a vastly different demeanor depending on which After Story you’re playing. Seeing the romances naturally evolve over time now that the aftermath of the collar is being dealt with was also quite interesting and believably done. My personal favorite After Stories happened to be Yanagi and Sasazuka’s, but fans of all of the characters should find some enjoyment and satisfaction with how these epilogues play out.
The Another Story (Adonis) portion of the fandisc is the most tonally different of the gameplay routes as a revenge-minded Ichika joins Adonis and is tasked with investigating its various Executors. The investigation portion is set up with seven story scenes for each Executor to fully complete an investigation, so multiple playthroughs of this route are required in order to achieve the “Best” Ending. Another Story was an interesting way to offer further insight into the title’s antagonists — I especially enjoyed the time I spent learning more about the Uno Siblings and Sera in particular — but I wasn’t as huge a fan of this route due to how darkly dissonant it felt compared to the general tone of the fandisc. The chibi art used at times during story segments added a further layer of discrepancy to the more despairing tone the route was aiming for.
The Side Stories are three two-part extra tales that delve into side characters from the original Collar X Malice. I especially enjoyed the Kazuki Hoshino prequel and its emphasis on friendship, though my favorite of the two side story romances was undoubtedly Yoshinari’s, given how surprisingly cute it was in the end. I appreciate that it provided further insight into the Hoshino Sibling bond as well, since that is such an important component of who Ichika is as a character.
Voice acting for the fandisc was top notch, though I occasionally felt as if certain actors read their lines at an extremely slow pace, with the volume set so that characters could be heard clearly. Sound effects such as running or dripping liquid were nicely implemented, and the music did a serviceable job in conveying the moods of a given scene. Most of the tracks will be familiar to fans of the original Collar X Malice, but why try to change what worked so well the first time? The music served its role extremely well.
Collar X Malice -Unlimited- certainly provides a ton of eye candy in terms of gorgeous VN illustrations and character artwork throughout, and I often paused my playthrough to gaze at a CG scene whenever a new one opened up. Unlike the original game, Collar X Malice -Unlimited- also features chibi artwork from time to time with varying degrees of effectiveness. I found the cuteness of the super-deformed illustrations fit perfectly well in the After Story moments when they show up, or in the Side Stories, but had to raise my eyebrow at their inclusion in the Adonis route given the overall darker tone.
Given its nature as an otome visual novel, it should come as no surprise that Collar X Malice -Unlimited- is a text heavy title. For the most part, the localization is nicely handled. However, I did spot several instances where narrative and dialogue boxes either confusingly overlapped or disappeared entirely. There were also more grammar and spelling typos than I’m typically used to seeing from an Aksys title. It was easy enough to correct the issues in my head when they occurred and they didn’t significantly impact my enjoyment of the game, but they definitely cropped up frequently.
Truly, the biggest issue Collar X Malice -Unlimited- has is that its target audience is going to be a relatively small pool of gamers. People who play otome titles and visual novels are the clear contenders here, but it will also really only appeal to people who played and enjoyed the original Collar X Malice. The fandisc spoils so much of the plot of the first game that I wouldn’t recommend trying it at all unless you’ve already played that one, and the game even comes with a disclaimer warning for this very issue. Given that Collar X Malice -Unlimited- depicts some rather upsetting descriptions of violent crimes and situations while focusing on working adults having intimate relationships with one another, it could also be off-putting to some gamers who just aren’t into darker and more adult themes.
Still, if you happen to fit into that selective pool of gamers who played the original Collar X Malice and liked it, you’ll undoubtedly find something to enjoy here! Collar X Malice -Unlimited- is probably my favorite experience with an otome fandisc thus far. Despite some of its noticeable hiccups, I can’t recommend Collar X Malice -Unlimited- enough for players who enjoyed the original title.