Springtime, 201X. As the temperature rises and the days finally begin to grow longer, the quiet, suburban town of Kamisaki finds itself rocked by a bizarre incident: A knick-knack shop owner’s arm is dismembered in his own shop. The culprit? A traditional-style doll he had on display, which then escaped…taking the arm with it.
Being a big fan of both horror and mysteries, the plot of Magical Eyes: Red is for Anguish hooked me immediately. Unfortunately, this meant I was doubly disappointed when this short visual novel squandered its enticing premise in favor of meandering conversations and ham-fisted attempts at romance.
Magical Eyes tells the story of a secret organization called The Disobeyers. Working alongside the police, The Disobeyers are tasked with neutralizing Variants: humans, animals or objects that have become possessed by negative spirits. When a particularly bizarre and violent crime occurs, it’s usually the doing of a Variant. Disobeyers are a select group of individuals who have become “Varied,” yet able to harness their newfound abilities while still keeping control of their sanity. If the story sounds familiar, then you’ve probably played Lux Pain or Operation Abyss: New Tokyo Legacy, as I’m sure the developers of Magical Eyes probably have, too.
The protagonist, Yuu, is (you guessed it) a mild-mannered high schooler by day and a super-powered Disobeyer after night falls. When not attending classes, Yuu’s routine is to patrol his neighborhood on the lookout for rogue Variants, and then report in to his superior, Pops, who operates under the cover of a legendarily terrible ramen joint so as to keep the general public away. It’s at Pops’ shop, the appropriately named “Noodle Graveyard”, where Yuu meets with fellow Disobeyers Rin, Nanashi and Roku to trade information about Variant-related happenings.
Yuu supposedly isn’t the sole protagonist of Magical Eyes, though; many scenes take place from the perspective of Chiharu, Yuu’s love interest, who happens to be one of the story’s biggest problems. Yuu and Chiharu have a mutual crush on each other, but Chiharu’s feelings go beyond a crush and into full-on obsession: Whereas Yuu’s focus is mostly on his duty, Chiharu’s focus is on Yuu alone. It’s not uncommon to read a scene from Yuu’s perspective in which he’s narrating the mystery plot, which is immediately followed by a scene in which Chiharu is laying on her bed, staring at the ceiling and wondering what Yuu’s up to.
One particularly egregious example is a chapter that begins with Chiharu sitting at her desk, anxiously waiting for Yuu to arrive at school. What follows is a day of Yuu skipping class to make headway on his investigation, and ending with Chiharu sitting at her desk as school lets out, staring into space and nearly at the verge of tears over Yuu’s absence. This doesn’t just make Chiharu look bad, but also adds to the feeling that the relatively boring Yuu is nothing more than a Mary Sue protagonist: when he’s not on-screen, everybody’s asking where he is. Chiharu’s narration was so bad I nearly found myself yelling at the game in frustration on more than one occasion.
The problems with Chiharu extend to the rest of the game’s female cast, or lack thereof. Shizuku, the only other female character present, is Yuu’s little sister who doesn’t seem to have much point other than to fawn over her best friend Jun. Yuu’s comrades Rin and Roku often mention their female partners, characters who I anticipated meeting but never so much as showed their faces. Magical Eyes presents the quintessential example on how not to handle a female role: If she’s there solely to moon over her male counterpart, rather than to provide anything of value to the narrative, perhaps it’s time to rip up the script and start again.
Magical Eyes is essentially a kinetic novel: a linear narrative with one single outcome. There’s no choice to be made here; the only interactivity comes at the end of each day, in the form of Reasoning sequences. Reasoning amounts to a short, multiple choice quiz to make sure you’ve been paying attention to the clues that Yuu has collected over the course of any given day. Passing or failing these segments makes no difference to the main story, and there’s never such a thing as complete “failure” as one of the questions always only has one possible answer! Achieving a perfect score unlocks a short scene that usually details what the ancillary characters are up to, as well as bonus materials like background art and character bios that are accessible from the main menu.
Magical Eyes suffers from a fairly awkward English script, with many phrases resembling a literal translation as opposed to a punched-up localization. The translators aren’t native English speakers, and it shows, but it’s not the worst translation you’ll ever read. Perhaps the game’s biggest problem is its flat-out poor writing. The cast are a very wordy bunch with very few interesting things to say. The game itself, though relatively short, takes hours to get going, and once it gets going it doesn’t do much of a job at building suspense or dread. The story climaxes with a very lengthy description of two characters trading and dodging blows, a sequence that reads like somebody narrating an RPG battle and goes on far longer than it reasonably should.
Magical Eyes isn’t all bad, though. The wider mystery at hand has its moments, and some of the strongest writing is in scenes featuring ancillary characters heading up their own investigations. A little bit more of that (and a lot less of Chiharu moping) and I would’ve been much more enthralled in the plot. The visuals are bright and colorful, and although the character designs are a little rote, they’re all well illustrated. The backgrounds, in particular, stuck out at me: They’re rendered in a simplistic, low-detail 3D that bring to mind 90s Japanese adventure games like Gadget or Hell Night, a style I happen to find very charming. Voice acting is competent and the music is pretty good, too; Detective Azuma’s theme in particular is a jazzy stand-out earworm that makes expert use of cheesy lead saxophone.
I really wanted to like Magical Eyes, but I found myself relieved to see its credits roll after just over 8 hours. The post-credits sequence reveals that Red is for Anguish is intended to be the first chapter in a larger series of visual novels, but unless its forthcoming sequel, Indigo Blue Heaven, does anything much different than its predecessor, I can’t say I’ll be hungry for seconds.