Platform: PC, PS4, Nintendo Switch Developer: Art Ltd., PQube Publisher: PQube Release: 31th May 2019 Price: 24.99
Kotodama isn´t only a promising visual novel with it´s more unique artstyle and promise of lewds but also because it´s PQube´s first attempt at acting as both the main publisher and partly developer together Art. So, this is quite the interesting undertaking, sadly it ended up being more of a bummer.
Kotodama The 7 Mysteries of Fujisawa centers around Fujisawa Academy, a school where everyone is happy, has a great life and nothing bad ever happens. Or so you would think but anyone who ever played a darker themed visual novel quickly notices the many underlying hints and mysteries. In fact, this school has a lot to hide from everyone and everything. So when you, the chosen protagonist, make a pact with a demon fox you´re able to see through all this, marking the beginning of this tale through uncovering the seven central lies hidden in each of the characters and the world.
Unfortunately, Kotodama The 7 Mysteries of Fujisawa steps into many problems darker stories tend to suffer from. One of the biggest is the thematic inconsistency between the rather sexual dating and even uncovering of “secrets” and the cruel story hidden at the end. To actually progress and find out more about each person, you have to complete certain, well, Match 3 minigames, very similar to Huniepop or other genre titles. This in itself is okay, it´s not particularly well done nor bad in any way, just what you would expect. The fact the characters lose their clothes on the right side of the screen and moan isn´t bad in itself too, but kinda destroys the atmosphere of being confused and unable to comprehend the mysteries behind everyone. It just feels like a cheap idea to bring some gameplay and lewdness into the visual novel, without actually fitting into it, since no one really cross-references it nor gets addressed by the writing in a smart way.
Which plays a big part in Kotodama The 7 Mysteries of Fujisawa biggest and only really noteable flaw: It´s not thematically consistent and can´t justify this in any sufficient way. The underlying story and mystery itself is fine, it´s a rather “normal” take at this formula presenting you with little information tidbits throughout the game that hint at big revelations towards the end. Anyone who played a title with this theme, even one of PQube´s published titles like Song of Memories, you will probably get the rough gist of what´s going to happen and well, the big reveal as well as most other twists are still satisfying.
On the other hand, the characters are mostly fine too, offering a wide variety of your typical cliche flavors like the energetic tsundere or the dilligent learner. Since Kotodama is geared towards both men and women though, there are also quite a few Otome style male cast members present, which you can choose as gay partners too, pretty neat to be honest. In combination with the various twists and hidden traits you uncover depending on your choices and bonds, they also gain quite a surprising amount of depth. While none of them will probably stick with me for a longer time, I never felt insulted by their stupidity and was always kinda interested where their journey leads. As I said, the cast isn´t a memorable masterpiece but crafted well enough to hold its own ground for the time.
Unfortunately, the character moments and especially school setting itself concentrates more on a weird mix between slice of life and a detective plot, similar to visual novels like Chaos;Head but can´t achieve this same balance of constant fear and dread, mainly due to the big differences in atmosphere. Sometimes Kotodama is written like any run of the mill love story, then it switches to some investigations that are a bit darker but could never be taken serious by me due to their constant interruptions through, well, the romance and slice of life writing, you would find in way more lighthearted experiences. Then especially towards the second half and ending, it focuses a lot more on its gruesome sub-mystery and big revelations, that seem kinda out of place because of the way too big focus on fanservice, lewdness and comedy for my taste.
Visually though, Kotodama works way better and actually manages to find a style that somehow conveys its many themes. One the one hand we got the ability to simplify the art of every character, various cute faces and the competent voice actors to round it all up. During the lewd sections, the underwear and stature heavily profit from the kinda realistic feel the whole art is going for, making them seem older than 16 and actually kinda grown up, which I didn´t find in many other titles. Naturally, the dark underlying plot and murders can make heavy use of the general realistic, more detailed feel of the whole style to convey seriousness, brutality and a lot more. Given, the soundtrack is once again nothing special, especially in combination with the rather repetitive moaning during the lewdmatch moments but still fine.
So, all in all, I don´t dislike Kotodama, I just find it confusing and overloaded. With a more fluid writing, that´s able to transition between the different themes on the fly and knows how to strike what emotion, this could have been a really memorable first step for PQube´s first wholly selfpublished and self-developed title. Now, it´s an okay visual novel with some un-needed gameplay and a mixture of pretty much everything, but still worth checking out for the satisfying twists and unique artstyle.