May 20, 2015 11:00 AM | John Bridgman
Developer Hanako Games made some waves a few years ago with their fantasy princess life and death simulator, Long Live The Queen. Going back to their strong suit, they've set out in their latest game, Black Closet, to have you steer the fate of the newly-elected student council president at an all-girl's boarding school. Unraveling mysteries, finding friendship, and perhaps even romance, are all in store for the player, as well as discovering some deeper, more sinister intrigues.
The first thing you'll notice in Black Closet is that it's visually far removed from prior entries by Hanako. Foregoing the more familiar anime style, instead they've gone with a more painterly pastel look. It has some lovely backgrounds because of this, and the character portraits when small are decent, but the larger drawings of the characters are a little lacking in quality and detail. It's a bit jarring, since the game relays so much of your interaction with the other girls of the school through these larger character drawings. Audibly the game features a mysterious yet rather repetitive soundtrack, and if you play for long enough, it may start to get a little irritating.
The game itself plays through assigning the other girls on the student council (referred to in game as your minions) to perform tasks on various randomly generated missions that you acquire through the school year. Whether it's things like finding a missing hair band, or discovering someone dealing drugs on the school grounds, there are a lot of different things to do in the game. You can have your more sociable minions question the people involved, or have them stake out locations to see if anyone suspicious comes around. Tasks are performed with a die roll against various statistics including intimidation, observation, and socializing, and each minion has a collection of skills that suit them best to different actions. Leaning to manage these is the most important part of the game, and it can be quite a challenge. To add to the difficulty is that your minions have stress and loyalty levels to maintain, and if they get too stressed, they will take the day off, limiting your options for that day.
You can upgrade their stats as you solve mysteries, and as you proceed, you'll need to work on improving them, as the people and places you investigate become more difficult to get information from. Another option to performing better is to check the supply closet to get consumable items to help you in your investigations, though assigning your minions to rummage through the closet can affect their loyalty. And loyalty is certainly important, because you have a traitor in your midst.
Your other task, in addition to maintaining the reputation of the school and the karma of the student council, is to discover who the traitor is. During weekends, you will be able to spend time with some of your minions, learning about them, becoming friends, and possibly getting romantically involved. In learning their personalities and their deepest secrets, you may discover who the traitor is. Should you not make this discovery, the staff informs you that you will be removed from your position. So the socializing on the weekend is essential to your success as president.
Your minions have unique, if somewhat clichéd, personalities. While they are rather basic seeming on the outside, they at least have some surprises hidden down underneath that exterior, and it makes getting to know them worthwhile. Even the more aggressively standoffish towards you have quirks that will compel you to learn more. When you socialize, you are given choices regarding what to do or where to go, and they feel like they influence the relationships as they develop. Taking one girl out for a picnic while another might prefer performances is something to consider and it comes across nearly as significant a decision as the ones you make on missions.
That being said, the missions themselves really are the most compelling part of the game, but they are surprisingly challenging. Restoring reputation or karma is very infrequent, while even the slightest mistake can damage either the school, the council, or should you make a large enough mistake, both. And should either of those scores fall too low you risk serious repercussions.
For some reason, the game only allows you to save at the beginning of a new week, meaning that between saves you need to do five days' worth of actions and your weekend socializations. It demands a certain amount of time commitment to play in a session, and that's not at all what the game feels like it's best suited at. Rather, it seems like it would benefit from being the sort of game you can play a little bit at a time during a break. But it does move fairly quickly, so you won't be required to invest too much time. Just note that you must get through a week or lose your progress.
Black Closet feels like it lacks the polish of Hanako's other titles, which is unfortunate. The game is very interesting in concept, and when you get used to game itself and get to know the characters more, it can definitely draw you in to playing more. If the idea of solving random mysteries, playing boarding school student politics, and protecting the reputation of an all girl's school intrigues you, Black Closet delivers on that goal. It probably won't catch the attention of a larger audience the way Long Live The Queen did, but it's still worth a look.