Otome visual novels, games where players follow a young woman as she gets closer to bachelors while also experiencing some sort of thrilling adventure, have been growing in popularity worldwide over the last few years. So much so that Xseed Games has picked up its first title. London Detective Mysteria is the story of a young woman in the 19th century who has proven herself to Queen Victoria and been given a chance to both become a detective and find love with various upstanding or unsavory individuals. While some elements may not exactly hold up under scrutiny, it gives players new love stories to investigate.
Emily Whiteley is a young woman with a lot going for her. While both of her parents did die under mysterious circumstances, she has led a charmed life in the years since. Her butler, Ralph Pendleton, raised her well in the countryside. She is still a rich noble and head of a household, despite being an orphan. After helping Queen Victoria, she even gets the honor of a ring identifying herself as a trusted investigator and an invitation to attend the renowned Harrington Academy. As the game begins, she gets the option to romance five of her contemporaries and opportunity to bring her parents’ murderer to justice.
London Detective Mysteria attempts to pull together a lot of idealized elements to make things that would otherwise be impossible work.
London Detective Mysteria attempts to pull together a lot of idealized elements to make things that would otherwise be impossible work. People from different historical and literary sources appear in this romanticized version of 19th century London. Conveniently, Herlock Holmes (the son of Sherlock Holmes), William H. Watson (John H. Watson’s kid), Sara Marple (Ms. Marple’s granddaughter), Jean Lupin (Arsene Lupin’s son), Jack Millers, Kenichirou Akechi (related to Kogoro Akechi) and Seiji Kobayashi (descendant of the Yoshio Kobayashi who worked alongside Kogoro Akechi) are all present in the same place at the same time. The game adapts a “just go with it” explanation for all of this. Wow! Everyone happens to have a descendant with the same aspirations and personality as their predecessor! To its credit, things are handled fairly well and as long as you don’t get bogged down in the minutiae, it can work.
While some of the characters can be a lot of fun and great, I did not connect with everyone in London Detective Mysteria. As a bit of disclosure, the character of Jack might prove distressing to some. I felt uncomfortable pursuing a bachelor who was inspired by Jack the Ripper, considering the behavior and tendencies of the actual serial killer and his attacks on women. I did finish his route for the sake of the review and saw how it resolved itself, but it could still prove off-putting.
Emily is not always the best avatar. For a young woman who is supposedly bright enough to be accepted into Harrington Academy, it can feel like she bumbles her way through life. Aside from a few instances when she gets lucky, be it by remembering the effect of a certain plant on a kind of animal or spotting a specific clue she does not always realize is important, she usually finds herself in the same room as more talented people who figure out what is going on. That is, when she is not getting herself into trouble. She is not the worst otome heroine I have encountered, but there were a lot of times when I wished she could be a bit more competent or self-aware.
This ties into some other troubling London Detective Mysteria decisions. For example, there is a running joke about Emily being fat. Her parent figure, Pendleton, first brings this up in the introduction when discussing her possibly not being ladylike enough. Why? Because she might not fit perfectly into a dress for her society debut. This continues throughout the game (with even one of the bachelor options echoing the sentiment). Considering she is meant to be a 16-year-old and all of her character art shows her as exceptionally slim and petite, it was difficult to watch a trusted authority figure constantly criticize her. But shaming is only one issue. Once Akechi and his partner Kobayashi appear, they are referred to as “Orientals,” rather than Asians. They are treated differently because of their nationality, just as Emily is often disrespected due to her gender. While some might attempt to argue these are period-accurate assessments, it comes across as tone-deaf. Emily’s skills should be doubted because she can get carried away and find herself in trouble, not because she is a woman.
London Detective Mysteria does its best to establish a world in which the children of famous detectives and thieves inhabit the same space as an assassin and foreign investigators.
As I mentioned earlier, aside from a few characters feeling off and the fat-shaming of a young woman who most definitely does not deserve it, London Detective Mysteria does its best to establish a world in which the children of famous detectives and thieves inhabit the same space as an assassin and foreign investigators. It is organized into chapters that establish each character before sending players down separate storylines, allowing you to make a better decision when you do decide to follow individual’s routes. It is a design decision that helps set characters apart in a way other otome games may not, since you are forced to get to know everyone to some degree. It looks at different sorts of crimes, showing why each major player deserves to attend this academy in the process. It does its best to make people believable and succeeds when it comes to most characters. Some, like Holmes and Watson, do get more attention, and others might quickly find their way into players’ hearts. (Take time to get to know Watson, Lupin and Marple!)
The presentation is also quite good. The voice actors for almost every character feel spot on. Masaya Matsukaze’s performance as Lupin and Hiroaki Miura as Akechi are especially appropriate. The character portraits and CGs are quite detailed and are scattered quite liberally through the chapters and routes. Some of these event images would have one or two variations of the same scene, to show a range of emotions or actions. London Detective Mysteria uses these small changes and reactions to make these moments between Emily and the other characters more memorable.
Speaking of memorable, London Detective Mysteria also has a number of features designed to make the visual novel easier to read and peruse. There are the quick save and load option someone would expect, as well as plenty of save files. Correct choices have a heart appear onscreen, showing the character you are speaking to agreed with your reaction. Text someone has already seen is highlighted. However, these are complemented by unexpected efficiency features. For example, you can choose to fall back to the last choice you made or jump ahead to the next choice, allowing you to alter history or speed ahead if you have already played through a segment before. It is also possible to jot down important dialogue by pressing start and saving lines that could contain valuable information.
London Detective Mysteria is an otome visual novel some may want to try, especially if Idea Factory Otomate games are the only experience someone has had with the genre. It provides an opportunity to see how a different developer handles a romantic storyline and what another company’s localization might look like. The game itself is pretty enough and has a number of features that makes reading it a little more convenient. Some of the characters might not be everyone’s cup of tea and it has people expressing sentiments and viewpoints that are disrespectful. For those who want to take a chance, there are a few interesting stories here for people looking for an excuse to find love with descendants of famous detectives and criminals.