Capsule Review: Kotodama: The 7 Mysteries of Fujisawa

A fairly standard visual novel with a slightly pornographic match-3 minigame.

The story casts you as a transfer student starting at a new school where you quickly run into the Occult Research Club investigating the school’s seven mysteries. Each of the first several chapters is focused around one of the mysteries and includes one moment where someone is clearly hiding important information - and these moments are where the match-3 minigame comes in.

See, before the events of the game, your character apparently made a deal with a demon who manifests as a talking cat that only you can see and hear. As a result, you have a supernatural ability to strip away people’s lies. Using the ability is accomplished by playing the match-3 game where your progress figuratively stripping away a person’s lies is portrayed by literally stripping away their clothing (though you never see them fully nude). This only occurs in your character’s mind and no real time passes, but once the minigame is won the targeted person is compelled to speak truth for a few seconds, providing a reveal that leads to the solution of the mystery.

This match-3 minigame is what makes Kotodama stand out, so it’s a shame that it’s one of the shallowest match-3 games I’ve ever played. Instead of swapping adjacent pieces or sliding rows or columns, all you can do is click on a piece to send it to the top of its column or click a piece already on the top of a column to change it to a different random piece. You have a limited number of turns to hit a score target but you also accumulate charges that you can spend for chances to get more turns - which basically just means that you have more turns than initially listed, but the exact number is semi-random. That’s about as far as the mechanics go - there’s a lot less strategy and depth than in, say, HuniePop. The best thing the minigame has going for it is the impressively animated portrait of the character whose secrets you are revealing - they move and breathe and react entertainingly when you get points. It’s worth noting, however, that the rest of the game is not particularly titillating, leaving the suggestivity on display during the minigame a bit out of place. Any players drawn to the game because of it may be disappointed at how limited it is while others may find its frequent intrusions unpleasantly distracting.

It’s also a bit disappointing how poorly the match-3 game is integrated with the rest of the game. Aside from the animated portraits, the two halves of the game could be completely separated. Even though those portraits do give the match-3 games some story- and personality-based stakes, these scenes only take place in the player character’s mind and there’s no actual change in relationship or earned intimacy. These scenes are breaks from the story to watch some borderline-pornographic animations of the game’s characters rather than scenes that actually advance story or character. The story itself wouldn’t really lose anything by having you just automatically succeed at using your secret-revealing power without going into the minigame. Which makes it a bit perplexing that the minigame has a failure mode at all (using up all available turns without hitting the score target) and especially that failing causes a game over and requires you to load from a save, rather than giving you an immediate retry or just booting you back to the story choice that triggers the minigame. Rereading dialog as a result of failing a match-3 game is an absurd waste of time.

The story itself has some strange tonal whiplash - an early reveal involves a student abusing a stray dog, and this is presented as no more bizarre or problematic than another reveal of a student wanting to hide how hard he has to study to keep up. It also takes quite a while for the game’s real story to get going and to want to see it through you’re going to have to be enamored of the fairly-stock characters or intrigued by the drip-feed of suspense. Your choices also don’t matter much, but that doesn’t stop the game from requiring multiple playthroughs and a very specific set of choices to see the true ending - during which time you can skip repeated dialog but can not skip repeated match-3 games.

While I didn’t experience the game’s full story and can’t guarantee that the late-game doesn’t redeem the entire thing, from what I’ve seen it’s hard to recommend Kotodama. There are better visual novels and better match-3 games (even when just considering the subset of match-3 games that include stripping clothing), and Kotodama doesn’t do enough with the combination to elevate the whole beyond the sum of its parts.

I Stopped Playing When: After about five chapters the story hadn’t really kicked in yet, there wasn’t much in the way of intriguing mystery, I wasn’t won over by the characters, and I was bored of the shallow match-3 gameplay. Learning how much work it was going to be to get to the true ending, I got discouraged and put the game down unfinished.

Docprof's Rating:

Two Stars: Meh. The game has some merit - it probably held my attention for at least an hour or I came back to it for more than one play session. But there wasn't enough draw for me to stick with it for the long haul.

You can get it or learn more here.