Content Warning: Charade Maniacs has a segment that discusses sexual assault of a minor during one of the character routes and a scene that depicts self-mutilation with corresponding sound effects. More information on this can be found in the Inclusivity and Problematic Themes section of this article.
Table of Contents
- Game Details & Game Artwork
- Game Trailer
- Art and Music
- Inclusivity and Problematic Themes (Minor Spoilers)
- Purchase The Game
Charade Maniacs Game Details
Genre: Otome Visual Novel, Romance, Adventure, Science Fiction
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: June 27, 2023
ESRB Rating: T for Teens (mild violence and mild suggestive themes)
Game’s Official Site: http://ideafintl.com/charade-maniacs/
Developer & Publisher: Idea Factory and Idea Factory International (See More Credits)
Charade Maniacs’s Game Trailer
Charade Maniacs’s Storyline
Have you heard of the Other World Stream?
Yeah! They say if you participate, you’ll get any wish granted.
Hiyori Sena has heard the rumors, but like many others, she’s never actually seen the Other World Stream. That doesn’t stop this urban legend from running the rumor mill, and it doesn’t stop Hiyori from imagining what she would wish for if she ever found herself participating.
Unfortunately, she won’t have to think about it much longer.
After school one day, Hiyori and her childhood best friend, Tomose, are approached by a stranger wearing a mask, and before they can say or do anything, they black out. Upon waking, Hiyori and Tomose find themselves in a strange world with eight other people.
“This is Arcadia. This is the place where dreams come true. Yes, it’s utopia. Your desires are ours to make reality!”
With that declaration, these ten abducted people are told that they must participate in drama streams to bring entertainment to the Arcadians who live in the Other World. If they do well and get good ratings, their wishes will be granted, including returning home. But if they do poorly or refuse to act, they will be punished. As if things weren’t difficult enough, they’re told that the mastermind behind the Other World Stream is amongst the cast, and if they can figure out which of them is the traitor, they can return home immediately. Will Hiyori and the others be able to make it back, or will they be stuck in Arcadia for the rest of their lives?
Charade Maniacs’s Art and Music
I’m a sucker for a lot of things–good stories, sultry voices, handsome 2D boys that I can date, freshly baked cookies. Though my Switch doesn’t have an oven setting, it does have the capabilities to give me the other three things on that list, and Charade Maniacs delivers.
Teita, the same artist for the Norn9 series and Nightshade, did the art for Charade Maniacs, and it’s my favorite of their works so far. I love how vibrant the colors are and how different each character looks from one another. From hairstyles and clothes to their poses and facial expressions–each one seems to stand out. I was taking screenshot after screenshot of these boys to turn into phone wallpapers.
Though the music wasn’t anything spectacular, I did enjoy it. Many of the songs are forgettable, and I couldn’t tell you how the normal day-to-day music sounds, but the more upbeat tunes that play during exciting events and big reveals are great and give off a more futuristic vibe to fit with the 2148 time setting.
Charade Maniacs’s Gameplay
Like most otome games, Charade Maniacs’s mechanics are simple and to the point–players will make choices to progress the story and wind up at an ending. There are Dictionary Terms to collect along the way as well as Materials. The Material section acts as a secondary Dictionary, but it has pictures to go along with the description. Materials also have more of a personal description to them than the Dictionary and will be helpful for players who take extended breaks between playthroughs and need a refresher on what’s going on.
There are a total of 9 dateable love interests in Charade Maniacs, which is quite a bit more than the usual five. However, the overall playable time for each route is fairly short comparatively as well. It took me just over 30 hours to 100% complete the game using a guide when I’m used to otome taking closer to 50. The division of endings definitely helped to contribute to this playtime, too. Unlike a lot of VNs, many of the routes in Charade Maniacs only have one ending instead of the usual three or more. Honestly, I liked this. While I do wish the individual routes had a little more content to them, I liked not having a dozen or more random bad ends to get through, especially since I’m the type of player that likes to do everything. I’m also not a masochist, so being forced to see a depressing ending that doesn’t contribute to the story isn’t something I enjoy doing. I’m looking at you, Code: Realize…
Charade Maniacs’s controls and options are standard, and nothing stood out as being unique or useful. The game does lack a ‘skip to next choice’ option, which would have been really nice. There is an option to turn off affection notifications, though the notifications themselves seemed pretty pointless. Not every set of choices has an option that raises affection in a character’s route, and there are very, very few that do in the common route. There also isn’t an affection meter page or color changes to keep track of which choices are affecting which characters, so I found the whole system to be underused and ineffectual.
Another similar aspect to the otome genre is locked routes. Out of the nine characters, some of them are locked until certain criteria are met. As this game has a heavy emphasis on its mystery aspect, revealing which ones are locked would be spoiler-ish. That being said, I know some people (like me, I am some people) want to know before playing so they don’t get stuck trying to go for a husbando only to find out after hours of playing that he’s not available yet. So for those players, here ya go:Show Spoiler Mei Dazai, Souta Gyobu, and Takumi Haiji are locked from the beginning. To unlock Dazai and Gyobu, 1 route from each group (cleaning, cooking, investigating) must be completed. To unlock Haiji, Gyobu’s ending and both of Dazai’s endings must be completed.
Charade Maniacs’s Characters
Hiyori is your typical otome protagonist–cute, but a little dumb and naive. Though she’s desperate to get home to her family and back to raising her four younger siblings, she can’t make up her mind on whether she should trust everyone in Arcadia or not. Hiyori falls into the ‘pure virginal heroine’ trope, which I hate, and this causes her to make dumb decision after dumb decision. But hey, true love solves everything. Honestly, if it weren’t for her cute design, I probably would have forgotten about her by now.
Akase is the type of character to round the group up and try to give them direction. He’s got a strong sense of justice with a dash of overconfidence. Akase wants to believe in everyone, and this fuels a lot of Hiyori’s feelings on the matter, but his conviction feels flimsy at times, and his actions don’t always match his words. As the cast is stuck in the Other World, this superman wannabe will have a lot of challenges to face, and the truth of him will be forced out.
(CV by Kenichi Suzumura–Oshi no Ko, Danganronpa V3, Brothers Conflict, Sweet Fuse)
There is only one thing in the real world and the Other World that Tomose cares about, and that’s Hiyori. Someone wants to talk to him that’s not Hiyori? They can go away. Someone besides Hiyori needs help? Nah, that ain’t his problem. But the moment anyone looks at Hiyori with their eyeballs, Tomose is ready to stab them out. His devotion borders on obsession, and he’s determined to make Hiyori realize he’s the one for her.
(CV by Daisuke Namikawa–Winter’s Wish: Spirits of Edo, Collar X Malice, Reine des Fleurs, Brothers Conflict)
Quiet, soft spoken, sweetiepie Chigasaki couldn’t hurt a fly even if it was attempting to murder him. He’s got a gentleness about him that makes it easy to relax and he’s happy to go along with the flow of the rest of the group. Unless it’s cooking. Please, do not put this boy in the kitchen.
If Akase is a superhero, Dazai is the supportive best friend. He’s smart, kind, and helpful, and he doesn’t like being in the spotlight himself. Instead, he seems happy to help others shine and lead the way. Though he’s not one to take charge, he’s also not afraid to speak what’s on his mind, especially if it’s important to him.
(CV by Tomoaki Maeno–Winter’s Wish: Spirits of Edo, Lover Pretend, Daibolik Lovers, Collar x Malice, Code: Realize, Period: Cube ~Shackles of Amadeus~, Kitty Love – Way to Look for Love, Brothers Conflict)
Ebana is an angry little hedgehog with his eyes narrowed and his spikes ready to impale anyone who gets too close. He thinks everyone around him is dumb for attempting to trust anyone else, which he says to their face. Loudly. Every day. And though his insults are legendary, his cooking is even more so. This little tsundere just can’t stop making whatever anyone asks of him. Ebana may hate everyone, but he makes sure they’re fed. Just don’t ever be late for a meal.
(CV by Tomokazu Seki–Demon Slayer, Jujutsu Kaisen, Hakuoki, Steins;Gate)
As one of the eldest members of the group, Futami is seen as the elder brother figure by Hiyori. He’s kind, but doesn’t take crap; thoughtful, but ready to say it like it is; and a leader, though only if the situation calls for it. He isn’t the type to stick to a wall, but he’s also not one to mince words. Instead, Futami straddles the line between static and dynamic like a trapeze artist on the rope.
(CV by Yoshitsugu Matsuoka–Master Detective Archives: Rain Code, Olympia Soirée, My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom!)
Gyobu is obsessed with games. Word games, card games, board games–if it has the word ‘game’ associated with it, he’s done it. But this boy takes the term player to every extreme, except when it’s combined with the word ‘team’. Gyobu is lazy and nonsensical at times, but like a flipped switch, he shows just how intelligent he can be. It’s obvious that this boy has his own agenda at work, but all actions have consequences, and this isn’t the sort of game that lets you start over if you get a Dead End.
No one is more head empty, no thoughts than Haiji. He’s been thrown into a strange place? Ok. He’s forced to act in weird dramas so he doesn’t die? Sounds good. He can’t get back to his family? That’s fine, as long as there’s ice cream. At times, it feels like if his head wasn’t attached to his body, he’d probably lose it. Despite his lack of a personality, he’s sweet and tries to help in his own way. But, wait.. what’s his age?!
(CV by Megumi Ogata–Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc, Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair, Neon Genesis Evangelion)
Like Futami, Iochi is one of the eldest members of this group of 10. They don’t quite take on a leadership role like Akase does, but Iochi is an active participant in discussions, planning, and working. They’re smart and funny with a quick wit ready to take on anyone. Despite their dreary circumstances and growing fear, Iochi is able to bring a little bit of laughter and lightness to the situation. Though underneath the pretty face and sweet words, there’s a cunningness that hides.
Charade Maniacs’s Story
Charade Maniacs’s main scenario is written by Uta Amemiya. Veterans of the otome gene will recognize the name from titles like Psychedelica of the Black Butterfly, Re:Birthday Song, and the remake of the very first otome game, Angelique Retour.
With so many recent otome releases revolving around historical time periods, it was so refreshing playing one set in the future. From the casual discussions about holograms and robots to AI and societal advancements–the world building felt engaging and interesting. I enjoyed seeing someone’s idea on how the world may look 125 years from now, and if I’m being honest, the best part was not having to read all of Wikipedia about the rise and fall of the Edo period. Again.
Charade Maniacs is reminiscent of mystery VNs like Zero Escape and Danganronpa. Though it is an otome at heart and doesn’t have any exploration modes or actual mysteries to solve to progress like the examples (nor is it nearly as dark as them either), the idea is still there. I enjoyed going through the common route while trying to suss out who the mastermind was, and gaining a bit of knowledge about the overarching plotlines each route helped to differentiate the love interests and endings more. I used Otome Kitten’s guide and recommended playthrough order, and I really enjoyed it. As far as story pacing and reveals go, I don’t think I would change much with her ordering, if anything.
All this isn’t to say that the story was great. Like any game, it had its fair share of problems. Scene transitions and time progression were both particularly rough, and I was more often than not having to reread the log to try and guess at how much time had passed, or where I was. There were very few, if any, visuals to indicate a change of scene or time, and I had to use context clues to guess. This made it especially jarring when the characters started treating their daily lives and the dramas they were forced to participate in as a usual, totally normal, fine thing to do. Though they all talk about saving up points to get home and how that’s the goal they’re working hard towards, their laidback attitude about it all a few chapters into the game was so confusing. By the end of my first route, I still didn’t know how long Hiyori and the gang had been in the Other World, and if it weren’t for the dialogue explicitly stating it towards the end, I would have never known.
As much as I liked the design for most of the characters as well–and this pains me a bit to say–they were mostly forgettable. A few stood out to me for various reasons (Dazai and Iochi are best boy/them) but more felt generic and bland during their routes. I did like how differently characters would act depending on which route I played. Seeing someone full of hope turn into a pit of despair did a lot of heavy lifting for the game, and while I may not have enjoyed an LI during one part or another, there was usually one route for most of them that stuck with me.
The same can not be said of the MC.
Hiyori is the type of female lead that makes me shake my head before banging it into a wall and going on a rant about how sexism is alive and well today in every form of media, including the ones aimed at women. She is such a textbook case of the virginal heroine, never doing anything wrong, always believing the best in people, being scared of her own shadow so there’s a reason for a big, strong man to come along and be her knight in shining armor, which is usually accompanied by his redemption arc that could only have been perpetuated by her pureness. For real, it was exhausting at times to read Hiyori’s internal thoughts. Everything is a conflict for her. She doesn’t want to suspect anyone and wants to get along, but she also wants to go home and take care of her siblings since their mother is basically MIA, but she also doesn’t want to do anything like holding hands or kissing in the dramas because that’s embarrassing and she’s never done it before, but she also doesn’t want to cause problems for the other characters by taking a punishment game and making them all worried, and ohhh nooo whatever will she do?? Teehee! As bad as all of this was, the worst part was how naive she was. She’s stuck in a strange place with 8 (9?) men, all of whom but one are complete strangers, and she has to be told by half a dozen people to take simple precautions for herself like locking the communal bathroom door. As much as I wish we lived in a world where no one had to worry about things like sexual assault ever happening, we don’t. Neither does Hiyori. And at some point I can’t just say that characters like her are naive, because it doesn’t explain enough. They’re just plain stupid, and I’m kinda tired of seeing it.
Charade Maniacs’s Localization
Bluntly put, Charade Maniacs’s translation and localization are kinda bad. When I started the game, I was taking screenshots after screenshots of examples of poor or incorrect wording, of duplicate text boxes, missing words, and just plain confusing sentences. The whole thing felt like it was translated by a machine and given a glance by another machine to check for errors. I luckily didn’t run into many coding issues or glitches, with only one line of dialogue exceeding past the text box and one other missing half of what should have been written in it.
At first, I thought the writing might be a way to indicate the futuristic setting and I gave it a chance, but it quickly became apparent that wasn’t the case. After completing a couple of routes, I found myself noticing it less, but I can’t say if that’s because it got better, or I became numb to it.
Unfortunately, bad translation, localization, and editing have plagued the Otome genre for a while. While more recent releases have done a much better job of correcting the issues before release, Charade Maniacs reminds me that there’s still plenty of work to be done.
Inclusivity and Problematic Themes (Minor Spoilers)
Some of the information in this section contains minor spoilers for the common route and minor to major spoilers for some of the endings. I have tried to keep the spoilers centric to inclusivity and problematic subjects, but some of these issues do have ties to the story. This section is broken up by inclusivity and problematic issues to avoid unnecessary spoilers.
When I first picked up Charade Maniacs, I assumed it would be a typical Japanese otome with next to no inclusivity for LGBTQ+ people, let alone any for people with physical disabilities. That being said, I was pleasantly surprised by what the game actually contained in these regards.
It is revealed during the common route that one character has a prosthetic arm and another is blind in one eye. The MC and others do not treat these characters any differently, and these characters are shown to live perfectly normal lives (or as normal as a life can be trapped in a strange place and forced to act out the whims of those in control). Due to the nature of the story, these disabilities don’t always last. The character with the prosthetic only has it while in the Other World, and in some endings this character regains the use of their original arm while in others they do not, but they don’t lose their arm. The character with a blind eye sometimes gains the use of it back, and in others they don’t. There is another character who becomes an amputee. This happens in almost every ending this character is featured in, and the character even gets a new sprite depicting the change.
Another character is genderqueer. From the beginning, their sex and gender is questioned. For example, when the MC is going to take a shower, they offer to join her. The rest of the cast makes a statement, trying to ascertain if this character is actually female, only for them to flip the question around to the other characters, asking if they saw them as male or female, or if they had a preference on their gender. Though the confusion the LI’s have regarding this is slightly comedic, the genderqueer character is always the one to take control of the conversation, often making the other characters feel embarrassed for asking. I thought this was a really powerful statement. Though the character themself turns the situation into a joke, the comedic effect is always from the other character’s confusion or embarrassment and not themself. The internal dialogue for the MC is also really inclusive towards this. While at first, she questions whether the character is male or female to gauge her interest in them, she eventually comes to the conclusion that she doesn’t care what they are, she just loves them. Even at the end of this character’s route, their gender is never revealed. When they ask the MC how she feels about this, she says that it doesn’t matter, and it won’t change who they are nor why she fell in love with them. To date, this is the best and most well-done route regarding LGBTQ+ representation in a Japanese Otome that I’ve ever played.
As a whole, there aren’t many issues in Charade Maniacs; however, there is one instance where a character attempts to mutilate themself, and it is revealed that another character is the victim of sexual assault.
During Chigasaki’s route, the issue of one of his arms comes up, and it has special meaning to him and the story. During his route, the meaning behind his arm becomes an issue, and he takes a knife and attempts to cut it off. There is no blood during this scene, but there is a detailed description, there are sound effects for stabbing, and Chigasaki is screaming in pain during the scene.
During Ebana’s route, he discusses how he hates women. He never quite comes off as misogynistic, but there is obviously something going on. As it turns out, he was sexually assaulted by a woman. Ebana recounts to the MC how his parents divorced and he went to live with his father. At some point, his father started dating a woman who would say things and act inappropriately towards Ebana. This eventually leads to the woman forcibly kissing him. There are no images depicting what happened, but the game does make it known that Ebana in no way consented to this situation and he was a minor and the woman was an adult at the time of the assault.
Both of these plot points blindsided me during the story as there was nothing to indicate such an event would happen during the game, and so I felt it prudent to discuss it here so that people with sensibilities concerning these subjects can make appropriate decisions for themselves.
Is Charade Maniacs the best otome ever? No. Nor does it have the most memorable story, the swoon-worthiest LIs, the best MC, or a fantastic translation. And though it gives you almost twice as many datable characters as other games, it cuts the playtime by more than a third of average games.
What it does have going for it that other otome don’t is a type and level of inclusivity that I wasn’t expecting. To have a genderqueer character be taken seriously in the story and not used as comic relief, to see characters with physical disabilities not be gawked at or babied and instead treated with common decency and respect was not what I was expecting to get out of this game, but I did. As someone who has many LGBTQ+ friends (and even an uncle that lost an eye), seeing accurate representation and descriptions felt refreshing. I always clench up when non-straight cis characters are introduced because I’m worried they’re going to be inaccurate or harmfully depicted, but with each route I cleared, I could feel my shoulders loosening back up. And though I wouldn’t say Charade Maniacs has the greatest representation of minority groups ever, it has one of the best I’ve seen. We’ve got to start somewhere, and this is a pretty nice place to do it.
All of this being said, I still really enjoyed my time with Charade Maniacs. It didn’t have the best characters or translation, yet I liked it in spite of that. Maybe it’s the mystery lover in me calling out to Charade Maniacs in a way that no other otome has invoked before. Or maybe it’s the fact I didn’t have to go through a dozen or more random bad endings every route to see the happy ending. Whatever the case, the time I spent playing Charade Maniacs was enjoyable, and it has earned its spot on my shelf.
Purchase the Game
Charade Maniacs’s Credits
Illustration and Character Design by Teita
Main Scenario by Uta Amemiya
Sub Scenario by Ayano Orihara
Directed by Asami Saito
BGM by TOKYO LOGIC Ltd.
Development by Hyde,Inc.
Production and Sales by IDEA FACTORY
English Localization Staff
Produced by Jack Niida
Localization Manager Nobara Nakayama
Translated by Labaamen
Lead Editor Alex Valles
Localization Editor Joshua Vargas
Proofread by Gregory Ritchie
Localization Assistance by Alex Childs and Maya Hirota
Quality Assurance Testers Anna Brown, Ashley Jackson, William Jackson, Rooney Marchand, and Alicia Young-Gumero
Developed by IDEA FACTORY
Published by IDEA FACTORY INTERNATIONAL
Thanks to Idea Factory International for providing a free review copy. Receiving a free copy has in no way impacted the thoughts in this review.
- Interesting and detailed Sci-Fi mystery story
- Varied characters and storylines
- Includes LGBTQ+ and representation of people with physical disabilities
- Translation and localization is very rough
- MC falls into the ‘virginal heroine’ trope
- Poor scene transitions and lack of information on time passage makes it hard to follow the story
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