It actually contains charades as part of the plot, before you ask.
The Summer of Too Much Romance continues apace with a contribution from Idea Factory, who have localized their own 2021 Japanese release Charade Maniacs this past week. What makes this one stand out are a unique story setting and plot conceit, but it’s hamstrung by showing plot elements and taking far too long to pay them off.
Charade Maniacs takes place in the mid-22nd century, where Japan’s Information Bureau highly controls information - but rumors persist of an “Other World Stream” that exists outside the system. The protagonist is press-ganged into the world of Arcadia and forced to participate in the Other World Stream under the threat of death alongside nine other men (though one of them is particularly androgynous); ordinarily the stream uses an equal split of men and women, but this wouldn’t be an Otomate romance game if it had same-sex options. It’s quickly revealed that one of their number is known as the Producer and drew them into the game, and another person is known as the Sponsor and can apparently return to the real world: if the Producer is identified the rest of the cast can return home, otherwise they have to get points based on “audience” reactions and request to leave the stream (with negative reactions leading to loss of bodily functions - or apparently gender - and eventually death). It’s a fascinating story on paper, but the game’s structure means that it takes an awfully long time to actually pay off all of the plot elements.
The game is structured around what is officially a long common route before a single chapter with the chosen suitor, though the nine-target cast is divided into thirds about halfway through the common route and whichever one the protagonist ends up on will determine the final suitor. (Each third is based on a specific job within the cast - cooking, cleaning, and investigation - and at least one suitor per job is locked until all three jobs have been done by the protagonist at least once.) The skip function will get a lot of work if you’re playing from the beginning and not loading into the game from an old save given that it took me a good ten hours before I actually managed to hit my first character route. It wasn’t until I went to the final couple of characters that any kind of closure was seen with the Producer storyline. Also, one of the suitors looks to be one of the older members of the cast, but they identify themselves initially as an elementary school student and at least one other suitor is in their early 20s (the protagonist being a high school student).
Idea Factory International’s localizations have improved since the game that we were told not to review, but it’s still falling a little short of recent localizations from Aksys. Charade Maniacs has a few line break issues, but perhaps the most egregious one is when an entire line of text is missing from a text box and the scene continues like nothing happened. It might be possible to fill it in from context, but it shouldn’t be necessary to do that.
The characters are all attractive in different ways - though I did find myself more attracted to the androgynous one more than anybody. There’s not a lot of memorable songs in the background, though the voice work does a good job of making voice actors show acting talent - or a lack thereof.
I wasn’t really feeling the romance elements in Charade Maniacs, though that may have been because I was trying to figure out the meta-story anyway. It’s a solid read that I’ll probably rip through again in a few months when they actually SLOW DOWN with these games.