While the PlayStation Vita continues to fade from relevance, a few niche genres of Japanese video games still grace the expiring platform with their presence. One of these categories of gaming is the visual novel, and while many new visual novel games are starting to spread their wings to the Nintendo Switch or PC, some releases still manage to trickle onto the Vita storefront. The latest one is London Detective Mysteria, and it answers the age-old question of “What if Jack The Ripper and Sherlock Holmes really wanted to have sex with me?”
London Detective Mysteria is an otome visual novel. These are dating sims where the typical ‘boy meets girls’ gender roles are reversed. Instead of being a blank slate Japanese school boy surrounded by eager big-breasted anime girl, you play as a female protagonist looking for love amongst a selection of handsome male suitors. Even so, these otome games typically follow a similar formula in terms of their setting and the types of characters you’ll be making the moves on. London Detective Mysteria shakes things up in a few major ways.
As the title of the game implies, London Detective Mysteria takes place in England. Specifically, you find yourself in 19th Century England playing as Emily Whitely, a young aristocrat with a penchant for detective work. She’s returned to the big city after briefly moving to the countryside following the mysterious murder of her parents, and now finds herself enrolled in detective academy in the hopes of improving her skills and proving to the world that she’s not just a subservient pretty-faced servant girl.
Obviously, all of her classmates happen to be tall and handsome young men with impossibly sharp chins and concerningly silky, long hair. They also all just so happen to be the direct descendants of a bunch of famous literary figures. Yes, Lupin Jr., Son of Watson and Jack The Ripper The Second are all here for you to get intimately acquainted with.
Dating sims are almost always a little ridiculous in how convenient and contrived their premises are, but London Detective Mysteria is so ridiculous and unbelievable that, rather than groan and roll my eyes at it, I just found myself busting a gut and laughing along with it. It’s hard to take a game like this seriously when it tasks me with getting in the shiny, anime pants of Herlock Holmes, son of Sherlock Holmes.
Unfortunately, it was a little harder to find ironic pleasure in the whiplashing nature of the overall narrative. While the game provides hours of classic dating sim fluff, like starry-night encounters and goofy park encounters, it also delivers in equal measure serious moments concerning political intrigue and the murder of Emily’s parents. I can appreciate when a visual novel slips between levity and seriousness, but London Detective Mysteria handled it poorly throughout, leading to a disjointed experience overall.
The writing wasn’t all poorly executed, however. The protagonist, Emily Whitely, was unique and intriguing, and probably one of my favorite parts of this game. A lot of male visual novel characters are bland cookie-cutter self-inserts, while a lot of female otome leads end up being weak and vulnerable characters who rely on the male characters for a lot of their decision making.
Emily Whitely is neither of these.
Almost immediately, you see the unique and well-defined personality traits of Emily. She isn’t an empty slate for you to project onto. She has goals, ideas, and talents, and she ends up being a driving force and strong decision maker throughout the game. While she has moments of vulnerability, they’re well earned, and bookended by moments of thoughtfulness and action. I didn’t expect such a three-dimensional character out of a game like this, so that was a pleasant surprise for me.
Not much else in London Detective Mysteria is a surprise, though. If you’ve seen any otome visual novel art before, then you know what this game looks like. Everyone is drawn in the same old art style that you’d expect out of a game like this, and the music in the game isn’t exactly iconic or memorable either.
The game has a lot of branching paths and a fair number of boys to pursue, with a few of them even locked behind subsequent playthroughs. Unfortunately, the game doesn’t provide any extra tools to make revisiting choices or replaying routes convenient or accessible. Beyond having dozens of empty save slots, it’s up to you to keep track of branching paths and important decisions, and while many visual novels are like this, enough visual novels have come out featuring tools to make extra playthroughs more accessible that there really should be similar tools in all releases by this point.
London Detective Mysteria does a few things new within the genre of otome dating sims, but at the end of the day, it isn’t anything revolutionary. If you’ve played an otome game before, then this one will be more of the same, for better or worse. The silly cast of characters and attempts at dramatic detective plotlines are interesting, but not executed entirely well. Fans of the genre will be able to happily add this one to your pile, but if you need convincing to try out a game like this, London Detective Mysteria isn’t the one for you.
Version Tested: PlayStation Vita