For many, Nippon Icchi Software is synonymous with the iconic Disgaea series. The acclaimed and long-running tactical RPG franchise put the developer on the map nearly 20 years ago, but it’s not the only string to their bow. The studio has also delved into plenty of other stories and genres. Action RPGs, top-down horror games and more line the full portfolio of Nippon Ichi Software, but Poison Control presents a relatively untapped medium for the developer – the third-person shooter. While it’s fun to see the style and charm of NIS applied to a different kind of game, it’s clear that they haven’t quite mastered the genre yet.
Poison Control is developed by a lot of the same people who worked on 2018’s The Princess Guide, and it’s plain to see if you remember the aesthetic of that game. While Poison Control is more of a modern and sleek hell-inspired adventure than the medieval roleplaying setting of The Princess Guide, the aesthetic feels all too familiar.
If you appreciate artistic UI design, there’s plenty to savour in Poison Control. Characters have vibrant and recognisable designs with gorgeous faces and 2D portraits that bob up-and-down in exaggerated fashion during dialogue, menus and meters are loud and vivid, and character art and huge text spill across the screen. Much like the fluid and unforgettable menus of Persona 5, Poison Control takes no shortcuts when it comes to aesthetic and design in the menus, UI, and character designs.
Unfortunately, that same care and quality isn’t really present throughout the rest of the experience – not even the story. Poison Control opens with your character in the middle of a mysterious and hazy world, and almost immediately you’re attacked by a mysterious humanoid creature. When it sinks its fangs into you, though, it ends up stealing a piece of your body and becoming Poisonette, a devilish girl with no memories who decides to team up with you to get the two of you out of the hell you’re stuck in. With you as master and her as your Poisonette partner, you become a team labeled Soul Mates – freelance pairs who travel around hell absorbing the poisonous negative thoughts of women in order to heal their minds and solve their sinful ordeals.
There’s the potential for an interesting episodic story here. Each mission tasks you with diving into the memories of a different character who is either suffering some kind of ordeal in life, or has suffered a greater ordeal in their final moments before death. You need to cleanse their negative thoughts – manifested as pools of poisonous sludge scattered on the grounds of each stage – and communicate with them through Hell in order to not only help them move on, but also earn stickers that you can eventually redeem to enter Heaven.
Unfortunately, you rarely get an insight into the lives or ordeals of these characters. Your dialogue with them is usually only a couple of lines, and they’re gone once their stage is cleared, so you never truly get to know them or experience any character arcs with them. Poisonette and the other characters you encounter in the story take priority, but it’s hard to get too invested in or enraptured by their fates, perhaps because of how gamified their struggles are by the competition to gather Heaven stickers.
There are more interesting ideas present in the gameplay of Poison Control, but unfortunately they’re also far from fully realised. In each mission you’ll be running around as your gun-toting protagonist to interact with the memory fragments of your mission’s subject or battle the various creatures inhabiting each stage.
When you encounter pools of poison, you’ll need to hold down a button to temporarily transform into Poisonette, where walking her around a perimeter of sludge and she’ll absorb all of it. The ebb-and-flow of swapping characters is intriguing, but the biggest issue is that it all just feels so clunky. Character movements are rough, especially because of your main character’s rigid dodge-roll and your ultimate Radio Blast ability that takes far too long to activate to ever be useful. The reticule of your gun also rarely lines up with where your bullets will actually land, making it needlessly tricky to battle fast-moving enemies or shoot precise targets.
Perhaps the clunkiest mechanic of all, though, is the deadly combo of having no auto-saves and no prompts or reminders to manually save. After playing hours of the game and closing it, I came back to find none of my progress was saved whatsoever. So, make sure you save – the game certainly won’t tell you to.
Despite the clunky controls, there are some RPG mechanics tossed into Poison Control that add a little spice to the game. Your conversations with Poisonette will level up various parameters like Trust, Insight and Toxicity, and each of these gives you some kind of gameplay bonus like new combat skills or increased health. You can also collect three hidden poison tokens in each stage to unlock a new gun-type or support ability themed after the girl from that stage. They’re minor things, and they don’t entirely solve the issues of the game, but they help a basic premise feel a little more involved.