The Masquerade Killer is an upcoming commercial otome game by Ebullience Games. It will be released for PC/Mac/Linux and possibly Steam and/or Google Play. The demo is available at itch.io or Google Play.
*The Kickstarter ends Wednesday August 9, 2017*
Synopsis: Lady Lydia is dead. In an attempt to catch her killer, Lydia’s father hires an unnamed organization to investigate. Conveniently, Elvira (one of the organizations members) bares a striking resemblance to the deceased. She agrees to go undercover as Lydia, but fitting into the London elite proves to be more difficult than expected. When everyone is a suspect, will Elvira be able to discover the killer? Or will high society be the death of her?
I love a good whodunit, so I was excited to try The Masquerade Killer demo because it combines that with dating sims. Before I found otome games, I used to play all the Nancy Drew games, so going into TMK I expected to find a good mystery. I would try to guess the killer, inevitably get it wrong, and walk away with a fun experience. What I didn’t expect was to walk away contemplating this demo for days. What makes TMK more than a simple murder mystery is the characters and the situations created by their personal flaws. They aren’t just pawns or red herrings in the story. They are people with authentic shortcomings, shortcomings that shape the circumstances in sometimes painful ways.
I’ve always identified with the quiet, empathetic MCs. They get a lot of criticism, but I see myself in them. So when I read that Ebullience Games wanted to create an “intriguing, proactive, but extremely flawed main character,” I was curious but hesitant. Besides the flawed part, that’s nothing like me. How relatable would she be?
Elvira is a main character that embodies all the things they wanted to create. And like they said, Elvira is indeed an extremely flawed MC. To her, the current situation is nothing more than a job. She even has to be reminded to be sympathetic towards Lydia’s parents, because it just doesn’t occur to her to be that way. When she does try to comfort them, she’s reciting from a script. That level of indifference, or in other words lack of empathy, is hard to relate to.
But Elvira isn’t meant to be relatable. She’s not a self-insert. She’s her own character, one shaped by her past and her environment. What I like about her though is that the exact reasons I can’t relate to her are the exact reasons she’s struggling to fool everyone into thinking she’s Lady Lydia. According to her fiance, Lydia was warm and sincere, and Elvira just can’t emulate that. Being detached and calculating is not helping her succeed like it might in another case. Those qualities aren’t being glorified as a “strong MC,” nor are they being portrayed as qualities she needs to change. Instead, she needs to find a balance of being both proactive and empathetic. And the fact that she hasn’t found that balance makes her relatable. It makes her human.
Though Elvira’s flaws are the cause of one close call after another, the suspects (love interests) aren’t without flaws either, particularly Julius and Seth. Julius seems to be the perfect fiance, but his willingness to pretend Lydia’s still alive (among other things) makes me question how strong his attachment to her was. And if it was strong, how will a romance route work out with him?
In contrast to Julius, Seth seems a better fit for Elvira. Afterall, he’s Elvira’s partner, and they’ve known each other since they were children. His constant support and ever-present smile seems to be just what Elvira needs. However, Seth is unshakably loyal to their boss, a woman who is more than a little alarming. He’s holding something back, and I can’t help but wonder if his blind faith to the boss will cause him to abandon Elvira when she needs it.
The other two love interests are less prominent in the demo, but that doesn’t make them any less suspicious. Charlotte obviously knows something, but when questioned, she becomes taciturn. Both Elvira and I will have a hard time trusting her. And August, the eccentric Earl of Brisbury, is a bit too charming and nosy for his own good. His perception is uncanny. I felt like he was seeing right through Elvira to me.
All these situations and flaws indicate that they are heading toward angst and pain, and that’s exactly why I love them! They make me think. Nothing is easy, and nothing is straightforward. It’s messy and painful, but sometimes that makes for the best character development. And though Lydia is not a character we meet, I felt like her presence remained throughout. Sometimes it’s easy to forget the deceased and get caught up in the mystery of the case, but little things kept reminding me that there’s still someone who lost their life. There’s still parents mourning the loss of a child.
With this, The Masquerade Killer is already a solid demo, but I was completely dazzled by the presentation (stars in my eyes and everything)! It’s above and beyond anything I’ve seen for a demo. Almost everything that can be animated and still count as a visual novel is animated. Their logo, the main screen, the sprites… even the CGs blink.
But it’s not just the animation that is amazing, it’s all the thought that went into the additional aspects of the GUI. Before you start, there’s an animated tutorial that goes through all the instructions, showing you exactly where everything is and how to get there.
The most creative addition though is how the choices are presented. There’s a box that explains what the current choice is, and if you mouse over the choices, there’s an explanation of what each choice means. Your choices will affect later scenes and determine whose route you take, so this extra bit of help is useful when trying to catch a killer.
The art is just as impressive as the GUI. Soft lines and pastel colors seem to deny the gravity of the game’s premise yet highlight the refinement of the gentility. I like how Elvira has not only different outfits but different hairstyles as well. One must dress to impress when murder is afoot.
The music has already become one of my favorite soundtracks. It reminds me of the music in Regency Love and A Foretold Affair (they all have different composers as far as I know). Predominantly piano, its subtle and sometimes meloncholic mood heightens the seriousness of the situation. It’s the kind of music I’d put on while relaxing at home, so I’m glad they included a music gallery.
I must be on a streak, because I keep playing amazing demos, and The Masquerade Killer is no exception. I found very little to critique, though I did feel some of the transitions between scenes were abrupt. Also, the font is small, but that’s a common problem for me. Besides that, I’m deeply impressed by everything, especially the writing and GUI. And I’m glad they included a female love interest and a non-binary love interest! TMK is now on my list of games I’m excitedly looking forward to!
A very special thanks to Ebullience Games and their writer for reaching out to me and allowing me to ask questions for this review! If you haven’t already, go check out this demo and consider supporting the Kickstarter!