Review: Black Closet: A Game of Schoolgirl Noir
If there is one thing I have taken away from my experience in governing student bodies, it is that free food comes with drama. The facetious witticisms passed around like a hot potato, small talks that dragged on until someone inexcusably needs to use the restroom, and scheduled meetings that evolved into prattling about other members of the council instead of discussing roles and responsibilities have left me bitter about loosely systematized groups, which is still prevalent beyond high school. The cliques sustain themselves in larger structures, but the incessant quibbles and rumors shuffled between hushed undertones never evaporate. It hangs on the air and sticks to the skin, humid, sticky, and uncomfortable.
Hanako Games is a company that specializes in highlighting narratives and immersing players in conversations that chiefly drive the gameplay, and their recent release, Black Closet, echoes my past experience when I freely participated in student council or student-run clubs during high school and college. A part of me was hesitant to play the game because I’m not a huge fan of game mechanics that heavily rely on probability to determine a win or lose scenario. But I’m biased, since most of my experience that relies on this game mechanic consists of web-browser games back in the early 2000’s.
I forget the titles, but they were mainly fantasy games where the player controls either an orcish or elven race. Once a side is picked, various scenarios are displayed along with two percentages showing the chances of how much a player will win or lose, so it’s basically a diluted version of D&D, except it’s completely in plain text and I felt like I was gambling more than I was playing.
Aside from my previous experience, I went ahead and opened up Black Closet. Once I was introduced as the president of the student council at St. Claudine, an all-girl high school, I nodded my head and carefully listened to the head mistress, Miss Talmage explaining that I’m responsible for keeping up the reputation of the school that refines the daughters of the accomplished, famous, and moneyed aristocrats. On top of Elsa, the main character, there are also five controllable minions that are part of the student council. Ultimately, the school’s fate is in the hands of six students. I mean, no pressure right? I told myself that it’s not a big deal to disappoint everyone at St. Claudine, but as I kept interacting with the characters, I found myself becoming more and more anxious about how well I’ve tackled my responsibilities.
On the main game window, the tasks are assigned in chronological order as logs using a manila folder backdrop. The player can click the logs to track the progress of each respective task. New assignments start in the beginning of each week, and throughout the week as well. The dilemmas can stem from vandalism, missing items, suicidal students, violent students, missing students, stage anxiety, or even the assumption of having a problem. Ironically, when a player fails to discover that a situation presented in the log is non-existent (i.e. fake rumors) then it will still impact the council’s karma negatively. I give them points for this because circulating false information could lead to unwanted consequences especially if it pertains to politics.
An important note to remember is that all assigned tasks are time sensitive, and the council is expected to resolve the tasks that are handed out during the beginning of school week on Monday and have it done before the weekend on Friday. Failure to work out the cases will result into automatic deduction of council and sometimes school karma. The cases are displayed by the order in which they are given, with the newest one on the right side labeled with the log number.
Each case holds clue(s) that are clickable and they can vary from perpetrators, witnesses, or environments where the mystery has taken place. You can assign members of the student council to further investigate the evidence provided by the case. For instance, I appointed one of my minions, Rowan to stake out the upper dormitories because the log states that there have been recent complaints of graffiti and vandalism. During the initial investigation, the player will not know the skill level of whomever they have in question or if an area that needs examining is heavily guarded—fair enough! This facet of the game is commonly found in battle systems of most RPG games. Usually, when a new enemy is encountered, the stats do not display unless you cast a skill or spell that enables you to see their abilities and health. Usually, the second go around will display more information about the enemy that is non-existent during the initial encounter.
I will walk through a sample case scenario, and there are no spoilers here because the game randomly generates cases, which means I can start a new game and have a different task assigned to me. This case involves vandalism, which is frequently met during the game, along with missing items or stolen paraphernalia from students.
The case starts as the “Vandal on the Loose” on Monday September 12th. It reads, “School property has been defaced in the Upper Dorm. Strange swirls and messages have been painted over the available surfaces. Investigate.” My hunch before this started is to consult the art department if they are recently low on supplies of spray paint, but that option is not given here.
There is only one available clue I can click on and that is the “Upper Dorm” and the only way I can further reveal more clues is if I successfully find evidence that would hint at possible suspects or vicinities that needs investigation. Since Rowan has the highest observation and sneak skill, I choose her to stake out the upper dorm. On the bottom row of the game screen, there are 4 circle icons around Rowan’s portrait, blue, gray, green, and red that represent observation, stealth, social and intimidation respectively.
Rowan’s observation and stealth are decently above average, so she is the minion I pick for sneaking around. The gameplay is straightforward, click a clue and then click a minion. This activates the “Assign” button right above the row of minions. After the player has selected their strategy, all there is left to do is to click the “Done” button on the lower left corner. Depending on how well the player tactically handles the case, they may earn or lose council or karma points.
As soon as the “Done” button executes, the game screen transitions into a temporary cutscene, calculating whether the minion has successfully executed her task. In this round, Rowan follows through and the log reveals a new clue about “a signature or a set of initials” that may belong to Candice.
Once this cutscene ends, the game screen now shows Candice and her room as available evidence that I can check. Rowan is not a good candidate for talking to people, so I generally prefer to use Althea for pulling out information in conversations. Overall, the game iterates its gameplay with varying circumstances. The lather, rinse, repeat mechanic eases up the learning gap, so even if a mission fails, another one would pop up soon enough which would give the player a chance to do better than the previous failed assignment.
I also learned at St. Claudine that lemons are evil…
Why would I want to equip this? Why?
Black Closet is a game I would install on my work desktop and play during lunch break, but am I allowed to do that? I guess I’ll just have to find out.
You can download and play Black Closet at Hanako Games. Recently, there have been updates on the game’s graphic style, as well. Personally, I like both character designs, but if you have a preference for which design you like better, then feel free to toggle back and forth.
Kaira is perpetually hungry and when she is not thinking about food, she is either busy developing games or scrutinizing ecological patterns. You can tweet to her about hedgehogs and cupcakes @zovfreullia.
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