Hanako Games' indie visual novel Black Closet is a little bit of everything. In it, you're Elsa, the head of the Student Council at a prestigious all girls academy, and one of your many duties involves making sure the reputation of both the school and its elite students remains intact... which would be easier said than done if you didn't have to deal with thieves, missing students, shady exam scores, and a host of other drama. In this school, reputation is everything, and the rich families and board members behind it are looking to use you as a scapegoat... if the school flounders, they'll pin all its problems on you, and expel you, ruining your future. It's up to you and your group of Minions, a varied group of clever young women like yourself, to deal with scandals as they arise before it's too late. Of course, the eyes of the public are on you... if you're too ruthless in your investigations, people won't trust you. Then there are your girls themselves to consider, all of whom have their own unique personalities and backstories, and one of whom... is a traitor out to sabotage you. In St Claudine's, everyone has secrets and ambition, and you'll need to work hard to keep your blood out of the water. Blending elements of RPG-stat building with strategy and more on your randomly generated mysteries, you can also get to know the young women working alongside you, and in addition to hopefully ferreting out who wants to trip you up, maybe become friends... or something more? With five all-lesbian romance options with characters like the worldly and intimidatingly direct Althea, her poetry-slamming, sassy younger sister Thaïs, the extremely capable but oddly devoted-from-a-distance Vonne and more, Black Closet is an engaging game of boarding school mystery and intrigue with a cast of compelling characters you can, if you so choose, get pretty close to. But with the reputation of the school and your future on the line... who can you trust? And who's behind the traitor... and why? With free updates planned down the line that includes more character sprites to choose from, create-your-own-characters mode, and other surprises, Black Closet is an already robust game that promises to get even bigger down the road.
Each week, you'll be given new randomly generated cases to work on, all of which have their own dates they need to be completed by before you lose Reputation, as well as the opportunity to save or load your game. Each of your Minions are proficient in a variety of skills... Stealth, Observation, Social, and Intimidation. These skills, and their values, are stacked against dice rolls made by the actions you have them take, such as searching a room, or the skills of whoever you're dealing with, like questioning another student. Sometimes you may need to exert a little force or talk a little more loudly to get what you need, but don't throw your weight around too much, or you'll be seen as a bully and the Council's Karma will suffer. Likewise, getting spotted while attempting to shadow or search someone's room is generally not going to look good, whatever you're doing, so make use of items to bolster your Minions' abilities when in doubt. If you succeed, you may learn more information or open up new locations and actions. If you successfully complete a case, you'll earn Training Points you can spend on your ladies to have them increase their skills. Working adds to a Minion's stress, so make sure you let them relax now and again by letting a day pass without assigning them tasks, or they'll refuse to work. Treat them well, however, and spend time with them on the weekends, and you might find a relationship that grows into friendship, or something more... or even learn the identity of the traitor who's been purposefully failing her missions whenever she can, though it's rarely as obvious as you might think. It's a little bit like Dangerous High School Girls In Trouble, though drastically different in execution, plot, mechanics, and setting.
Managing the stress of your Agents isn't technically that difficult, but it gets frustrating when you have multiple cases with approaching deadlines, and every action stresses every character out equally instead of, say, having a more "introverted" character like Rowan generate less stress when told to participate in Stealth and Observation-based events, and more stress when put into direct confrontations. Then again, it's not like you won't have enough to deal with as it is. You'll learn what skills play into what actions as you go, and also what actions might be more useful than others in any given situation... important when it comes to deadlines and maximizing the effectiveness of your Minions! Using items from the supply closet, spending your skill points effectively to create useful character "builds", and learning what actions best suit the cases at hand are all part of playing strategically, and less likely to lead you into a big, fat, Game Over screen. Figuring out who the traitor is likewise takes more finesse than simply squinting really hard at people... especially if you don't want your team to be down a member past a certain point. Cases can have a surprising amount of complexity to them as well... even if you've encountered a specific problem before, such as someone going missing or being harassed, that doesn't mean the answer is going to be the same the second (or even third, or fourth) time around, so you'll always need to be on your toes. It adds a lot of surprisingly complex strategy to the game, but it also can wind up feeling like repetitive busywork since none of the cases or the people involved in them have any impact on the actual story or the people in it.
What makes Black Closet so enjoyable is how complex its characters feel. In some games, "winning" with romantic or friendly options is simply a matter of continually picking the obvious dialogue choice that matches the personality of whoever you're talking to. In Black Closet, the people you deal with have more depth and complexity, forcing you to really think about their personalities and desires beyond "the sassy one" or "the shy one". The game's narrative opens up beyond a certain point and begins to delve deeper into the characters you've gotten close to, though whether that's as friends, a devoted minion, or something more is up to you... and not every character is romantically available. But even more than its romantic subplots, Black Closet deals with things like struggling to conform, dealing with what you want and what others want for you, and much more... including cute girls delivering angsty slam poetry, face painting, secret societies, pink cupcakes, and secret underage gambling rings. Black Closet has a very noir-esque feel that goes well with its setting and theme, though the way all the backstory and Elsa's relationship with several characters is just implied means the story is initially a little hard to get into. It's like walking into a TV show after missing the pilot... it's not hard to pick up what's going on, but you still sort of feel like you're a few steps behind everything. Despite this, if the idea of clever girls solving mysteries, trailing and interrogating subjects, and then sitting down to coffee and shortbread appeals to you, Black Closet should not be missed. While there are no straight romance options, there's plenty of content to be had even if you don't plan on romancing any of the girls (but really, how cute are they?!), and there's a massive amount of replayability if you're aiming to get all the different endings, with different traitors on subsequent playthroughs. Black Closet combines cute and sweet with espionage and camaraderie for a unique and engrossing visual novel you'll keep coming back to.
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