I've had my eyes on the Tales of the Mirror release for a while, and when the day finally came, boy was I hyped. Not only was I looking forward to the unique visual novel meets murder mystery, but also the beautiful artwork. However, my bias aside, I will keep this review as objective as possible because there were quite a few elements that didn't impress me on the very first playthrough.
Foreword - opening the bookThe story starts off with a bird. Not any ordinary bird, but a special one, one that would cost 'handsomely' to acquire. It doesn't give off too much information, but instead, it's something that would play an incredibly important role the more it unfolds. To manage to get into the actual story though and try to solve the gruesome murder is a whole different story.
Right off the bat, the one thing you will have to figure out for yourself is the menu. On my first playthrough, I didn't explore every feature of the menu, since I was so excited to dive into the game. And because I didn't dabble too much with the menu, I could never figure out where the language setting was and ended up playing the game in Chinese.
Bear in mind that I know absolutely no Chinese, at all. That wasn't that big of a deterrent though, given I still had the stunning artwork to admire.
Only after about what turned out to be an in-game week has passed (I later found out that's how in-game days pass) I decided to start over and play around with the menu a little bit more. Guess what? Turns out there was an English option too! That came as a surprise, and realization kicked in - if I had just played around with the caged bird a little bit more I could've discovered it myself!
I really wish there was an option to select this from the get-go, like the graphics settings you're prompted to pick before you open the game.
Time is money, and you only have so muchAs I mentioned, the game progress is measured in time. That aspect is done flawlessly. You have a set limit of in-game time in which you are tasked to solve a gruesome murder by using your precious artifact's help - the mirror.
Each action takes a set amount of time to complete, and just like in real life, it takes time to get from point A to point B. That leaves you having to do some careful planning ahead of time. Furthermore, you have certain locations that are only open during the day, while others are open only during the night.
It's so much more complex than I first expected it to be!
Another key point is that with each passing day, you lose money. You need to pay for your stay at the inn, and the sooner you solve the mystery, the better (for financial reasons, of course). Since money is such an important aspect in this game, you shouldn't carelessly run around spending it on Black Market goods and random gifts to impress the characters, as much as you might like to.
Red pill or blue pill?Tales of the Mirror is a game where every choice matters, especially the red ones. One instance particularly stood out to me, which made me choose between the Pill of Forgetfulness and the Truth Serum. A billion scenarios crossed my mind - will I trick this character into revealing such and such and then make them take the Pill of Forgetfulness, or just fool them into drinking the Truth Serum? Such a tough choice...
Each such little aspect is charming and makes you want to discover even more of what everybody's hiding.
Tales of the Mirror gameplay and graphicsIn terms of graphics, the game is flawless. Except for the dialogue bubbles of the little chickens, everything's as it should be. Smooth movements, beautiful colours that feel easy on the eye, and outstanding artwork that comes to life with each character's movement and animation. That's a 10 in my book.
The gameplay is not action-packed, but it builds up intensity through the mystery that becomes larger and larger with each new person you interrogate. The difficulty in solving some of the puzzles is quite something. In fact, it's much more challenging than I first expected it to be. At first glance, you don't expect a game that looks so good to be as interactive and complex as Tales of the Mirror is.
In conclusion - Is Tales of the Mirror that good?If you're a player that doesn't particularly find visual novels appealing, this might change your opinion on the genre completely. For murder mystery enthusiasts, this game is a delight. For everybody else simply looking to have a good time, there's no better game than one that challenges you a little bit, while still offering plenty of eye candy and additional gameplay to keep you entertained.
I didn't personally expect Tales of the Mirror to be as good as it is. I found the in-game Almanac to be particularly unique since you can add your own notes there to help you pick up where you left off. What game does that? Apparently, this one.
One of the few elements I was not too impressed with is the language that kept changing back to Chinese each time I re-opened the game. That, and the fact that I played 1/4th of the game in Chinese before figuring out that it could actually be changed within the game... That wasn't too fun.
Aside from that and the chicken dialogue boxes, no other elements felt out of place, and the overall game was a delight. It's rare that you find a game as genuine and with such a beautiful story like this one.