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.
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.
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.
Each such little aspect is charming and makes you want to discover even more of what everybody's hiding.
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.
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.