Today I look at Killer Queen: a death game thriller by doujin group Flat. It follows Soichi in a 73-hour fight to the death in a strange building with 12 other people. Soichi needs to choose how to live his life in a game where his next second might be his last.
Important context before we get started, this is a kinetic novel. It has no choices in it, so it's basically reading a book. Furthermore there two versions of this game: the original Doujin circle game (simply Killer Queen) and the remake by Flat made just after reforming commercially (called Secret Game). Killer Queen has two episodes, while Secret Game had more and the existing story was rewritten a bit to accommodate more.
I'm reviewing Killer Queen. Not the other one.
That out of the way, this is a death game story. Thirteen people have been fitted with explosive collars, a set of rules, and a set of objectives that they need to finish to remove their collars before they detonate on the third day. This is very similar to Battle Royale and the more recent Zero Escape in many ways, but it has a different flavor to it.
I'd like to start this off with the opening to get you in the right mood to read this review, since the atmosphere of the game is one of its strong points.
In an overall sense, the dialogue, writing, and direction of Killer Queen is pretty great, though there are the drawbacks. The story is consistently tense and packed with questions about the nature of Soichi and his strong desire to get through the game without killing anyone, despite the fact that he holds the objective of the Ace: Kill the owner of the Queen. It's a poignant and well-constructed drama, especially as the story evolves.
Speaking of cards, the game makes heavy use of the card motif (every person is assigned a role in the game with a card) and it works pretty well, at least as an abstraction of the game and a good unifying motif for the story.
The strength of Killer Queen absolutely lies in its atmosphere and the story's slow build-up to the climax. It's a scary, depressing world in the death game that our main characters are trapped in and the game lets you know it, at least over time.
There are two episodes to the game. I'm not going to say anything about why this is or how it's handled, because I think it's better to experience it first-hand, but I can say this: the first episode was a good introduction to the story that managed to weave a nice narrative out of Soichi's willingness to trust and how that managed to help him through the crisis. The second episode, though, is a hard subversion to much of the first episode's themes and tropes. It was very, very well done and it only served to make the reality of the universe in the death game clearer to the outside observer.
Even with all this darkness and commentary, I can't help but feeling like the optimism (especially in episode two's ending) was dissonant on many levels. I feel like there was too much of this optimism for me to completely enjoy the story because it felt a bit too convenient and unrealistic.
Because this is Doujin circle visual novel, it's natural that they took the kinetic route and had no choices, but I feel like the story would immensely benefit from a few choices and a few routes in each episode, because I somehow always feel like I'm missing out on the characterization in characters like Fumika and Takayama. I can't complain about this much since it's a bit needy of me to do so, but I do feel like I'm missing part of the story sometimes.
It's a good story with some really good themes behind it and I recommend it on that principle alone, but I can't help but think that it doesn't quite peak out at its potential height. While the first episode was good, the second episode was better because its skillful use of subversion to destabilize the status quo and give the story the kick it really needed. Unfortunately, it does fall a bit short because it's just a little too optimistic for its own good.
Ironically, there isn't much action or killing that actually happens, at least when the main characters are around, so don't expect this to be a gore-fest, because it isn't in the slightest.
All in all, the dark atmosphere and exploration of the main characters was well handled and I don't regret spending the time I did on it even a bit. It's not the pinnacle of the story archetype (death game), but it's an excellent example of employing the characters, setting, and themes to make a great story that comments on not just human nature, but also the nature of Soichi's mind and why personal tragedy can bring out the best in people.
Due to the nature of a kinetic VN, I have released this as a review more akin to a book/manga/anime.