Black Closet is a relatively obscure but very good title by Hanako Games, a relatively obscure but very good developer. The game is set at an all-girls boarding school where you take on the role of Elsa Jackson, the newly elected president of an absurdly powerful student council. Your responsibilities as president include keeping the general peace among the student body, making sure no one publicly embarrasses the school, solving missing persons cases and preventing terror attacks, you know, high school stuff. There’s a certain good cop/bad cop element but you won’t get very far without getting your hands dirty because sending your perfect sweet cinnamon roll minion out to question someone doesn’t get half as much done as sending the stuck up goth chick after them with a baseball bat. The cases, aside from some of the later storyline ones, are randomly generated and range from very simple tasks that can be solved in a single action to complex cases that require a lot of questioning, stalking, searching, harassing, and eventually punishing, sometimes requiring you to expel someone to prevent further trouble.
The primary gameplay mechanic has you assigning your minions, represented by character cards, to the various available tasks for each mission. Each character has different strengths and weaknesses, represented by four attributes: Social, Intimidation, Observation and Stealth. One of the most excellent things about this game, in my opinion, is the integration between story and gameplay that you find in the minions’ mechanical attributes matching their narrative personalities perfectly. The missions themselves use fixed locations and have a pool of maybe ten possible inciting incidents (not counting story line missions) but the solutions are varied enough you can’t just follow a formula, at least not without having played the game a lot.
There are also parts of the game that play like a visual novel, where you can get to know your minions better and win (or lose) their loyalty. This is where all of the story happens and your choices can have a heavy impact. These sections are really what give the game its replay value and you can play the game several times before ever having to retread old territory. This is also really where most of your morality choices get made and you decide whether to be a benevolent ruler or an iron-fisted tyrant.
Overall I don’t really have anything particularly negative to say about this game. The closest thing I can think of is that there’s a boss fight, the final confrontation of the game, that in no way resembles any of the previous challenges. There’s not a lot of explanation for how the mechanics work, and that’s where all of the difficulty for the encounter really stems from. One thing that I would like to see in future games that use this system, including any potential sequels, are randomly generated mysteries that tie into each other. The secret society forming on campus could be responsible for the vandalism in the cafeteria and so on.
Overall Rating: B
Rating Justification: While I believe that this game is exemplary within its niche, it does appeal to a rather specific niche. Within the niche of resource-management card game simulations or mystery visual novels it falls firmly into the “A” ranking, bordering on “A+,” but for the average gamer the game could be a bit more difficult to get into. That said, once you get into it, it is a truly excellent game.