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Review: Mandemon—Murder Mystery in a Ravaged Japan

Mandemon is a mystery visual novel by developer Zhiyi. The game is fairly short and it took me around 4 hours (fully listening to the voice acting and finishing all six routes), which is a fair duration for the 3€ it costs.

"Kisaragi...had transformed into Mandemon."
The girl said to me.
Her slender fingers caressed the piano keys, playing a haunting tune.
The misty rain outside the window mirrored her sad expression.
Mandemon?.. I pondered this enigmatic word.
Had Mr. Kisaragi lost his humanity? Was he killed for being something else?
The raindrops kept falling on the window, creating a mournful sound.
The pale moonlight penetrated through the rain mist, casting ethereal shadows in the hallway.
Something strange was going to happen here tonight.
I had to be ready —


The VN takes place through the eyes of its protagonist, Satomi Shigeyuki. He wakes up in a decrepit carriage, suffering from amnesia, which is a recurrent problem for him (as all his classmates and teachers seem to be aware of). This trait — so cliché and often a bad omen on the writing quality — is very well exploited here. It becomes quickly clear to the protagonist and the player that all his classmates may not be what they seem… some of them even using his lack of memories to manipulate him. This lack of reliability led me to question every character’s motive at one point or another, analyzing their every word and tone of voice. Some of the characters’ kindness was genuine; others, not so much. Only after playing through the multiple routes, will you discover their true nature.

This is really where this game shines. By weaving an intricate thread of questions and dispersing hints and answers here and there, you’ll only be able to see the full picture after finishing all the routes.
It’s set in a devastated region called Renkai, in a fictional Japan at war with various unnamed countries. Though there’s no specific date nor period of time, the setting is reminiscent of the early 1900s.
You gradually explore and grow familiar with the school system, along with the protagonist. Here, there seems to be a strong hierarchy: the strong at the top; the weak — like Shigeyuki or Ruriko, a girl who he seems to have mutual feelings for — at the bottom of the food chain. The whole story takes place inside the isolated Renkai Academy: a secluded place, safe from the ongoing war, where students have to survive by cultivating their own food as the supplies are lacking.

This order is suddenly thrown into chaos as an announcement is broadcast, saying to evacuate the fields and go back to the academy.
We discover, along with the protagonist (who has no memories of it), how hard the everyday life of these students really is — having to cultivate the fields and then go back to the academy hiking through a long mountain road, while being submitted to the tyranny of the enforcer of the Disciplinary Committee, Sakaguchi Nobu.
Once in the auditorium, one of the professors, Inoue Tomoyuki — an authoritative man who seems well-respected — makes the announcement that another beloved professor has been murdered, and that the killer is among the students.

From there on, you will have to make countless difficult choices, leading you to encounter the mythical Mandemon and either side of a conspiracy that seems to arise. Ultimately, the whole VN’s universe is morally ambiguous, and each route you discover will make you question your previous choices as more of the truth comes to light. This is one of the things I loved the most about this game, as every side has their own reason for doing what they do and I believe people will like different endings depending on their life experience and values.

The strong point of the story is definitely the mystery with its innumerable twists and turns, but the worldbuilding and character development is left a little behind. Because of Shigeyuki’s amnesia and the chaos already taking place on the first day he wakes up, we never get to know the daily life of the students other than cultivating the fields and doing some morning calisthenics. There’s a biology teacher, so I can only imagine they have some classes. I do wonder: do they have the usual curriculum, or is it more military-oriented since there’s a war happening? I would have liked to see this aspect better developed, as I feel it didn’t impact too much on the story itself.

As for the characters: a few of them are well-developed; however, even though we get their full names and full voice acting, we only get a brief glimpse at their lives and personalities for most of them. It’s understandable with such a big cast of characters in such a short time, but I would have liked more bonding time with some of these characters, especially when they appear in important moments. It’s hard to understand their motive otherwise, which weakens a bit some of the endings.

In the end, through its music and events, this visual novel managed to make me feel from tense to sad, with a few rare joyous moments. It even manages to answers the many mysteries it raises without lore-dumping everything at the very end. The pacing was good, and I was completely hooked in once I encountered the Mandemon for the first time.

The art is stunning, offering a wide variety of backgrounds that draws you in, and no less than 32 CGs.

The character sprites are all animated using Live2D, which makes them seem full of life — blinking, tilting their head. I would have liked a few more facial expressions (and maybe mouth flaps) but it’s already a considerable amount of work amongst the 12 characters.

I loved the soundtrack for this game. It mixed classical pieces such as Debussy’s Clair de Lune or Bach’s Jesus, Joy of Man’s Desiring and eight original soundtracks. Together with the sound effects, they set the perfect tone for the scenes — sometimes melancholious, other times tense, or even joyful — and they never seem out of place.

The game offers fully-voiced dialogues, even for the protagonist, and I’ve found all the Japanese voice actors skillful at portraying their characters.

The game is made using Ren’Py.

You can switch between the available languages (as of the time of writing, English, Japanese, Simplified Chinese, Traditional Chinese) at any time in the settings menu without even having to relaunch the game.

The settings also offer a “Safe Mode” which is “Open” by default. I recommend to put it to “Close”, which is supposed to show blood, although I haven’t noticed a difference when switching it back on — maybe it only works on a new save?

This VN has a lot of choices — 30 saves on my first playthrough! — which can make it hard to navigate. Thankfully, the inbuilt flowchart will certainly help you. The locks in it will indicate choices that will lock you into a different route; the reincarnation locks are routes that unlock after completing other endings. Nonetheless, it can be difficult to find out how to reach some routes, as your affinity with certain characters matters, which is defined by some previous normal choices.
As of this writing, there’s only Chinese guides available through steam guides, but the developer is working on one, which should come out soon.

Regrettably, the English translation is plagued with typos, grammatical inconsistencies, and, very rarely, mistranslations, weird phrasing or even parts of sentences missing. The English version could have greatly benefited from additional editing or QC.
However, these issues didn’t sour my enjoyment of the VN much, as the narrative still flows smoothly and the writing is still enjoyable.

I really enjoyed my time with Mandemon. Despite its short length, it managed to throw some good twists and the multiple routes managed to resolve pretty much all the questions. The soundtrack fit the scenes perfectly and I couldn’t get enough of the visuals. I really look forward to what Zhiyi will be doing next!

I really recommend you to experience it yourself right now!

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Writer in training & technical writer. I love everything horror and mystery.

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