Killing Game House / 殺し合いハウス

(This is not a review I expected to write...)

Killing Game House is a fully voiced Japanese amateur web series presented in the style of a visual novel. (Killing Game House is a direct translation of the title. If I was going to localize it, I'd probably call it something like "Murder Mansion.") The creators described their intention as creating a cross between Liar Game and Future Diary, and I think they succeeded! (And just in case you didn't believe those two works were the inspiration, there's a character named Akiyama Minane.) Killing Game House has the basic Future Diary plot of a bunch of people with magic powers trying to kill each other, with the aesthetic and structure of a game as in Liar Game. I stumbled upon this series by complete accident today, and gave the whole thing a whirl... and it held up!

The basic plot of Killing Game House involves a group of people who have joined this game to kill each other for fabulous monetary prizes. While there are lots of details and nuances to the rules, the basic flow of the game is simple enough:
-The players are each randomly and secretly assigned a number and a power
-Each day, each player selects a murder target based on player number
-Noon to 6 pm each day is "Murder Time." To participate in Murder Time, a player must be in the lobby at noon
-Each player is given a knife and a gun, which may be removed from their room only during Murder Time
-Each player may kill only their target, only with the issued knife, gun, or power, and only during a Murder Time they are participating in (or in self-defense if they are attacked)
-Successfully killing your target nets you $1 million, along with any prize money your target had accumulated
Two things to note. First, targets are selected based on player number, which are secret, so you can't try to kill someone until you find out their number. Second, the rules prohibiting the knife and gun from leaving the room outside of Murder Time and requiring each player to be in the lobby at the start of Murder Time to participate ensures that each Murder Time begins with the participating players in the lobby without any weapons.

The rules of the game seemed needlessly prohibitive to me, but they end up forming the backbone of a thrilling and exciting psychological game. Most of the psychological strategy and action comes from the powers each player has. Each player is granted their very own magic power, such as the ability to order a command that must be followed or to know any player's number. There's no explanation for how these crazy powers actually work, but that's okay; this isn't a story about how the mansion operates or why it exists, but about the game itself. Killing Game House ended up reminding me a lot of Death Note, because it became about killing people using magic powers that had known and specified rules and limits in unique and clever ways.

As should be clear by now, I liked the plot. The beginning was a bit slow, but it only got more heated and more exciting as the game progressed. Everything done is entirely fair. We're given all the relevant information and rules beforehand and all the twists are clued, so the strategies and plot developments feel legitimately clever and not like cheap tricks. A fair amount of the tricks are not difficult to foresee, but there are some legitimately surprising strategies as well. The characters are all intelligent, and so while to a certain degree the characters act the way they do because that's what causes an interesting game, everything feels like a reasonable strategy for an actual person to use; nobody ever does something stupid purely for the purpose of the plot.

That being said, I have three minor plot-related complaints. First, while the characters are not idiots, sometimes their deductions are a bit too slow and long-winded. I'm sure you've experienced a mystery or thriller where there's an extremely obvious deduction, you're screaming the answer at the screen, but the characters just don't realize it. Here, the characters make the obvious deductions, but sometimes they need to go over each piece of evidence in their mind three times before they arrive at the conclusion. In other words, the script could have just been shortened in these parts. Second, the time frame of the game sometimes felt a bit weird. Murder Time was 6 hours long each day, but there usually wasn't continuous action. In fact, sometimes the characters would just all sit around in the lobby. This would lead to situations where we would suddenly cut 2 or 3 hours ahead with absolutely nothing apparently happening in that time frame. If the plot didn't need anything to happen, nothing had to happen, but the jarring time cuts sometimes made it like a scripted story rather than a naturally developing game. Finally, there's what I feel is a minor plot hole. Near the beginning of the game, it's established that after selecting a target, you can see how many people have selected you as their target. And then... everyone seems to forget about it. While this doesn't decisively contradict anything, I do think there are some later strategies and developments that would have played out different if the characters knew how many people were targeting them (which they should have).

These problems are truly nit-picks, and I commend the authors for plotting out a compelling and interesting death game. I don't think the game was quite as clever or elegant as those in Liar Game or Death Note, but the authors clearly have talent and an understanding of the genre.

The characters... are very trope-y. You have the silent stoic soldier, the little kid who thinks all adults are stupid, the schoolgirl who appears nice but is actually kill-crazy, etc etc. I don't think this is a problem, because this isn't a story about the characters, but what the characters do. While there aren't any new or compelling character ideas, there's still a wide variety of character tropes and personalities that allow for entertaining relationships and group dynamics to develop. The videos are fully voiced, which helps add life to the characters. The voice acting was decent, without any particularly good or bad performances. (Except the dialogue for one character had abhorrent sound quality, but he had the fewest lines by far so it's excusable.)

The graphics are the other weak point, but good enough. It's obvious from the graphics that this is an amateur work. However, this is because different graphics were made by different artists, and so have slightly different styles. It is not because the graphics are low-quality. The sprites, backgrounds, and other assorted graphics are all good enough to understand what's being depicted. Additionally, in true VN style, there are occasionally CGs, usually when one character kills another. The biggest graphical flaw (besides mismatched sprite styles) is the fonts. Each character has their own unique font and/or color for their dialogue, which is a nice touch... except some of them can be tough to read. None of them are illegible, however.

The sound direction is a small part of the work, but provides a nice atmosphere. There is background music, and it's usually good and fitting, but it's seldom prominent. It does what it's supposed to do: provide a mood in the background. If you're a fan of the genre, you're likely to recognize a song or two. There are a couple of sfx, which do their job of reinforcing some action. Most of the sound is the voiced dialogue, which, as I already said, is acceptable.

On the whole, you can treat Killing Game House like a movie or a kinetic novel. While it obviously isn't professionally produced, it's still well-made, and the most important element—the plot—delivers. There's no English translation, and I doubt there will be one any time soon, so if you don't know Japanese, you're probably out of luck... But if you know Japanese, it's free, so if you like the genre I definitely recommend giving it a try!

(As a final note, there are apparently six more House series, so with apologies to my English-only readers, this probably isn't the last you'll be hearing about the series here.)

Episode 1 (Niconico)

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