I love games that throw you in the deep end. No gentle easing you into the world you’re about to explore, no easy exposition of who the characters are. TAISHO x ALICE episode 1’s beginning is as bracing as a splash of ice water to the face.
This sharp opener comes in the form of an extremely caustic boy you meet as the game begins. You remember nothing about yourself or where you’ve come from, but the immediate interplay between the player character and this boy — who promptly dubs you both variations on the name ‘Alice,’ with him taking the English spelling and you taking the Japanese-transliterated ‘Arisu’ — establishes strong characterization for both even without the context of a backstory or current circumstances.
Stuck in a formless, vaguely malevolent void, the pair of Alices come across a multifaceted crystal that seems to refract as well as reflect, showing them images of two worlds other than the nothing-place they’re caught in.
From here, the story splits into two fully distinct narratives, with different settings and relationships in each. This is another way in which TAISHO x ALICE plays with context and characterization — who are you when you don’t know who you are? Are you the same person if your life is different? Your relationships?
The English localization of the game absolutely sings. A lot of translated games out there are perfectly readable but lack the flow and wit that the original games offered those who played in the original language. In this case, however, English-language players can enjoy the same vivacious, delightful sense of humor as the Japanese version of the game.
It’s a joy to read, the localization team has clearly put a huge amount of care and effort into making this game fun to play.
The two narratives in episode 1 are Cinderella and Red Riding Hood, each a fractured reflection of their classic fairytale, swapping plot elements and the gender of the central character to create a new tale.
Future episodes will offer other worlds to explore, and new romances to pursue: Gretel, Snow White, Kaguya, and the Wizard.
Because all four episodes are available in Japanese, fans who have played the whole saga have explained online that the first game is a sweet, funny otome, but that as you go deeper down the rabbit hole (sorry, mixing my Alice metaphors there) it becomes a twistier, stranger, more emotionally complex journey.
This leaves me in a weird position to talk about this release because TAISHO x ALICE episode 1 is absolutely worth playing in and of itself… in the same way that the first Harry Potter novel is absolutely worth reading. You can stop there and feel happy that you had an amazing time in a fantastic fantasy world, but boy howdy have you left before the action really starts.
The rest of Arisu and Alice’s story will be translated if, and only if, there ends up being sufficient interest in this beginning installment. So please give it a look… we gotta make sure everyone lives happily ever after, right?