Cartagra ~Affliction of the Soul~ Review
Didn’t think that was all the Innocent Grey coverage we’d have this month, did you? Seeing as I’d covered the demo for last year’s Halloween, it’s only natural that I’d be presenting a review of the full game. Not only are we looking at the beginning of what would be the murder mystery series Innocent Grey is known for, but Cartagra is also the company’s debut title when it was released in Japan on April 28, 2005 and on December 15 of that same year was ported to the Playstation 2 (how that happened I have no idea). Nearly ten years later, Cartagra ~Affliction of the Soul~ got an English release from Mangagamer right smack dab on Halloween of 2014. The only question is was this a treat? The short answer is yes, the longer is yes, but…
Pros: Overall good murder mystery story, cast of characters are mostly memorable, great artwork, excellent combination of music, writing and imagery to establish atmosphere.
Cons: Is overshadowed by its sequel, a couple characters could have used more presence in the story, unwinnable heroines.
WTF?!: As someone who always gets that soup whenever I go out for sushi, I find Toji 100% correct.
Set a few years before Kara no Shoujo, Cartagra has you playing primarily from the perspective of Shugo Takashiro, an ex-cop turned freelance detective who ends up taking a case at the request of his former boss. He is to find a missing girl named Yura Kozuki at the request of her twin sister, Kazuna. Coincidence or not unbeknownst to Kazuna, Shugo and Yura had been involved in an intimate relationship before the former was sent off to fight in what would later be known as World War 2. Meanwhile a series of gruesome killings have been occurring and further events begin dragging Shugo into that investigation as well…
Before we get to the main review I have to say I have an odd little history with this game. Its release was during my early college years, when I was just starting to take a look at non translated eroge and with considerably less Japanese literacy than I do now. I ended up trying it out as part my plan to get to know the language better through exposure. The end result was I finished the first two chapters, but circumstances ended up with the game on my backburner, but through that I still became a fan of the company since I liked how their games looked and their stories sounded right up my alley. So when the MG announced an English release I was more than happy to finish what I’d started all those years ago. Now that I have I can say I liked it, but I would have liked it a lot more if I’d finished it back then instead of now.
Let’s talk about the positives first; overall this is a good murder mystery story. From the start you’re pulled in by the mysteries presented to you at the start: from the strange and unsettling opening scene that generates quite a few questions in your head as you read more of the story, to the murders as Shugo starts as an observer only to gradually be pulled in, to the missing person’s case he takes that seems to be in the background but over time becomes more significant to the plot. The introductions are enough to make you curious, and the story’s cast of characters (click here for profiles)care written well enough to help move things along.
What I mean by that is that the majority of the characters in this are all at least written well enough that you’ll remember theme for their personalities. From Kazuna’s cheerful and silly personality that hides a strong determination, to twisted sister Nana, to the flirtatious Rin, readers are in for a good number of characters to like…and for whose fates you may very well end up dreading over when the murders start happening closer to home for Shugo. I can also assure you that just like its sequel, Cartagra is not going to pull any punches, so enjoy that feeling of dread as you wonder which characters you like will make it out alive.
At this point I’d be discussing routes, but to be honest there are really only two routes in the game: Hatsune’s and Kazuna’s. I know if you look at a walkthrough you might think there’s more, but those are just bad end paths. That isn’t to say that you should skip them (though you can) as not only do you get some interesting story bits and hints at stuff that will be important later, but you also get some pretty well written horror scenes that range from gruesome to psychological, all of which make for very fitting reading material for this time of year. That isn’t to say the two aforementioned routes are any less significant as stories, they’re both fairly good though there sadly isn’t much of a comparison between the two routes as Kazuna’s wins out easily since her route is the longest, her true ending solves all the mysteries the story has to offer and subsequently is the most satisfying conclusion. Heck, you almost feel sorry for poor Hatsune as her route flat out tells you it isn’t canon.
All that said, while this is a good game, one can tell this was IG’s first work since there are some writing flaws, some of them more apparent if you’ve played any of their later titles, which is very likely considering Kara no Shojo came out in English first. Honestly, comparing Cartagra to its sequel is pretty unfair seeing as it’s longer and has better production, but you may find yourself doing that no matter how much you try not to if you have played KnS first. A good example would be in comparing Reiji and Shugo the latter just comes off as a more effective investigator while Shugo only comes off as just passable in that category. Basically if this were Detective Conan, Reiji would be one of recurring investigators while Shugo would be one of the characters Conan/Shinichi would knock out and solve the murder as.
To be fair though, there are also writing flaws that stand on their own and would be apparent even without KnS being in the equation. For instance the first half of the game is the more consistently strong part of the game’s story while right after that the plot kind of slows down so it can set things up for the final act. While it makes sense to create a more calmer setting for that, in this case it feels a little messy in how the writing is trying to project that so the characters have some time to breathe after the previous events but at the same time you can tell it’s also kind of rushing to introduce new plot elements for the aforementioned setup. This leads us to the remaining flaws which can generally be attributed to Cartagra’s length as it is on the short side compared to some games of its genre, especially if you only play the good end paths (which again, I don’t recommend doing). This results in a couple cases where it feels like some of the characters could have used more writing to them. Perhaps the best example would be in sub-heroine (and Cecilia Alcott look-alike) Takako, who is given an interesting backstory connection with Shugo and there are hints at what could have been an interesting character. The problem is her presence in the story is minimal to the point where she’s almost more a plot device than a character. We also have the ever present cases of unwinnable heroines with the aforementioned Takako aside we also have Rin, Ujaku and even Toji who all have very good character moments and chemistry with Shugo.
In the area of presentation, this is where Cartagra shines just as well as its fellow Innocent Grey games. While the artwork isn’t as good as later games like Kara no Shojo, there is still quite a bit of appeal to the slightly more anime-ish look to the more animated characters like Kazuna that strangely mix well with the beginnings of the more realistic look that the artist would eventually make her main style of character drawing. Still if there are aspects of Miki-san’s artwork that are comparable to the later games the first of them would be the fine detail of the background CG which help to give the setting of the game a realistic feel, like this would be a place you could expect to see in post-World War 2 Japan. The second would be the artwork done for the murders that are in some ways more graphic than in KnS, especially thanks to the writing that supports it. About the only nitpick I could give for this is that they do recycle the background CG at one point when the story has Shugo stay somewhere else, obviously to save some money, but considering how well done everything else is it's easy to let slide.
Of course the art isn’t all the game excels at, the sound department is perhaps one of the key aspects of what makes Cartagra good. First off the voice acting is phenomenal from how well Kazuna’s voice actress captures that upbeat aspect of the character but can also switch to serious in the right moments to the star power we get from Joji Nakata as Inspector Arishima, who makes up for having a low amount of appearances until the end of the game wherein he then turns in an awesome performance that reminds us why we hold him in so high a regard as a voice actor be it in anime or games. Also concerning the vocals (and leading into the next bit), the opening movie is well made thanks to how well the imagery chosen for it is integrated with the song. Last and certainly not least would be the music where not only are the tunes really good, but they are an integral part of establishing atmosphere which is what really makes many key scenes in the story so effective. Those feelings of suspense when the killer is being tracked or the somber feeling all around as the cast mourns the deaths of the victims, the music and writing work together in a harmonious fashion to convey them and it’s even better when the imagery and voice acting join the fray. It’s moments like those which make Cartagra worth experiencing despite its flaws.
As for the ero scenes, they’re mostly really good being very well drawn and acted. A real shame some of the voice actresses aren’t in very many eroge outside of Innocent Grey.
Cartagra ~Affliction of the Soul~ is an overall very good murder mystery eroge with a good cast of characters, all of them well acted, and a plot good enough that while you may figure out some of the twists you will be wondering how the story will get to that point. It does have the problem of not comparing well with its sequel, Kara no Shojo, along with a couple more noticeable writing problems but if you can look past all that you’re guaranteed a memorable and enjoyable tale of murder and suspense that makes for a very good read for this Halloween. If you haven’t played Kara no Shojo yet, then this will make for an excellent start to the murder mystery series Innocent Grey has built.
Final Score: 7/10 Great
Author Recommendation: Buy it Now.
As for the anime, I can say the first episode is alright and makes for a good adaptation of this game’s demo. The second episode however feels rushed and you notice a decline in animation quality from the first. Obviously a sign that no one was interested in making a new episode, as was the case, which I admit is a little disappointing. Considering Cartagra’s shortness, it could conceivably be adapted into a four episode OVA with the proper writing and direction.