Join Ella McConnell for Waifu Material, a monthly column in which she navigates the murky, cherry-blossom-strewn waters of visual novels, dating sims, and everything in between (reader masochism not required but strongly recommended). [Content warning: discussion of yet more sketchy consent stuff.]
When I first got my hands on OZMAFIA!!, I was unconvinced it'd take me as long to finish as people suggested. Reviews on Steam said the main route alone could take 20 to 30 hours, with full completion clocking in at over 50 hours for some. I laughed. Clearly they were just slow, especially as the game has the visual novel staple skip button (which lets you speed through text you’ve already read and quickly reach the points where you make choices that cause the narrative to branch).
They were not slow.
I spent 42 hours playing this game in total.
Even using the skip button.
Even without letting the voice actors get through all the voiced lines.
And you know what’s worse? I enjoyed it.
First, trailer time:
While it definitely covers all the normal bases of a visual novel trailer by showcasing the characters you can end up with (and yes, there is a character called Manboy – more on him later) as well as some of the CGs and a sprinkling of slightly clunky English, overall it somehow feels a little more like something you’d find preceding an anime episode than a game. It’s also notably lacking in any pink, purple and even the inexplicable cherry blossoms that so often find their way into the otome game trailers, and this more muted palette and restrained particle effect usage makes it not half bad to look at overall.
Most importantly, however, we’ve got to talk about that theme song.
It’s not unheard of for Japanese-made visual novels to have music made by Western bands, but this particular one tickled me because it’s a song by a (since split) Canadian Christian rock band that was probably written about loving the Lord and not a harem of morally questionable anime boys.
The game’s eponymous portmanteau gives a pretty good initial summary: it’s the Wizard of Oz, but they’re mafia.
In more detail: you, the heroine, wake up in an alleyway with amnesia (of course) and are found by members of the Oz mafia family, who live in a town populated by other fairy tale themed mafia families as well as a hapless populace of normal people (seriously, I feel pretty sorry for them because of all the shit they have to go through).
Playing through the various routes gradually reveals more and more of the overarching story as well as the various characters’ backstories and quirks, and there are well over 20 endings as well as an epilogue (which unlocks after you’ve played through at least one ending for each character) and a grand finale (which unlocks after you’ve played through all the routes and got every single CG except the last one).
In short: there’s a lot of story to digest.
OZMAFIA!! has A LOT of characters you can pursue, so I’m just going to dive right in:
- Totally not the cowardly lion
- Don of the Oz mafia family
- Never a dick regardless of which route you take, elevating him to cinnamon roll status
- Totally not the scarecrow
- The Oz family’s second in command
- The kind of guy who posts his IQ on social media
- Slimy flirt
- Consummate edgelord
- Totally not the tin man
- The Oz family’s caporegime
- Fatal sugar addiction
- Taciturn with a gooey centre (possibly due to the latter)
- So bad with guns that he routinely just resorts to clubbing people with them instead
- Rule 63 Red Riding Hood
- 1337 sn1p3r
- Super insecure about both his height and his masculinity (not helped by the fact that the main character inexplicably mistakes him for a girl on multiple occasions)
- The big bad wolf
- Not actually that big or bad
- Spends most of the game unsuccessfully trying to kill and/or eat you
- (More of a puppy than a wolf, really)
- Successful food stall owner (and yet somehow not a hipster)
- Casually part of the gang that wants to kill you
- JUST YOU WAIT UNTIL YOU REACH THE END OF THE GAME
- Catgirl (but nothing like NEKOPARA’s)
- COLOSSAL BADASS
- Technically a friend as opposed to a romantic option (boooo)
- Local doctor (whose practice is obviously called Sherwood Clinic)
- Does actually have a face under all that
- Has more in common with Mr Freeze than you might think
- The right-hand man(boy) of Dorian Gray (YES, DORIAN GRAY) and reluctant manager of his “salon” (spoilers: it’s a brothel)
- Was once the swallow from Oscar Wilde’s story The Happy Prince (top courtesan Alfani being the titular prince)
- Yes, his name is actually Manboy (allegedly due to this Swedish pop song)
- THAT GODDAMN MONOCLE DOESN’T EVEN ALIGN WITH HIS EYE
- The Pied Piper of Hamelin (if the Pied Piper of Hamelin was a bishie)
- Painfully stylish eyepatch
- Kind of the bad guy
- BUT IS HE?
Finally, I feel like I should give an honourable mention to side character Heidi, who’s relentlessly mocked for her size and is also voiced by a male actor panto dame style (leading to lots of gender jokes that are probably more mean than progressive) but has some incredible lines:
See no evil: art
I’ll make no bones about it: OZMAFIA!! has incredible art.
The sprites and backgrounds are all beautifully done, the soft, pastelly palette really lending itself to the game’s storybook setting.
The numerous CGs are also pretty great for the most part (although some do work better than others), and the game even throws in some actiony cut-ins at particularly tense moments.
Art director and Poni-Pachet co-founder Satoi is no stranger to visual novels, and is perhaps best known for her work on Diabolik Lovers, a vampire-themed otome game that my teenage self would have been all over to an embarrassing degree (check out the opening for the anime if you dare – it has both rose petals and j-rock).
Hear no evil: voice acting and music
The majority of OZMAFIA!! (i.e. pretty much all the main characters) is voiced, and really well at that.
All the voice acting is in Japanese, but even if you’re on the other side of the sub vs. dub fence you’ll have to admit the actors do a great job of bringing the (actually incredibly well-localised) text to life.
However, one thing that did lead to me to inadvertently skip a lot of voice lines was the fact that quite a few of the actors seemed to start taking massive pauses between sentences. I imagine this was for dramatic effect, but once you’re 26 hours into a game that’s blithely telling you you’re only 55% done with a publication deadline creeping ever closer EVERY SECOND COUNTS.
OZMAFIA!!’s music is also nicely done, with some tracks subtly incorporating the melody from the trailer music and most of the main characters having their own theme music of sorts. It also seems to manage to avoid the issue a lot of visual novel soundtracks have where it becomes jarringly obvious where a track loops, thus making for a more seamless audio experience.
The sound effect quality is slightly mixed (for example THOSE FUCKING ENDLESS FOOTSTEPS AT THE START OF THE GAME JESUS CHRIST) but this is a relatively small aspect of an otherwise aurally sound game.
Speak no evil: writing and plot
OZMAFIA!! isn’t just perfunctorily translated like so many visual novels on Steam – it’s actually well written.
It’s even funny at times – there was a joke about handjobs that I actually laughed at (which is perhaps more indicative of the level of sophistication of my sense of humour than anything), and innuendo aside there were a good handful of jokes that actually put a smile (or perhaps more accurately a reluctant snerk) on my generally miserable face.
The majority of the game uses third-person narration, which felt a little weird to start with but ultimately ended up working.
Some of the side scenes also end quite abruptly, which in some cases seemed to be because there were extra bits to unlock as part of other routes but other times just… because? In any case, it meant that sometimes it wasn’t entirely clear what happened until one of the other characters brought it up later in the story. The passage of time also feels somewhat hazy, and it’s easy to confuse weeks passing with days the first few routes you play as it’s not very clearly signposted.
Overall the story doesn’t pan out quite how you expect, and it’s definitely not perfect. The main plot is touched on briefly in the prologue and then kind of ignored until you get to the epilogue, and there’s one route that’s basically Problematic: The Ride, but I was invested enough to see the story through until the end (whereupon I actually teared up a little and I don’t know whether it was due to hormones, being dosed up on painkillers, Stockholm Syndrome, genuine #FEELS, or some kind of unholy combination of all of the above).
Also OZMAFIA!! taught me that people saying “thank you” in English when the text reads “gracie” in an otherwise fully Japanese-voiced game is strangely confusing.
OZMAFIA!! was MangaGamer’s first otome game license, and is a relatively benign addition to their lineup when you consider (NSFW crumple zone for excitable link clickers) the other games available on their site.
The game is polished but not perfect. There were some typos and a few instances where incorrectly formatted code spilled into the text and made me think things were going to go a bit Doki Doki Literature Club, and sometimes the game gets inexplicably laggy and unresponsive until you restart it (which is unusual as visual novels aren’t exactly resource-heavy games). It’s also not compatible with the Steam overlay, which isn’t a huge problem but does mean no chat or cheevos if you want either moral support while playing or some kind of record of the many hours of your life you spent playing it.
The majority of the routes feature at least one sex scene, but they’re pretty much all just alluded to/fade to black (and, again, aren’t terribly written) so wedge acceptance remains at manageable levels.
However, OZMAFIA!!, like so many otome games, does still have some definite consent fuckery in a couple of characters’ routes (and this is excluding a few of those all-too-familiar moments where bad guys loudly start discussing whether they should try touching you up or not before one of the main characters comes to save you).
I’m going to have to go into slightly spoilery territory to explain, but essentially in Robin Hood’s route he shoves something into your mouth, saying:
And then the following day you get this incredibly problematic line:
He ostensibly does this in order to gain access to the Oz family’s weapon stash by using you, but holy fuck was that an uncomfortable read that made it very difficult to see the character in a positive light afterwards (which is actually mentioned by Robin Hood himself but our plucky doormat of a heroine says she loves him anyway, which is… yeah).
There’s also Manboy’s route, AKA “the brothel route”.
While still being mostly fade to black, it’s a lot more explicit than the other routes – which is fine, but it also brings with it some stuff that’s less sexy and more uncomfortable.
The fact that the brothel is owned and operated by Dorian Gray (and also that Manboy repeatedly tells you not to come back) is admittedly a fairly good indication that you’re in for A Bad Time, but seemingly consensual (it’s a little hazy at times, which is one of the problems) BDSM aside the route essentially boils down to:
- You keep visiting to hang out with Manboy, initially unaware that the place is a brothel
- Manboy falls in love with you (obviously) and keeps warning you to stay away
- You keep coming back anyway
- Dorian Gray cuts in and introduces you to their top male escort
- Dorian Gray decides he wants you for himself and starts plying you with aphrodisiacs and fuck knows what else (NOPE)
- Dorian Gray orders a conflicted/unwilling Manboy to take part in a threesome with you (EXTREMELY NOPE)
- Dorian Gray DECLARES YOU LEGALLY DEAD (because the brothel is also a funeral parlour, by the way)
- You’re reduced to a mindless sex slave
I’m aware that this kind of stuff is some people’s jam but it’s a real turn considering how all the other routes play out, and once you’re on Dorian Gray’s Wild[e] Ride there’s no getting off (unless you’re into that sort of thing).
Also the “good” ending for this route sees you enacting a coup of the brothel by choking out Dorian Gray while threatening to show him his painting (which is probably the most surreal line I’ve ever written in a game review to date).
Who’s your husbando though?
Axel, because apparently I have a thing for emotionally stunted robot men.
At £26.99, OZMAFIA!! is admittedly at the pricier end of the spectrum as far as visual novels go.
However, considering the sheer amount of content and the fact that it’s actually both pretty AND well written, I’d argue that it’s well worth that if you’re into otome games and a fan of (somewhat dark) fairy tale reworkings.