Release date: November 28, 2023
Developer: Idea Factory
Publisher: Idea Factory
Catarina Claes was a very huge brat as a child. She was unruly, selfish, and had a mean streak that made family and staff at her mansion home shy away from her. Born into a noble family, Catarina had everything she could ever want. One day, awakening to memories of her past life as a Japanese high school student, Catarina realized that the life she was currently living was the main plot of a visual novel game, Fortune Lover, from her past world – one where the character she just happened to be born as would meet very unfortunate endings based on the player character’s choices. Understanding that fate was not on her side, she quickly and rapidly changed. The once bratty child devoted herself to overcoming each and every terrible ending she could face, winning the affection of those who would cause her demise in the process, though she does seem to be ignorant to how much her friends come to care for her. That’s the premise of Idea Factory’s latest Switch game, My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom – Pirates of the Disturbance.
Upon enrolling in Magic School, Catarina solidifies deep and unwavering friendships with the school’s student council members, including the protagonist character from the visual novel and the devotion of the third prince of the country, Geordo Stuart, who happens to become Catarina’s fiance from childhood as well as a romance option that the player can pursue in addition to the other members of the student council. Our story begins during summer break for the young men and ladies, all of whom received invitations to an interkingdom gathering to show off the latest in ocean technology. A joint venture between Catarina’s home country of Sorcier and the neighboring country of Quid, the event begins on board a state-of-the-art luxury liner called the Vinculum. Recalling that this scenario seems mighty familiar, Catarina realizes that a Fortune Lover fan book did happen to illustrate a cut storyline that may have included yet another possible doomed fate for Catarina. Not wanting to end up dead or in exile, Catarina will need to think fast to get through safely alongside her friends.
The game opens with the player seeing the fan book through the eyes of Catarina’s friend in her past life looking through the fan book, then opening to Catarina and her adopted brother, Keith, receiving orders from their parents to attend the party on the Vinculum. Sick at home with colds and unable to attend themselves, their parents send explicit instructions for Keith to take over in his father’s stead and for him to keep an eye on Catarina due to her tendency to overeat, talk to strangers, and get mixed up in all sorts of things that her mother sees as unfit for a woman of nobility. Excited for the prospects of new food from the neighboring country of Quid, Catarina and Keith head out to the maiden voyage of the new ship, happy to see their friends from school in attendance as well.
As a visual novel, My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom – Pirates of the Disturbance is very text-heavy and includes Japanese voiceover for most scenes. The player will be able to make decisions that influence the way the story unfolds. These decisions can also earn the player the affections of the boys on board the ship, including the student council boys as well as a couple of new characters introduced in this story. As this story is set before Catarina’s eventual job placement after Magic School, its also considered not to be canon to the anime and can be enjoyed as its own little alternate universe approach with the same setting and characters that fans of the anime have come to love. Catarina will definitely be as dense as anime fans recall, not seeming to realize that basically every single character happens to be wholly and irrevocably in love with her.
When faced with options, what the player happens to choose will earn points towards one of the routes in the game. Each route changes the course of the story, with replay value being pretty high. If you happened to read “Choose Your Own Adventure” books as a child, that’s pretty much what visual novels happen to be in a more digital and less cumbersome form. Every decision is weighted and results in gaining more affection from other characters. With both quick save and quick load features, the player can check out which options influence which characters if they’d like to aggressively chase an option, but during my first playthrough I decided to just pick the things that came naturally to me.
There are a total of six main romantic routes that players can choose from: Prince Geordo, Prince Alan, Keith, Nicol, Rozy, and Silva. The last two characters being new additions for this storyline, and the first four knowing Catarina since childhood. While the female characters are not able to be pursued in game (which is kind of wild, considering that they’d all be down for that) the two new characters, Rozy and Silva, will have plenty of time to make an impact on the player. While those who have watched the anime most likely have a favorite boy to pursue, these two routes are also incredibly viable and quite well written, feeling like very natural progressions for romance where the student council boys may feel more like an inevitable ending due to the shared history between them all.
Different cutscenes will play and memories will be unlocked as you progress the story. These memories can be accessed from the game’s menu and show what all routes the player has discovered with the various choices that can be made. As I seemed to press more toward Catarina’s fiance, Geordo, I received more scenes involving him, giving less chance for the other boys to shine. The first encounter with Rozy, though, did make quite an impression. An engineer and crafter of fine snacks and sweets, Rozy is quite an interesting guy, and one that I wouldn’t mind shipping outright with Catarina. Silva, on the other hand, makes quite an entrance with tales of his ruthlessness as a Quidian pirate preceeding him.
As I advanced the story and the plot’s twists and turns, I really did enjoy my time exploring the game. As a new mom, finding time to play involved games has been exceptionally difficult, but booting up a visual novel has been both easy and enjoyable overall. The game loads fast, controls easily, and includes a lot of content and features to help you discover and enjoy it all. While Catarina herself is dense as a box of rocks throughout the game and doesn’t ever seem to realize that people are totally serious when confessing feelings to her, this game does allow you to see the conclusion to the possible romantic options and does drive a relationship home should you seek to pursue one. Playing the story as Catarina usually would, focusing on seeking food and friendship will result in a “normal” ending that shows Catarina alongside all of her friends.
The game looks and plays quite smoothly in both docked and handheld modes, and the Japanese voice acting is filled with familar voices from the anime, making it quite a wonderful playable experience. While fans have clamored for the original Fortune Lover titles to be created and released for play, this entry shows that while we may not have the original story, we do get to see a little more of the world of My Life as a Villainess and more time with the characters we’ve grown to love.
My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom – Pirates of the Disturbance is a cute standalone side story and does a great job at bringing more life to the world we’ve come to know and love from the hit anime. Established characters feel alive and react as fans would expect, and the backstories given in the early story act as a great catch up for players that are new to the setting and characters. Collecting memories as you explore gives completionists something to work toward and provides excellent replayability for those looking to get every detail out of the events aboard the Vinculum.
With plot reveals that get deeper as you go back and replay the game’s various routes, this visual novel packs a ton of content into a well-written story that begs to be explored from top to bottom. Fans of the anime will definitely need to pick this up, and visual novel lovers will also find this one to be a particularly fun little investment.
My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom – Pirates of the Disturbance copy provided by the publisher for the purposes of this review.