Please be warned, SPOILERS AHEAD!
If there’s one thing I pride myself in, as both a reviewer and gamer, is my ability to find the fun in almost any game. Poison Control made this a tough task. It’s not that the game’s quality is bad. In an industry plagued by unfinished games and overreliance on patching, Poison Control is a shining example of a complete project. I cannot deny it putting this notch on its belt. It’s also not completely devoid of any redeemable factors. There are some cool and intriguing ideas in this game. The main issue that impeded my enjoyment of Poison Control was that none of these ideas are given an opportunity to be fully fleshed out.
The game begins with you waking up in a place called a Belle’s Hell, a manifestation of a person’s negative emotions that traps their spirit. As a nameless and amnesiac protagonist, you are the Soul Mate of Poisonette, a spirit with the ability to cleanse the poisonous Mires within Belles’ Hells. Together, you embark on a journey across the various Circles of Hell, cleansing these spirit prisons in a bid to collect all 5 stickers needed to enter Heaven. Along the way, you meet other Spirit Maidens and their Soul Mates as well as uncover the mystery behind your memory loss. The story is told primarily through visual novel-style cutscenes and conversations you have with the spirits of the Belles. As a concept, Poison Control’s story felt like an interesting take on the Palaces and “changes of heart” found in Persona 5. Each Belle has their own reasons for falling into despair and sadness, ranging from absurd to exceedingly dark. Unfortunately, the nameless protagonist doesn’t quite work as well here. Even with the exposition afforded along the way, your own particular circumstances don’t ever hit as hard as the Belles that you are setting out to liberate.
Between story expositions, you embark on missions to cleanse the Hells of the Belles. It’s here where the game switches to an action dungeon crawler where you explore each Hell to cleanse the mires, defeat enemies known as Kleshas, and uncover loot. Each Hell itself is quite linear with very few instances where you could actually get lost. The first few missions require you to simply cleanse the majority of poison Mires you find along the way while others down the line will have different objectives in accordance to a particular Belle’s story. While each dungeon does, to a degree, have a difference in its ambiance and color scheme, they ultimately all feel very much the same. This is partially due to the simplistic asset design that, while somewhat cute, still could have used some sprucing up. There are times even when the poison and floor colors blend too much which ended up in me stepping into it at times and taking damage during heated battles.
Speaking of battles, it’s here where Poison Control had me particularly frustrated. You effectively control two characters: yourself and Poisonette. As yourself, your main attack is a hand cannon that you can fire by holding down the Shoot Mode button, mapped to the left trigger, and firing with the right trigger. As you progress through the game, you can equip new types of weapons with different bullets and fire rates, both limited by an ammo count. Your main attack recharges itself once all bullets are used while for your other weapons there are ammo pick-ups from chests and poison mires. By holding down the left shoulder button you give your body up to Poisonette, rendering you down to an immobile skeleton. While holding this down, you can run around as Poisonette to cleanse any poison you find on the ground. This can be done in one of two ways. You can either just mark it in a path and let go, or you can circle around it until you arrive back at your body and let go to cleanse whatever is within the bounds you’ve marked. There’s a limit to how long you can stay as Poisonette. Once the time is up, she’ll return control of your body to the protagonist. Cleansing poison by using the second method can also damage enemies within the bounds as long as they’re standing in poison. In essence, I felt the game wanted me to use my gun to knock down enemies then use Poisonette to deal the final blow, and when this actually worked it was a pretty satisfying combat experience. The issue, though, is that enemies have to be standing in poison in order to take damage from a cleansing. It was very often that I found myself attempting to conserve ammo by using Poisonette only for enemies to be just outside a poison mire to not take damage. Ultimately, in order to successfully pull off a good attack combo, you have to do a lot of waiting. In some ways, it felt to me like the devs were trying to balance the game’s combat systems, leading to one that effectively feels unfun and restrictive.
What also didn’t help was the lack of any interesting use of the poison cleansing mechanic. What’s worse is that I had to cleanse poison not just to complete missions but also to replenish health and acquire currency for upgrades. I found myself several times just going through corridors only to cleanse poison. There was the occasional chest that popped up but beyond that, the incentive for cleansing poison always felt artificial making Poison Control’s defining mechanic one that could have potentially be utilized in more interesting ways.
At its heart, Poison Control is an action visual novel filled with engaging stories that most fans of anime will find themselves right at home with. It’s simply too hard for me to ignore the overdesigned aspects of the gameplay. If you’re someone who enjoys a decent visual novel with some fun and heartwarming moments and can look past the roughness of the gameplay then Poison Control is well-worth your time.