MARS RED: Edge of the Nightmare Review

MARS RED is a multimedia vampire narrative set in Taisho Era Japan originally conceived as a stage play by Bun-O Fujisawa performed in 2015. The story focuses on a secret vampire military unit of vampire hunters known as Code Zero and is currently in a rather delayed renaissance with the release of a manga in 2020, followed by an anime and a video game adaptation released in English for mobile phones on May 20, 2021. The game, titled MARS RED: Edge of the Nightmare, features an all-new storyline written by Bun-O Fujisawa and stars a character absent from the anime named Yatsufusa Yuki.

A recently-turned vampire, Yatsufusa gets found by the Code Zero unit and introduced to Tenman-ya, a shop that hires vampires for various tasks and pays them in donated blood, removing their need to feed directly from humans. During his life, Yatsufusa was a disappointment to his military family, and even as a vampire he feels he has little to live for (he has suicide ideation, so content warning for that). Despite this, he becomes entangled with the staff of Tenman-ya and members Code Zero, assisting them with vampire-related investigations and other tasks, slowly growing friendships and connections to both vampires and humans.

MARS RED: Edge of the Nightmare is almost entirely a visual novel, but there are some adventure game-style investigation sequences in addition to the usual text-based choices. You play through each chapter using tickets and a currency called Amber, which can be accumulated for free or purchased. You receive five tickets per day that reset at midnight regardless of how many you’ve used, so it’s a good idea to get into a rhythm to play five chapters per day. There aren’t any branching paths aside from bad ends, but it is possible to fail investigations, requiring you to replay a chapter.

Generally, each of the currently available chapters focuses on an overarching investigation related to vampires, with intertwining side stories that flesh out the various characters. I really didn’t like gloomy Yatsufusa at the beginning, but it was nice to see him grow to understand and appreciate his place in the world and forge connections with the other characters. Of the Code Zero vampires, the boyish Suwa who needs to wear a gas mask to keep the scent of blood from causing him to lose control was my personal favorite. He gets more backstory in Chapter 6, which was great to see! There are also additional vignettes that can be obtained through the gatcha which include new illustrations and further flesh out the characters.

Honestly, a highlight of the game for me when I was first introduced to it by the publisher favary was the voice actor cast, which includes Junichi Suwabe as the grouchy-looking leader of Code Zero, Maeda Yoshinobu. However, while you get to hear the cast in all their glory in the anime, the game is only very lightly voiced, consisting of short grunts or exclamations that play briefly at the beginning of every new dialogue line.

The anime also focuses more heavily on Code Zero, rather than filtering the narrative through a peripheral character of the unit like the game. If you’re watching and enjoying the anime and want to see more of the world and characters, I’d recommend the game as fun additional content that expands on the MARS RED universe. However, if you’re coming to the game first, you might find the pacing slow, especially at the rate of only being able to play five or so chapters a day for free. In order to write this review, I was given plenty of Ambers by the publisher to play through the story at my own pace without needing to wait for tickets to reset or collect Ambers to unlock new chapters, but even still I found it hard to get into the story as someone with no prior introduction to the world of MARS RED.

Another issue I had was the investigations, which ask you to tap areas of the screen to reveal clues. However, it was often extremely difficult to read what they wanted you to tap from the image, and I often found myself tapping everywhere possible on the screen for a solid minute or two before I stumbled into all of the things required to progress the chapter. Also, while the localization overall is pretty solid, there were some areas where it felt pretty stiff or could use an edit. 

After playing through some of the game, I decided to check out the anime for additional context, which definitely helped me feel more attached to the characters and narrative. The anime has a great style that is slightly different from the game, and watching it first may give an impression that certain characters are featured more prominently in the game than they are so far. While I can’t say I’ve fallen in love with the world of MARS RED, I like the Taisho Era setting and cast of male vampires including middle-aged and elderly characters, which I feel is hard to come by! If the game introduces a compelling villain, which is what it feels like it’s building up to, I think that would even more invested.

You can check out the full MARS RED: Edge of the Nightmare game for free on iOS and Android. For more information, visit the official website. The anime is available on Funimation (internationally) and AnimeLab (Australia).

About Anne Lee

Also known as apricotsushi. Anne can be written with the kanji for apricot (杏), and sushi was the most quintessentially Japanese thing I could think of when I was 13, resulting in my goofy, albeit memorable, nickname.