Episode 1 – The Hand That Feeds | Tears of Themis | Main Story Review
An unusual collaboration of romance and murder-mystery: Tears of Themis took the otome world by storm during its global release in 2021, and the hype is back again with the recent release of Chapter 6 – Part 1. In preparation for the next instalment of the game’s main story, I’m re-reading from the beginning to remind myself of the convoluted, intricately woven plot that has unfolded so far…
Tears of Themis
Tears of Themis is a mobile otome game that was released on global servers in 2021 by miHoYo – the game developers behind international hits like Genshin Impact and Honkai Impact 3rd.
Combining classic detective fiction, murder mystery, and romance; Tears of Themis is an odd combination of tropes and archetypes that takes clear inspiration from other popular media, including the Ace Attorney franchise and, more explicitly, the classic Sherlock Holmes novels by Arthur Conan Doyle.
Far from plagiarism or unoriginality – these references are framed as a loving homage and the writers’ enthusiasm is apparent at every turn, particularly in this opening chapter. There’s also an undeniably intricate level of world-building, and the technical skill of the development team is consistently impressive throughout the game.
Minigames and other gameplay elements are inextricably woven into the story in a way that prevents the momentum of the plot from being disrupted, while also serving to build tension and further ‘gamify’ an otherwise story-heavy game.
To keep this section brief, I’ll just say that there are many reasons why Tears of Themis attracted the attention it received, with quality craftsmanship and innovative game design being the core of my personal interest in the game. If you want to know more about the wider game of Tears of Themis, you can read our full game review: here.
I’ve tried to avoid any major spoilers in the following review of ‘Episode 1 – The Hand That Feeds’, but I do discuss some plot points which may be considered spoilers.
Most of the specifics I mention are to do with the opening few scenes, but if you want to start the game completely free from pre-existing knowledge, I recommend skipping straight to the ‘final thoughts‘ section of this review…
Beware: Spoilers Ahead!
Fall for Tears of Themis in this deceptively wholesome, ‘feel-good’ opening chapter of the game — Through a fairly standard detective story, ‘Episode 1 – The Hand That Feeds’ eases players into the game by gradually introducing the various gameplay elements that form the core of the ‘Tears of Themis’ experience.
These gameplay elements are important, as they’re not only present in the main story, but also in events and other sections of the app – although they’re typically ‘re-skinned’ in some way to add variety, while still maintaining familiarity and overall game cohesion.
What particularly stood out to me when I first played Tears of Themis, was how these gameplay features are integrated into the actual story chapters, rather than standalone minigames that exist between story parts, often disrupting the flow of the plot.
Rather than enduring a cumbersome tutorial that breaks the player’s immersion (immersion being a key component of visual novel and story-heavy games), Tears of Themis launches straight into the plot with a dramatic opening scene. This scene serves as a hint at darker conspiracies with more mature, serious themes to follow – but it’s easy to forget this warning when the story then pivots to a fairly upbeat, feel-good detective adventure.
In stark contrast to the dark and dramatic opening scene, the player is introduced to sunny Stellis – a fictional city set in the near future – which is where we meet the game’s protagonist. As is common practice in the otome genre, players are prompted to choose a custom name for the main character (MC), who is typically designed to act as a vehicle for the player to insert themselves into the story.
Any trepidation provoked by the intrigue of a dangerous special-ops mission quickly dissipates when we’re caught up in the loveable protagonist’s cheery disposition, as she helpfully agrees to sign for a package on behalf of her boss, Artem Wing, Senior Attorney. This is where the story starts to establish the setting of Stellis, as well as the MC’s canonical personality.
If you still had any remnants of tension from the opening scene, then prepare to be wholeheartedly distracted by Artem Wing’s on-screen introduction. The first CG of the game (which can be collected as a card!) proves that the ‘romance’ genre tag isn’t just there for show. This is the moment that every player instantly falls for Artem – and I mean every player, it’s just the law – but it’s also an opportunity for the game to show off it’s smooth, dynamic aesthetic.
Even in this CG scene, the artwork isn’t a still image. It’s more like a GIF with its partial animation. Even though it’s on a loop, the movement is subtle and smoothly integrated, so it doesn’t feel repetitive or clunky. It adds an extra little something-something that makes the game stand out, contributing to the sense of innovation that made me so excited for Tears of Themis in the first place.
If you play video games outside of the visual novel and, more specifically, otome game genres, then having a bit of movement on the screen may not seem like a big deal. And, to be fair, not having some animated bits and bobs doesn’t make other visual novels and/or otome games bad.
But, with the western otome industry largely dominated by a handful of companies, there’s been a distinct set style for years now, and I’m excited to see a new player on the field who isn’t afraid to break the cookie-cutter formula and create a little friendly competition.
However, as I said, just because I’m impressed with Tears of Themis being a little ‘out there’ and experimenting with the otome genre, doesn’t mean it’s inherently better than other otome games, nor am I saying those other games aren’t worth playing. I just liked that it felt different from what I was used to, and I think experimentation and innovation is a great way to further diversify the games available, and therefore expand the potential player base.
Moving on from Artem’s iconic introduction, the story continues to elaborate on the protagonist’s character as she has an opportunity to take the initiative in the plot, and prove herself to be a person who is proactive, intelligent, capable, and kind. She doesn’t necessarily subvert the classic otome heroine archetype – she’s still compassionate, and actually fairly naïve – but she does have a unique flair that makes her distinct from other MCs.
The fact that she’s a lawyer is an intrinsic part of her characterisation and it serves as a way for her to express her core values: truth and justice. Her role ultimately becomes a fusion of detective and attorney, as she performs hands-on investigations in the field, as well as the more ‘lawyer-y’ tasks of putting together a case and representing clients in court.
This is not a realistic depiction of lawyers in the real world – but it doesn’t really matter. For a start, this is a fictional city, so it’s perfectly reasonable for the writers to ask players to just accept that, in Stellis, lawyers fulfil the role of detectives, too. It’s also suitable for the game’s themes, especially considering the clear inspiration the writers have taken from both the Ace Attorney and Sherlock Holmes franchises.
While the Ace Attorney influence is a little more coded than explicit (although it’s most obvious in the actual trial stage of the episode, where the protagonist makes incredibly similar gestures and movements to the characters during court scenes in the Ace Attorney games), the Sherlock Holmes homage is less aesthetic and more integral to the game’s core structure.
Episode 1 is very much the classic detective story, albeit with an otome twist. In detective novels (particularly Sherlock Holmes), the genius detective is able to solve the case long before the reader. However, if they simply solve it and don’t explain how they solved it, then the reader wouldn’t be able to follow their logic – ultimately becoming bored and confused.
This problem is solved by having another character act as a vehicle for the reader. In the case of Sherlock Holmes, this is Watson. While not an incompetent, incapable character, Watson is still an ordinary person, rather than an extraordinary genius. What’s important to note about this characterisation is that this isn’t meant to be insulting – it’s simply necessary for the story to work.
With Watson acting as a vehicle for the reader, Conan Doyle can use him as a way to explain Holmes’ logic to the reader in an entertaining way. He can have Watson and Holmes brainstorm together, discussing the case in a way that lets the reader follow their thought processes and feel included as they solve the mystery.
Tears of Themis has very clear references to the Sherlock Holmes stories, with Luke Pearce (the main character’s childhood best friend and one of the four love interests) being an avid Holmes fan, and actually becoming a private detective himself. He also affectionately calls MC his ‘Watson’, which not only reinforces these ‘Sherlock Holmes’ themes, but also indicates the similarity in the protagonist’s role in Tears of Themis as a whole.
Each of the four love interests is a genius in one way or another, but the main character is a regular person. She’s not incompetent or incapable – instead she’s frequently integral to figuring out the solution. Later in the story, it becomes clear that the love interests wouldn’t be able to do the things they do without her influence, and she’s a core catalyst (and motivation) for their character growth.
She’s not a passive, demure damsel in distress (although I do have a soft spot for stories like that), just as Watson was never a passive, demure damsel in distress. Tears of Themis’ protagonist is proactive, intelligent, and brave – and she’s still an otome protagonist.
Tears of Themis doesn’t come across as an otome game for people who don’t like otome games – it’s not trying to appeal to players by being ‘not like other girls’ – and I think this is because, while it definitely pushes the genre and strays from the standard recipe, it still honours the features of the genre that fans already love.
Furthermore, the protagonist of Tears of Themis is not just a ‘strong female character’ in the stubborn, anti-feminine sense of many a token ‘feminist’ character back in the day. She’s also compassionate, and even a little naïve in the sense that she has a fairly idealistic view of the world – an innocent nature still uncorrupted by greed or selfishness.
In my personal opinion, when many women and girls asked for stories featuring ‘strong female characters’ I don’t think we were necessarily asking for characters who opposed anything that could be considered traditionally ‘feminine’. I think what we were actually asking for were characters we could identify with, whose traits were coded in the story as being something that made them impressive, rather than inferior.
Rather than being stubborn, strong-willed, and stoic in a traditionally ‘masculine’ sense, Tears of Themis gives us a protagonist who is good at her job and consistently depicted as impressive, while still maintaining her traditionally ‘feminine’ qualities, like empathy.
More importantly, this empathy is shown to be an asset, rather than a hindrance. Instead of rejecting the ‘pure-hearted’ otome protagonist in search of a more modern, ‘feminist’ MC, the writers frame these classic traits in a positive, empowering light, thereby appealing to fans of both classic and subverted otome heroine tropes. In short, the main character is impressive because of her kindness and compassion, not despite them.
I didn’t mean to go on quite such a long tangent about the Tears of Themis MC, but I saw a lot of discussion around her characterisation – and how “good” it is – when the game was first released. In particular, I saw a lot of players enthusiastically praising the protagonist, as well as several (typically more ‘veteran’ otome fans) putting down these players, claiming that she’s not that impressive because “good” protagonists have been done before. This was usually accompanied by a general disdain for otome fans who played mobile games. But, that’s a debate for another day.
All I’ll say here is that I personally agree with the fans who love the Tears of Themis protagonist. She’s perfect for the role of ‘Watson’ in a self-proclaimed detective story that clearly loves the Sherlock Holmes novels. She also fits the expected archetype for an otome protagonist, while adding the lawyer-detective elements that specifically tailor her to the setting and plot of the game, making her a distinct, yet familiar MC who appeals to a wide variety of otome fans.
I mentioned earlier that Episode 1 is ‘deceptively wholesome’, and that the opening drama is promptly moved to the backburner while the story focuses on the more light-hearted plot surrounding the upbeat, pure-hearted protagonist.
This is a common theme throughout the first episode, as any potentially dark conspiracy or mystery is introduced through scenes where the POV shifts from the protagonist’s perspective, to an external perspective where we watch the events unfold without the main character’s knowledge.
This emphasises her (initial) naiveté – bad things are happening, but the main character is blissfully unaware. It builds suspense, as we know that not only are bad things happening behind the scenes, but also, eventually, the protagonist will be exposed to all of these bad things, which could potentially corrupt her characteristic ‘innocence’.
This opening episode does a fantastic job of setting up intriguing plot threads, even if they’re not too obvious in the first playthrough. There were plenty of hints that I only noticed during my second run of the main story, after I’d already read how they’re elaborated on later.
I will say, however, that this drastic change in tone could have been handled a little more effectively. I get the impression that it’s meant to highlight the contrast between the dark underbelly of Stellis (and the plot) with the sunshine and rainbows of the main character. However, the descent into these heavier themes and plot threads could have happened gradually over the course of the first episode, rather than dramatically plummeting with the turn of Episode 2.
While there are definitely hints at a more intense, dramatic web of conspiracies beneath this sunny surface, I didn’t feel that this initial episode adequately prepared me for the shocking change in tone and content of Episode 2. I’m going to have to go into some specifics here, so here’s another spoiler warning, just in case.
Episode 1 revolves around a legal case taken on by the protagonist. Artem, a senior partner at the law firm and kind of MC’s boss, trusts her with this case, indicating that the protagonist is a capable lawyer in her own right. This case turns out to be about corporate sabotage, with a little personal grudge thrown in for extra emotional appeal.
The heroes and villains are clearly defined, with a largely unsympathetic antagonist and ‘heroes’ who are about as sympathetic as you can get. It’s a feel-good detective story where you get to help defend a frail, philanthropic old man and a kind, young woman who just wants to take care of the nice old man who paid for her education. You’re even defending them from, essentially, corporate greed and personal betrayal. It’s fairly clear who you’re supposed to root for, and the story progresses to a ‘good guys win and bad guys lose’ ending without much struggle.
This story, along with the introduction of the two ‘cuddly’ love interests and the initial portrayal of MC’s innocence and compassion, gave a strong ‘wholesome’ impression that completely lulled me into a false sense of security.
As I mentioned earlier, there were definitely hints at a darker conspiracy beneath the surface, but in the face of overwhelming ‘feel-good’ vibes, these were either forgotten or over-looked. These hints at plot stuff aren’t as meaningful or memorable when you don’t already know the plot stuff they’re hinting at.
Which is why, when I then read Episode 2, it felt like I was reading a completely different story. The tone took a dramatic turn for the sinister, with the introduction of the two more ‘complicated’ love interests and a legal case about a significantly more violent crime.
I’ll elaborate on this point more in my review of Episode 2, but I just wanted to mention here that while Episode 1 does a fantastic job of grabbing the player’s attention, establishing the core premise of the game, and gradually incorporating the gameplay elements – it doesn’t effectively prepare the players for the darker, heavier content in subsequent episodes.
I don’t want to put off any potential players – I think Tears of Themis is an amazing game, and once I got over my initial shock and disappointment in Episode 2, I absolutely loved the main story. I just want to warn anyone considering picking up Tears of Themis for the first time that you shouldn’t judge the story by its first episode.
Episode 1 is a fun detective adventure that introduces the story, setting, and cast – particularly the two more ‘comfortable’ love interests. It’s an entertaining way to get a feel for the game’s mechanics, and it establishes the writer’s main sources of inspiration. The enthusiasm and passion is made clearly apparent, and it left me feeling excited to delve deeper into the story of what I could already tell was going to be a new personal otome favourite.
Tears of Themis is marketed as a detective-adventure romance game, and Chapter 1 delivers on this odd amalgamation of genres. It’s an upbeat adventure with clear heroes and villains, where the protagonist must overcome the odds to defeat the antagonist.
The protagonist is technically a lawyer, but in the fictional city of Stellis, lawyers fill the role of both the real world’s traditional concept of a lawyer, and the classic detective archetype we associate with the detective genre, including several loving homages to the tales of Sherlock Holmes.
In terms of romance, this chapter is lacking, but it’s obvious that the story is just getting warmed up and the potential for more romance down the line is already apparent. Even if the protagonist hasn’t explicitly fallen in love yet, there are plenty of scenes that allow the player a chance to fall for the love interests, and several moments that suggest Artem and Luke are already interested in the protagonist.
In short, it’s an exciting opening chapter that both introduces the concept, characters, and gameplay of Tears of Themis, while also building anticipation for the subsequent chapters of the main story. As for recommendations, I will warn any potential new players that the tone and themes of the game take a dramatic turn for the dark and heavy in Chapter 2, so please bear that in mind if you do decide to pick up the game.
Crime (including violent crime, such as murder and domestic violence) becomes a much more prominent theme throughout the rest of the story, and the other core theme of mental illness is also introduced in Chapter 2 in a way that was a little controversial among players when the game first launched.
If you’re concerned about potentially distressing content it may be best to do some research on the remainder of the story before playing Tears of Themis. I’ll go into more detail about the themes introduced and explored in Chapters 2 and beyond in future reviews, so stay tuned for those…
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