Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Kingdom Days Sim Date

Author: Pacthesis
Availability: Free, Online/browser
Format: Dating Sim
Genre: Fantasy
Rating: Everyone
My Scores: (Writing: 3.5, Art: 4.8, Gameplay: 3.5)


Summary:

In Kingdom Days Sim Date, you are Rose. You used to live in an orphanage, until one day you met a strange boy who revealed that you're the long-lost daughter of the king and queen, and he himself is your servant. Sometime after this, though, war forces you to flee from your castle and take shelter with a king who will only allow you to stay if you marry him at the end of a month. Will you go through with it, or will you find a future with someone else?

Review:

Once again, I found myself waffling over the numbers, so take them with a grain of salt. I may have to change my rating system again.

The Writing:
At first, I thought the whole bit with the orphanage was superfluous. Since the premise essentially boils down to "You are a princess", it didn't make sense to have such a long introduction sequence catering to the "Orphan has royal parents" fantasy, which probably hasn't been relevant since the 1800's. However, while this background doesn't have much bearing on the game in general, it becomes absolutely crucial for one character's path. Even so, it probably could have been handled differently - either introduced more subtly, or made more relevant to different parts of the game - so that it doesn't seem like a massive weight pressing down on the game with just one character path acting as a load-bearing pillar. Other than this, the game has Pacthesis' usual interweaving plot threads, attention to detail, and odd humor, all of which I've come to love.

The Art:
I almost gave this a 5. Almost. Had the art for some scenes been just a liiiiittle bit tighter, it would have been perfect; as it was, it was impressive. From the use of monochrome in the beginning, to the animation during the escape, to the detail of Rose and Lewis being spattered with mud as they run through the woods, it's clear that a lot of effort was put into this. The characters and scenery are lovely, expressions and wardrobe change quite a bit, and overall, I am just very impressed.

The Gameplay:
THE STATS DO SOMETHING! Finally, a Dating Sim where the stats actually do something: Charm is required in order to go on dates, Wisdom is required to work the better job, and Magic is used to unlock the cheat codes. Granted, the system is not above criticism, but it is a huge step up from the mostly decorative stats in Pacthesis' other games.

Like Idol Days, there is one hidden character who must be unlocked, and one character who shows up at the half-way point, meaning you have less time to complete his path. The game is also nice enough to tell you when you've completed each path. Also, there are no pesky minigames! Hooray!

Unfortunately, the endings are less satisfying once you realize that the *relationship points* mean nothing. Oh Pacthesis, why did you give me ice cream and take away my cake? The mechanics of the game appear to be rigged so that when you progress to a certain point in a character's path, you invite them to your wedding, which means that they show up at the church and can thus be selected for an ending. While this may seem a perfectly acceptable way to do things, there are two characters (The king and your servant) who will *always* show up at the church, regardless of your relationship with them. This means that you can pretty much approach a person you've had nothing to do with all month and say "OMG I love you! Let's get married and live happily ever after!" Compare this to Idol Days and Wonderland Days, where all of the characters show up to wish you well and only the one(s) you have a high enough relationship with will cart you off into the sunset. Since Kingdom Days is entirely dependent on the dialogue path/church mechanic, there's no purpose to the gifts or dating, and no sense of accomplishment when you "win" either the king or Lewis.

TLDR:
To sum it all up, it's pretty clear that Pacthesis keeps getting better and better at making these games. There are some new things being tried out here, some of which work and some of which don't. The writing isn't perfect, but it's nice; the art is impressive and shows a lot of attention and effort. I'm not a fan of the game's method of handling relationships, but it plays all right, and generally makes for a lovely and relaxing way of passing an afternoon.

As always: This is just my own opinion, based on my own experiences and biases. Feel free to share yours. :)

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Idol Days Sim Date

Author: Pacthesis
Availability: Free, Online/browser
Format: Dating Sim
Rating: PG
My Scores: (Writing: 3.5 Art: 4.5 Gameplay: 3) out of 5


Summary:

In Idol Days Sim Date, you are Lexie, a teenage girl who moved to the city with dreams of playing the guitar in a band. Through sheer luck, you happen to run right into a member of a local band whose guitarist just left, and they have a big concert coming up in 30 days.

Review:

The Writing:
The story is pretty unashamed wish-fulfilment; after all, who among us hasn't dreamed of playing in a band? And Lexie pretty much walks right into a sweet gig without even having to audition. It's one of those setups where you can hear the suspension of disbelief snapping, but don't care because "Rock Band! YAY!" Also, once again, I adore the sense of cohesion and unity that Pacthesis puts in her games by giving each character a piece of a larger story. If any would-be dating sim authors are out there taking notes, circle that part and underline it three times; it really improves the feel of the game.

That being said, there were some bits of the writing that I didn't personally care for. For one thing, the secret character seems a little bit *too* wish-fulfilly. I return a celebrity's wallet, and all of a sudden he's constantly gushing about how awesome I am? Maybe others would find that to be wonderful escapism, but I just found it to be strange and a little nauseating.

Also, you might notice that I rated this game E 10+ (Edit: Changed to PG because of html issues). The author herself declares it to be an all-ages game, but I gave it the more conservative ranking because of one character's interrupted attempt at suicide (described in text, but not shown). Apparently, it's very easy for an author to think of suicide (attempted or successful) as a shorthand way of saying "This character is very sad and/or had his feelings very hurt." While I'm reluctant to call it poor taste, it is an immature view; unrealistic without the counterbalance of wish-fulfillment (rare fetishes aside, unless I'm really missing something here). Suicide tends to be the result of very deep problems, either mental illness or a life so bleak and pain-filled that normal coping mechanisms no longer work. Figure, the human aversion to killing is very strong, and the aversion to dying even more so. This is why true suicidal thinking is considered a medical emergency. The game, however, doesn't treat it as anything more significant than wearing black and reciting bad poetry, which bugs me, and Pacthesis certainly isn't the only one to do so, which bothers me. Perhaps we should have a "Suicide Awareness Week" in schools?

Art:
The art is very decent, with some nice effects. Once again, it's anime style, so haters beware. The concert at the end has...um...an attempt at animation, which I feel was more to the game's detriment than its betterment. The musicians just kind of stand there, looking blankly off into the distance, while their hands move a little. Also, having dealt with silent characters all this time, it felt very weird for one character to suddenly sing in a voice that sounded nothing like I'd imagined him having. Fortunately, this music video is skippable, but it still makes me wince a little thinking about it.

Game-play:
The game-play is about on par with the other dating sims on this blog. The time management is a bit tighter than in Festival Days, there's no cheating via food items (that I could figure out, anyway). There are a few bugs, though, such as missing dialog in the dating scenes for a few of the characters. Also, the second workplace does not function, which means the stats are entirely unnecessary. (Fortunately, it is entirely possible to get by with only the first workplace, which makes this bug fairly unintrusive.) Guitar skill makes a slight difference, as your band-mates' praise after the concert will change depending on whether this stat is high or not, but it otherwise doesn't do much. The music video is the same, the romantic ending is the same, and even if your skill is 0, it's impossible to fail the concert.

TLDR:
In short, this is a cute game. It's not realistic at all, but that's okay. It has its bugs, but it's still playable. There are a couple things that annoyed me, such as the suicide plotline and that music video, both of which I feel the game would be better without. But again, all of this is my own opinion, and you may well tell me to stuff it and stop talking out of my hat. You can state your own opinion in the comments.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Castle Chase

Author: Makio-Kuta and Racheal
Availability: Free, Download
Format: Dating Sim / RPG
Genre: Fantasy/Humor
Rating: PG
My Scores: (Writing:4, Art: 4, Gameplay: 6 5) out of 5
Summary:

In Castle Chase, you are Princess Monica. Your future, as it has been planned for you, involves marrying some prince from another kingdom and becoming a queen. That doesn't strike you as appealing, so you duck out from your studies for the day with the intent of going on a date! The problem is, who with?

Review:

My reaction upon seeing the game's home page: Yikes, who let the dogs out? Ugh, the English on this page is worse than a five-year-old's. And what the heck? "Two hour contest"? Is that how long they spent making this thing? Aw man, this is going to suck....

My reaction upon actually playing the game: OH MY GOD THIS IS THE BEST GAME I'VE EVER PLAYED IN MY LIFE!!!

--The following review is brought to you by Esther D. Bum, with many apologies to Doug Walker.--

There's this princess, and she looks like a bizarre anime character, which would suck if this was a romance game, but it isn't really a romance game! It's a comedy!! And she meets this guy who looks a lot like a girl, which is amazing since all the girls look like guys anyway! But she only looks bizarre when she's talking, because the rest of the time, she's a cute 8-bit rpg character like from the 80s or 90s! I was an 8-bit rpg character once, but then I got eaten by a turtle! And the music is all midievally and stuff!! It's amazing!!!

So the princess wants to go on a date even though dating doesn't exist yet, and everyone is like "NO! STAY IN SCHOOL!" But she says "Screw you I'm the Princess! I'll do what I want!" And she walks around the castle looking for someone who wants to date her, because she doesn't know princesses are hot stuff, and every time she talks to somebody, plot happens! And sometimes the plots are sweet and sometimes they're hilarious, and sometimes they're sweet AND hilarious, like chocolate-covered clowns!!!

So she's walking and walking and then she walks some more, because the castle is really, really big, and it's just like Legend of Zelda except that she doesn't fight anything! Or smash any pots! So it's not like Zelda at all! And she finds these objects everywhere and she gives them to people to make more plot happen, but some of the objects are red herrings, and one of them actually IS a red herring! So she walks around and sometimes people follow her, and different things can happen based on what she did and who she talked to, and then she gets an ending and the game is like "Okay, You're Done!" HOORAY!

This is Esther D. Bum saying CHANGE? You got change?? Aw, c'mon, help a girl out!!!

----
Seriously, this game was a lot of fun once I figured out the keyboard commands. (X is inventory and S is use, by the way; or at least it is on my copy.) Also, this is the last time I shall attempt to rip off Doug Walker's "Bum Reviews".

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Frozen Essence

Author: VenusEclipse
Availability: Free, Download
Format: Visual Novel
Genre: Fantasy
Rating: Teen
My Scores: (Art:3.5, Writing:3.5, Gameplay: 2) out of 5

A big Thank You to Anviel for suggesting this. :) Ray mentioned it too, though I didn't see that comment until after this post was written. Thanks anyway, Dude!

Summary:

In Frozen Essence, you play a girl named Mina/InsertNameHere. You've spent the last 1,000 years sealed away, and during that time, you've completely forgotten who you are. Now somebody's broken you out, other people are chasing you, and you have no idea why any of this is happening.

Review:

The Writing:
I've been very ambivalent about what kind of score to give the writing, so take the number up there with a grain of salt. First of all, let me just say that I'm a sucker for original worlds. The drawback of such settings, however, is that they tend to require a ton of exposition, which the reader/player may not enjoy.

The story itself, while interesting, is hard to follow on the first run-through. You spend much of the game not knowing who anyone is, what's going on or why, and your character is in the same boat. So, points are given for immersion, I guess, but then taken away for the hinderance to comprehensibility. What makes it worse is the English. I'm guessing that the author is not a native English speaker, based on the strength of the substance but the weakness of the form. Like Requiem of the Abyss, imagine taking a good book; only this time, instead of running it through Babelfish, chop it up to make a nice salad. It makes an already mysterious story even harder to keep up with. After my first play-through, I was ready to give it a 2.

That said, the game becomes immensely more enjoyable on replay. The background is solid (minus a minor inconsistency about whether the East is the Earth region or the Air region), and there's a kind of thrill from catching a subtle reference that you missed or didn't understand the first time around. The more endings you get, the more you understand the world you're in, and the more satisfaction you get from the story.

Be forewarned, though, this story is long! It puts the "novel" in Visual Novel. One thing that annoyed me slightly about the game was the way the endings would seem to be drawing to a close...and then the story would continue. This cycle would repeat a few times until I was practically shouting "SOMEONE KILL HIM, ALREADY!"

The Art:
Bonus points to the creator for composing music instead of just yanking something off the "free music" shelf. Not only is it a nice touch of effort, but it's one that paid off. It captures the story perfectly. When someone walked in while I was playing this and asked what tone of story it was, (Drama? Comedy?), I replied, "Just...listen to the music. It's exactly what the music sounds like."

The backgrounds and special pictures were very lovely. However, the effect was ruined as soon as I saw Rune. The characters, while not bad, are sometimes a little wonky. I almost feel bad saying that, though, since it's clear that a lot of effort was put in. The art is anime/manga style, as seems to be usual for Visual Novels, and it's worth mentioning how deceptively difficult that style actually is; though stylized, it still requires a firm basis in real human anatomy, and is far less forgiving than most western cartooning styles.

There are quite a number of poses and backgrounds, though occasionally, it's obvious that a backdrop has been recycled. All in all, I think the most egregious flaw in the art (and I use the broader definition of "art" in this review) is the "Thwap" sound effect. It often sounds like people are randomly hitting Mina, themselves, and each other. What's really hilarious is the way Oryon keeps slapping himself during battle, due to an unfortunate combination of the "thwap" and a hand-clutching-chest pose.

The Gameplay:
The game is easily divided into two parts. Part one has you choosing your suitor, and part two has you playing out that character's ending. Part two has a bit more of a Kinetic Novel feel than part one -- lots of reading, with very little interaction. However, the level of interaction in either part leaves something to be desired.

Much of the initial interaction basically boils down to dialogue trees, and you explore each branch in order to get the exposition I mentioned in the Writing section. For the other interactions, it tends to be immediately obvious when you've chosen a "wrong" answer (e.g., you make Rune leave in a huff), which causes me to simply reload and choose a different track instead of exploring to see how the story unfolds with that choice in effect. (On the other hand, this may be better than simply making a character "unwinnable" without telling you, so take that as you will.)

There's also a sense of "railroad tracks" in the game, which rather annoyed me. It's one thing to have a series of events that must always happen, but it's another thing to "override" the player's choices. I outright hated when my choosing "Tell The Truth" resulted in something to the effect of "Oops, Telling the Truth sucks. I'll lie instead!" If you were going to have her lie anyway, then why even ask me?!

TLDR Version:
To sum it all up, Frozen Essence has a number of strengths and weaknesses. It benefits immensly from Multiple play-throughs, and the Death ending is easily the most fun and cathartic after you've gotten the other endings and seen the crap these people put Mina through. It could definitely be much improved with a good proofreading by a native English speaker, though. All in all, I think this piece shows some excellent potential, and I look forward to any future works from this author. Also, the Water path definitely did not make me cry. Not even a little bit. ...I need a tissue.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Fatal Hearts

Author: ?
Availability: Demo/$9.95 Full Version, Download
Format: Visual Novel
Genre: Thriller
Rating: Teen
My Scores: 2 out of 5 ( Writing: 2, Art: 4, Gameplay: 1)

Summary:

In Fatal Hearts, you play a teenage girl named Christina. Her friend's parents are acting weird, girls are getting murdered, and she keeps dreaming about a strange guy. Can you solve the puzzles, find love and not die?

Review:

I have to admit that I didn't get very far in this game. In what little I have seen, the writing seems to run the gamut from okay, to cheesy, to "What the heck was the author thinking?!". The first line that gave me pause was a comment by the narrator that her mother doesn't let her wear makeup, which is "probably why I still don't have a boyfriend." ...Honey, that is not how love is supposed to work. But okay, we're in the first-person perspective of a teenager here; I suppose I can accept that she's a little bit stupid about these sorts of things. But then, we come to another scene that just breaks my suspension of disbelief in terms of sheer stupidity...
Picture this:
Last night, your friend ditched you and went off with some complete strangers. This morning, you get a call saying that someone was found dead at the place you last saw her. You are now worried that your friend may have been killed. At this point, your mother comes right up to you and, not knowing about the call, asks you if you would like a ride to some place. How do you repond?
A: Tell her that you don't want to go right now because you're worried about your friend's safety.
B: Say "Mom! Thank goodness you're here!" then tell her about your friend and ask her for help.
C: Say NOTHING AT ALL to the adult standing right in front of you, and handle it yourself, even though a violent, federal crime is involved.
If you guessed anything except C, you are smarter than our protagonist. I mean seriously, what the crap?! I could buy leaving Mom out of the loop if she was gone and you didn't want to call and bother her, but when she's Standing Right There and asking you something? That is the epitome of stupid. It might be more palatable if there were at least an option for telling her, so that then we could just blame the player. But no, talking to the adult doesn't even cross our makeup-obsessed teen's mind.

So enough about the writing, then: On to the art! The art is decent and anime/manga style. I have nothing more to say about the art. Moving on, then:

I hate the game play. Words cannot express my utter loathing for it! Any attempts would probably include the words "vomit" and "bowels" and "ripping it to shreds and then setting it on fire." Readers of my earlier posts might have picked up on my slight dislike of minigames. Well, in Fatal Hearts, every chapter has one, and they are necessary to advance through the game. These "puzzles" range from "annoying" to "impossible and annoying". The first one is reminiscent of the Gemini minigame from Wonderland Sim Date: move annoying crap out of your way. That's it; there's no mental challenge at work, just lots of click-and-drag. At the other end of the spectrum is the puzzle that frustrated me so much that I finally just quit the game altogether:
You have stumbled across a dead body, and need to run away before the police see you. (Yeah, this part just cemented for me that the protagonist is an idiot since, given that she'd just arrived and hadn't touched anything, even a cursory crime-scene investigation would clear her almost immediately.) But anyway, you have to guide Christina through a maze of bushes, keeping the bushes between you and the cop at all times. If the cop sees you, she will move toward you, and she can move twice as fast as you can. This puzzle is probably doable and there's probably a walkthrough online detailing a long and complicated series of back-looping paths, but I don't care enough to look. What really grates my cheese about it though, is that after I lose this puzzle, I don't get taken to a Bad End or a story that branches from me being caught; I get "Oh, you've lost. Here, let's just reset that puzzle for you:" and my agony begins anew. What's more, there is no "Skip Puzzle" button, just me losing and losing until I finally chuck the computer out of a second-story window.

In summary, this is the worst commercial game I have ever played. The art is the only real redeeming quality, but considering that they're charging money for this thing, the art had better be decent. I consider this the commercial equivalent of Dating Sim Academy, with the notation that at least DSA was free and I could finish it! (note: The author of DSA has done better games, some of which I've discussed on this blog, so I feel justified in continually tearing it.)

Now, as usual, there is room for disagreement. Maybe you have more taste for puzzles than I do, and maybe your suspension of disbelief is stronger, or you can justify the protagonist's actions. I can't. I hate this game. But, feel free to try it out and share your thoughts in the comments.

Monday, October 25, 2010

BLOG UPDATE 2: OTOME BOOGALOO

Well, the good news is, I'm back on fast internet. Yay, Internet!
The bad news is, I have more hours at work. Boo, Work!

Still, I'll try to get back into a regular rhythm with posting; say, every 1-2 weeks. Thanks for your patience. Anyway, the "Re: Alistair" review is up, and next, I'm planning to cover Duplicity. Feel free to hurl suggestions at me for future reviews.

Re: Alistair

Author: ?
Availability: Free, Download
Format: Dating Sim
Rating: Teen
My Score: 3 out of 5

Summary:
Re: Alistair is a stat-based dating sim. You play Merui, a gamer girl obsessed with a MMORPG called Rivenwell Online. Another player has stolen your kill and claimed your prize, and you've since discovered that this player is one of three people who goes to your school. The problem is, which one?
Review:
I definitely want to give the writing bonus points right off the bat for having Merui be a gamer. After all, the very reason this blog was started was because of the misconception that girls don't game, so this is a welcome aversion of that old tripe. More generally, though, I think the characters are decent; the story is solid, and I like the way the emails and the gaming sessions are handled.
The art is likewise very good. Once again, it's based on anime/manga stylings, so a heads up to those of you who aren't fans of the genre. Presonally, I like it, and I enjoy the style change between the real world and the game.
The gameplay itself is something I'm a bit more ambivalent about. First of all, let me applaud the fact that the mystery of Alistair's identity has only one correct answer. You can end up with any of the three boys, but who you end up with does not in anyway influence who Alistair turns out to be. As for ending up with the boys, though, therein lies the problem...
This is the first truly stat-based dating sim I've ever played; while Festival Days had some Stats, they mostly influenced how much money you could earn, and other things that more or less became irrelevant once you cracked the system. In Re: Alistair, though, your stats determine who you end up with...I think.
The fact is, I'm not quite sure how it works. At first, it seemed pretty obvious to me: You have stats for Social, Network, and Intelligence, and your suitors are a Popular Jock, a Computer Guy, and a Smart Classmate. I initially assumed a direct correlation, then, between each stat and each guy, but single-mindedly pursuing one stat/guy resulted in *nothing*. If there's a combination that needs to be reached, I'm not sure what it is. According to the forums, success apparently lies in buying many, many objects, but there's no real clues for which objects to purchase (Except for one item suggested by each guy, but that's apparently not enough). At some point, I actually *did* get a good ending for one of the characters, but frankly, I'm not sure how I got it!
That's what really bothers me: I don't know how I got that good ending. I'm completely baffled. Personally, I think that if the player doesn't know what they did right, then something is wrong.
To sum it all up, Re: Alistair is pretty, well-written, and I have no clue what it wants from the player. WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM ME, ALISTAIR? WHAT DO YOU WANT???!!!!
*Ahem* Sorry. Perhaps you'll have better luck with it, though. Feel free to try it out and share your experiences in the comments.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Spirited Heart

Author: ?
Availability: Demo/$19.99 Full Version, Download
Format: Raising Sims
Genre: Fantasy
Rating: Teen
My Score: 2.5 out of 5

Summary:
Spirited Heart is a raising sim, much in the style of Princess Maker. You play a girl in a fantastical setting, on your own for the first time. Work jobs, take classes, and see what you end up becoming.

Review:
First of all, let me just express my appreciation for the art; it’s clean, it’s professional-looking, and I quite like it. The layout’s nice, too. All in all, I give the art a 4. It is anime-based, as many of these games seem to be.

The writing is decent, and I like how the creator justifies the stat changes in-story. I particularly like how you can tweak some of your character’s stats by reliving “past events”, ala Choice of the Dragon. As an aside, why is it that fantasy settings have silly-sounding place names? I can’t really fault the game’s creator here, but it’s something about the genre that struck me while I was playing.

So, we have nice art and good writing, and then it all gets shot by the gameplay.
I HAte the gameplay here, with a capital ‘H’, and an ‘A’ for good measure. On the one hand, it’s cool that you can pick one of three races, choose her general background, and then further tweak her history if you like. That part is great. But as for the game proper, everything is much too random.

Want to work a job? Roll a die to find out if you did well enough to raise stats and/or get paid. Want to find romance? You have six potential suitors: Just keep hacking away at certain jobs and hope their associated Random Events eventually show up. Repeat until your health is low and your spirits are crushed, then waste your time and money resting so that you can start all over.

Granted, it’s fairly realistic to meet someone randomly. However, once you’ve become aware of that person, it should be easier to intentionally track them down to initiate interaction; especially when you know what places they frequent! In other words, if Elf Boy really does sing at that bar every single day, then I should be able to just click something like “Go Talk to Elf Boy” or “Invite Elf Boy over for beer”, instead of just mashing the “Work last job” button over and over until the game’s D20 (or whatever it is) finally lands on Elf Boy’s magic number. The problem with having every aspect of a relationship left up to chance is that it is, though statistically rare, entirely possible to roll an entire string of 1s, which means that no matter what you do, the relationship won’t progress at all. That. Sucks.

All in all, this game had some good ideas; and the addictive nature of multi-ending games means that, if the full version were free, I’d probably have played through it a few times despite the frustration. In my opinion, though, it’s not worth paying for. I don’t even know* what the price of the full version is; but as it stands, I wouldn’t give a dollar for it.

Of course, all this is just my opinion. Others may find the game more enjoyable than I did. Feel free to try it out and discuss your experiences in the comments.

*ETA: After writing this post, I looked up the price for the info section at the top.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Fantasia: Requiem of the Abyss

Author: azureXtwilight
Availability: Free, Download
Format: Visual Novel
Genre: Fantasy
Rating: Teen
My Score: 4 out of 5


Summary:
Fantasia: Requiem of the Abyss seems to be the middle part of a trilogy (as I found out belatedly). You play Valen, the daughter of a demon lord and a human woman. The evil Thanos has struck the land with famine, causing nations to go to war, and must be stopped using a blue orb. Your new friends will help you.

Review:
Despite being the middle chapter of a series, I had no problem diving right into the story. In fact, I didn't even *realize* I'd started with the wrong chapter until I was well committed to it. The story itself is quite involving, complex and neatly woven together. The characters are individualized and engrossing, and I find myself feeling for them. The only fly in this ointment, and it's a pretty hefty one, is the English.

Imagine taking your favorite book, running it through several languages on Babelfish, and then Translating it back to English. That's how bad some of these chapters get. With a little thought, you can understand what the author is saying, but the effect is like picnicking in a beautiful meadow when all the mosquitoes are out. The setting is lovely, and you've brought some good things to the table, but...oh man... *swat* *swat* *swat*.

I'm a bit more ambivalent about the art. When I first saw it, there was something about it that I didn't like; something I still can't put my finger on. It's fairly consistent with itself, so I honestly don't know if its just a style that I don't care for, or if the artist is actually doing something wrong somewhere. To be fair, though, once I got deeper into the game, I started deciding that certain characters were cute and/or hawtsome, so make of that what you will. Also, there's a good range of poses and expressions for each character, and the scenery is quite lovely.

Now for the game-play: ONE thing prevents the gameplay from getting a perfect 5, and that is the fact that, in the version I downloaded at least, the solitaire minigame is broken. That's it. Everything else about the gameplay is perfect.

The story changes and branches according to the choices you make, but the branches are kept neatly tied into the main story, and there are certain landmarks you will always hit no matter whose path you're on. It's not too linear, but not a sprawling mess of infinite branches either. (I made one of the latter, once. It wasn't pretty.) Yes, there is a section with minigames, but there is no rule that you have to play them in order to progress. I was impressed to find that the results of the arm-wrestling match were in fact randomized, as I discovered when I tried to cheat by save-scumming. Er....I mean...ah well.

What impressed me most, though, was that unlike some works I've played, the past did not change according to your choices! I hate when that happens in games: You're Prince Charming's long-lost sister in Ending A, but Ending B has you getting married and, I assume, miraculously being NOT related to each other. (Cute Knight is the mentioned offender here, but there are others.) Past events should not simply change, and in F: RotA, they don't. The characters' histories are solid. If you pursue character X, it doesn't change the fact that character Z still loved you all along, which gives the endings even more emotional impact. The only things that change based on your choices are your future and current circumstances, which is as it should be.

In short, I loved this game. I got hooked playing it. It has two big flaws, as noted above, but the characters are great and the story is compelling. I don't know if the prequel comes close in quality, and I don't know what the sequel must be like, but this is an excellent game.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Grace's Diary

Author: Hima (with art/animation by Piti)
Availability: Free, Online/browser
Format:Visual Novel/Point and Click
Genre: Edutainment
Rating: Teen
My Score: 5 out of 5

Found at www.jenniferann.org

Summary:
Grace's Diary is a bit different from the other games discussed on this blog. This time, you're not trying to hook up with somebody. Instead, you have a friend who is in an abusive relationship, and you have to persuade her to get out. You're about to call her, but in order to have worthwhile things to say, you first have to look around the room for objects that trigger relevant memories about her boyfriend.

Review:

This is the first game to get a perfect 5 on this site, and I'm not just being swayed by the fact that it's made to support a good cause.

The writing is natural and human. The actions, reactions, and dialog of Grace and the others ring true, which makes sense considering all the research that must have gone into the game's making. The end, which is to say, the good ending, is not clean and happy as it might be in an after-school special; your friend may find the strength to leave her boyfriend, but feelings do not vanish. More surprisingly, the boyfriend's apparently heartfelt pleading at the end keeps him from being a flat out-and-out villain. He may be an abuser, but he's still a human being. The end result of all this is that you come away with much to think about.

The visuals are intriguing. The entire game is made to look like it's taking place in the pages of a notebook; speaking characters appear on opposite pages, etc. It also gives everything a sketchy, "drawn" look, in keeping with the theme. The overall effect is quite beautiful, in my opinion.

Finally, I must tip my hat to the creative gameplay design. Unlike most visual novels, this game is an unusual, possibly unique hybrid with the point-and-click genre. You find the objects hidden in Grace's room, thus providing the necessary replies for the dialog-tree to come. From what I can tell, there seem to only really be 2 endings: Success or Failure. However, this doesn't mean that it ends with an abrupt "You win/lose" message. As I mentioned before, the dialog reactions are very natural, and they lead smoothly to the relevant epilogue.

What's most impressive about this game is that it's short. It manages to pack a very beautiful and satisfying experience into a small space. So, even without considering the noble message about teen dating abuse, this is a game I must tip my hat to.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

BLOG UPDATE

EDIT: As I no longer have easy access to fast internet, posting will be irregular and sporadic. Sorry for the inconvenience.

The good news, though, is that I finally got the Festival Days Sim Date review up into its rightful place.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Moonlight Dating Sim

Author: Bomee
Availability: Free, Online/browser
Format: Dating Sim
Genre: Supernatural
Rating: Teen
My Score: 3.5 out of 5

Found at www.Newgrounds.com OR www.Nummyz.com

Summary:
In Moonlight Dating Sim, you play Jenna Moonlight, a half-vampire witch. Vampires have taken over the world, led by their Blood Prince, and it's up to you to kill him. Or join him. Or help him. There's quite a few directions you can go with it, really.

Review:
I think I need an additional genre to apply to this game, since "Dating Sim" doesn't seem to cover all the aspects of it. There's a bit of action, as you have the option to try to kill people in addition to trying to date them. Overall, it's a neat change of pace from the usual dating sim fare, and one that I can appreciate.

The tone is kind of dark and haunting, and I like the backgrounds. As with bomee's other games, there is a sense of unpolishedness about it; however, it's not as bad as some games I could mention (*cough* DatingSimAcademy *cough*). It definitely gets high marks for being interesting and unusual, as it's more than just choosing a suitor (although there is that).

So what do you pick? Hang out with the vampire hunters, or become a vampire queen? >:)

My Cup Of Tea II: Twins

And The Girl Game Review is back, as promised, with two reviews, starting with this one! (second will be up later tonight)

Author: Bomee
Availability: Free, Online/browser
Format: Dating Sim
Genre: Romance
Rating: Teen
My Score: 3 out of 5

Found at www.NewGrounds.com, www.Nummyz.com, or www.DeviantArt.com

Summary:
My Cup of Tea II lets you play as Ari or, in the later version of the game, her twin brother Garrick. You're going away in 50 days, and this is your last chance to find love in your old town before you leave it.

Review:
Despite the name, My Cup of Tea II doesn't seem to have a lot to do with the first game. It does, however, have the author's usual fare of cuteness and occasional fourth-wall breaking. The art is fairly standard for the author's other games, though the characters seem to be taller and thinner. I kind of wish she'd quit drawing everyone with the mouse, but maybe that's just me.

It's more enjoyable than the first game, in my opinion, and definitely much more complicated. There are more suitors, more things to explore, and at least one large easter egg. A couple of components don't seem to make much sense, though; for instance, the game seems to suggest that you have to keep the dog fed and pass a test in class. These actions, while they take up HP and money, don't really seem to serve a purpose, but since I've yet to get a decent end, I may be wrong. :p

Monday, April 19, 2010

ANNOUNCEMENT

I will be unable to post tomorrow, and will therefore post double next week. Sorry for the delay.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Dating Sim Academy

Author: Bomee
Availability: Free, Online/Browser
Format: Dating Sim
Genre: Fantasy
Rating: Teen
My Score: 1 out of 5
Summary:
In Dating Sim Academy, You play Air, a flat-chested girl from Earth who somehow finds herself in the magical “Purra Land”. Purra Land is populated by Purras, spirits with human and animal features (Think Catgirls). In 50 days, you will get a chance to make a wish under the starry moon – provided you have found True Love, of course.
Review:
I didn’t really care for the art at all. The best parts of it were okay, and the worst bits were practically doodles. While it could have been worse, I just wasn’t very impressed with it. The main redeeming qualities of the art were the special effects: Blinking and movement in the characters, sparkles, and other little details. However, they’re like ketchup on a dry meatloaf: it helps, but only to a point. Interestingly, at least one of the reviews on Newgrounds praised the artwork, so maybe I’m just spoiled. Feel free to discuss your opinion in the comments.
As for the writing; the plot is fairly obviously an “Excuse Plot”. I can respect that; sometimes you just want to dive into a fantasy and don’t need to spend an hour learning why the scenario is possible and how it all came to be and so on. It’s MAGIC! Bam! Now on with the show. Players who are looking for something more deep and involved, though, will be left out in the cold.
While I can forgive the lack of a complex plot, the fact that the characters aren’t very complex bothers me. In a dating sim, the characters are pretty much the main reason you’re here; you expect them to either look good or be interesting. Since the art isn’t very mind-blowing, it falls to the writing to give the characters interesting personalities that make you care about them. However, the writing here falls flat too.
The worst crime committed, though, is the ambiguity. Very frequently, the presented dialog options will seem equally valid, and in some cases will even be synonymous with each other! However, only one will be correct, and it’s effectively a stab in the dark to figure out which. Once you’ve made your selection, the character will give a stock phrase that translates to either “right” or “wrong”, and you have to spend another 10 hp on conversation to get anything meaningful, even if it’s supposed to be a reaction to what you just said. Also irritating, though for a different reason, is the tendency of a conversation segment to have Only One Possible Response; the equivalent of just clicking “Next.” I feel these moments rob the player of the experience, which is already at a premium.
Finally, there’s the game play. The game will tell you that 50 days is a short time; I disagree. In 50 days, I was pretty much able to max out 3 out of the 4 characters, and that was taking into account the HP wasted on wrong answers and playing the shell mini-game. This game has fewer options than other dating games, since the Give Gift option only tells you what to bring on your date (which is the last thing you’ll be doing in the game). So basically, that just leaves you with Talk. The most interesting part of the gameplay is the shell mini-game, and coming from me, this should tell you something. Fortunately, you don’t have to wait all 50 days; once you set things up for a date with a character, you can end the game early.
My final complaint is the teasing. In the mini-game, there is a promise that gaining a certain amount of points will earn you a secret, with the suggestion being that it’s something naughty. The suggestion is a lie. Now don’t get me wrong; I am perfectly fine with games and authors that refuse to cross over into Adult territory. I approve of this. But teasing can make the player frustrated and annoyed in the best circumstances; making the player work for a false promise is simply mean.
I realize I’ve been awfully harsh with this game. Others seem to have enjoyed it, and I grant that it’s basically a light bit of fluff. However, I personally found it to be boring, as well as the worst girl-oriented dating sim I’ve played to date (pun not intended). Still, try it yourself and see what you think, and if you find you like it, feel free to tell me to stuff it.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Festival Days Sim Date

Author: Pacthesis
Availability: Free, Online/Browser
Format: Dating Sim
Genre: School Romance
Rating: Teen
My Score: 3 out of 5

Found at www.NewGrounds.com or www.DeviantArt.com

Summary:
In Festival Days Sim Date, you play a high-school girl who loves to cook and dreams of working in a restaurant. The school's culture festival is in 30 days, and rumor has it that the festival can make a couple's relationship last forever. So, time to find a boyfriend!

Review:

The art is anime style, so anime-haters beware. That being said, it isn't as good as the art in Pacthesis' later work Wonderland Days. While there are some nice special effects and decent backgrounds, the people themselves just look wrong. Necks are far off to the side, chests don't quite line up... Some may be able to look past this, but I find it a little distracting.

The setup is a little cliche, but at the same time kind of charming. One of the game's strongest points is the way the characters' threads touch each other; for example, one of the characters is dating an extra in the game, and when you get to the point where they break up, her dialog changes. There's only a little of this, mind you, but I think it's a nice touch. My main complaint, though, is that the game commits the same sin as Dating Sim Academy in having generic "Right/Wrong" responses to conversation options, instead of any specific and meaningful reactions. I realize that doing it that way is a lot more work for the creator, but I think it's worth the effort to tell the player "This is wrong because X" instead of just "This is wrong"; it enhances the game experience on many levels.

The gameplay follows the standard format of other dating-sims listed on this blog; find a guy, talk, give gift, date. You have the option to change your name and choose an astrological sign which determines your starting stats (Contrary to what you are told in the intro, Luck has nothing to do with finding a mate. Its sole purpose seems to be unlocking the bonus feature after the game.), and there are a few cheats and surprises in a couple of the locations.

There is one minigame: the cooking minigame. I actually find it to be quite tolerable, partly because it is not timed as I had first feared, and partly because it's not strictly essential to the game (although it *is* essential for one character's path). It does, however, affect the game to a good degree: Success rewards you with skill to get a better job, and food items which can be eaten for HP, given as gifts, or used to advance the game in certain ways. Failure drains your HP. All in all, I find it to be more than fair. If anything, this minigame is very easy to exploit; making bento costs 25 HP, but eating it gives you 50. Lather, rinse, repeat and you can theoretically max out every single suitor in a day.

So to summarize, this game is cute, charming, and very relaxing to play. The minigame is not stress-inducing. While there are a few elements that could be improved, it's still a nice way to kill an afternoon. :)

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Other Age

Author: Zeiva
Availability: Free, Online/Browser
Format: Dating Sim
Genre: Fantasy
Rating: Everyone
My Score: 3 out of 5


Summary:
Other Age casts you as a princess in some kind of magical, far-away kingdom. It's your sixteenth birthday, and tradition dictates that it's now time for you to find a suitor. To help you with this, Chancellor Nitarou has created the Luv Luv Nitarou Deluxe!!!

Review:
First of all, let me say that the art in this game is absolutely gorgeous. It has a strong anime/manga influence, which may please some and repel others. Even so, the level of detail and quality is mind blowing; the characters and backgrounds are beautifully drawn, the title screen has little lights that gently float across it, and heck, even the buttons and the loading screen are cute! To top it off, the player avatar is animated, and some of the characters even blink! Truly, the art alone makes this game worth a play-through.

The writing itself is fair. Like My Cup of Tea, the author has based the game on characters from her other original works (In this case, her other games). The premise has a nice sense of fantasy to it, and there is also a bit of humor and occasional fourth-wall breaking. Where it begins to lose points is the English.

Go ahead and call me a Grammar Nazi; maybe I am. But, from early on I got the feeling that English is not Zeiva's first language. Oh, it's readable, don't worry about that; but little things like missing "the"s or s's, and words or phrases that just aren't quite right somehow, make it a bit awkward and disrupt the game's spell.

Also, while I appreciate the author's use of original characters, I feel it could be somehow handled better. If, like me, you play Other Age without first playing Zeiva's other games, then you'll spend much of the game barely knowing these characters at all. Since the format of this game doesn't really allow for relationship-building as much as the others, the suitors tend to remain nearly perfect strangers. There is an epilogue for each character that gives a nice sense of who they are, but personally, I think there needs to be a bit more build-up beforehand. You may disagree.

The one thing that truly sinks the game's score, though, is the game-play itself. All you need to know about the game-play can be summed up thusly: The game itself is free. The Strategy Guide costs money.

Other Age doesn't follow the typical Dating-Sim format; it's basically half personality quiz and half mini-game. This in and of itself is not necessarily a bad thing, my hatred of minigames aside. However, this game is - to borrow the phrase - Nintendo Hard. First, you must input a certain pattern of answers into the Luv Luv Nitarou Deluxe in order to get a certain suitor (and most of the combinations result in an individual that must be gotten rid of). Then, you must say the right things to persuade him to date you, and then choose a dating location out of 5 possible sites. Only 1 site will interest him, and you only have 2 chances to guess correctly. Finally, each dating site is a minigame, which of course must be won or you shall end in failure.

My main complaint is that most of the answers in this game are too unintuitive. I'm fairly certain that I've gotten the same character after feeding conflicting data into the machine on other playthroughs, and often it takes multiple playthroughs just to figure out what to say to a person and where to take them. Worse still, any single mistake made at any point will end the game and force you to start from the beginning. With few exceptions, the game is both unreasonable and unmerciful.

So what's the verdict, then? I think Other Age is both frustrating and somehow addictive. Its sense of beauty overrides the often frustrating gameplay. Frankly, I'm surprised that I didn't end up scoring it much higher, and once you play it, you may end up deciding that I've been too harsh in some of my judgements.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

My Cup of Tea

AKA The Love Dating Sim for Girls
Author: Kathleen Lieu
Availability: Free, Online/Browser
Format: Dating Sim
Genre: Summer Romance
Rating: Everyone
My Score: 2.5 out of 5


Summary:
In My Cup of Tea, you play as 17 year old Sara Biea Affen. As the game itself states, "17 yr old Sara thinks she is silly and plain... Will Sara get a honey before the end of summer and the start of senior year? You have 30 days to help her!"
Review:

Let's start with the art: My Cup of Tea is supposedly drawn entirely with a mouse. Drawing with a mouse, a teacher once told me, is like drawing with a bar of soap. As such, the art in My Cup of Tea takes a hit. There's an unpolished, unprofessional look to it; however, it also possesses a certain charm and cuteness. Personally, I get a kick out of the chicken that appears when she sleeps. Also, bonus points for having the "sleeping Sarah" art change after certain amounts of days have gone by; it helps give the game a sense of motion, although admittedly, it's kind of odd to see Sarah thinking "Boys, Boys, Boys!" when in the process of working the lesbian option.

As for the writing: Apparently, the characters from the game are based on the author's own original stories. Given that many dating sims on the internet are simply built around seducing a popular Anime character (Naruto Dating Sim, I'm looking at you), it's refreshing to see such a high dose of originality. That said, there's a certain level of flatness to the characters; 3 out of the 4 suitors basically boil down to The Surfer, The Bisexual Guy, and The Lesbian Option. There are a few bits of trivia - a sister's name here, a favorite book there - but there's some substance lacking. I blame the sparseness of the dialogue, which brings us to...

The Game Play: My Cup of Tea has a simplicity to it, which is good for people new to the genre. Best of all - and I could kiss the author for this - NO MINIGAMES!!! Though, actually, that may not be *entirely* accurate; there are some points in the game where you can play dress-up. However, it's avoidable (you have to actively choose to do it), has no impact on game-play, and I actually find it an amusing diversion. So kudos for that.

While the game is simple, though, it also gets repetetive to the point of being frustrating. The dialogue is very sparse, and characters will repeat themselves several times, which makes it hard to peg exactly where you stand with this person. There's no real indicator for when the relationship is complete, so unless you know what numbers to watch for on the XP, you could quit too soon and miss that character's best ending.

Other frustrating bits are the gift system and the quizzes (called Impress so-and-so). Each suitor has a list of three gifts you can offer them, but they will only like two of them. This creates an unpleasant surprise when you finally earn enough for something expensive, only to have your gift rebuffed. As for the quizzes; there's a reason I prefer clickable multiple-choice options to having to type into a box. When you have to type and submit, too much can go wrong. I must have typed every possible permutation of the surfer's band name - with a The, without a The, spelled right, spelled wrong - and it never took. To this day, I still don't know what answer it wanted, or if it was just broken.

So, when all is said and done, I give My Cup of Tea a 2.5. Word on the net is that this is the author's first dating sim, and if that's true, it's a very good first attempt. However, I find it to be a mediocre game over all. It's a cute way to pass the time, but once you finish, you may or may not wish to replay; which is a shame, since replay value is what puts dating sims and other multi-ending games over the other genres. But even so, it's still worth checking out at least once. And who knows? You might just find that it's your cup of tea. ;)

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Wonderland Days Sim Date


Author: Pacthesis
Availability: Free, Online/Browser
Format: Dating Sim
Genre: Fantasy / Literature
Rating: Everyone
My Score: 4 out of 5

Found At: http://www.newgrounds.com/

Summary:
In Wonderland Days Sim Date, You play as Alice, who may or may not be the original Alice of Wonderland fame. It's implied in one ending that the book by Lewis Carroll is a separate entity. Anyway, It's your birthday, and when your cute childhood friend goes to fetch your present, you end up following a rabbit down a hole and landing in Wonderland. It turns out the hole is a portal that only opens once a month, so you're basically stuck chilling in a beautiful setting surrounded by cute characters until the big dance at the end of the month. Oh woe is you. ;)

Review:
Of all the dating sims I've ever played, this is the best by a far cry. The art is clean and excellent by internet standards, and I'm in love with how Pacthesis handled the writing. Other than "You must find a date in x days", the game contains an overarching storyline of which each character holds a piece. One character will tell you more about what's going on and how you got there, but even he doesn't know everything about this little world.

The game deviates a lot from the book, which may strike you as either a good thing or a bad thing. The characters are given new back-stories and, in some cases such as the March Hare and the Tweedle twins, different genders. (The girls are only extras, by the way; there is no lesbian option.) Personalities are also tweaked according to the genre, but not, in my opinion, too far fetched. There's a lot less madness in this version of Wonderland, but it keeps a lovely sense of fantasy.

My biggest complaint about the game is the Gemini mini-game. Mini-games in general tend to drive me nuts. In this one, you have to dig through a pile of crap looking for a given object. It's not like those Eye-Spy games; you have to *MOVE* all the other items aside in order to uncover the quest object. It's tedious, frustrating, and thankfully not mandatory. It's basically a "job" game to give you 10 gold, but you can earn almost that same amount through Street Performing. Performing is also a minigame, but it's a lot less clicking and grumbling; you basically just choose which act to do for your audience and if you choose right, they tip you. The answers never change, so you can easily memorize the pattern to maximize your earnings.

In short, this is probably the best free, online example of the genre you can find. It adheres to the basic formula, but the writing keeps it from becoming tedious. The worst minigame is avoidable, and there are suprises to be had if you're willing to click around a bit. Also, it's really hard to lose this game. Even if you fail to court any of the Wonderland cast properly, you can still go to bed and wake up with a final chance at finding true love. Not a bad deal, all things considered!