Author: Eternal Dreams
Availability: Free, Download
Format: Visual Novel
Genre: School Romance (If that's not a genre, it should be.)
My Scores: (Writing: 2.5, Art: 2.5, Gameplay: 2.5)
In Secret Santa, you are [Insert Name Here]. Your school has a Secret Santa program, and you've been assigned to get a gift for a boy you have a crush on. Perhaps this is the perfect opportunity to win his heart?
Once again, we have a proclaimed First Attempt at game-making, and once again, I try not to let that color my ratings, although it is a nice first try.
Proof-read, authors, proof-read! Is that so much to ask? The English here isn't as bad as in some of the games I've reviewed; I get the impression that the author is a native English speaker, albeit fairly young (I could be wrong on both counts, though). While it's comprehensible, there are still enough spelling/grammar problems to make my inner grammar nazi cringe.
The story itself is simple and cute, and captures the feelings of young kids experiencing puppy love in a way that feels mostly honest, and only a little bit wish-fulfilly in terms of Haruta's* character. I like the fact that winning him over doesn't result in him instantly falling head over heels for you with hearts and flowers and ponies; instead, he just agrees to give you a chance. Just a chance. It's a small step that grows into something more, in a way that's plausible and beautiful.
*At this point, I must ask, since it's crossed my mind many times: Why do all of these games give the characters Japanese names, regardless of where they're set? I've been chalking it up to the fact that the visual novel/dating sim formats originated in Japan, but it still doesn't make much sense. If any authors/game makers are reading this, I challenge you: Make a game with no Japanese names in it. Maybe have some ordinary Georges, Bills, or Harrys (Harries?), or heck, use names from another country like France or Mexico. For extra hilarity, have the game be set in Japan.
Well, the art isn't exactly Disney quality, but I don't mind it too much. Yes, it's wonky and out of proportion in ways that reaffirm my "Young author" conclusion, but it's also bright and cute. The over-all effect reminds me of Bomee's My Cup of Tea. Also, the music is nice.
I'm not quite sure what to make of the gameplay. It's certainly not perfect, but I can't exactly peg what's wrong. Perhaps the best way to describe it is that while a good multi-ending game encourages replaying, this game pretty much requires it. On the first, cold play-through, the options (with few exceptions) seem to amount to "Door #1, Door #2, or Door #3?" You have no idea what's behind any of these doors; why any choice would be better than another. Of course, once you've seen the consequences of your actions and gotten a feel for the characters, the correct options suddenly become a lot more obvious.
Like I said, this was a good first try. Over all, it strikes me as a fairly middling game; it has its flaws, but it's still cute and worth playing.
That's my opinion. What do you think?