Availability: Free, Online/Browser
Format: Dating Sim
Genre: School Romance
My Scores: (Writing: 2, Art: 2.9, Gameplay: 2)
Found at http://www.newgrounds.com/
In Winter Dance Sim Date, you are Lily. You and your friend Fiero attend a boarding school called Summer College, but when the school mysteriously burns down, its sister school Winter College agrees to board the students. Also, you are invited to Winter College's school dance at the end of the month! Yay!
The writing here makes for a good study of what works for a story and what doesn't. Many people don't quite grasp how difficult writing actually is. Even if you learn what parts go into a good story, making those parts work together is crucial.
In this story, Lily lives with foster parents while her biological parents live overseas. I don't know if this is something that's representative of the author's life and therefore something that Solstyce deemed mundane enough to just mention off-hand (similar to saying "So I was staying at my Dad's for the weekend..."), or if it was a deliberate attempt to give the character unique traits. If the latter, then this is indeed a valid "good writing" technique; the unusual family situation certainly captures my attention. Except...this unusual situation then has no bearing on anything else in the game. It doesn't affect anything. It's thus the equivalent of going to get your taxes done and seeing that the accountant is inexplicably wearing a large fruit hat. What should have been interesting instead becomes distracting and irrelevant.
In general, there seems to be a large disconnect between the story that apparently exists in the author's mind, and the story that plays out in the game. Many of the dialog options refer to information that the player was never made privy to. For example: in one dialog path, you tell a boy that you've been having nightmares since the fire. What nightmares? The time period in which this supposedly happened is covered by the gameplay, and yet we never see any nightmares. The only reason they exist is because we tell the boy they exist. Likewise, there are many bits of personal trivia that we choose to share despite having no clue if we're making the character lie or tell the truth.
That's the problem right there: by not having the necessary information before-hand, the player isn't able to make a true choice. If I have to pick between "Say you like apples" or "Say you like oranges", the choice is only meaningful if I already know that my character hates apples and is an orange-devouring fiend. In that context, choosing to say I like apples is a deliberate lie, and the outcome should reflect that. However, if I have no clue what my character's fruit preference is, then my choice is nothing more than a blind stab in the dark, and it thus becomes unfair when the NPC chews me out for lying. After all: from my end, it was an honest mistake.
I keep wanting to do away with the decimal scores and just have nice, clean intergers wherein '1' is awful, '2' is "I didn't care for it", '3' is okay, '4' is good/great, and '5' is mind-blowingly awesome. Unfortunately, this nice, clean numerical system makes no account for the artistic inconsistencies within a single game. So many of the games on this blog will have something beautifully rendered here and then something poorly drawn there, and then I end up averaging it out and coming up with cockamamie scores like 2.9.
Ranting aside, I wasn't terribly impressed with how the characters themselves were drawn. However, for the most part, the props and buildings seem nice and cleanly drawn, and the more muted coloring scheme is a welcome break from the look of the other flash games I've reviewed. It's clear that effort was put in, but its also clear that more learning is needed.
What is the point of the classes, really? On the one hand, it's nice that the jobs require certain stats in order to work them. On the other hand, it is entirely possible to get through this game without ever working once; or going on a single date, for that matter. Even if I decided to work all the jobs, there's still the do-nothing "wealth" stat. Did I miss something? What the heck is "wealth" for, why is there a class for it, and why does this class actually cost me money?
To sum it all up, the game has quite a few decent elements, but the whole of it just doesn't quite hit the mark for me. It could definitely use some improvement in all areas. Still, it is pretty cute, and doesn't enrage me the way some of these works do. Also, it gets points for having a setting that isn't America/Japan/Fantasialandia, although for the life of me, I'm not sure if it's supposed to be Brittain or Austrailia. Still, it does something different, and that's a good thing.