Availability: Free, Download
Format: Dating Sim (Stat-Based)
Genre: School Romance
My Scores: (Writing: 2, Art: 2.5, Gameplay: 2)
In 1st Teen Story: Lollipop Love, you are a teenage Vietnamese girl attending school. You've never had a boyfriend before, but now, that's about to change. You have three guys to choose from.
First of all, let me say that my interest perked up when I learned that the protagonist is Vietnamese. This is something you don't see everyday in dating sims; the usual nationalities for characters in this genre tend to be Japanese, American, Unspecified-but-similar-to-either-Japanese-or-American, and Fantasy-Land-ian. Having our protagonist be Vietnamese, then, is a welcome break.
...Or at least, it would be. Much to my disappointment, we get no cultural flavor outside of a few names; and even there, the protagonist herself appears to have no name at all. If the narrator didn't specify that she was Vietnamese, we could just as easily have filed this under one of the "Standard Dating Sim Nationalities" mentioned above (well, except for possibly the fourth one). Now, I'm not saying the game has to take us on a field trip to Hanoi, but a little bit more identity would be nice. For one thing, I don't know if this game is actually set in Vietnam, or if the character is ethnically Vietnamese but living in another country. Either scenario would have its own impact on the character. It brings me back to my complaint about Winter Dance Sim Date: If you have an unusual setup or character hook, don't just blurt it and ignore it; take it and run with it.
As for more legitimate complaints, the English here is horrible, hard to read, and often vaguely reminiscent of internet chatspeak. While that can be excused by the author being young and/or not a native English speaker, the one thing not remotely excusable is the complete lack of actual, quoted dialog. Instead of seeing what characters have to say, we are instead given the information second-hand, kind of like this:
"He said that he liked my top so I thanked him and he said I was welcome." (Not an Excerpt)
That's basically how the dialog is conveyed. Not only do I find it annoying, but it also short-changes the reader. What exactly did that person say? This can reveal so much about their character! To keep with this hypothetical example, there are many ways our "he" could have expressed his liking of the top:
1. "Um...hey, uh...*blush*...that's a....that's a nice, um, shirt you're wearing."
2. "Hey. Cool top."
3. "Fair maiden, the colors of the cloth that girds thy bosom brings out the wondrous hue of thy eyes and strikes my heart with rapture at thy beauty!"
See? One sentiment, three different personalities. This is why exact quotes are important in character-driven works such as dating sims. And if the lines in the game are exact quotes, then why are there no quotation marks? Is it really so much to ask?
Once again, I found myself with a non-uniform opinion of the art. I like that it has a paint and colored-pencil look to it; there's a sweet, bright, and informal quality to much of the artwork, and I love the cute little icons that appear when you try to quit from the game. However, the characters' proportions are very off, and they tend to look downright odd to me. Granted, drawing people is hard (oh, how it's hard), and there seems to be some stylization going on here but...well, I'm sorry, I just think it looks off. After much waffling, I ended up giving it a slightly lower score on the basis that the backgrounds are obviously photos run through a Photoshop filter. Yes, I'm aware that game creators often use this technique, but my complaint is that I can tell.
If you make a dating sim or visual novel, please don't ever make the first sentence "What should I say?". When I first started playing, I thought the game had glitched and I was about to be confronted with dialog options for a conversation I knew nothing about! Fortunately, that was not the case, though it did make for a startling/irritating first impression.
My next major impression here was "Holy Cow, it's the Renpy DSE Engine!" I don't know how many of you are familiar with renpy; it's the game-making program most associated with LemmaSoft Forums (which many of these reviews link to, you may notice). Since its main purpose is actually for making visual novels, a framework was specially constructed for making dating sims: Renpy DSE. I didn't know what to make of this discovery. While the game's underlying structure was baldly obvious (to me, anyway), even introducing a character in a way that echoed the DSE's sample game, there ought to be no shame in using a tool (I've been working with this one myself, in fact), and there clearly was some tweaking done. Still, it was an odd feeling, like that moment when Santa Clause enters the room and you immediately notice he's wearing your dad's belt buckle.
Aside from that, I found the game to be rather slow and drawn out, and engaging in social/intellectual type activities causes the conflicting stat to drop by a ludicrous amount. Going out one time after school causes my IQ to drop several points? Why? Is the park near a noxious chemical plant or something?
The game looks cute, but I found it to be dull and a bit frustrating, both in the gameplay and the writing. It's okay for a first try at game-making, but I wouldn't exactly recommend it to all of my friends. Of course, all this is just my opinion, and you may think that I'm completely off my rocker.
Feel free to discuss your thoughts in the comments.