Chulip is an adventure game about kissing people, and it is weird. But not just weird like a guy who wears a funny hat and brightly colored suspenders, who you can tell really wants you to say something about his off-the-wall fashion choices. Chulip's weirdness goes to the bone, and it's not particularly self-aware, either. Part of Chulip's sensibility stems from its Japanese origin, though a lot of this game would be weird in any language. If systematically kissing a bunch of underground-dwelling eccentrics while attempting to recover a special desk set that was stolen by a disgruntled utility pole as severance pay after not receiving a paycheck for his teaching job sounds compelling enough on its own, then saddle up. It's too bad that the game itself is slow-paced, intermittently frustrating, and often tedious.
Chulip opens with a dream sequence where a young boy, whom you'll play as, and a young girl meet and kiss under a large, talking tree. The very next day you and your father move into a small, run-down house in Long Life Town, where you literally encounter the girl of your dreams, who immediately asks you to kiss her. If you do make an advance, though, this little moppet will rebuke you. You go to your father, whose face is always buried in the newspaper, and he gives you the two pieces of advice that serve to drive the rest of the game. First, and perhaps unintuitively, you must kiss as many people as you can in Long Life Town to both strengthen your heart and improve your reputation within the community. Second, you must write the girl of your dreams an eloquent, heartfelt love letter to express your affection. And so, you venture off into Long Life Town to interact with its peculiar residents, with the recovery of a very special love-letter set being the overarching task at hand. During your quest, you'll rummage through trash cans to earn money, con your way into the presidency of a major corporation, communicate with aliens, and play defense attorney in chicken court.
There's a good deal of written dialogue, which can be amusing because of some awkward word choices as well as the townsfolk's peculiarities. To add to the humor, as the text scrolls across the screen, people will mumble in various types of often disturbing gibberish that sounds like Japanese that has been looped, chopped up, and played backward at random. The largely a cappella soundtrack makes for relatively nice traveling music, though it's regularly interrupted by a screeching noise that's ostensibly coming from a bird but sounds more like the PS2 sound chip going into cardiac arrest. The game looks pretty lo-fi, too. Long Life Town is small and cramped, and though there's something interesting about the bizarre designs of the various residents, everything looks blocky and washed out.
In a lot of ways, Chulip is a traditional adventure game. You'll be presented with a linear series of obstacles that you'll have to overcome by talking to people and using certain objects in some very basic ways. It's also not a particularly great adventure game, because it gives you lots of useless options right from the start and is often vague about what the desired results are. Your character is also rather fragile, especially at the start of the game. It's rarely apparent whether a certain activity or area is dangerous, so as you explore and try to solve your task at hand, it's not uncommon for you to eat it suddenly and regularly. It's no fun, especially since you have to travel to a specific location to save your game.
But then there's all that kissing. Kissing the regular residents of Long Life Town is a difficult task, because they all have stiff requirements that you'll have to meet to get them in the mood, and they rarely come out and tell you what you need to do. While the regular residents can definitely be quirky, such as the bobble-headed police officer or the devilish Dr. Dandy, they're nothing compared to the vast network of people, creatures, and things that dwell underground. The very first underground character you meet, Michio Suzuki, is nothing more than a pair of feet and a large bald head with a paintbrush sticking out the top. Then there's Mr. Apollo, who wears a functional rocket on his head, Chuck the leather-bound sadomasochist, the copyright-traipsing Yodzilla, the succinctly named Tin Signboard, and more.
As you walk around town, you'll see small cracks in the ground, which you can peer into to catch a glimpse of these underground residents, as well as to get a clue as to what you'll need to do to kiss them. The game operates on an accelerated day-night cycle, and most of the underground residents will emerge only at a specific time, and often for just a few seconds. Approaching an underground resident in the wrong way will get you knocked down and will cause you to lose some, if not all, of your hearts, and you'll likely have to wait until the same time the next day for another chance. A successful kiss, though, will have you seeing stars and fireworks and will increase your heart capacity as well as your reputation around town. The whole kissing thing is absolutely fantastic in concept, and there's something unsettling about your character's encouraged promiscuity. In practice, you have to do a lot of waiting around, and when the underground residents do appear you have a very limited amount of time to figure out how to kiss them successfully. On your own, it could take a long, long time to get through Chulip, though it would seem that American publisher Natsume is aware of the game's unintuitive design, because the manual includes a full walk-through that will let you solve all of the puzzles and kiss everyone in Long Life Town in just a few hours.
Chulip is likely one of the most confounding experiences you'll have with your PlayStation 2. Nearly everything about it is uncomfortably bizarre, which may be enough for those who avoid the mundane or just get a kick out of the more peculiar corners of Japanese culture. However, if you're not actively looking for something incredibly weird, you have no business puckering up for Chulip.