A shining example of improving upon an already established genre, but not quite living up to the insane hype.
This game has gotten over hyped from day 1. With two dominant sides in the argument, the Otaku who have (quite literally) fallen in love with the game, and those who damn this game to lowest levels of hell for being a sort of creepy, fetishistic, lolicon inspiring, nightmare in DS game form stealing the hearts of ronery Japanese men by the truck load. Who's right? Who's wrong? Well in my opinion, they're both right, and I'll tell you why, but first you'll have to read all this stuff I'm gonna throw at ya. Or you can cheat and scroll down but don't do that.
Now this is also my 1st game review so I apologize if this isn't up to par, I am not a native Japanese speaker, in fact I've only taken Japanese for a year and this game was extremely challenging to understand, there is a lot of Kanji and I could only make out so much. Thanks to the internet for giving me so many translations and what have you. I also just noticed someone else had quite an in-depth review on Gamefaqs but I can't find one here on Gamespot >_> so I'll try and not repeat what he said while contributing to the debate in any manner I can.
In my review I'll focus on the story and game play, graphics, sound, what it contributes to gaming, its overall charm and a few other noteworthy details. I do have a tendency to write A LOT, so I apologize if this is too wordy for your tiny tadpole minds, however I would think if you came here looking for a review of this game you have a general interest in Imported games and would like to get as much detail about a game if you were ever considering importing it then wordy = good. Importing costs a lot more than picking up a game at your local Gamestop so I'd assume you want a quality Review over the dribble on the internet. As much quality a first impression review can ever have I guess...
I thought the easiest way to describe this game would be to give you all a summary of my time with it, and since i've never done a proper review before this seems to be a good idea. With that said, this is still only a First impression, I only got the game yesterday (it finally came in the mail) and so I popped it in, and played through the First half of the game and a little of the 2nd part, which was surprisingly short. Its hard to call it a half since the game technically never ends, but I'll touch on that later. When you boot up the game you'll notice that you hold the DS sideways, like a book. Its a pretty cool system, and it really works well in this game. In the 1st part of the game you are given 100 days to get 1 of the 3 girls to fall in love with you, each girl has a different personality which can be described as Clones of popular girls from different Anime series. Nene Anegasaki is a bit more on the mature side, Rinko Kobayakawa is a kind of know it all who calls you basically a lolicon for talking to her, and Manaka Takane the star Tennis player.
You the player, a faceless, voiceless person with apparently abysmal Athletics, Intelligence, Sense, and Charm transfer into Towano private high school from what I assume was a cave somewhere seeing as your a high school student with 0 intelligence, charm, sense and athletics you must be some hideous swamp beast or something. You the character are allowed to decide what classes you'll take, and what you'll do in your free time. Each activity can raise and lower certain stats, So you'll never ever have maxed out points in them all before the 100 days, which is fine, that's what Part 2 is for. Each girl has a preference of stat, Manaka prefers your athletics (obviously), Nene prefers your Charm, and Rinko your Sense. When you increase those stats you'll be able to see different events by meeting a requirement when you engage in an event. Perhaps its my lack of skill in Japanese, but I could never figure out how much of a stat I needed or which stat it would be for the upcoming event except for just pouring points into 1 stat the girl I focused on liked and keeping my fingers Crossed. Most of the time I passed, sometimes Rinko wanted Athletics or an obscene amount of intelligence or sense or athletics or something. I think it had something to do with the colored check marks on certain activities but f*ck if I could tell what they meant until I screwed up already.
You will meet different girls by doing different after school activities, working at the restaurant will let you interact with Nene, Going to tennis practice Manaka (Again, obviously) and the library committee for Rinko. Anyway you should interact with them all at least a little so you can get to know them a bit better before you decide which to focus on. I myself went for Rinko, (i've read Nene is the most popular somewhere, and in trying to be different I went for Rinko). So I studied a lot and went to the library, met up with Rinko a lot and once we got to know each other I had to option to ask her to walk home with me. Very basic dating Sim design for the 1st part of the game, I did get a little bored with the routine. But every now and then they spliced in a few events, which for the most part where enjoyable. And you learn more about the girl and whats bothering them etc till you get real close. You eventually get their email address and can send them messages and receive some, its kinda cool its not some rigid schedule like other Dating sims, you wont know if your going to get an email until about 20 seconds or so of waiting around, or if you'll get a reply back etc. And in truth the game started to grow on me.
Until the point where ever day took like 5 minutes to get through and became a terrible routine. I'd wake up, set my schedule, Rinko would show up and ask me to walk to school with her, I usually accepted we'd talk a bit or (I think the game ran out of content) we'd walk and it would look like shes talking and having a great time and there was no text just a short little "Look their having a great time video". Then I'd get my Stat points for classes, usually with an event afterward involving Rinko no matter where I went, unless it was a different club with a different girls face on it. Go home, got some emails went to bed repeat. Until about Day 60 where my main character had a really weird dream about her in an Apron >.> least to say she was very fond of me, and when we walked to and from school she basically would ask me what kind of girl I liked and I was given a few options. With Rinko from her default personality there was intellectual and knowledgeable. Huh, ok So I chose that 1, and lo and behold she changed entirely. She was more talkative more active she kicked me in the shins more and (ok that part was kinda cute) got a lot more shy and what not. Like she was a completely different person all together. I didn't like that drastic difference in her.
The girls in the game are designed to (pardon my Caps) PLEASE YOU. Not be real humans who have a distinct personality and will make a few changes to please you (sometimes against their will lol); no, these girls live to make you happy. The illusion was dispelled at this point for me, the girls were no longer interesting to me anymore. At day 63, Rinko confessed that she liked me and I accepted, there was a quick Kiss scene where you touch her lips with your stylus (or you can kiss your DS if you got really into it, I guess...) and then basically the credits rolled. In all this only took about 3 hours to complete, longer for me since I was translating bits on the internet (as well as stopping to play Assassins Creed 2 some more >_>;) Then Part 2 began which I'll talk about briefly after the scoring.
Story – 7.5
Meh, the story is basic Dating sim tripe that's been around for ages. It probably won't ever change just because it has such a huge following in Japan. And if one thing is true about the Japanese Fans, they don't like innovation. Look at the Dragon Quest series or the Final Fantasy games (1-6 the newer FF's broke rank when it went international). Dating sim stories won't change too much just because they sell so well already. I give it a 7.5 out of 10 because Part 1 is so Short and the "real game" starts in part 2, and that story is just maintaining a relationship with your girlfriend. Some people like that but I haven't gotten far enough to judge if its the greatest thing ever or just something the ronery Japanese men adore.
Game play – 8.0
I really enjoyed the gameplay, the stylus does everything, the menus were all wonderfully done, nothing was annoying and it worked out great. There were no frustrating mini games or screen breaking madness like so many other DS games. The transitions between areas worked, and the controls were tight and responsive. It was mostly scrolling text but in Part 2 their's the "Skinship" parts where you can "Touch" your virtual girlfriend. And as creepy as it sounds the controls do work well... anyway moving on.
Graphics – 9.5
For a DS game? The graphics were great. The DS usually handles 3D graphics like sh!t, so this game was a pleasant surprise, sure some things were a little blocky or rough but mostly they were rendered very well. The animations of the girls were great as well, some seemed out of place now and then but for the most part, they were excellent. The art was very nicely done, and the CG's you can unlock are also very nicely drawn.
Sound – 10.00
I'm giving the sound a 10 out of 10. The voice work was great each seemed to fit the girl and there was a LOT of it. Whenever she talks there is a voice so, the music for the game also fit very well too. This is the way voice work should be in all games (especially dating sims imo) great voice work, it all fit together well when they spoke and they were believable.
What it contributes to gaming as a whole and its Overall Charms
Well for starters the animations. I don't think I've ever seen a dating sim with more believable characters. They felt alive, it was probably the most realistic animations in gaming...anywhere. Since there were no cut scenes everything was in real time with the player, they responded to whenever you finished talking, the transitions where smooth and their was no awkward motions or uncanny valley feel like you get in Mass effect, Dragon Age, Fallout 3, Oblivion basically any Bioware or Bethesda game. Where most games have awkward over used hand motions or out there expressions to get a point across, everything in Love Plus was subtle, an mimicked human movement better than most games out there for the most part. Ar tonelico 3 is now claiming to be innovating the dating sim genre with their "new" moving characters when your talking to them. For the longest Dating sims have had Still portraits for characters and the better ones at least switched out the portraits for ones with more emotion when the situation called for it. And from what i've seen of Ar Tonelico 3's gameplay... Love Plus Still wins in the animation department for the characters. Needless to say that Dating sims just wont cut it anymore in our world thanks to Love plus. Dating sims will need to up the ante if they want to stay competitive. Also since love plus Also lasts 365 days a year, (technically) there would be no need to get a new game (except for the love plus Sequel coming out soon).
Although I don't think I could manage to play this game forever -.- it's just not that interesting. And the biggest draw about Love plus is that when you get to the 2nd part of the game, there are 2 modes to play in, Skip mode which is just like the 1st part of the game with most of the extra features unlocked, and Real time mode, which has the game progress in Real time. As in 1 minute in the game is 1 Minute in real life. Your given Activity points, so you can only do so much in 1 day w/ your girlfriend. You can go out, write her an email, call her up to go somewhere, set dates etc. But only 30 points worth of stuff, and each action has different costs. So say, an email costs 4 points, but studying costs 2 or something. And the more u interact with her the more maximum points your given. So its a neat little addition to make things more realistic. However that means that you need to actually make time for the game, and plan accordingly. So I set up a date for this upcoming sunday @ 2pm. Just because I knew I would have nothing to do, so when that comes i'll have to boot the game up or suffer pissing her off.
Another gimmick the game has is seasons, clothing, and birthday events. The game will change seasons as it does in the real world, she'll change clothes accordingly, she will change into pajamas at night, and will even do her hair differently (depending on your preferences). This is actually a really cool feature, and in the realm of a dating sim its a wonderful addition to an already great game. Its adds depth and replay value.
They also make use of the microphone for the game. You can go into a sort of conversation mode where your girlfriend will talk to you, ask you questions and you can reply in simple Japanese phrases which is pretty cool. The microphone is a bit iffy and I always feel really stupid when using it but other than that its a nice addition. Technology is always improving and I see no reason a sequel sometime down the line could be extremely advanced, with possible facial recognition for emotions and whatnot. Very cool stuff in my opinion.
Then there is the skinship part. Which makes use of the stylus. Now I don't listen to the people who just call this game Nintendogs but with girls seriously because I'm sure they haven't played the game. And yeah it is a little creepy I guess, but its another feature that lets you touch your girlfriend, (waist up as far as I know >.>;) stroke her hair or poke her forehead, stuff like that, nothing too sinister for now. This isn't an Eroge or anything like that, no nudity or anything I've seen.
Over all this game has contributed a lot to the dating sim genre, no, to Gaming in general. With quality voice work, and a visual style that worked perfectly this game shows us just how far you can push gaming.
Now, back to the ronery otaku who are marrying their game cartridges and spend all day at the amusement park with their love pillow, and those saying this game is just fuel for the ever growing fire that is the otaku... plague? (sorry I have a headache and my metaphors suck today) Well, lets go over a few essential facts first. We all know the media loves to blow things out of proportion, just look at what happened to mass effect when they mentioned sex. Yeah, its easy to condemn games without ever having played them its hard to convince people that a game is not evil or morally corrupt (except for those that so obviously are) but those who play it can be. Sure Love plus has stolen the hearts of men all over Japan, but you have to take it into context. Japan's culture is vastly different from the west and when I say west I mean America. American's lives are fast paced, and lets face it testosterone filled. And its true, fight me if you wish but consider this, we have a lot of Manly role models to look up to and get inspiration from. We have the Army, Marines, Navy always depicted as hard working, strong buff Men (usually). Now lower the standards a bit and we have professional athletes, Football, baseball, Soccer, etc more manly men and what not. Films, we have (had) Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce lee, Sylvester Stallone, Chuck Norris, Clint Eastwood and the list goes on. All men who probably eat metal and Sh!t bullets. Now below them in the pyramid of awesome theres professional wrestling and what not. Basically the list goes on, and if you look at our games its similar as well ::cough Gears of War cough:: And if you look into our society you see a lot of sex and debauchery.
Now if you look into current Japanese Culture, you'll see they don't have a military, there are not many manly figures to look up to an inspire the youth, boys have been getting more and more effeminate to the point they spend more time in front of the mirror doing their hair than the girls do. You'll also notice that the boys have gotten to afraid of rejection and the failing economy isn't helping anything either. Girls are getting a bit more aggressive since the boys won't, and boys are slinking away from marriage, or having children of their own. They're getting trapped in a world of the artificial. Now this is obviously not ALL men in Japan, but its true a pretty hefty percentage of them are becoming Otaku. And if Japan is anything it is a business society and when they smell a profit they sure as hell will exploit it. Look at their products, more and more eroge, love dolls, and anime goods as far as the eye can see. And Anime targeting specific audiences too, lolicons and other varying forms of perversion are out there. You can't sit there and look me in the eye and say Strike Witches is good Anime. Bullsh!t, Strike Witches, Kodomo no Jikan, KissxSis, Ichiban Ushiro no Dai-Maoh, and so many other anime are specifically made for the more creepy residents of Japan. And hell have you seen their porn? Yeah case closed right there.
Do I believe Love Plus was targeting those ronery Otaku? Hell yeah, it gave them exactly what they wanted and the sales prove that, and the sequel thats coming out in 2 months or so proves it even more. But the game itself isn't bad in fact its rather charming, the characters are cute and endearing and yes they kind of grow on you. I don't think we have to worry about the rest of the men in the world breaking up with their girlfriends in order spend a warm night with Nene or something, because the rest of the world doesn't think that way for the most part. Now the day they reveal Cute Android bodies for your digital girlfriend to inhabit is the day women can be justified in blowing up the world.