When one thinks video game plots, what comes to mind? Save a princess? Enter a fighting tournament? Recover an artifact? Put the rock in the hole? How about this: Interact with your new seventeen-year-old female roommate and develop a relationship over time? Sound crazy? It's the latest title to come out of Japan, Roommate Ryoko - a top seller in the "growth sim" genre.
The basic plot of Roommate is fairly simple. Ryoko is seventeen, her family has moved from Tokyo to New York, and she is staying behind to finish school. Her father (a friend of your father's) has asked that she move in with you in your apartment (where you have a spare room) so she can complete her studies. But Ryoko misses her family and is emotionally vulnerable - so it's time to for you to do some moving in of your own.
In Roommate Ryoko you have three years to develop a relationship with her. Using a truly innovative real-time feature, the Saturn's internal clock affects how the game plays out. If you play during the day, she isn't around at times. Most of your "interfacing" with her occurs at night (welcome to the next level, indeed). Bad Three's Company allusions aside, there is a good bit of social interaction that goes on - you actually get to know her and have to reveal a lot about yourself. What is most impressive, though, is that the conversation is never recycled - there are thousands of things that Ryoko can say. Seasonal changes affect the game, and although it isn't played in real time, you must adjust your schedule in the game to hers to catch her (this is done by leaving her notes on your shared white board). Don't get antsy and set the Saturn's clock ahead though; the Saturn reads that "skipped" time as time you didn't spend talking to Ryoko, and by the time you get to the "future," she'll have moved out.
The graphics in Roommate look pretty good - forget polygons or texture mapping though; everything here is drawn two-dimensionally with special attention to detail. The sound is also pretty sharp because Ryoko actually speaks a lot of her dialogue (while it is correspondingly displayed onscreen). Unfortunately though, the gameplay almost entirely consists of listening to your new roommate and picking an appropriate thing to say (a lot like your freshman year of college really). Strangely enough though, if you understand Japanese it is sort of fun, if for no other reason than the sheer depth of the game. Ryoko's personality is also noteworthy, as her character is fully thought-out - a far cry from the one message RPG townspeople you may be used to talking with.
Sooner or later a company is bound to bring out some of these games in the US and curious gamers will be able to judge for themselves how fun they are. Even playing the game with a translator I was captivated and entertained by what was happening onscreen and actually had a great deal of fun. If you read Japanese, this is an offbeat import title worth checking out - if not, just wait, and sooner or later this tame yet heartwarming title will come Stateside.