Hatsukare Renai Debut Sengen – Asahina Kakeru GET!

Nnnn… so sleepy… Let’s make this quick. I reloaded from the Kakeru save I made midway through Kariya’s route and used that to get Kakeru’s happy end. As I’d suspected, meeting him for the after-school chat does make things awkward for a while. Especially since Kakeru doesn’t actually confess. He admits he’s had feelings for Yui for years but says he doesn’t feel ready to formally ask her out yet. So it’s a refusal to confess, more or less. You interrupted my busy schedule for that?

Later on he talks to Yui about why he’s going through a slump in his soccer game – he broke his leg before and is subconsciously terrified of breaking it again. She offers some trite words of encouragement, Kakeru is suitably gratified and he goes on to bend it like Beckham once again. Then he confesses, then she gives him the “I’ve loved you all along to but I wouldn’t have noticed if you hadn’t said anything” speech and then they start dating. The same making-out-on-every-street corner that Kariya’s route suffered from.

It’s even worse than Kariya’s route because at least Kariya and Yui had new and exciting things to talk about. With Kakeru and Yui every other conversation starts with “Hey, remember that time when we…” and goes on for ages blah blah blah childhood memories blah blah it was so much fun blah blah blah. I call it the “Stranger’s Family Reunion” problem. It really makes the gamer feel left out when the characters are always in their own little world going over their own little memories we are not privy to. Once would be enough, but every single conversation is just depressing. This has put me off playing any other childhood friend routes in other otome games. I am soooo sorry for intruding on your happy memories.

Well, enough of that. Kakeru’s a nice guy. Really nice guy. What does he see in that Yui girl anyway? Hmph. Moving on, I’m going to give Hatsukare Renai Debut Sengen a break and play some other stuff for a while. And by ‘other stuff’ I mean I can’t wait to start Operation Abyss: New Tokyo Legacy. I want to do some dungeon-crawling, the more mindless the better. But first I need some painkillers and a nap. Too sleepy…

Non-update: Managed to play an hour of Operation Abyss and haven’t been able to touch it since. I’m just too busy ;____; And it looks like I’ll be busy till early June at the latest. Waaah…

Hatsukare Renai Debut Sengen – Kariya-sempai GET!

Or to be precise, Kariya-sempai “happy end” GET! According to the game, anyway. Which suggests there’s a not-so-happy end and maybe even a bad end? Aww, I wanted to see those. This route was too happy happy yay yay, it needed more darkness!

The good news is, Kariya did officially ask me out, shortly after yesterday’s post. Whining on your blog never fails, I tell you. Most otome games end with the grand confession and you’re left to assume they all lived happily ever after. In Hatsukare, however, the couple date each other for about a month after confession, giving you a glimpse of what their relationship would be like. It’s like Storm Lover (same developer) and Love Plus in that respect.

And like those other games, ehhh, I don’t like that part. Sure I’m happy if the relationship goes well, but I really don’t care to see all that lovey-dovey stuff. The process of getting there is the interesting part, the rest I don’t care about. I used to think it would be cool to know what happened afterwards, but now I realize it’s just boring cheesy “I love you”, “I love you more”, “No me”, “No you”  teenage stupidity. And like stupid teens they’re always making out on the street corner, in the school courtyard, at the mall, on the stairwell, everywhere under the sun. GET A ROOM kids! Wait, no, get out of the room! No! Aaaaah!!! …I’m kidding. …Barely.

Long story short, the last month of the game was rather boring for me. It’s just day after day of Yui and Yuuji giggling and making out and making googoo eyes at each other. All the family dysfunction and drama I was promised on this route was quickly swept under the carpet and never referred to again. For example, throughout the game Kariya has been hinting about his parents being violent, neglectful ex-delinquents. He has even shown up at school once with bruises from being beaten by his father. But once we start dating the whole narrative changes and now his story is “They’re really nice people once you get to know them.” Uh, really. Uh, okay.

Moreover I was all hyped up to see some drama involving Reiji, but he and his gang just gave up and virtually disappeared once Yuuji and Yui became a proper couple. It seems Reiji was interested in her because his brother was interested, but once she officially became his girlfriend he was too honorable to go there (or maybe he just valued his life). Either way he never bothers you guys again. He even shows up at the fireworks festival to chase away some baddies so Yuuji and I can make out in peace. Thanks bro, I owe you one.

Not like this, sempai, not like this!

Ah well, Kariya-sempai himself is a nice enough guy. I think my main problem with the dating part was that Yui often says and does things I don’t necessarily think are wise. For example I already mentioned how much of a buzzkill it is on Shun’s route when she keeps whimpering about how little she knows about games. And there’s another scene where she tells a friend all about her brother’s teenage heartbreak. Uncool, girl. Just, uncool. And another scene where she goes to Kariya’s house and falls asleep in his bed. I’m like, is that really wise? Really?

So it’s okay for an otome heroine to have character, but whether that character will gel with the player or not is a hit-or-miss prospect. If the writing is strong enough you can still enjoy the game even if the heroine is a huge idiot (Kanuchi comes to mind) but it’s harder to do so.

Which is not to say I didn’t enjoy Hatsukare Renai Debut Sengen at all. I did. I’m working on Kakeru’s route even as we speak. But I think the best parts are the early bits where you’re just getting to know the characters. The post-confession stage which should be the highlight of the game is meh because you have to watch Yui interact with Mr. Dreamboat. And I don’t really like Yui. I don’t hate her but… nah, I don’t like her. And the game ends on that note so… eh. Well, all’s well that ends well.

That’s it for the mini-review. Next post I’ll summarize the results of my Kakeru and Shun routes and then move on to another game.

Hatsukare Renai Debut Sengen – Kariya-sempai’s evil twin brother noticed me!

Waaaaah! Now I can’t get married! Nooo! …Actually it wasn’t that bad. I managed to push him away just in time and then Kariya ran over to help. Yay, my hero! Only problem is I wouldn’t even have been in that mess if it wasn’t for his stupid little brother randomly falling in love with me just because I’m his brother’s girlfriend (even though I’m not because Kariya hasn’t formally asked me out), so he owes me some compensation. On a more serious note, I don’t see any future for our relationship if his brother is going to assault me at every opportunity. Just think of how awkward the family reunions would be!

Unfortunately it’s a little too late for me to back out of a Kariya end now, seeing as I’ve ditched or friend zoned all the other guys and there’s only one month left till the end of the game. What I did with Kakeru was particularly ingenious… or cruel, depending on how you want to see it. It got to the stage where Kakeru was clearly trying to confess his feelings for Yui. He asked her to meet him after school so they could talk. Kariya-sempai hadn’t (and I remind you still hasn’t) asked me out, but I’d already made up my mind to go for him so Kakeru didn’t stand a chance. But turning him down would make things uncomfortable for the rest of the game. What to do?

Why, blow off the meeting and pretend I completely forgot, that’s what. Stunned by how easily Yui “forgot” about him, Kakeru calls her up to say it didn’t matter what he was going to say that afternoon and that he hopes they’ll continue to be great friends forever. And that’s the end of that. Heh heh heh. That’s right, folks, I manipulated Kakeru into friend zoning himself. I’m such a little…. heh. Maybe being stalked by Kariya’s brother is divine punishment. ‘Cos I just told him off for shoplifting and now he’s head over heels for me. That’s not natural. Definitely a bolt from above, so don’t feel too bad for me. And don’t feel too bad for Kakeru either, because I made a backup save right before that event. Now I won’t have to start the game from scratch to get him.

Hatsukare Renai Debut Sengen covers a school term from April to July and I’m already on June 23rd, so I should be done soon. I can’t wait to see how Furyu gives me a happy ending with a guy whose brother likes to mess with his girlfriends just for the fun of it. There will be blood, oh yes there will.

Hatsukare Renai Debut Sengen – It’s not three-timing if he hasn’t asked me out

Hatsukare Renai Debut Sengen was supposed to be a filler game to keep me busy until Fire Emblem Echoes came out next week, but now I can’t stop playing it. I was only going to do one route and then drop it, but at this rate I’ll end up doing at least three, maybe four. I’m sorry FE, but Hatsukare scored a critical hit on my heart.

And the nice thing is I don’t have to write a lot about gameplay or stories because it’s just a visual novel about a girl who wants a boyfriend in time for the fireworks show at the end of the term. It’s like Tokimeki Memorial without the stat-raising. No stress, no story, no great angst, no great goal, just stalk guys until they like you and away you go.

I picked this game because it’s by FuRyu Corporation. I love them for their Unchained Blades dungeon crawlers, but I’ve also played their pseudo-visual novels like Tsukumonogatari and Last Bullet and enjoyed them, so this was the natural next step. While I normally shy away from visual novels, there are a few conditions under which I might enjoy one. I’ve stated them before, but they bear repeating here:

-Nice art
-Characters I can stand
-At least one bishie I want to pursue
-Short, snappy dialog and fast-moving scenes
-Affection-based, not flag-based. No bad end because I missed one random scene near the beginning.
-Less telling, more showing. No lengthy descriptions of pounding hearts and golden hair shimmering in the sunlight.

See, it’s not that complicated, is it? Hatsukare ticks all those simple requirements. Plus I could see myself getting with 4 out of the 6 dateable guys (the other two just need to die, srsly). And the main character has a cool older brother who is not dateable. That’s a good thing. I mean it should go without saying that you can’t date your brother, but you just never know with these otome games.

First four guys okay, last two do not want, oniichan not included.

The Story, such as it is

Our main character’s name is Yui and she’s in her second year of high school. She muddled through her first year in boring fashion, but now she wants to spice up her life. To that end she started a part-time job and joined the student council, and now her next goal is to find a boyfriend. Or actually it’s not explicitly her goal, but she does think it would be nice to date someone.

And if the legend that a couple that kisses under a tree while watching the annual fireworks show will be bound together for life is true… then she’d better stop wasting time with these childish high school boys and wait until she’s older and more mature so she can find a committed man with a proper job and a good personality and… Yui? Yui?! Are you listening to me?! Yui!!!! …It’s no good, she’s off like a shot. =_=

The Gameplay, such as it is

Wander around the school yard before, during and after school hitting on hunks. There are vague rumors about students actually studying once in a while but they’re just that: rumors. At first all characters are on a “common” route, but as you do romantic events some guys get shunted onto the Friend route and others onto the Romance route. Eventually the guy with the highest affection for you at the end of the game will be the last man standing, or so I assume. I haven’t made it that far yet.

Hatsukare does do something slightly interesting with the “Dokkyun” conversation system. When you talk to your school mates, you occasionally pick up conversation topics. For example a friend might mention how she spent the Golden Week holidays. That gives you the conversation topic “How did you spend your holidays?” Every once in a while you can initiate a conversation with a guy that looks like this:

Oniichan included for illustrative purposes only. This is where those topics you picked up come into play. Ply him with questions, bring up interesting topics. Ask questions he likes and avoid topics he hates and eventually he’ll progress to the Dokidoki stage.

At this stage you can ask even more questions or make romantic overtures. E.g. call him by his first name, make sexy eyes at him, touch his body, etc. All completely worksafe, I assure you. Rub him the right way and he’ll move into Dokkyun stage. He even says “Dokkyun” out loud. It’s VERY VERY STUPID. VERY.

But Dokkyun stage means you get an affection boost and a one-on-one date with the guy, which is too good to pass up no matter how stupid he sounds when he says “Dokkyun.” Seriously Furyu, what were you thinking?!

Yah anyway, that’s all you have to do in Hatsukare. Talk to a boy on the map, talk to him in Dokkyun conversations, over and over and over again until his affection is high enough at the end of the game and then you win. I think. As I said I haven’t gotten that far yet, so some unforeseen gameplay elements or complications might yet arise.

The Candidates for Love

At this point I’m seriously pursuing one guy: Kariya-sempai. I’m half-heartedly toying with two other guys: my childhood friend Kakeru and resident anime otaku Shun. And I have passionate but naive freshman Aoto saved for a future playthrough. I have a feeling he’s going to be fun. Let’s take them from the top.

Kariya – Met him when he almost ran over my dog on his motorbike.
Got closer to him under the pretext of apologizing.
He’s a pretty nice guy underneath, one of those “misunderstood delinquent” characters.
It’s implied that his family is violently dysfunctional. I don’t wanna deal with crazy in-laws.
Doesn’t seem too bright, since he rides around on the bike without a helmet.
You can catch him singing to himself sometimes. It’s very cute.
He also likes cooking and sweets. And he has dreams where I’m actually a guy.
…And he offers to let me dress up in his clothes.
I don’t know, Kariya-sempai, I just don’t know.

Pot calling the kettle black

Kakeru: Yui’s childhood friend.
Ex-soccer star who broke his leg in first year and just rejoined the team.
Bummed out about his poor performance recently, but of course I’m going to help him through that with the power of lurve <3
All-around perfect guy that everybody likes. I like him too.
The problem with Kakeru is that he’s been friends with Yui so long that their relationship is super-close right from the start.
He doesn’t feel worth pursuing since he’s virtually mine already.
But he’s such a nice guy I’ll date him anyway.
Plus there’s always the possibility that the writers will throw in some kind of twist.

Shunichiro: Anime and game otaku.
His favorites seem to be Gundam (a.k.a. Dansam), Dragon Quest (a.k.a. Dragon Fantasy) and any kind of fighting game.
His subplot involves entering a fighting game tournament together with Yui, who has never played a game before but is somehow a natural prodigy.
He has too many hangers-on and ‘friends’ who just want to use him, I don’t like that.
I don’t like his voice either.
He often makes game references that I get but Yui doesn’t, which completely kills the mood. Rrrgh.
While I share his love of games, he comes across as a very one-note character. Will Yui always be third in his life behind video games and anime?
Again there’s the potential for an unusual turn of events, so I’ll date him with that hope in mind.

Aoto: Eh. I’m not interested enough to do his route right now. I get the feeling his route will be either super stupid or super awesome, I won’t know which one until I try. I don’t usually like kouhai characters, but it’s good to try something new every once in a while.

The way forward

Kariya-sempai will notice me. After that I really want to get Kakeru’s route. Shun is optional, Aoto is very much optional, I’d like to do some friendship events with oniichan… I’ve been doing romantic events for all three guys at the same time, so I don’t know if the game will stay fresh long enough for me to do all that, but I’ll give it my best shot! And when I’m done with all this romanticking I’ll probably be craving a good ARPG again. In fact I’m craving one already, wat do? One game at a time, see you in a bit!

World Neverland: The Olerud Kingdom Stories – I am 7 years old and what is this?

The final event may have unlocked in Rune Factory 4, but it’s still firmly dropped. Not only that, but the 3DS itself is on an extended timeout. That’ll learn ya. However, I still felt like playing something simulation-like where I can live and work and get married and stuff. I figured this was as good a time as any to get into the World Neverland series I’d heard so much about. And here we are.

A tiny bit of background: the World Neverland series is a franchise of 5 simulation games and one mobile game published first by Riverhillsoft then, upon its demise, by Althi. The gameplay varies widely between games, but the common thread is a life simulation system where you train, fight, grow, do different jobs, earn lots of money, get married, have children and die. Think Fantasy Life, or Animal Crossing, or Harvest Moon.

I don’t want to act more knowledgeable than I am, so I’ll stick to talking about the one I’ve actually played – Olerud Kingdom. The first game in the series, first released in 1997 for the PSX and re-released as a 2-in-1 version on the PSP in 2008. None of the main games have been localized, but the mobile game does have an English version if you are so inclined. I really want to play it, but I’ve decided to play the series in chronological order first so it will have to wait.

So! World Neverland: Olerud Kingdom. You start out as a 7-year old emigre to Olerud Kingdom. But… where are your parents and guardians? Did they really let you travel across land and sea by yourself at such a tender age? They certainly did, because in World Neverland you’re a full-fledged adult at age 6 (!). It’s a bit of a shock to talk to 9-year olds and realize they’re all married with kids already, but it helps to pretend that everyone’s true age is “Game Age x 3”. That makes the age of adulthood (6 x 3) = 18, very reasonable. And you’re actually (7 x 3) = 21 years old, just ripe for starting a new life. This also explains why I haven’t met anyone in their 30s yet but have heard lots of funeral announcements for people in their late 20s.

Thanks for welcoming me. Geezer.

So I’m an adult, and that’s why on the first day of the game, my so-called advisor took me to the town square and abandoned me there, never to be seen again. It took me three days to find my way back home. Good thing I don’t need to eat or drink! In fact you don’t need to do anything in this game, you can just exist meaninglessly from day to day until you keel over dead at the ripe old age of 28. It’s your decision.

But since I’m going through the trouble of playing this game, I decided to make a serious go of it. But a serious go of what? There are no clear goals in this game. You’re not the chosen one, you’re not specially talented, there’s no overarching story or big bad, there’s no threat to the kingdom, there’s just the everyday grind of NPC life in an ordinary kingdom. Surrendering and dying in obscurity is very much a valid life choice. Your life is meaningless, so it’s up to you to find a reason to live for.

But first you have to find your character in a sea of identical others. HEEELP!

Thus I decided to at least try working like an honest citizen. Every citizen in Olerud Kingdom must join one of three organizations, the Ban Org, the Yurius Org or the Peat Org. The Ban specialize in fist fighting, the Yurius in magic and the Peat in sword fighting IIRC. And there’s a weapon triangle of some sort where fists > swords > magic > fists. Or something like that.

As an Org member, you start out as a non-ranking grunt. Slave away in the organization’s fields long enough and you become a D-ranker. Slave away some more and you become a C ranker, where you stop working in the fields and become a glorified gofer. Do that for a while and you rise to B rank, still a gofer. Then A rank where you get to do more responsible stuff, and finally – if you’re able to defeat the other A-rankers in combat, you become the head of the organization. Then, at last, the money cash & hoes start to flow. Or so I’m told. Promotion only happens once a year so I’m going to be D-rank for a long time.

Along the way, you can befriend a number of NPCs and eventually marry and have babies. I’d love to do all that, but the relationship aspect of Olerud Kingdom needs a LOT of work. It is extremely hard tell NPCs from each other because they are very very small with near-identical designs. And they rarely stand still but keep dashing and darting all over the map like their tails are on fire. There’s a free-for-all singles mixer held on the 20th of every year, but 90% of the participants are female. -_- I knew I should have played as a guy. I have a strategy for breaking through this impasse though. It involves my next-door neighbor’s 4-year old son (don’t shoot, officer, I can explain everything).

Oh, he’s 5 now. That makes everything okay.

The main draw of marriage is the cross-generational gameplay it affords. Simply put, you can play the game forever by possessing your children as soon as they turn six. Not only do you carry over your levels and skills but you also get the chance to pick up new aptitudes that you wouldn’t normally have. For example if you’re from the Ban Org then you have good fist growths. Your son could inherit those growths then join another Org to get, say, magic growths, and pass those on and on and on. It would make a nice plot for a scifi novel where a man tries to become an Übermensch by passing his consciousness down through hundreds of generations. In Olerud Kingdom it’s just a way to avoid a game over, or a way of quitting when you get tired of being a life vampire.

I’m all alone. I’ve eaten all the others.

The only potential complication in this generational gameplay is something called the “emigration” system. I don’t fully get it, but it sounds like instead of going forward in time, you can back in time with your current stats and character to an earlier generation… And get married there… To your own mother or father. But why would you ever… Oh, it’s a Japanese game. Never mind, carry on.

You work your way up through the ranks and earn money in exchange for your work. Not much money at the start, but enough to buy occasional doping items. As you work and train, you build up tiredness and stress. Tiredness goes away pretty easily by drinking water, but stress only goes away by sleeping – or by using items. There are items that make it easier to raise stats, items that make the opposite sex like you more, items that make good gifts, items you can use to dope your kids, etc. But they’re all optional, so you can just hoard money like a miser till you die.

Last thing I should note is the leveling and battling system. See the training dummies on the right of the screen above? You go up to them and spam X whenever you have the time to slooowly accumulate EXP. Training dummies in different Orgs raise different stats. You also get EXP from running around the map.When you have enough to level up, you go into the level up screen and choose to level up. When you accumulate enough levels, you can also learn new special attacks.

Attacks and levels are only one part of combat, though. The other part is popularity. Before your match, you’re supposed to go round town drumming up support from your friends and acquaintances. As you continue to win, your popularity will grow naturally and you’ll find it easier and easier to win. In theory, anyway. In practice I haven’t bothered to fight any official battles yet. *shrug* I think fighting becomes more important when you reach the higher ranks. As a grunt it’s better to just keep your head down and keep tilling the fields.

The numbers on the left and right show popularity. The more popular fighter wins.

So them’s the basics of World Neverland: The Olerud Kingdom Stories. Now for why it sucks, in point form:

  • Relationships are hard to build because NPCs are hard to identify. They’re so small on the screen!
  • There needs to be some kind of color distinction or other marker so you don’t waste time talking to married men when you’re single. Shoo! Go away!
  • The screen itself has too much wasted space on the sides. The Save, Map, Help, etc. icons shouldn’t be that large.
  • There isn’t much to do besides work and train all day. Later games supposedly have various job professions and fishing and farming, etc. but as the first game in the series, Olerud Kingdom is really rough.
  • Work is boring. You’re just doing the same thing day after day after day with no autonomy. It’s too lifelike!
  • Training is also boring. Either hold R to run forever or mash X for hours on end. Inb4 “Just like all other RPGS.”
  • Nothing against properly-designed auto battle systems, but this is just tedium. A popularity contest? For realz?
  • You can’t change your clothes, you can’t decorate your room, you can’t buy weapons or armor or furniture, you can’t do nothing. I like my life sims to be more customizable.
  • People have no personality at all. They say the same four or five lines forever. This makes friendship and romance pointless. This is my biggest complaint because it’s the one thing a life sim has to have – fun and meaningful interactions! Or as meaningful as a video game life can be, anyway. Agh, you know what I mean!

 

…If I didn’t know this was a whole series and if I didn’t have hope of better games down the line, I would condemn Olerud Kingdom as the most boring thing I’ve ever played… Which it probably isn’t but it’s up there for sure. Sorry, this review is a bit all over the place. The game itself is all over the place and it’s hard to pull my thoughts together. The TL;DR is that it has some good ideas and the concept is pretty neat, but this first game isn’t really playable. I’m going to play one or two other things then dive into the sequel to see all the improvements they made and why this series is so enduring.