Tokimeki Check In! Review
By Monica Bair |
If you're ever in Japan, here's a cultural experience I recommend. Take the JR Yamanote line to Akihabara station, two stops north of of Tokyo station, and go out via the exits for Akihabara Electric Town. Get off the side street you're on and head out to the main drag, where if you go down the right way you'll encounter a district where massive videogame shops are clustered just about three to a block, in between weird gadget stores, appliance stores, and retailers of wonderfully useless merchandise. Pretty cool part of town, if your geeky interests are bent the right way.
Anyhow, we want to find a game shop. Look for one of the joints that occupies something like six floors of an incredibly tall and narrow building, with little notations on the first steps of the stairs saying "1F - This," "2F - That," "3F - The Other," and so on. Can you read katakana? If so, look for the one that says "a-do-ru-to." If you're an ignorant gaijin scumbag like most of us, just watch the promo posters that line the stairwells. You'll know when you're there.
"There" is the floor with the PC games. Or, to put a finer point on it, the porn. Japan's PC game market is a fascinating thing, in that it is dominated in the main by cartoon pornography. It's drawn in the style of similar manga and anime, and designed in such a way as to give you flashbacks to the interactive graphical adventures of the 80s (albeit with less brain-teasing and a heavy emphasis on character interaction). The vast majority of native productions fall into that category -- nearly all straight PC games, and there aren't that many, are American imports, although Korea is starting to get a pretty serious development community of its own going. So you've got your Diablo and your Starcraft and your Nobunaga's Ambition in a dinky little corner over there, and the rest of the floor space (say...95-97%) is cartoon porn. I kid you not.
Why this is I don't honestly know. I know why mainstream PC games aren't that big a deal in Japan -- it's because console games so thoroughly dominate that end of the market, and perhaps Japan's refusal to dig first-person shooters is a secondary factor -- but I couldn't tell you why a copy of J-Win will let you load up every fantasy imaginable (from second base to heavy bondage to explosions at the Krispy Kreme glaze machine) in handily physics- and anatomy-defying illustrated form. That's just how it is. And now the phenomenon is making another go at coming to America.
Over the years, a couple of other startups have tried to bring these games to the states with mixed success, usually never rising above "modest." That hasn't daunted the founders of Peach Princess, however, who are currently fielding at least half a dozen entries to the market at present. To finish all this long-winded introductory nonsense, the first of these I'll survey is Tokimeki Check In!, chosen mainly because it's set at an onsen retreat. To explain, this is a sort of resort hotel built around a hot springs, and as all drooling anime geeks know (cf. Outlaw Star ep.23, Bakuretsu Hunters OVA 1), hot springs mean three things:
1. Naked chicks...
2. ...drunk chicks...
3. ...naked drunk chicks
Or four things, if you count drunk naked chicks as a separate category.
At this point, most of you are now wondering "who the hell is this alien that they've allowed to invade the PC site?" Yes, I know, getting off on naked toons is ridiculous. I'm entirely aware of this fact. Furthermore, it would be possible, and in fact very entertaining in a nasty sort of way, to write this review with the intention of simply mocking this game, and the entire genre to which it belongs. Hell, I could write that review in my sleep. But the fact of the matter is, any kink, be it feet, leather, BDSM, or pink pig masks, comes across as ridiculous if you don't happen to be into it. Sure, you think that guy drooling over the cartoon chicks is weird, but what do you think he'd say to your giant Schnauzer obsession? (Ah, the sweet, sweet stench of warm drool...)
The long and the short of it is, I'm going to try to play this one straight. Mostly.
No, wait, I take that back. Nobody could take this stuff seriously. This dialogue is even worse than giant Schnauzer fetishes.
For further illumination, take the word "dialogue" from the preceding sentence and replace with "characterization," "plot construction," "localization," and "unbelievably crap background music." Oh, and most of all, "sex." If I may borrow a line from Roger Ebert, this is not good art, it is not good game design, and it is not good porn. It just ain't good. I now regret terribly all those previews of Tokimeki Memorial 2 Substories ~Dancing Summer Vacation~, because it's on account of that nonsense that I was given this miserable dreck. To the folks at Peach Princess, there's a difference between amusingly wacky G-rated DDR shenanigans and formulaic hardcore smut. Please ponder that issue before you decide to send me any more of your games.
The most interesting thing about the way this sort of game is designed is that, depending on how you play it, you could finish the story without encountering anything more naughty than a lot of bad breast jokes. About the closest American equivalent is something like the short-lived Infocomics series, a series of scenes woven together and branching according to your answers to multiple-choice questions. You click your way through the dialogue bits, occasionally pick from two or three forks in the road, and see what happens. Each of the many girls you can theoretically score with corresponds to one particular path through the story. Thus, if you follow that path exactly, cue the frosting and the disturbing sound effects. Pick a path that doesn't correspond exactly to one of the girls, though, and...nothing happens. Seriously. Genius design, this.
Stumble through the game several times (which takes about fifteen minutes a shot once you learn how to skip all the stock text), and you find out what a thin piece of work this is. The chick-specific storylines are glued together by a small series of stock scenes that are the same every time you go through, and seem to be there for the same reason as the Redeeming Social Value in Russ Meyer's Vixen (to provide some flimsy support for the contention that this is more than just porn). There's just none of Meyer's irony, humor, or...well, anything good, really. The dialogue and characterization are dishwater dull, especially if you've encountered enough specimens of this genre to realize that everyone and everything here came straight from Geek Porn Central Casting.
Topping it all off, the plot threads are sewn very sloppily together, such that some forks later in the story won't lead anywhere but wasted time if you didn't make the appropriate set-up decisions earlier on. It's impossible to avoid this unless you just take copious notes on what choice leads where, because hardly any choices indicate cause and effect -- deciding whether to mop or sweep a hallway floor may be the key factor in whether or not you get to bang the hot swimsuit model later on, but there's no indication of such visible to the naked eye.
And that is your goal, right? To get in the sack with these girls? Well, in theory, I guess. All depends on whether you find the rewards (improbably large breasts, glaze, squeaky moaning, MEGA-CHEEZ (tm) descriptive text) worth the effort. For my part, I can crack open my copy of Satoshi Urushihara Cell Works and get better filth for less effort, and with far fewer moral hangups. See, Peach Princess seems to have no problem with featuring nonconsensual scenes in its games -- hell, how's this for a multiple-choice question:
1. Rape Ayumi.
2. Don't rape Ayumi.
Seriously, you're offered that option. And that's just the worst example -- there are plenty of other sequences where you're able to observe rape, let it happen, et cetera. This is not cool. I may own some specimens of apalling filth in my personal doujinshi collection, but there's a big black line drawn down the middle of my preferences, and violence is firmly planted on the opposite side.