16 02 2012

On Valentine’s Day, the 800 pound gorilla of dating games dropped on the Nintendo 3DS.


As opposed to other dating games available in Japan, the Love Plus series has you interact with the objects of your affection directly; that is to say, in the game you play as yourself and the girls play themselves.  There are three prospective love interested that you’ll eventually whittle out to the one you want to date.  How is that different than other games?  Well, take a typical popular dating game series like Tokimeki Memorial (in Japan, they’re actually called love simulations).  In Tokimeki you play a high schooler that you can name as yourself, or you could call him Señor Mustachio- it doesn’t matter.  As you play through the school year, you meet various girls and attempt to woo them by taking them on dates, buying them presents, and saying the right things to them through a series of selectable questions and answers.  It’s all very inside the box.


Tokimeki Memorial 4, the latest in the series, was released for the PSP. The guy in the middle is Señor Mustachio.


Love Plus, on the other hand, is about having a real life relationship with a girl living inside your 3DS.  It stays within the box (Japanese games have been very close-minded as of late) but enables you to directly interact with the girls through the use of camera, motion sensor, and microphone.  New Love Plus is the third in the series, the other two games having been released for the old, vanilla, Nintendo DS.   Past games went over so big that vacations spots offered package trips for you and your handheld love.  Cafes in Tokyo offered tables for two… that is, for you and your Nintendo.  It was big.


These are actual places you can take your not-actal virtual girlfriend on a date.


So how big exactly was yesterday’s release of New Love Plus?  I read reports on the internet of people waiting in line to get the game.  People sent me pictures of fans standing outside of various 7-11 convenience stores to get Valentine’s Day chocolates that were supposedly from their digital love.  But I’m in Japan, and I didn’t see any of that.  It was business as usual at the 7-11 stores I went to.  When I went to pick up my copy of the game, they weren’t even on the shelf, they were tucked away in back.  There was no mad rush.  Japanese people are not forsaking real life relationships in favor of escaping into the perfect silicon girl.  Those pictures you see, those reports that you read… those things happen in Akihabara, and weird people hang out in Akihabara.  That area is a small, maybe five or 6 blocks of Tokyo, and there are literally thousands of different places you can get a game when it’s released in Tokyo.  The only time I’ve ever seen any sort of excitement in the general public for a game in the last 4 years was when Nintendo released Pokemon White and Black.  That day there was an unusual amount of people at the electronics store.  Yesterday, there was not.  That’s not to say that New Love Plus isn’t going to be a hit… I’m sure it’ll debut in the #1 spot when the game rankings are released.  But it’s important for you to remember that what you see on the internet isn’t necessarily real or indicative of how the general populous behaves as a whole.

This video starts from zero… me popping in the game.  I had no idea that it would kick off with a 20-minute install.  But don’t fear!  In the interest of journalism I filmed the whole thing.  From there it asks you to do the typical “enter your name, enter your blood type, etc.”  but then deviates into the game asking how to pronounce your name and asking you where you live in the real world.  This is a cool feature because the girls will actually say whatever you told the game your name was.  It also opens a whole can of worms… I’ll let you think about what that might be.   Another interesting thing is that it asks you to hold the system up to your face so it can do some facial recognition thingy.  No idea how that comes into play.  From there, New Love Plus seems similar to other dating sims at first.  Once again it’s your first day of high school, you walk about town and meet people including your first prospective love interest.  As the first few days of school progress you meet the other girls, and that’s where the game takes off.



One of the things I liked about New Love Plus was that the system for organizing your day is very self explanatory.  In this kind of game, you have to choose what you’re going to do every day.  This effects your in game stats that make you more attractive to the girls, or less desirable to the girls in the game.  If you choose to study all day, every day, then your intelligence stat will be very high, but your health and physical shape stats will be very low.  If you exercise all the time your physical stat will skyrocket, but you’ll end up dumb as a rock.  If you just goof off and attend to your hobbies, you’ll become an otaku and end up with no girl what-so-ever.  New Love Plus tells you how every choice you make in your scheduling will effect your other stats, thus making it a whole lot easier to make decisions.  Kudos to that- there’s been many a dating sim where I randomly chose to do things guessing at what it would do.  That problem does not exist here.

The 3D in the game is very nice and immersive, as are the way the characters are presented.  Nothing looks like it’s made of polygons, and the girls move very naturally.  It’s obvious that Konami spent a lot of time to get this right.  Another thing that surprised me is that the girls mouths move accurately when they speak.  This is a change from the typical Japanese way of doing things.  If you’ve ever seen any anime, you’ll know that people’s mouths just open and close when they speak, words are not formed by lips.  That’s typical in games as well.  To continue with the anime analogy, New Love Plus goes the Akira route in that the girls lips actually form the words they’re saying, adding a since of reality to the game.  It’s those little touches that set this game out from the crowd.

I’ll have more on New Love Plus as I get further into the game and uncover it’s nuances.  In the meantime, here’s a little look inside the instruction book.

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