here. I played the Windows version, but there are Mac and Linux downloads too.
I don't think this is my first game review, but it's the first time I've devoted a full post to one. I'm going to experiment with adding visual novels to the list of things I review on this blog. And by “experiment,” I mean “figure out how annoying it is to do.” There are more aspects to take into account when reviewing games than I'm used to. As a result, this post is kind of long, probably unnecessarily so. Sorry about that.
I used the menu screen as my "cover" image, but, beyond that, there are no screencaps in this post. Honestly, I'm not sure what's okay and what isn't when it comes to screencaps in game reviews. I may go back and add some later, once I figure things out.
You play as Merui, a high school girl who loves playing Rivenwell Online, an MMORG. Merui is gaming with her online friend Fiona when another player, Alistair, swoops in, defeats the monster they were fighting, and wins the item Merui really wanted. Alistair's a jerk about the whole thing. When Merui learns something that makes her think Alistair goes to her school, she becomes determined to find out who he is. Alistair agrees to play along and gives her a month to correctly identify him. If she wins, he'll give her the item, a Blessed Stone. If she loses, she'll give him all the gold she earned during the month.
After looking at her school's computer usage logs, there are only three people who could possibly be Alistair: Derek, Shiro, or Travis. Derek is a basketball player and student body vice president. He's popular and acts confident. Shiro is one of Merui's classmates and is supposed to work with her on a group project. He's shy and smart. Travis is president of the Computer Gaming Club. He acts cold and arrogant.
Annoyingly, this is something a lot of visual novel reviews I've seen don't mention, or mention in a roundabout way, so I'm just going to address it in its own section. Yes, this is a romance game, but it's a very, very tame one, both in terms of the text and the images. A couple routes have hugging and kissing. The kisses are shown in the game images, but they're limited to forehead or cheek only.
This was not my favorite style of visual novel gameplay. It annoys me when a game doesn't make it crystal clear which route I'm playing – I end up sidetracked by the story and other characters. I played through the game maybe three times on my own before I broke down and used the official walkthrough.
If you haven't figured it out already, there are three possible guys Merui can end up with: Derek, Shiro, or Travis. There are a variety of things you need to do in order for her to end up with one of those guys. Those things involve: occasionally choosing between two responses in conversations, choosing where to spend your lunch time (at the gym, in the classroom, or at the computer lab), choosing how to spend your afternoon (going to the mall, helping out after school for money, or working on your project), and choosing how to spend your evenings (studying, watching TV, or surfing the Internet). When you go to the mall, you can buy things that have various effects. Some items increase Merui's stats, some of them act as conversation starters with certain guys, and some of them make Merui more attractive to certain guys. If you're not careful about balancing the kinds of actions you have Merui do, it's easy to finish the game without reaching any of the “__ is now Merui's boyfriend” endings.
If you play through this game more than once, the “skip” button is your friend. It's located on the top right of the dialogue box. Even with the walkthrough helping me out, there were long periods when the guys said the same thing over and over, leaving me wishing that the 30 days could finish faster.
Extremely dedicated players might enjoy playing through often enough to figure out the effects of each of the items Merui can purchase at the mall. I discovered by accident that a couple items not specifically mentioned in the walkthrough could earn Merui extra visits from a couple characters, but I wasn't motivated enough to give all the items a try.
The Various Routes:
I don't want to spoil things, so I'll only write a little about my playthroughs. The first few times, I aimed for Travis's route. As far as visual novels go, I seem to have a thing for cold jerks, especially when they wear glasses. Also, as far as the story went, Travis's behavior and knowledge of computers made him a prime Alistair candidate.
Travis thawed pretty quickly, and I mostly liked him, except for one moment when he behaved in a somewhat threatening manner towards Merui. It's fairly standard romance stuff – backing her against a wall, caging her between his arms, and glaring at her (while glancing at her lips, of course). Thankfully, that's as bad as this game gets.
After Travis, I played Shiro's route. Whereas Travis's main appeal is his reliability (and his glasses), Shiro's appeal is his shyness and loneliness. He could also be referred to as “the cute one”: of the three guys, he blushes the most. Whereas Travis's scenes are limited to him hugging Merui or holding her hand, Shiro's are slightly more physical. At one point, Merui practically falls on top of him.
Finally, I played the route I was most dreading, Derek's. His character type – the confidant, flirtatious jock – tends to be my least favorite in games like these. Plus, there were story-related reasons why I didn't quite like him. His route went better than I expected, but he was still my least favorite character of the three. Unsurprisingly, he's the most physically affectionate of the three guys.
There were several unlockable extras: a CG gallery, profiles for each of the characters, and a mysterious bonus. Each of the guys had six associated images, and there were two images not associated with any particular character. The bonus could only be unlocked by reaching the endings for all three of the guys. Completists like me will probably aim for the bonus. It's nice and adds another image to the CG gallery, but it's not related to the story and therefore isn't vital.
I liked the artwork and was a little surprised by how much of it there was - I've played "for pay" games that had less than this. The characters and story were all fairly basic, but I still enjoyed learning more about each of the characters and, at least the first time around, figuring out who was who in Rivenwell Online. My biggest complaint about the game was that it was pretty repetitious, even for a game of this type.
If you're curious about games like this and want to give them a go, I'd recommend this. It has its annoying aspects, but, all in all, it's an okay game. The fact that it's free certainly doesn't hurt.