Okay, so it’s probably not much of a secret that I actually like dating sim games. The first dating sim game I ever played was a game labeled as — but might not have been called — “True Love”, where you go around an anime life trying to, well, find your true love. While I greatly enjoyed that game, it was only with “Persona 3” that I realized my love for the dating sim elements/genre, and then starting seeking out games with those elements, although disappointingly I don’t have a lot of actual pure — or mostly pure — dating sims.
To me, these games and these elements, if done properly, provide as ideal a role-playing experience as you are likely to get from a game, because even if you have a railroad plot, the whole point of the dating sim, in general, is that you decide what traits you want to improve, what you want to focus on, and who you want to spend your time with. If you do things properly, hopefully you’ll end up with the person who best suits you … or, rather, the character that you’ve decided to play. Sure, “completing” the game by seducing or getting relationships with all of them is entertaining, but ideally you want to focus on the one or ones that you like best, and hope that you can get one of them, as I tried and failed to do in “Conception II”.
So, there was this recent comment thread at Twenty Sided Tale talking about games with dating sim elements, most of which I already had or wasn’t going to be able to get for a while. And then I remembered that someone gave the game “Huniepop” to Shamus to try out, and from various comments it seems that his really big problem with it was the naked/semi-naked anime girls. Since that doesn’t bother me, I went to see if I could get it from Good Old Games. I could. I did. I played it and managed to finish all of the regular girls — including Venus — but not the two hidden girls.
So what did I think of it? I think that it’s designed primarily as a puzzle game with dating sim elements — I remember reading that somewhere — and that means that the dating sim elements are much more shallow than I’d like. Essentially, there are two main stages to the game. The first is the dating sim part, where you interact with the women and try to find out things about them, and try to remember both what you’ve asked before and what they answered before. This is because interacting with the women gives you “Hunie”, which you can use to increase your traits which makes you better at the matching puzzles. If you ask them questions you haven’t asked before, or answer their questions in a way they like, or remember what they told you when you asked them questions, you get a Hunie bonus in addition to what you get just from talking to them.
The second part is the puzzle part, which is a pretty standard Match 3 type puzzle game. This is presented as a actual “date” with the woman, and you are trying not to screw the date up. You have to hit a certain score in 20 moves, and if you do the date is a success and she gets an extra heart (ie you level up). If you hit level 5, if you succeed at a night date she’ll go home with you for, well, you can imagine. This is done with another Match 3, with unlimited moves, but the points level drains quickly, and so while the first puzzle focuses on planning and the use of special items, the second focuses on lots of big moves quickly to keep the points level high.
Every time you succeed, the points required for success increases. This is not per woman, but instead is across the board. Thus, if you went on a successful first date with all of the women, it would be harder to, say, succeed at the second date with Nikki than it would be if you had just done the second date with her first and ignored the others. For me, then, this encouraged me to max out the women I liked better in case it later got too difficult for me to complete the puzzles.
If you manage to succeed, you also get something that works like money, so you can buy gifts for the women to gain affection levels to get more Hunie and that will get you an item to use in the puzzles if you give her something she loves, and also to buy food and drinks to extend the conversations or to “loosen them up”, which does … something. I never actually managed to give one of them a drink.
The interaction with the women is pretty shallow. You can ask them about a set of traits that get stored in their profiles — things like hobby, job, height, and cup-size — and can answer some standard questions that repeat, but you don’t really get to find out much about them … and more importantly you can’t actually really have any impact on their lives or grow their characters. Both Aiko and Nikki hate their jobs, but you can’t really get them to change that or get them to accept that those are the jobs that they’re good at. They just keep complaining about their jobs. Belli has body image issues, but that doesn’t change for the entire game despite one of the proper responses being to call her out on that.
The personalities are a little odd as well. Despite my liking both the looks and general personalities — in some ways — of Nikki and Aiko, both of them are too rude and aggressive for me to really like them. This is especially bad for Nikki, as she’s the main introvert in the game and is generally presented as someone who simply hates people. On the other hand, Tiffany and Belli are probably the two simply nicest women in the group, but come across as bland because they don’t really seem to have anything else. And they have, as the game itself describes her, the “mega-bitch” in Audrey, while the others didn’t really suit me that well.
The voices, however, are actually done pretty well. Each woman gets her own voice that suits the personality, and the inflections often work, especially with Aiko. I just liked listening to Aiko talk a lot of the time.
Ultimately, I think the dating sim elements aren’t prominent enough for dating sim fans and are too prominent for puzzle fans. You have to spend a lot of time gathering Hunie and buying gifts and food so that you can improve your traits and be better at the puzzle portions, which will likely annoy the puzzle fans. On the other hand, the dating sim fans will be annoyed by how shallow the interactions are and the odd mix of personalities, and also the fact that there’s no story or character progression to speak of. If I had been doing a game like this, I would have made it so that instead of the difficulty going up across the board, it went up only for each woman, and then ranked the women in terms of difficulty. You would increase your traits with the XP earned from interacting with the women and from how well you did when you solved the puzzles. That way, puzzle fans could focus on one woman and go up to higher ones only if the first one was too “easy”, while dating sim fans could still pick which ones they wanted to focus on without feeling as much pressure to do all of them. If someone was great at the puzzles, they could jump to “more difficult” women directly and start with harder puzzles, and yet still get the progression.
Of course, if I was really doing it I would have made it a dating sim with puzzle elements, but that’s not the game they were trying to make.
Overall, it was quick but enjoyable. However, as U2 opined, I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.