Saturday, March 10, 2012

Import Review: New Love Plus (3DS); It's not the game you think it is

Love Plus is the most misunderstood game in the industry – at least, in the west where it has never been released and the criticisms and mockery has come from people who have never seen it in action, much less played it.

As I said in my review of the DS original, Love Plus is not in any way a sex game. The sequel continues that theme and remains Konami’s best work in years.

And I must admit, before playing the original DS game, I had much the same sentiments as the majority of western gamers. I don’t believe the promotional material has helped explain the real purpose of this game in any sense. When I attended an interactive art exhibition in Tokyo, and saw the game on display, I played it for the sheer novelty of a dating game being considered “art.”

I went a bought a copy of the game for myself the very next day. In no way is this anything but art. And I’ve been pleased to discover that the 3DS game keeps that core vision intact. At core, it’s a rather heartwarming story about teenage romance. Not the “back seat of the car with empty cans of beer” style of teenage romance, which is just about all the American writers over in Hollywood can come up with these days, no. Love Plus on the 3DS is about ackward flirtations, catching the girl of your dreams in the corner of your eye, and a whole lot of blushing. It’s all very sweet and innocent, and more like a romance story than anything raunchy.

Of course, as a romance story, there’s a lot of text in the game, and that text is essential reading. Otherwise 90 per cent of the game is watching a girl blabber incomprehensibly with static backgrounds. A little like real life, perhaps (I’m going to get slapped for that joke, I just know it), but not an especially interesting game. With a basic understanding of Japanese – and for the most part the story is fairly basic Japanese – everything suddenly makes sense, The characters are some of the best written artificial humans ever. They have very lifelike personalities and problems, and react to your own behaviour just how you would expect real people to.

The gameplay itself is rather straightforward: taking on the role of a student, the goal is to convince one of three girls to go steady with you. To do this you need to interact with them properly (ie, input the right responses when they ask you questions), and make sure your character’s traits (physical, education, sociability) are an adequate match. To do this, you plan your day’s activities with some benefiting one trait at the expense of another (for instance, exercise isn’t going to do wonders for your booksmarts).

So broken down, this is a basic game of balancing data and understanding human interactions. What elevates it to art is how well those systems work, the story, and I think too, the interface. This is a supremely elegant interface and given you’ll spend about 50 per cent of the game in menus, that’s just as well. Everything about the game is understated and clean, and it’s a rather relaxing experience to play the game as a result.

The game does feel a little voyeuristic, especially when the 3D is on and you’re made very aware that you’re looking in to a 3D window, but Love Plus is a triumph of interactive storytelling and proof that a “dating” game doesn’t need to be seedy at all. There’s also some features I wasn’t able to test for this review; after all it’s a little hard to get a StreetPass hit when you’re probably the only person in the country with a copy of the game, but they’re relatively unimportant to the overall experience.

A pity it won’t get a chance in the west, then, and a pity people have judged this game without playing it. But those Call of Duty headshots are just awesome cool, right?

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