More Like Date-A-Lot!
HIGH Mainlining a few novels’ worth of content in half an hour.
LOW Wondering what it was all for.
WTF There’s a giant airship hovering over the city?
Date-A-Live: Rio Reincarnation does players new to the franchise a huge favor right off the bat — it offers a digest mode that explains the premise of the story. In this title, a male high school student lives in a world of extradimensional spirits and corporate super-science, and has to date pretty girls in order to prevent the world from being destroyed.
That’s a gross oversimplification since it’s a long-running series of novels and anime synopsized into a single sentence, but the digest does a great job of establishing the tone and style. In just over forty minutes, it gets new players up to speed with the elaborate backstory of the franchise and the previous two games in the series, both of which are included as a bonus. By the end of it, I was on board for whatever Rio Reincarnation had to offer, and what it had to offer was a giant helping of anime craziness…
As a pure visual novel with no other gameplay elements, Rio Reincarnation follows main character Shido — fresh off two different jaunts through virtual reality environments — as he attempts to unravel the mystery of Rio, a young girl who has suddenly appeared in his quiet suburban life, and seems intent on inserting herself into people’s relationships. It’s a simple experience, mechanically — read and listen to around twenty minutes of story, make a decision, and then repeat the process a few more times until the plot wraps up based on the choices made along the way.
Considering its structure the real focus has to be the story, and it’s solid all the way through. Characters are developed thoroughly, and even though only some characters get time to shine, I managed to find well-written scenes with all of the major faces. I even had a favorite among them, although that’s likely because I have a soft spot for shy characters who use jerk hand puppets to tell people what they really think.
While Rio‘s stakes are fairly high (I won’t spoil it here) seeing high school students going on dates as a way of affecting things is so completely out of left field that the mental dissonance it creates gives the game a chance to short-circuit its way into the player’s emotional center. The world might be ending after all, so isn’t this the best possible time to talk about props from a fantasy movie that everyone enjoyed? The dialogue is engaging and sweet, and I had no trouble getting involved in these romantic struggles.
Rio‘s presentation is top-notch. Every character has an animated sprite that switches between emotions on the fly, rather than using abrupt transitions. While I don’t understand the Japanese audio, the voices are well-cast, with vocal types perfectly suited to the characters they’re playing.
The developers have also gone to great lengths to ensure that Rio is replayable — players can save and load whenever they want, and every time they load an earlier state, text they’ve already read and decisions they’ve already selected are highlighted in yellow. This makes it easy to fast-forward through already-seen story sections and focus on exploring new, unseen content.
Rio’s only real drawback is the way it fundamentally undercuts its own story with many of the endings, including the ‘true’ one. Again, I won’t spoil anything, but I can’t help but feel that its existence as a ‘side story’ means that things couldn’t wrap up in a way that would impact the franchise overall. The script manages to deliver some good drama, but it does feel like the developers were doing the best they could with a limitation they were stuck working around.
As long as players are happy to hang out with a likable cast of characters and watch some cute flirting, Rio Reincarnation is a success. It’s a pleasant diversion even for someone completely unfamiliar with the source material, and as smoothly playable a visual novel as I’ve ever encountered.
Disclosures: This game is developed by Idea Factory, Compile Heart and Sting and published by Idea Factory. It is currently available on PC and PS4. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PC. Approximately 6 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated M and contains Partial Nudity and Sexual Themes. The partial nudity refers to some skimpy costumes and scenes of characters bathing, but there’s always steam clouds keeping anything too naughty concealed. Because it’s a romantic dating sim, lewd subjects are discussed in the relatively tame terms, and no sex acts are discussed.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: There are no audio cues. You should have no trouble with the game. Unfortunately, the text’s font size cannot be changed. Otherwise, this is fully accessible.
Remappable Controls: No, the game does not feature remappable controls. It can be played with a controller or keyboard – face buttons and triggers are used for actions like pausing and restarting text, putting the game onto ‘auto play’ mode, or fast-forwarding through blocks of dialogue. The d-pad is used to navigate menus. In keyboard mode all of these functions are mapped to keys, and the arrow keys allow for navigation.