High Scores… Of Friendship
HIGH So many interesting characters!
LOW Predictable plot.
WTF Sentient AI? Schoolgirl gangsters?
Imagine a world where the videogame crash of the ’80s never happened — what if those millions of excess E.T. cartridges never got made, and arcades had stayed in fashion all around the world? Add in a dash of sentient artificial intelligence and lots of attractive, date-able characters and the result is Arcade Spirits.
Arcade Spirits is a combination dating sim/visual novel. The player’s character has simple hair customizations and chooses their pronouns, including he/him, she/her, and also they/them. This allows one to slip into the role of a self-insert, although they’re designed to be as androgynous as possible to provide the best blank slate experience. It’s rare to find something that doesn’t lock one into male or female, and it’s appreciated.
Once created, Arcade Spirits presents a main character that’s down on their luck, unemployed, and stuck without a goal in life. After downloading an AI app that says getting a job at an arcade is the best fit for them, they begin a new adventure.
Arcade Spirits plays like a standard dating sim — the story is presented with 2D backgrounds and text narration. Players interact with the characters by making choices, from actions to dialogue. These choices move the story in different directions and flesh out the characters. None of the choices are timed, and all are presented as simple text-based options. Each choice is denoted by a symbol representing a personality type, such as joking, rational, bold, or caring.
The story can branch based on who the player chooses to spend their time with. This can lead to characters leaving in the epilogue, and it also impacts major story endings. Other than conversing with characters and making choices, there are no other play elements such as minigames, etc.
The main thread of my character feeling like they didn’t belong in the world seemed to have promise. I felt a strong connection to this that I think many of my generation would also recognize, as we are often faced with deciding between work, a ‘career’ and exploring what makes them happy.
Once work at the arcade starts, the characters there are engaging and feel three-dimensional, from the stern-faced accountant, to the loveable mascot, to the girl who fixes the arcade machines, and more. Most of the cast can become a friend, or eventually a romantic interest.
I felt drawn to the pro gamer girl working for a streaming team that neither valued nor cared about her — I was able to encourage her to find a team that appreciated her. Another favorite was the arcade’s stern-faced accountant who does his best to keep the place afloat financially between secret games of pinball.
While the characters can seem like stereotypes, each one has fleshed-out motivations that emerged the more I spent time with them, and they eventually became compelling to the point that I was torn between which ones to pursue. As only one character is romanceable at a time, I’ll have to replay Arcade Spirits to see more of these characters develop — I want to know more about the cosplayer questioning her identity, or the day trader with a heart problem spending time with the game he loves.
Otherwise, pacing is a bit of a problem. The early chapters that introduce each character and their motivations felt slow, but I wished I had more time to spend with the characters later on. There were a few I had no time to spend with at all, so allowing the schedule to be a little less ‘constant trade-off’ would have been appreciated.
I also wish that there were more body type options in customizing the main character — the limited options didn’t spoil my enjoyment of Arcade Spirits, but being able to strongly connect with a character is the best part of the experience.
Arcade Spirits put me in the shoes of a character that faces many of the same struggles I have in my own life… but it also let me escape into a world where arcades are social places for gamers, full of friends and romantic interests. It’s an odd mix of fantastical elements and certainly no real life friend group would have that many attractive singles in it, but all in all, it’s an entertaining, heartwarming title that I think many will enjoy.
Disclosures: This game is developed by Fiction Factory Games and published by PQube. It is currently available on PS4, Switch, XBO and PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the Switch. Approximately 8 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 T and contains Drug Reference, Mild Language, Mild Violence, Suggestive Themes and Use of Alcohol. This is a visual novel in which players assume the role of a character building relationships while working at an arcade. Players can make choices that impact the arcade and the character’s future. Some female characters wear low-cut tops or bathing suits that reveal deep cleavage. Players can develop romantic relationships with other characters, enabling them to go out on dates (i.e., spending time at a bar, a jazz club, the beach). The dialogue/text also includes some suggestive material (e.g., “He died doing what he loved: having intensely physical relations with me”; “Our kisses are a mix of delicate touches and forceful caresses”; “PizzaYum’s Friday Night Fisting!”). The game contains several references to alcohol (e.g., whiskey, wine, bourbon), and a handful of sequences involve drinking at bars (e.g., “I take a sip of the cocktail, it’s tasty, not what I expected…”). Dialogue occasionally references drugs (e.g., “I don’t do illegal drugs”; “We don’t sell drugs or weapons”; “The rest of the business, I hated it all…the backstabbing, the drugs…”). One scene allows players to jump in front of a bullet in order to save another person during a brawl. The words “a*s” and “do*uchebag” appear in dialogue.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: No issues here — I was able to play a large portion of the game on mute without a problem. The text cannot be resized by the text box style and speed can be changed.
Remappable Controls: The controls are not remappable. This game does not offer a controller map diagram. A to advance in dialogue and make selections. X at any time to bring up a menu of options, Z brings up character relationship and personal stats. B for backing out of menus. D pad or joystick for changing selections.
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