Queer Nerd Gamer Dating Self Actualization Simulator
HIGH Compelling stories. A variety of body types, genders, sexualities, and representation.
LOW Feels a bit light in overall depth.
WTF AI and Tron-level sci-fi.
Very few games have as much positive representation of queer folks and gamer culture as Arcade Spirits, so when its sequel came across my radar, I was excited to see where they would take it.
Like the first game, Arcade Spirits: The New Challengers (I’ll use TNC for short) is a visual novel dating sim. Although it might add more to the experience, one does not need to have played the original to enjoy this indirect sequel.
TNC‘s new protagonist is an esports gamer looking to make a name for themselves. Along the way they’ll be forced to make choices about how they direct their team, choosing sponsors, how to handle cheating and revenge — and of course since this is still a dating sim, they’ll choose which characters to spend more time with and grow closer to. The core gameplay largely remains the same as the original and adheres to a traditional visual novel style.
When starting, I was pleased to find that one of my previous complaints had been addressed — this time there were a wider variety of body types, clothing, and color options to customize the player character. The options even extended into a somewhat extensive list of pronouns — even neo pronouns — that I wasn’t expecting. I would have still liked a few more choices in clothing and body types, but it was still a range of options that I appreciated. TNC even let me do the same to create a rival who appeared throughout the story.
Once into the game, TNC’s characters appear on-screen with a static background and text below narrates the action and dialogue. Sometimes the player is given conversation options that coincide with personality traits. These include being kind and caring, balanced and thoughtful, boisterous and lively, and more. Each trait is marked with a symbol such as a heart, scales, or explosion.
Also similar to the first Arcade Spirits, some important choices only let the player select from one or two options that align most closely to how they’ve acted up until that point. For example, consistently kind and caring players won’t be able to choose any ‘boisterous’ or ‘hot headed’ options. These indicators helped me shape my personality, but sometimes I didn’t want to think about which ‘type’ of action I was taking, though there is an option to disable the indicators.
TNC offers a diverse cast of characters that let players pursue everything from friendship, dating, and even polyamorous dating in a consensual non-creepy way — yes, I’m looking at you Persona series!. Each character has a different insight and input on the story, giving a high level of replayability. That said, some of the characters were a bit too extreme in their ‘wacky’ personalities to ever be real people. These characters felt a bit unrelatable, like the Robin Hood-ish man dressed in green and speaking as if he was a ren faire cosplayer. Perhaps it’s cool in some regard, but for me it felt a little heavy handed and on-the-nose.
The extremes like this one were, thankfully, limited to only a couple of the main cast and side characters. The rest felt more grounded, if still a bit eccentric. However, it’s not all laughs. Some characters do have serious issues like a man struggling with depression and a woman coming to terms with being unable to achieve her dream. TNC wasn’t afraid to talk about these and other topics like going to therapy, self-harm, and isolation. These character interactions were the high point of my time with the game and I believe were handled in a tactful and thoughtful manner that felt relatable to my own life.
What’s maybe not so relatable were some sci-fi elements that the previous Arcade Spirits alluded to, only now they’re amped up to the level of classic ‘80s movies like Tron or Wargames.
For me, the sci-fi focus detracted slightly from the human elements of the story that drew me in, although I will say that these sections were ultimately used to better illustrate the internal conflicts and struggles of the main character, the antagonists, and well as my main love interest. However, these aspects also served to detract from the internal conflict for me, and I wasn’t sure how to entirely feel about them by the end.
Sci-fi elements aside, the overall story of TNC was almost as engaging as the characters themselves, as it largely focused on the main character’s desire for eSports success and their relationship to self-actualization, and it was gratifying to see my choices reflected so extensively in how the game’s characters interacted with me as it progressed, and the same applies to the endings of the various characters, all due to my interactions and choices.
In terms of criticisms, the “Fist of Discomfort 2” minigame that the characters play is essentially a form of rock/paper/scissors, and predicting my opponent’s moves without hints felt random. However, TNC allows players to skip the minigame and choose the result instead of playing it. (The option to rematch is also there if the player loses.)
The biggest issue I ran into with TNC was a technical one — the game crashed several times and the lack of an autosave or resume feature meant I was forced to save manually and frequently just in case the game decided to crash again.
All in all, I found Arcade Spirits: The New Challengers to be an engaging follow-up to the original. It delivers a fresh, diverse cast while highlighting real struggles that people face in the world, even if we don’t live in a future arcade gamer tech dystopia. Fiction Factory Games have created a well-crafted sequel here, and I look forward to whatever they come up with next!
Disclosures: This game is developed by Fiction Factory Games and published by PQube. It is currently available on XBO, XBX/S, PS4/5, Switch 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 Suggestive Themes and Use of Alcohol. All swearing is censored, however, there is a bunch of it appearing as @$*(%! etc. There is also use of alcohol, talk of self harm, murder, and attempted suicide.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: This game offers subtitles. (See examples above.) The subtitles can be altered and/or resized. No sound is needed to play this game. All dialogue and descriptions are in text and clearly formatted. No audio cues are required for any gameplay elements. This game is fully accessible.
Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable. This game does not offer a controller map diagram, but to advance text and select is the A button and + is both to start and the menu options. Y is to track standing with characters and personality gauges.
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