I purchased itch.io’s “Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality” for five dollars and got more than a thousand games. It was insane. I figured that, since I now own this many games, I should make use of my love of writing to merge my two main interests in life, and write reviews about the games I tried out.
The first game I downloaded from the bundle was Arcade Spirits.
I took my time with this game. I was dipping my toes in foreign waters. All I knew was that it was a visual novel type of game, with choices and romance options.
You get to make your own character, but with very limited choices. It’s really great that you can choose your pronouns, but the hair style options and the nonexistent face and clothing customization really turned me off for a while. At least there were like hundreds of hair colors to choose from.
As with most games, you are first introduced to who your character is and what situation they’re in. The game is set in 20XX, I’m pretty sure in the near future. Your character is unemployed and talks about their “family curse”. Everyone in their family is destined for failure. That’s just how it is with their family. But the main character is very lucky to have Juniper, their flatmate, who helped them escape from their family and hopefully the family curse.
Juniper recommended that we download the phone app that will supposedly help us find our dream job. We’ve got nothing to lose, right? Why not download the app?
Apparently, phones and apps are so advanced in the year 20XX, that a hologram named IRIS (a friendlier version of the widely known phone assistant…Siri) pops out of the phone and starts talking to us. This was bizarre, even to the main character. Iris’ dialogue sounded weirdly humane and non-robotic. But of course, we just brush this off and choose to go along.
Because of the game’s title, it comes to no surprise that we are directed by IRIS to an old arcade, saying that her sources tell her that this is the best job for us. Sure, IRIS.
Here, we meet most of the characters of the game, a.k.a. potential romantic interests.
First, we have Francine, the owner of Funplex Arcade. She and her now deceased husband have been running the arcade since 19XX, and she believes that the arcade is more than just playing games. It’s about chasing dreams.
Then we meet Gavin, who is a very stern and well-dressed man. He wears a suit to work and is always on his tablet looking over the accounting stuff for the arcade. He doesn’t seem to care about first impressions.
Next up is Naomi! She’s the electrician of the arcade and she’s passionate about arcade games and loves her job very much. Instantly, I found myself putting her on top of the romance list. She’s cute and passionate about games, that’s a yes for me.
Around lunch break, Naomi even gave us her bento lunch to eat. If that’s not wife material then…I don’t know what is.
So, we eat lunch in the staff-only room, when we’re suddenly interrupted by the next character, which is Ashley. Ashley is the arcade’s mascot and also assistant floor manager. She’s interested in cosplay and is not afraid to talk about it. She’s a quirky girl and I liked her. Not as much as I liked Naomi though.
After lunch, we then proceed to meet the rest of the main cast — the arcade regulars. QueenBee, Teo, and Percy. Each having their own game that they love so fiercely. QueenBee has Fist of Discomfort (a game kind of like Street Fighter but has magic features or something), Teo has Spotlight Stage (the typical dance arcade game), and Percy has Mr. Moopy (I have no idea what kind of game it is but he wants to break the world record for highest score.)
Those are the characters, and I’m pleased to see that each have their own defining trait. It was only the first day of impromptu working at the arcade and I was genuinely looking forward to seeing what else will happen with our character.
Since this was the first game I tried out from the bundle, I was surprised that I could not stop playing the game. I took short breaks while playing, because the dialogue isn’t always that entertaining and it’s exhausting clicking just to get through it. But that’s a minor thing — the story is really good. The game really grabs at your heart and although some of the characters are cliché, you really grow attached to them as if you’re really living the MC’s life. Each of them is unique, but some of them are more unique which kind of makes the other characters dull in comparison.
Each of them has their own hidden story that you only get to see when you choose to spend time with them. Full disclosure, the characters I was really attracted to were Naomi, Ashley, and QueenBee, so I can only speak for their individual stories. That’s not to say I knew nothing about the other characters, because I did get small peeks at their story. Gavin and his family situation, Percy and his personal issues, and Teo and his…. Honestly, I didn’t care much about Teo. I just know that he’s physically attractive, and he likes dancing.
I have to say, most of the plot were predictable, but I didn’t play this game expecting a mind-blowing story. Also, a story can be predictable and STILL be good. I enjoyed every cliché part of the game.
The characters and the plot held up well and I liked it. These types of games always have a good amount of replay value, and I found myself wanting to play again and change my romantic interest after finishing it.
The art is also amazing. Arcades are known for their bright, neon lights and beeping noises and stuffed animals, and this game had all of them. The artwork is phenomenal and the style really fits in with the current popular media. If you’re not into the story, you can at least enjoy this game because of its aesthetic.
I loved the little splashes of fantasy in this game. I did not expect to encounter self-aware cellphones but here we are. But around LEVEL 3, I found myself getting annoyed at IRIS and her interference with the MC’s life and the beeping and the pizza bagel ads. It was obnoxious, to say the least. But those are minor things that I easily brushed off. I liked the reaction meters at the end of levels, too. The choices you made affected your personality and will ultimately determine what kind of person you are and who you will get along with the most. If they had shown it at all times during gameplay, it would have made it easier for the player to manipulate their answers and that would make for a boring time.
For a game that advises you to be your true self, they really made it obvious how to choose the answers that would get you your romantic target. But hey, this is a visual novel. Like I said, I’m not going to judge it for not being Oscar-worthy in terms of writing.
During the climax of the game, I was pleasantly surprised at how the choices became permanent and actually changed the outcome. Not gonna lie, I had a hard time at the “super intense” confrontation. All throughout the game, I thought it was obvious which answers were going to give me points towards a specific personality, but suddenly, at that scene, it became impossible to tell which answer was the correct one. I think I succeeded purely out of chance and luck. I was so relieved. I hate seeing bad endings.
The ending was heartwarming and sweet, and I did not regret staying up until 3AM to finish it. Yes, I spent a whole day playing just this game. I very much enjoyed it.
Overall, I give the game a 3.5 out of 5 stars. It made me cry at one point, it made me feel for the characters. But it also bothered me with obvious tropes and attempts at appealing to the millennial audience. How hard is it to type ‘what’ correctly? It’s not ‘wat’, it’s not ‘wut’ — it’s WHAT.
That’s my biggest gripe about this game. Very minor.
I still loved it though, and would definitely recommend it to someone who’s feeling lost, hopeless, and depressed. This game can be your friend for the day. And you might get some wisdom along the way.
I hope it gives you a bubble of happiness even if it’s only temporary.