Brooktown High: Senior Year

School’s Out. Detention for Konami and ruler to the hand for Backbone. They flunked out on what could’ve been a great game in a genre new to many English speaking PSP owners. What should’ve been a fun game unfortunately comes off as a poorly conducted study into the mating habits of mentally slow teenagers.

Ahh..the dating sim. Perhaps one of the most intriguing and misunderstood genres in the world of gaming. For those of you who haven’t played a “ren-ai” or “romantic simulation game”, essentially it’s an exercise in dating, conversations, and stat-building. The best example is Konami’s long running Tokimeki Memorial series. A series which began in 1994, which centered around a male protagonist charming the ladies. In what was perhaps an interesting turn of events for Konami, it appeared that Tokimeki’s fanbase in Japan was mostly female.

Konami then made games featuring a female protagonist, the Girl’s Side series, which has become hugely popular inside, and outside Japan. My daughter and I are learning Japanese, so I picked up an import copy of Tokimeki Girls Side for the PS2, it looked cute and since most of the dialogue was spoken, a good way to learn to read Japanese. What we were pleasantly surprised is how addicting, charming, and fun the game was. The characters are interesting, the stat building is actually fun, the dialogue is charming and intelligent. We jokingly refer to it as “Teaching girls how to manipulate men for fun and profit.”

I apologize for the history lesson, however I wanted to give a bit of backstory as to why I was anticipating an American dating sim designed for the US market. If it played anything like the Tokimeki series, they can be quite a bit of fun, and the PSP a perfect platform for it. Also, the player is given the opportunity to play through as a guy or a girl! Unfortunately, Sensei recommends remedial game development 101 for Konami/Backbone. Back to School for You. Why? Read on-

To make things simple, I’ll hit each point which is usually very important in a game of this genre, and grade each point Brooktown Style! Also, I played through as a girl. What is a nice touch by Backbone is the personality quiz at the beginning. Answer the questions and your character will begin with stats that mirror your personality.

Character Design:
Another nice touch from Backbone, the option to choose the character’s appearance, however the result is more like having a paper doll with limited customization options. You only have one choice for the face, you can change eye color, hair color, skin tone, height, weight, stance (this is just stupid in my opinion..)and facial expression (again, you just look pissed or constipated..). It would’ve been a nice touch to be able to make the character more personalized, such as being able to design a Chinese, African American, or Hispanic. Instead you end up with identical faces, just different hair and eye color.

I admit, I’m a fan of Japanese style character design, however I’ve played games developed in the West with fantastic character design. Beyond Good and Evil, Half Life 2, and Sudeki come to mind. Just so ya know, I didn’t go into this with Western Character Design Bias. I’m sad to say that all of the male characters, and most of the female characters (a couple of the female designs are cute) in Brooktown are just plain butt ugly. Their facial expressions change a bit when you’re speaking to them, however most of them end up looking pissed off or constipated rather than emotive.

Knock-knock Backbone? Hello Konami? Character design time do a little market research. If you’d been paying attention you would’ve known the ’net chatter regarding the character design since the first screen shots were released.
Final Grade: D-

Brooktown makes this pointless and boring. You need to increase certain stats, such as Smarts (why you would need them at Brooktown escapes me-) Originality, French, and Art. You also need to build Confidence and Relationship points. This is accomplished by talking to people, which Brooktown makes damned difficult because you only have 20 minutes before school in the morning to rush around and talk to people. In a game which stat points and relationship points are vital, limiting the time to do it is counter productive. I would’ve really liked more time to explore the school.

Perhaps Backbone is actually doing the player a favor, because the conversations are mostly inane and will be uninteresting to anyone with an IQ over 60. No challenges here, it’s simply hit or miss with conversations. This is a crap shoot, no pun intended. At least in the Tokimeki series, your knowledge of the character’s personality assists with conversations. The “conversation goof” system in Tokimeki is also forgiving..if you say the wrong thing and piss off your love interest-you can simply reload quickly try the conversation over again. Brooktown offers no such easy out, there is no reload option, so if you screw up, you have to quit the game (watch load screen)and restart (more loading-). Also, save yourself some trouble and TURN OFF AUTO SAVE.

To boost your grade stats, all you need to do is attend the class (which becomes an exercise in frustration..) which mirrors your personality and bone up on the others which need attention on Saturday. If your grades fall, your parents ground you and/or take away allowance.

Attending class on time feels rushed because you only have 20 “game minutes” when you arrive at school to talk to people, build relationship stats, and get to class. The classrooms are not clearly marked, so be prepared to get nailed by the robotic hall monitor (?) a few times before you get your bearings. The targeting function to select who to speak to is also a bit broken, it’s easy to choose the wrong person, and with such limited time to speak to characters, Brooktown offers no option to back out of the conversation.

Attention Backbone: US players have brains, most of them anyway, and assuming that Brooktown’s players have an IQ over that of a small appliance bulb..give us a more credit next time by providing interesting dialogue. Also, more time to speak to the characters is a must.
Final Grade: C-

Well it’s not called a “dating-sim” for nothing. All of the stat building/relationship building, etc. etc. leads to dating. You can ask your intended for a date, and sometimes they will ask you. I chose chess nerd Hunter as my target. Rather than become nicer as the relationship grows, Hunter seems to become more pompous and turdy. Again, a good idea poorly executed, however this seems to be a constant theme in Brooktown-

This portion of the game is just average. You can choose certain outfits to wear for your date. In Tokimeki, clothing is organized into categories (think Garanimals-) such as “Sporty”, “Elegant” , “Sexy”, etc-so it’s easy to determine the type of outfits you are wearing and prevents spending a ton of money on clothes the guy doesn’t like. The guys will also comment if they like what you’re wearing. Hunter gave little feedback on what you wear, it really didn’t seem to matter that much, so why spend the money?

It was kinda fun to change clothes and make outfits, however the system for it needs to be refined and fit more stats. Hunter was also revved up hormonally, he’s wanting to lock lips on the first date. If you say yes to a kiss, you get a Not So Subtle video of a drill going in and out, in and out, of a board, a rocket launch, geyser erupting-You Get The Picture. Dear Backone: We GET IT ALREADY-Innuendo is to be that, Innuendo, subtle. You’ve chosen to use Innuendo with a sledgehammer and while I could stomach this if it was at least humorous, it’s not. It just comes off like a dumbed down version Porky’s 4..
Final Grade: C

Another must in a proper dating sim-clothing shopping. I hit this a bit in the Dating section, it’s a fun distraction but ultimately isn’t that important.
Final Grade: (Split Decision)
Clothing Options: A-
Relevance to Gameplay: D

Mini Games:
Three mini games, 21 Knickers (Strip Poker), Boogie Tron (Rhythm game), and Tongue Twister (shooter?). Play them if you must, they increase stats in no way that is meaningful. For instance, shouldn’t good scores on Boogie Tron make one a better dancer? You’d think!
Final Grade: C

Another staple of Dating sims, the job/club aspect. You need a job to get foldin’ money, you join the club which raises stats the person you like is interested in. This makes me wonder if Konami was even associated with this, because they know how to do this system well. Brooktown’s job/club system makes no sense whatsoever. You can only do a job or a club on Friday. That’s it! So you can’t make money to shop and improve stats at the same time. I was constantly flipping between a job and a club. Needless and repetitive. Also, the type of job you have doesn’t seem to matter one bit. My characters job was a fashion model, her classmates didn’t seem to notice. Again, the developers were asleep and Konami not paying attention. Shame on you Konami, you should know better.
Final Grade: F

The Other Stuff:
You can access your computer, and you’ll need to do this ASAP because the music loops. I liked “Don’t you forget about me” until I heard it 80 times. You’re forced to go to your computer, turn it on (ie: Load time) change music, log off. And listen to that song until you are ready to go postal. Lazy Programming. Things you can also do from your PC, Shop, Join Clubs, Get a Job, and Apply to college. You’ll need money for college, so you’ll need a job. The PDA: Brooktown’s version of a Palm can call people, check your schedule, etc. etc. Parents pop in and out ala Charlie Brown Style, you never see them, only an outline and the “WaWaWa” voice to tell you your either grounded or without allowance.
Final Grade: C

In closing, this could’ve been a fun, intelligent yet goofily fun way to pass a few hours. Instead, it screams of a lack of market research. Hello Konami, most players of dating sims are FEMALE. Brooktown is as aesthetically appealing to this female player as Jock Itch is aesthetically appealing to this female. Unfortunately, as usual, the developers have made the assumption that English players relate more to video game characters who are Ass Ugly, Horny, and Retarded-not necessarily in that order, but you get the picture. Seriously, the kids I know who are High School age are mostly very bright people and can participate in a conversation over a third grade level.

Helpful Hint Backbone, next time spent less time finding videos of geysers and drills and more time fleshing out your characters and dialogue. I’m hesitant to give this a bad review, perhaps with another go around and guidance from Konami on how to do this right, Backbone may hit a home run. However, it is what it is. If you have a Darwinian interest in Survival of the Fittest and/or the dating/mating habits of mildy retarded people, then pick this up-or rent it.