Recently, I felt like I could just throw my life away to try playing the game that has been enslaving thousands of Japanese Otakus: New LovePlus! This 3DS title a sequel to LovePlus – an already equally popular game for Nintendo’s previous portable: The DS. LovePlus is basically the ULTIMATE CHARAGE! You don’t believe me? In that case, believe in Konami instead! When the company responsible for such titles like Castlevania and Metal Gear says it will make the supreme Charage, it will do just that! There is nothing that can be done to stop this giant!
Takane Manaka (The one to the left) is the perfect girl from the 2nd year in high school who comes from a very wealthy family, has the best grades and is a top athlete, which makes it difficult for others to get closer to her. Kobayakawa Rinko (on the middle) is a playful 1st year student who is going through her rebellious phase, which leads to her being angry and lazy most of the time. Anegasaki Nene is a reliable 3rd year high schooler who is treated like everyone’s big sister.
Each heroines is pretty straightforward and easy to understand. Even their names give you a hint: Takane’s name can be translated as “the top” or “high level” referring to her nature of being perfect at everything. Kobayakawa uses the kanji for small, because Rinko is not exactly too tall, but her surname also has the kanji for “strong stream lake” which makes sense for how angry she can get. Both the Anegasaki and Nene make reference to the Japanese word for “sister”, and Nene is the “onee-san” type, after all…But, in the end, LovePlus is a Charage to the core! There isn’t really much of a plot going on. Anything reminiscent of a story is just there to give a reason for why the heroines have certain behaviors. For example: Manaka’s strict father is the reason why she is so perfect and secluded from normal society. Rinko’s problems with her family are just there to justify why she is so sad and lonely all the time. The main character never gets directly involved with those problems in order to solve them. Many times, those things get fixed by themselves and off-screen, which I don’t think it’s a bad thing, because this game has something I usually don’t see in this genre: REALISM!Yep! These 3 heroines have a good deal of credibility to them (except for Manaka, who is pure and perfect at everything). Everything, down to their character designs (only brown or black hair with brown eyes and no giant breasts!), their gestures, the way they talk, their fashion sense, their conversation topics, even the events happening around them are reasonable and sane. Which means you will not accidently peek on a girl while she’s changing, and they will never talk about how big their breasts are!Instead, they will talk about topics that real teenagers actually care for, and since these subjects are nicely handled with some very decent writing, they are no less interesting than the bizarre and exuberant stuff from most Galges.The main character doesn’t need to be a great hero who solves all problems and makes everyone’s lives better. Nevertheless, he never comes as someone inept (except in a certain event during Manaka’s route), he’s able to becomes someone important for the heroines, giving them the motivation needed to grow up.Although this realistic atmosphere can feel a bit boring for some, it does have some interesting surprises, as these heroines’ circumstances can be unexpectedly complicated. Nene, for instance, has this huge complex about her age because of how she has been always treated like everyone’s older sister and because of an old crush who rejected her (that’s right! She loved someone before who ISN’T the main character, LE GASP!).Now, she sees herself as an unattractive older lady, and when the protagonist starts to get the attention of other girls, she gets jealous and desperate, because she feels like she doesn’t stand a chance against younger girls, even though they are just one year younger than her. In the end, it is thanks to the protagonist’s feelings for her that she is finally able to overcome this complex.The character development is also great! Since the setting doesn’t have a bunch of absurd things, the heroines interactions and developments with the protagonist become more convincing and easy to relate with. Rinko is a brat at the start of the game, but she never goes as far as to become a bitch. Right from the start, you can feel she is a nice girl and it’s clear there’s something going on with her. Therefore, when she starts to develop feelings for the main character, her change of behavior doesn’t feel sudden.There is, however, one thing that I just couldn’t like, and it’s Manaka. I already hate this “perfect girl” stereotype! She easily succeed at everything she ever tries to do, so there’s no challenge to her. But this isn’t the only problem I have with her. Her secluded life made her into the most boring person on Earth! She doesn’t like manga, she doesn’t watch TV or go to the movies, she doesn’t even know any other music genre besides Classical music, the only books she read were fairy tales, she has no hobbies and the only thing she does once she gets home is studying!To play her route was the dullest experience I had in years! And her route also had the most revolting event in the game: She loses a tennis match for the very first time in her life, because the main character was her partner! By the end of the match, she was super happy, because she actually felt like there was a challenge in her life, but since their adversaries were much inferior to Manaka in both ranks and pure skills, it was undoubtedly the protagonist’s fault. And both knew that! In other words: The only way for the main character to be useful for Manaka is to make her SUCK! (and not in a sexual way!). The protagonist felt like shit after this awkward event, and this also made me feel horrible for him!
You start the game by creating your protagonist. You choose his name, surname, blood-type, date of birth and place of origin (which doesn’t matter for people like me, since the only options they give you are places in Japan). You can even choose how you will refer to yourself (“Ore” – for more mature or rebel people, “Boku” – for more childish or composed people).Although the protagonist doesn’t get any type of visual representation, he genuinely feels like an accurate representation of the player. This is done by simply giving the freedom of choice! That’s right! In this game, you truly feel like you are deciding things for yourself! There’s a choice for almost every occasion! And they all have an immediate impact in the game. It’s completely different from the illusion of choice you usually get in Galges and in Telltale games!There’s no “wrong choice” in this game. When a heroine asks for your help, you can always say “NO”, but it doesn’t mean you will act like an asshole and she will not get angry at you. This only means you will lose one of many opportunities to get closer to this heroine. Maybe you did this so you have free time to help another heroine of your interest.Even when you meet with one of the heroines by chance, you usually get 4 options: 1- Call her by her name, 2- Just say “hello”, 3- hit her head with a karate chop/kick, 4- Ignore her. Believe or not, “hitting the girl with a karate chop” is not a “bad answer” it just means you are this kind of person. “Being mean to a girl you like” is something a brat would do, but it does work with adults in real life!This may even change the way how a heroine treats you later in the game! Manaka can become a bit more aggressive, Rinko will become a sweet and spoiled girl, while Nene will be the one spoiling you like a cute child. The results are amusing and cute, but you might as well hit their head just to see how they fall like a rag doll! It always cracks me up!There’s 2 good reasons for why Konami will probably never make another Tokimeki Memorial: 1- LovePlus sells even more than that series. 2- LovePlus is basically a spiritual successor to that franchise! The system to organize the schedule that you get in this game is like a more simplified version from Tokimemo, changed to become more user-friendly. Now, when you select where you will spend your day, the place you visit will also affect one of your parameters. Going to the tennis club to practice will raise your physical strength, going to your part-time job will raise your social skills, attending to class will raise your intelligence, etc.By finishing the game, you see the credits roll, but then you find out you’ve only finished the “friendship part”. By doing so, you just unlocked the “lovers part”. This mode is the culprit that has been enslaving all those poor Japanese men! This is basically an eternal real-time mode, which earns the game’s tag line: “An endless tale”. That’s why there is a credit roll when you complete the “friendship part”, since it’s the closest thing to a real “ending” this game will have!The clock in the game is set to the same hour in your 3DS system. The basic gameplay mechanics keep near the same, but now the number of actions you can take per day gets limited, as to better emulate your limited time in real life. You can also schedule a day to go on a date with the girlfriend of your choice, and you will actually need to wait until this day for the event to trigger. There’s even special events that take place on holydays! But since LovePlus tries to be as user friendly as possible, you can always turn the real-time mode off to play the “lovers part”, and the events will happen inside an in-game calendar.The “lovers part” also unlocks some new mechanics, like the “skinship system”, which eventually leads to the “kiss system” (both are self-explanatory). Now you can call you and your girlfriend can call each other with the cellphone. When you choose to take a walk, you need to select where exactly on the map you will go. Those new features open more opportunities to trigger a date event, and give a huge variety, but I am not such a big fan of it, since it changes what was a very dynamic and fun gameplay into a convoluted and slow system.There’s only one thing I really hate about the gameplay: The way how you need to hold your 3DS! It may look good on paper because you will see more of the heroine on the screen, but it’s freaking horrible to hold your 3DS in this position! It was not made to be used like that! My hand hurts from playing this thing! And they don’t let you change this!
The closest thing to LovePlus I can think of is Ciel Nosurge. Since the game made by GUST runs on the much more powerful PS Vita, the heroine Ion can interact with many different objects and characters inside a huge room created with polygons in real-time. In contrast with this, LovePlus runs on the simple 3DS hardware.Therefore, all the backgrounds are just still images, most objects are invisible, and it’s simply impossible for the system to run a scene with more than one heroine in the same screen, for this reason, the 3 heroines never interact with each other. Still, Konami was able to create a real miracle with these graphics, because taking everything into account, LovePlus still look much prettier than Ciel Nosurge. The girls are smoothly animated, and it’s not only the mouth and eyes! Their gestures are just perfect and full of variations. They move like a real human being! It’s so lively! Even the way the hair moves feels natural (and it’s a pain in the ass to animate those things!). The frame rate hardly goes below 60 fps and the textures are very colorful and full of details! This is easily the best graphics I’ve seen running on the 3DS.
The heroines in this game are fully voiced by great talents like Hayami Saori, Tange Sakura and Minaguchi Yuuko. Their voice-work is fantastic, there isn’t one single line that was delivered in the wrong way, there isn’t a single syllable that was mispronounced! This is the power of the top-tier seiyuu! Too bad the main character is not voiced, though!One of the biggest features in the game is how the heroines will (try to) speak your name! I tried to use two “katakana” names in my first two playthroughs, but the system could only recognize the first syllables of those names, so I tried a Japanese name for my third playthrough by making a weird fusion between two characters I like, thus creating Onoda Akira! This time, the girls were able to pronounce this name with perfection! They were even able to add honorifics like “kun” and “san”. Although they only say the name at the start of a conversation, and it’s always at the same voice tone. It doesn’t make it any less impressive!
Unfortunatelly, if there’s something bad in this game, it’s the music! It’s even worse than the soundtrack of an average Galge for PC! All the BGMs sound like awful .midi files from the 90’s, and there’s a bunch of tracks that gets recycled and slightly remixed to be used in other events!
If you’re a fan of this genre, I bet you would enjoy LovePlus! If you love the “charage” sub-genre, it’s worth to buy yourself a 3DS just for this game! But if you consider yourself to be a HARDCORE BISHOUJO-GAME PLAYER, be careful! You may end just like those Japanese gamers: playing this game for all eternity!From now on, everytime I play a bad Visual Novel, I bet I will think about LovePlus for cases like: “I don’t want to do that! I wish I could just say NO to this and go away!” or “I hate this bitch so much! I wish I could just kick her butt!”. Yes! LovePlus is such an awesome game and it’s also most likely the reason for why there isn’t any other Galge for the Nintendo 3DS. How can you compete against a game such as this one? You just don’t! As simple as that! It’s a shame that both the producer Uchida Akari and character design Mino Taro have recently resigned from Konami, which means a sequel may never come, and even if it does, it may lose all the things that made this game so good!