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Thoughts on the game

Posted: Tue Dec 31, 2013 7:39 pm
by notimportantprs
Alright, so I've played through Ted's route (special ending) and half of Kurt's route and I've got some strong opinions to share, so here we go! (Disclaimer: These are my personal opinions and you're free to disagree with me. I'll try my best to be objective and any criticism I offer is meant to help further improve those points in the future.)
The good things first:
1. The art! I really loved the amount of detail and care you've put into the character design, I've played a lot of otome games and this one is definitely in the top 3 art wise. The colouring was very 'gentle' and gave me a calming feeling while playing.
2. The music! I don't know if the songs were original or not, but they always fit the atmosphere very well.
3. The idea! I love love love mystery, but I also love slice-of-life college stuff, so both in combination should've been perfect. I deliberately used 'should', but more of that later. Even if the execution was in some points lacking, you definitely get props for original concept.
4. The GUI! Not much to say here - very accessible and easy to use!
5. Game flow! I liked how the routes diverged only in November, meaning that you could build relationships with all the guys till then. Even though naturally, you focus on one guy from the start, it's nice that Nicole didn't appear isolated during the game and still had interactions with everyone. I especially liked the fact that there was so much Darren in Kurt's route because they were roommates - it makes the interactions seem much more natural. The number of events in-between stat raising was also adequate, it didn't make me feel too bored.

The things that could use improvement: (I'm not saying bad things because they weren't bad per se, just... frustrating, I guess? Because I've seen it done better and I know it *can* be done better.)
1. CGs. (Guess I'll start with the smaller things first because I'm not quite sure how to express the rest... English isn't my native language, so sorry for that^^) Anyway, for a paid game the number of CGs per route is definitely too small. I didn't get any CGs in either routes till like, December, even though there were definitely CG-worthy moments before that, like where Nicole visits Ted's room or Kurt and Nicole browsing Nicole's blog. Sorry but even in free games there were more CGs than here and that's definitely saying something. In this case, I'd even say you should go with quantity over quality if you feel pressed for time because collecting CGs and looking at them later in the gallery is, for me, one of the most rewarding parts of playing otoge. If the background wasn't super detailed, I wouldn't mind as long as the characters are pretty. Also, I don't know if that's the case in every route, but in Ted's route I found the first CG - where they're arguing in the shop during the block party - not fittingly placed at all. I mean, they're shouting at each other for God's sake, but then all of a sudden in the CG they're totally happy while in the textbox the shouting continues? Come on. Either toggle the CG a bit later or make multiple ones that transcend with the scene. In a visual novel, of course I'm gonna rely on the visuals to tell a big part of the story so if story and visual don't match? It really disturbs the experience. In Lucky Rabbit Reflex, for example (I'm gonna be referencing this game a lot because the genre is very similar to your game - stat raising romance - sorry in advance for that), there's a CG of the player asking the guy what kinda girl he likes. Obviously, he likes the player but won't admit it, so while he dances around the topic, his eyes in the CG flit back and forth, looking to the player and away. It's such a minor detail but adds so much to the atmosphere! And it doesn't take much time to draw since all you have to change is the eye placement.

2. The dialogue. I've read it in other reviews of this game as well and I have to agree - at some points, rather often actually, the dialogue doesn't sound natural at all. Unfortunately I forgot to take screencaps while playing so I don't have any direct examples, but I'll try to generalise... You tend to use a lot of words that aren't used in teenspeak anymore, and that makes it sound like you're trying to forcefully sound 'hip' and 'cool', which... well, if you've ever had your parents try to do that when you were a teenager, you probably understand the feeling that dialogue gives off. In Ted's route, some of them are attributed to his accent, which I understand, but on the other hand, with the existence of the internet and the fact that everyone is exposed to a variety of accents through globalisation/migration and simply through watching stuff on the internet, I don't think local dialects are as pronounced anymore, especially with teenagers. I'd rather say that there's more or less one common 'teen English' which is 'in' and everyone tries to imitate it (see lol, yolo, dude, bro, and so on) and those words you had Ted - and even occassionally Nicole! - use were dialects spoken by the older generation. No teenager would try to imitate the way their parents speak, that would be way too 'uncool'! Especially Jeff's speech was way over the top, he sounded like some kind of comic book villain. And that would be fine, mind, if the game was written in a comic book style! But if you aim for a realistic, slice-of-life feel, which I got the impression you were trying to do, then you've got to make your characters sound realistic as well, and not like stereotypes. And that brings me to my next point.

3. Characters. Well, they weren't completely unbelievable. I actually did like all of them, even Jeff. But only because from the beginning on, I forced myself not to take the the game as a serious game but rather a comedy game. In that mindset, the characters' quirks and unusual sounding dialogue made sense since I could interpret it as a comedic relief. However, that point of view clashed with the very real and serious conflicts you introduced later in the game. Having Jeff still sound like a comic book villain during the final confrontation in the abandoned building, while he was being faced with the very serious crime of kidnapping and performing experiments on girls, just didn't sound realistic at all and somewhat ruined the scene. Similarly the way Ted kept being all overly serious and 'tsundere' even in supposedly fluffy and romantic moments. It just felt like every character's personality revolved too much around their main stat, which made them too two-dimensional, lacking dephth. Again, that would be okay in a mainly comedic type of game because you're not *supposed* to take those characters too seriously. But in this type of game, the characters seem too shallow. I also wished for Nicole to have a bit more character development over the course of the game depending on which route and stat you chose. Like, on Ted's route, she's dilligent and hard-working, right? Then have people complement her on her good grades! Have her make the smart choice and tell someone about the threats! In Kurt's route, she's zealous but more into sports than studies, judging by the activities you have to do to raise your stats. Then, have people tell her how fit she looks and have her act more rashly, let her fail some exams! It would add *so* much to the experience, making it easier to understand her choices. And if you say that would take too long/make the game too long, well, all those examples I brought up are from Lucky Rabbit Reflex, and that game costs just as much as yours while taking place over the course of a whole school year instead of just one semester! I'm just saying, if I pay money then I expect to get that money's worth back and I doubt I'm the only one.

4. Inner monologue vs action ratio. This one is a bit hard to explain but I'll try. Since this game is part dating sim part visual novel, of course I expect a lot of the ongoing action to be shown through, well, action - as in images on screen or dialogue. Instead, in this game I found the amount of Nicole's inner monologue, and of descriptions in general, to be disproportionally large. Why not show something instead of describing it in text? Similarly, why not have Nicole say/think something directly instead of describing it via first-person narration? Example: When Ted's Dad is introduced - actually, when every character is introduced - I remember Nicole going on a several lines long rant, describing their looks and how hot she thinks they are in detail. Why? The reader can perfectly well see the colour of their hair themselves! Instead, why not have her think something like "Whoa! DILF approaching at 12 o'clock!" and then express the rest in actions instead of musings? Like, if you have her stutter and be accidentally drop something while blushing, then force a laugh and apologise, to the reader it will be perfectly obvious she finds the other person attractive. You don't have to explicitly state in her inner monologue that she does so. Sometimes, less is more and it's better to have the reader see how the character reacts and infer the meaning for themselves instead of just bluntly stating it. Similarly with things like jokes. You don't have to have Nicole say "I chance a joke" or something (I don't remember exactly what was written). Instead, just have her make the joke and then clap her hand over her mouth or think "Oops". From that, it's already obvious that she's anxious whether the joke will be well-received, but it doesn't sound as boring as when stated bluntly. What I mean to say is, I think you should rely more on visuals and action/reaction instead of description.

5. Difficulty. To be honest, I'm not the biggest fan of stat raising. Mostly, I play choice-only VNs, so when I do buy a stat-raising game, I'm in for the story. I don't mind the stat raising as a means to an end, but in this game I found the difficulty level to be so high that it was very frustrating. Even on the easy setting, I was anxious till the beginning of December that I wouldn't be able to raise the stats enough for the special ending. I did manage it in the end, but I just barely made it and the fear that all that time could've been for nothing just made me needlessly stressed during the game. It wasn't about figuring out the right gifts or stats to raise, that was easy, but simply raising over 900 of the specific stat and 999 clues was such a huge hurdle that for me, the game felt too difficult. Maybe it's because I don't play dating sims very often, but it's not like your game should be aimed at 'veterans' only and anyway, in the other 2 such games I played (Lucky Rabbit Reflex and RE:Alistair) I didn't have any problems reaching the goal once I knew which stats corresponded to which boy and which gifts I had to give. If you wanna make a hard mode for people who like stat raising, go ahead, but if you say there's an easy mode, you should make it easy accordingly. Or simply make cheats for players like me, who're only in for the story, I wouldn't mind that either.

6. Plot. I have already briefly touched on aspects of this point in my other points, so I'll try to be brief. While I really liked the idea you had going, I found the execution to be very lacking. I had the feeling that you couldn't quite decide what type of game this is supposed to be and in the end, you just mixed all the elements together without finding a proper balance. There are elements of mystery, of slice-of-life, of comedy and of romance but all of them just don't fit very well together. I'm not saying that they're inherently incompatible, it's just that you jumped from one to the other so quickly and without a main thread to bind them all together that in the end, the game was neither here nor there. I'm being very abstract, sorry. I would've thought that the main focus of the story would be mystery (*serious* mystery, with maybe a few comedic elements but not with comedy as focus), as it was advertised as such. But, in that context, a lot of Nicole's choices just didn't make any sense. No sane person (of her age) would just run into an abandoned building, alone, without any weapon and without contacting anyone else. It would've been fine in a comic-style game, because it's supposed to be over-the-top for the sake of laughs, but the setting you had set up before that didn't allow for that. Nicole has loving parents, is fairly rational and smart (at least she's supposed to be in Ted's route - and here we again come to the point where stat decisions should influence her character) and has a boyfriend she repeatedly describes as reliable. In a mystery/slice-of-life oriented setting, her decision makes no sense at all! Maybe in Kurt's route, yeah, but not in Ted's. Also, the whole mystery thing - again, it seemed more fitting for a comedic story than a realistic one. Honestly, I suspected Jeff to be the culprit from the very start just because he was the stereotypical villain, but I kept hoping until the end that maybe it was someone else altogether, like idk, Nicole's roommate or something, because in a mystery oriented game no way should the first guess be the correct guess, right? And the whole showdown in general was just way too unrealistic for a not-comedy setting. But the game wasn't mainly comedy-oriented either because of the conflicts and decisions the characters had to face, because of the conversations they had and because, well, sorry to say it but the jokes you *did* implement just weren't that funny. *shrugs* So I hope you understand what I mean when I say you tried too many things at once but didn't really have a 'red thread' to follow through the story.

TL;DR: In conclusion, I'd say that the game has a very promising foundation but what you made out of it could use some more work. Especially for a paid game, I'd expect much more professionalism story-wise and character-wise. I admit I probably wouldn't have bought the game had it not been on sale and I don't think I'll be buying any Winter Wolves games in the near future. But I'll definitely be keeping an eye out for your new releases because I really do think your work shows a lot of promise, it just needs some more polish and experience.

Re: Thoughts on the game

Posted: Tue Dec 31, 2013 8:10 pm
by jack1974
Thanks for the VERY detailed review :lol:
I agree on some things, completely disagree on others, and some really depends on tastes. I'll be quick since I don't really have much time:
1) number of CGs - you probably refer to the original VN from japan where is normal to have 100 CGs, in OELVN they're much less because they're very expensive (over $100 each) so as you can imagine I can't put 50 CGs in a game since I'm a small company :mrgreen:
2) plot - I agree that probably I didn't made my mind if the game was to be serious or not. This is one thing that I'm going to change for next games, I felt I was influenced too much by what people say or what is "the right" thing to do, limiting seriously my creativity. From now on I'll stick more to my own ideas (originally was to be a scary game, then decided to soften it up fearing that could have a negative impact on the success). However, I got A LOT of people praising the writing (not the story, the writing itself) more than all my other otome games, so I don't know what to say about this, since if I had to make a statistic, 99% of people loved the writing.
3) difficulty - at one point, I even had to make a way to skip the last weeks because some people complained it was so easy that you'd find yourself with nothing to do in the last in-game weeks :lol: so again, depends on personal tastes/skills

Anyway, sorry that the game disappointed you so much, maybe future ones will be better, though I think I'm probably going to focus more on the RPGs :)

Re: Thoughts on the game

Posted: Mon Jan 20, 2014 9:53 am
by verlaine
I'm not sure if I agree with some criticisms of Nicole, simply because some things are more subjective than others.

I would've preferred the 'clue' scenes to be more integrated into individual romantic paths. As they stand, some 'clue' scenes might feel out of place, because some characters' attitudes (including the protagonist's) appear inconsistent or 'regressive' when romance is prioritised over mystery. Case in point: I was pursuing Kurt and triggered his interrogation 'clue' scene at a late stage in the romantic relationship. I didn't understand the protagonist's sudden 'snotty' attitude towards her love interest--and then I remembered seeing the same scene when I was pursuing Darren :P

Dialogue 'naturalness' is pretty subjective: I can think of different reasons why people would use 'outdated' slang (with 'outdated' being a socially and historically relative term). I'm not sure if I agree with some assumptions and generalisations e.g. "Characters who don't sound like me or people I know are obviously 'unrealistic'!"; Globalisation and the Internet are contributing to local dialects being less pronounced, etc... Apart from being set somewhere in a *representation* of America during an unspecified year, the story doesn't give too many specific details about the surrounding campus community, local traditions and dialects--or even wider American society! And besides, with parody references to things like Rollr, Spacebook, etc... how reasonable is it to expect Nicole to strictly conform to our version of social 'reality'?

Our experiences with fiction define genre expectations--and our expectations, in turn, define what is or isn't 'acceptable' in other texts when we invoke genre conventions to make sense of a story. I didn't read Nicole as a 'realist' story; I read it as a romantic melodrama infused with 'mystery' elements. The leading characters' traits and behaviours are often exaggerated e.g. Darren's 'shyness', Kurt's 'flirting', etc...--so no characterisation inconsistency there. Pretty much on par for the course if you enjoy watching soap operas like Days of our Lives, Young and the Restless, etc... :P Broad-brush archetypes are there for viewers to vicariously achieve wish-fulfillment fantasies in escapist fiction where binaries are often clearly delineated and resolved e.g. good versus evil, heroes versus villains, love versus detachment, etc...

I have a few more things to say, but I'll probably leave it here for now :P

Re: Thoughts on the game

Posted: Fri Jan 24, 2014 10:26 am
by verlaine
A gameplay thought:

I feel as though Nicole's stat-raising elements slow down the narrative pace and don't contribute to a more open-ended engagement with the game world or its characters. Raising a stat has very little consequence (apart from determining the 'best' ending for each character if you raise the correct associated stat to a high level). In some stat-raising dating sims, stats influence possible actions (as well as the probability of success) and might trigger different scenes on subsequent playthroughs--and there's more than one way to get a 'happy' ending. In Nicole, the repetition becomes obvious: I keep performing the same actions just to trigger the next scene (kind of like how some 'freemium' games work) while hoping for high stat increases. I think Nicole would have greater story 'substance' as a straight VN with more focus on character relationships, backstory and a stronger integration of the mystery subplot into individual romance routes.

Re: Thoughts on the game

Posted: Fri Jan 24, 2014 10:36 am
by jack1974
Yes, of course for this game is too late to change it now, but in next dating sims will think about integrating more the stats in gameplay too (unlocking some scenes as you say).

Re: Thoughts on the game

Posted: Fri Jan 24, 2014 10:48 am
by verlaine
jack1974 wrote:Yes, of course for this game is too late to change it now, but in next dating sims will think about integrating more the stats in gameplay too (unlocking some scenes as you say).
Sorry for the harsh-sounding gameplay criticism. I still think Nicole has its good points; it's not easy trying to balance gameplay and narrative elements for mass-market appeal. As for me, I'd rather have a strong narrative than 'well-polished' gameplay mechanics. I'm fine with life sim 'micromanagement' as long as I feel as though the game rewards me for experimenting with different choices--and I'm not being 'punished' for raising the 'wrong' stats that lock me out of 'good' paths.

Re: Thoughts on the game

Posted: Fri Jan 24, 2014 10:53 am
by jack1974
No no, you're right, no problems. Is that sometimes is hard to make the game exactly as you want to for lots of reasons :)

Re: Thoughts on the game

Posted: Sun Feb 02, 2014 9:05 pm
by chudah
I just finished both Jeff (Normal) and Kurt's (Normal + Bonus) routes, and while I have many of the same complaints as the OP, I won't reiterate them as he did an admirable job explaining how I more or less feel about the game's shortcomings. So, I'm going to note some a few specific things that I enjoyed and disliked about the game and narrative.

First off, I really enjoyed the romance progression between Nicole and the 2 guys I finished, but especially Kurt. I haven't played many otome dating sims, but the few I have really didn't do a great job of establishing a solid foundation for the relationship between couples (it's usually, "I love you, I don't know why, we have absolutely nothing in common, but I love you" -- more or less). But here, you did a great job developing the friendships, and it was believable when they ultimately grew into something more. And I like the fact that yeah, they're not automatically head over heals in love, but these two characters really dig each other and what we're seeing is the beginning of what may be a great relationship. So, awesome job on that, guys!

I also thought Nicole's character was done rather well compared to most other otome MC's. Granted, she's not perfect (well, actually, maybe she's a little too perfect and could use a shortcoming here and there), but she's real and relatable, and outside of not telling anyone about the kidnapper's texts and investigating on her own (something I could probably spend paragraphs complaining about), she's someone I could imagine knowing in real life. Kudos on that as well!

Before I get into some of my nitpicks, I just wanted to convey how much I loved the bonus scene where Kurt really lays into Nicole for not telling him about the texts. I thought the dialogue between the two was some of the best in the game. I loved the fact that Nicole had to admit being wrong (something she hasn't done the entire game), and it really shows how much Kurt cared for her all along. Plus, it added a bit of conflict to the relationship, which I think every good romance needs.

That aside, I did feel the character development took way too long to flesh out, and perhaps that's partially the fault of the game system bogging down the narrative. My first play through it felt like FOREVER before anything happens in the story or between Nicole and the guy she's romancing. Even on my second play through, playing on Easy and concentrating on Kurt's stat and clues, things still didn't seem to get rolling with him until November, and then it's BAM BAM BAM as his story finishes up in the span of a few weeks.

Also, this may be more my fault than the game's, but playing it on the Kindle I could not for the life of me figure out how to skip scenes, and it became rather annoying having to speed tap my way through a good 50% of the game. That alone really burnt me out halfway through Kurt's route.

Now, onto a very specific gripe I have (well, more like a rant, but I just have to get it off my chest)....While I thought Kurt's story was done rather well and really don't have too many complaints about how it all panned out (even though Nicole doing the whole cheerleading thing would have normally annoyed me, but I thought it was cute), the end of Jeff's story bugged me. I really dug the fact that he was a total self-absorbed jerk, and I liked how even he began to warm up to Nicole after awhile. Even him freaking out when his experiment fails worked. But the end....come on, Jeff may be a self-proclaimed genius, but he couldn't have possibly been that stupid to not realize he was having emotional feelings for a woman. And the fact that he used a kiss to test his theory?!? Ugh...the romance totally fell apart at the end there for me, and I think maybe part of it was that I was expecting something more passionate from him. I mean, here is a guy who was angry, emotional and even violent with Nicole the night before (and I hate to say it, but that scene was a bit steamy -- don't judge me!), and yet he can't even channel all of that emotion into something a little more passionate than a peck on the lips?!? When the credits scene were rolling, I literally wanted to break something! <end rant>

Anyhow, I'd have to say I still enjoyed the game a lot and will be playing through the other two guy's routes, I just hope you guys can take some of these criticisms/suggestions and apply them to the next life sim/VN you release, as I think it could end up being something really great if you fix the things that didn't work so well in Nicole.