Tokyo School Life is a cringy visual novel that allows you to experience a summer crush story through the eyes of a late teenaged creepazoid. As an exchange student freshly arrived in Tokyo, you’ll make the acquaintances of Karin, Aoi, and Sakura; three girls with whom you will be spending your sabbatical.
Previously available on Steam and out now on the Nintendo Switch eShop. You play from the perspective of as an unseen, unnamed British exchange student that has flown out to Japan to take part in a Summer Exchange Programme. This trip was organized by his prank-loving Senpai back home and has ended up being booked into a weird amalgamation of shrine and bed and breakfast that is coincidently currently occupied by three girls from the school you will be attending during your stay.
Before we go any further into the Tokyo School Life review, I would like to clarify that I am by no means expert or aficionado of the Visual Novel genre (abbreviated NVL, derived from “novel”). I once briefly played a fan translation of Hideo Kojima’s forgotten SEGA CD classic Snatcher at a friend’s house (dear Konami, please release this on Switch now), I have played through two of the Phoenix Wright games, the Harvey Birdman spin-off and I seem to remember trying a couple of NVLs back when I was a mini-weeaboo and never getting anything more than malware out of them. When it comes to Visual Novels on the Nintendo Switch, the closest thing that I have played was the beautiful The Lion’s Song.
I feel like although I may not be an NVL connoisseur I have almost had a parrel experience; once being a teenager confused in love and on an awkwardly long holiday in Japan. It had always been an ambition of mine to travel to Japan when I was 15 I was invited to my then girlfriend’s family holiday to Japan. It was booked months in advance, and we were in a serious enough relationship for me to get invited. TLDR: We ended up breaking up weeks before the trip. I still went. It was an excellent holiday, but I was stuck with my exes family and by that time she had moved on. The most awkward parts where going to the nude baths with her stepdad and brother, having to pretend that we were still going out and finding out midway through the trip she had started going out with someone else. Despite all this, it was still a lovely holiday that I learned a little about love and Japan.
This game doesn’t reflect realistic romantic situations in any way unless you are a douchey dumbass with the relationship expectations of a dishcloth. In this day and age of R.Kelly and Michael Jackson documentaries, it does not make me feel comfortable playing a game about convincing teenage high school students to fall in love with a scumbag. Most of the predetermined answers and conversations portray the only four characters ever actually shown in-game as pretty shallow archetypes taking part in a plodding wish fulfillment puppet show. The unnamed hero is a shallow dweeb, the kind of boy that would make up wild sexual encounter stories to convince others of his imaginary maturity. This shmuck has gone to Japan with the sole wish of getting his leg over with a Japanese girl.
A significant point of contention for me is that on the eShop and Steam descriptions for Tokyo School Life they highlight the educational element and fact that you can learn about Japan and Japanese culture. Technically this is true, but you would probably learn more if you search the term Japanese culture or interesting Japanese facts you’ll probably learn more about Japanese society and save yourself a tenner. The lauded educational features are as far as I can discern nothing more than Japanese voiceovers with two sets of subtitles. In the options menu, you can choose from a selection of written languages displayed in either the sub or main windows including English, Japanese, Hiragana or Romaji.
While the Japanese and Hiragana subtitles could help you with learning to write Japanese and the Romaji option could help you if you were studying Japanese verbal language I am sure there are better educational options available on multiple platforms. Even if you where studying communicating in Japanese you would still need a foundation of knowledge to understand any of it, so if very difficult to recommend this game to the beginner or intimidate students. Calling this game educational goes against the trade description act, I have contacted my local MP but have not received a reply as of yet.
Tokyo School Life is short play through play lasting around an hour for me in my first playthrough. If you want to unlock all of thirty pieces of unlockable art you must end your story with each of the girls. The artwork is drawn fairly nicely but most of the images are semi voyeuristic and catching each of the girls being embarrassed or in compromising positions. The worst image shows an emaciated-looking Aoi looking back over her shoulder and topless with extra effort put into the shading to show her ribs. All the illustrations are so creepily candid it makes me wonder if they have been traced from some random softcore selfies found online. All the backgrounds look as though they are photos that have been run through an Adobe Illustrator filter and not much more. When “the camera” zooms in the images will show pixelated lines from the low-resolution images used as the source material.
After a few playthroughs, unlocking all of the art and testing different combinations of answers, the game had become stagnant so for fun I wanted to see how quickly I could manage a Speed run. I realize this goes against the whole point of a Visual Novel and is pretty much a pointless endeavor, but I had seen everything including the genuinely bizarre 100% completion thank you video, featuring the three girls swaying side to side and thanking you for your well-spent play time. Spoiler alert this is not worth playing the game through a minimum of three times. I ended up clocking a new world record speed run time of three minutes and forty-six seconds and seventeen splits, and I would have been quicker if I had been more on it with my touch screen responses, but even speed running couldn’t hold my attention for long.
Tokyo School Life validates all your worst apprehensions about visual novels; the seedy male perspective, cringy attempts at romantic liaisons and half-hearted attempts at humor and raunchiness, confusion between romance and harassment are the very foundation of this game equivalent of FHM’s Letters To The Editors. Fortunately, the game never goes entirely NSFW erotic, but there are many occasions where each of the 17-year-old female characters is sexualized in the narrative and artwork. If the characters where older or the game was not set in a school I would not have had such a hard time reviewing this game but as it is this game is neither fun nor titillating.
The formulaic gameplay would have been vastly improved by having more options to choose from rather than a selection of four answers that favour one of the girls and an apathetic response, and straight from the get-go of your first playthrough you can fast forward and rewind the dialogue to skip ahead any text or scenes you don’t want to view or go back and chose alternate answers to the inane questions you have been asked. The fast forward and rewind features should have been implemented after your first story completion to have at least give that first go a mild sense of urgency but even on your first try you soon learn that nothing is at risk.
Any mistake you make in Tokyo School Life can just be undone at a touch of a button, which I’m sure would be a dream come true of any creepy dudes upon reflection of their actions at a later date. There is no challenge or skill required. If you make a decision you regret (by giving an incorrect response), you can rewind and view the conversation archives and go back and choose conversation branch another option. Although this allows you to refine your playthrough to focus on attempting to with the heart of with ever waifu you have set your seedy eyes on.
Tokyo School Life succeeds in making you feel like a greasy exchange student, 99% of this game could be played in public as there is nothing too racy even the unlockable character art is never explicit but obviously a fumbling attempt at something erotic. Although you can follow a particular character’s quest lines to their ending where your character may fall in love each of the girls or with no one at all, there is never anything overly lude and is always more on the Tenchi Muyo! Side of anime than something like Golden Boy (both thoroughly recommended neither are hentai, but Golden Boy does get a little NSFW!)
Although Tokyo School Life is idealised non-sense and played too by the numbers there are a few feature that are well done. The fish out of water anecdotes, lessons on life and a few of the customs must come from experience, a heck of a lot of research and a love of Japan. It’s only really used to navigate menus touch screen is a great feature to be included but should really be implemented in every game on the Switch and coming from a PC release touchscreen is nothing surprising and a finger touch is pretty much the input same as a mouse click from a programming point of view. If you’re not a grumpy SJW like my self and can get over yourself and the lame plot the writing never takes itself too seriously and is ultimately very whimsical but not my cup of tea.
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