Arcade Spirits has both the vibe and mechanics to take advantage of the retro, choice-based game craze!
I was honestly kind of nervous when I got the chance to review Arcade Spirits. Me? Review a romance game? Let’s just say romance, as a whole, is not a genre I’ve been particularly kind to in the past. On the flip side, this is a choice-based game that uses your decisions to build your personality profile and those are two things I can definitely get behind. Either way, I was determined to give a fair and unbiased review. And I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised by this title!
Billing itself as an inclusive story, Arcade Spirits goes above and beyond in making sure that everyone is represented. Date boys, date girls, date nobody. Change your skin, hair, and eye color to any shade of the rainbow. Choose between your preferred pronouns, including an option to be referred to as they/them. Everything is completely your choice.
Here’s the thing, though, when Arcade Spirits says everything is up to you, they mean everything is up to you. While the basic premise of this game is to find your true love and chase your dream job, there are actually a lot of ways to let the story play out. Not particularly interested in romance? Fine. Looking to flirt a bit while you try to pick out your soulmate. That’s fine, too. Want to trade industry passion for financial stability? Cool. Literally, every decision you make in this game will have some sort of impact on its outcome. So, the rules stress the importance of making your own choices and not feeling pushed into any decision, no matter how small.
But that’s kind of thing with Arcade Spirits, no decision is ever really all that small. What seems like a minor plot point now may affect how well you are able to interact with someone important later. Small conversations could put the entire future of your arcade in jeopardy. One simple action in the very beginning of the game could send you straight to your ending. And, of course, whether or not that ending is a happy one depends on your own point of view.
Unlike some decision-based games, you won’t have to worry about a timer forcing you to commit to a decision before you are ready. You can take as much time as you need to determine your path. I definitely appreciated the ability to really think through what I wanted to say, how I wanted to say it, and who I wanted to say it to. While a time limit may work in a survival scenario where snap decisions can’t be avoided, forming an entire personality feels like a thing that requires more careful thought and judgment, a fact the developers have clearly recognized.
Unfortunately, there are a few drawbacks to the mechanics of the game. The building of your character’s personality is largely determined by the way you speak, but it is all too easy to determine which types of personalities are defined by each answer. A player could easily decide beforehand whether they want to be funny or heartfelt and can then choose the answer that suits that goal. The game stresses the importance of being authentic and avoiding the temptation to “gamify” your answers, perhaps because it is so easy to do so.
It’s also somewhat difficult to really feel as though your choices actually matter. It’s clear that your decisions do have a lasting effect, but I was often left feeling that certain major events were out of my hands, that there were certain beats and endings that I was meant to experience no matter what choices I made along the way.
To give the game a fair shot, I played through twice to see whether or not changing my decisions and personality would actually affect the outcome. It does, to a point. Different choices will change the ending you receive. You can even skip straight to the end from the beginning of the game, much like the sellout ending available in the early stages of Netflix’s Bandersnatch. Changing your personality has a direct effect on how well you get along with other characters in the game. Deciding between various tasks does cause longterm effects that change the ending, as well. But overall, it still felt as though there was a clear correct ending. Much like choosing not to sacrifice Chloe in Life Is Strange felt rushed and incomplete, there are clear endings to Arcade Spirits that are “better” than others, despite the emphasis on your own personal preference.
Overall, Arcade Spirits is exactly what drives me to choice-based games in the first place, a story-driven experience that puts you in control while still delivering variety and the occasional surprise… a surprising amount of doom, gloom, and melancholy for a tale of romance. Which, again, I can totally get down with. The slick synth beats, neon aesthetic, and heartfelt homages to popular ‘80s games seem poised to take advantage of the retro gaming/nostalgic references trend, fitting right in with Bandersnatch and Ready Player One. Then there’s the matter of the giant choice-based-shaped hole left by the closure of Telltale Games, which Arcade Spirits fills quite nicely. Ultimately, the release of this title is perfectly timed… even if your decisions don’t have to be.
+ Fully inclusive of all types of people, genders, and personality types
+ Nostalgic, retro gamer feel in a choice-based setting
+ Total control of character customization, personality building, and story direction
+ No time restrictions on decision making
+/- Some endings feel “better” or more fleshed out than others, but different players may enjoy some more than others
- Too easy to rig the results of your choices
Did you enjoy Arcade Spirits? What did you think of the game? Let us know in the comments!
Carolyn writes for Crunchyroll, Cracked, and Bunny Ears. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.
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