Summer Schoolgirls

· November 8, 2006

Just one pie Gwen!A title like "Summer Schoolgirls" doesn't sound like the best choice to start off a serious, sombre series of reviews, but heck, what are you going to do? As it happens the game doesn't even involve tentacles, but it is in the style of the japanese dating sim, or ren'ai, a genre I have hitherto not experienced, mainly due to a command of the japanese language that is sufficent only for, well, games with tentacles.

The game starts you off with an application for the precollege program at Waterfall University. The form asks few character-type questions, including your name. After putting in "Ted" I quickly realised that my character would be female - the gender entry box being prefilled. So, I created a peppy young thing called "Spunky", a studious but ditzy non-smoker, who considers herself more of an evening person. After a short internal monologue, Spunky found her room and looked for her roommate. I noticed there was just the one bed in the room, and revised my hentai estimations. My room mate turned out to be a sad looking girl called Sophie, who later informed me she wasn't a hick and didn't worship Satan. She would prefer to be alone. I guess I really should have showered before moving in. Mood: pensive.

I left Sophie to think about her woes and listen to Linkin Park, and headed back out to meet my "Dorm mother", Jen-Jen (she's so nice they named her twice). My hallmates include Amy, Beth, Molly, and Michelle (wearing a fetching off the shoulder dealio), all who did little more than introduce themselves. Jen-Jen outlined the next week's schedule, and I was let free to roam.

It was at this point, thanks to the overhead map you use to wander around the campus, I discovered my beloved Spunky had green hair and what appeared to be one of those pointy bras from the '50s. Discouraged by Spunky's style choices, I decided to head to the cafeteria for some comfort food. Filled with tasty turkey, I clicked over to the auditorium to catch some entertainment. Jen-Jen and another authority figure, Lily, were in attendance already. It is worth noting that social status seemed to be denoted by shoulder width, as both Lily and Jen-Jen looked like they'd been working their delts. A short lecture on being a student ensued, including a note on sexual safety, and not drinking illegally (despite my being 18, I presume the legal age is higher wherever poor old Spunky lives). Unfortunately that was that, so I headed over to the other dorm to score some booze and weed.

At the other dorm I ran Gwen. Gwen, I think, had an eating disorder, in that she'd heard of it but wasn't currently practicing. From her narrow shoulders I could tell she was another student, and so determined to try and slip her a cheese burger when she was distracted. Before I got a chance, Gwen was backed up by Mariko, and the clearly moronic Daisy. Mariko put it in no uncertain terms that the two dorms were in competition, though it didn't seem to have anything to do with drinking, a boat race, or Jeremy Paxman, which puts it outside my experience of university competition.

I'd missed the campus shop's opening hours so I headed to the gazebo, because, hey, gazebo. Having kicked Anna out of the picture, I realised there was, in fact, nothing to do at the gazebo. Next stop was the music school, where Mariko was hanging around. She explained that the doors were locked. You see "with all the pianos in there" the school wanted to make sure "nothing gets stolen". Considering that 1) who the hell is going to wander in and pocket a piano and 2) Mariko must have tested the doors to find them locked (considering this is our first day) it becomes clear that "Mariko" is some kind of nefarious piano thief, and had been casing the joint. I immediately headed back to my dorm to relay my suspicions to anyone that would listen.

Oh hell noUnfortunately, only Sophie was around. She was disturbed at my presence, and decided to go somewhere else. In her nightie. To be fair, there is only one bed in the room. I tried to engage her in conversation, only to discover she did not like poetry. I went to sleep in disgust.

The alarm went off at 8am, because it clearly doesn't understand students, so I immediately went to back to bed. By the time I awoke next I'd missed breakfast, and had to hurry off to class. The day went in a flash, after meating skinny tie'd teacher Derek, my only real decision was where to have lunch, which is accurate to modern working life at least.

AT THIS POINT I forgot to save the game. Developer pro-tip: users are idiots, and autosave is your friend. So, Spunky returns to the beginning. Luckily, as a consumate professional I managed to click back to where I was in about two minutes.

The next day passed without incident, as I began to learn not totally, but mostly, trivial facts about my school friends, apart from the fact Michelle called Wednesdays "Hump day". Because it's like the hump in the middle of the week. I also discovered that I really have no idea what the little interface meant, and lacking in tool tips I thought it safest not to click, lest I colour my hair mauve or similar. What I was hunting for was a way to return to the previous screen, which I found out, after consulting the brief manual, was the up key. I had pretty much been playing the game with the mouse, so I must admit I'd have prefered the option on the right click.

Hump day evening meant a trip to the near by waterfall, which Spunky admired by staring at the stars gormlessly. Luckily the 4th of July fireworks started, giving Sophie an excuse to be angsty. "Couldn't those sparks start a fire?" asked one girl. "They die before they ever hit the ground" replied Sophie, and though it was in text I could practically here The Cure playing in the background.

Finally Jen-Jen left, and after a short interlude Beth produced a wine cooler. Never one to say no, I said yes. Sophie grabbed a drink as well, as did a few of the other girls. Amusingly, I woke up hung over the next morning. Seriously kids, make sure to drink some water before you go to bed, alcohol will dehydrate you, and that's no good for getting in a good morning of, er, drinking.

Big eyes donchaknowI spent the day in bed, but unfortunately Beth deserted us, after Jen-Jen discovered the detritus of our wild night. On the up side, Sophie opened up to me, and admitted she "had connections", which I presume means that she, or a close family member, was in a gang. She proceeded to doodle a little heart, which I presume is the gang sign. Waterfall Rolling Sixties? I went to sleep concerned.

The final day was a talent show to appease the prime elders of the girls. Each of the dorms had to put on a short entertainment, and the other lot went first. Gwen recited some poetry:

"Melts... on a scream!"

Though Spunky was confused, it is clear to me that this is a cry for help, in the form of a burger, or some pies, or a protein shake. Our dorm then provided a piano recital. We came second. Out of two*. And that was that just about that. I quickly found out, in definitive numerical form, that Ol' Spunky just didn't have any charm, as no one liked me. Well I'll be damned if I'm going to be unpopular, so it was straight back in, this time as a party animal! But no booze. It's not worth it kids, I missed out on the mall.

The strength of this game is how much there is going on that you can't see, which makes replaying the week very much part of the gamplay. The shock of seeing Derek having inapproriate relations with one of his students is a significant one, let me tell you, though when you see him having inappropriate relations with a different student the next night, it's a grudging respect. The linearity, or predictable nature of the game becomes a benefit, as you can experiment with different ways of making friends with the various girls, something which is disturbingly addictive, as you uncover little snippits of information on each character.

The fast-forward let you skip through the text sections you've read. True, this is a game most likely to be played by girls and sweaty otaku, but anyone that was willing to give it a try with an open mind will find exploring the world Hanako have created very entertaining.

* As a footnote, I should point out that on my second time through I came third. As far as I can tell, still out of 2.