Written By: JP
Assisted By: Youko the Hexogonal
Developers: Winter Wolves
Platforms: PC, Mac and Linux
Genre: Romance, Comedy, Slice of Life
Release Date: March 5, 2014
Hey everyone! Winter Wolves is back!
2014 is going to be a busy year for the group. Recently they announced C-14 Dating: a romance game set in the exciting world of archeology…it was exciting for Indiana Jones anyway. This will cap four other planned releases for the year. So, it is vital for the group to get off on the right foot and give its fandom something they can have fun with after a rather bland 2013.
So how does Roommates fare? Well, that’s for us to discover! Come with me, will you?
No one should enter this one with an expectation for a contextually deep work of literature. Literally the first few moments of the game involve you nearly getting run over by a barely dressed Latina. There really isn’t an over-arching story line and most of the plot depends on who you decide either Max or Anne should slobber over. ‘Light-Hearted Fun’ is the driving force here and the games only concern is cheap yuks at the expensive of its cast and a few ‘Aww’ moments in between. And as much as I was sure I was going to hate it, I was surprised the exact opposite happened.
There is something strangely refreshing about the honesty behind this game. And even I, with my high standards and ultra-refined tastes, couldn’t help but relax and enjoy the calm waters this title decided to tread. Max and Anne go through several stages of interest: from heavy flirtation to mild curiosity. By the time any intimacy happens, you’re convinced that at the very least the two are mutually infatuated: fitting into the large drive of light-hearted, no serious strings attached fun.
‘But JP,’ Some of you may be screeching now, ‘Pyrite Heart did the same thing and you hated it!’
Err…no it didn’t.
Let me be clear: both Pyrite Heart and Roommates are driven by the tropes and clichés familiar to anyone who has even heard of romantic fiction. The difference is that in Pyrite Heart, the goal is to make you Squee. All we have is one fanservice moment after another leading to the moment where the story decides it’s time for Ahri and one of her love slaves to kiss. Now, there’s not anything wrong with that in particular and it can be enjoyable for those who can muscle through its tedious plot. But, while Roommates’ goal is similar, it's still vastly different.
Roommates also wants to evoke an emotion as well: nostalgia. The characters all fit into different people that come with college life. While none of them are complex, they are all fleshed out and develope well as you interact with them. Their goals and desires resonate because we not only hear about them, but also because we see them in action. And, to my knowledge, no one actually says the word ‘love’ in the game proper. It’s a pretty long game and I could be wrong, but the fact is that it is rare for college relationships to evolve beyond mutual infatuation. By embracing that and not trying to paint some grand romantic picture, the game avoids stretching the audience’s patience and satisfies the need for simplicity.
So, are you following me here? In Pyrite Heart, the goal is to feed a fandom. In Roommates, the goal is to get you to enjoy its simplicity. The difference may be subtle to some, but for me it’s like trying to call an orange a tomato.
That doesn’t mean everything works. Max and Anne’s stories are pretty much the same. The major events and subplots are the same with small variations depending on the relationship you decide to pursue; especially the options for a same-sex relationship (Rakesh for Max and Isabella for Anne). Whether you play as Max or Anne depends strictly on your personal preferences and this would be a small issue except for the fact that you have to purchase both Max and Anne’s stories separately. With that in mind, there really isn’t a good reason to buy both and it feels more like an attempt to extend the game’s marketability rather than add to the story. I’ll touch on that issue a bit more in the Gameplay section.
Another issue is that the shared story line between Max and Anne concerning a school project feels unnecessary. This storyline happens regardless of the romantic path you’re on and it really doesn’t add much unless Anne is in a relationship with Max or vice versa. This is the one area of the game that I felt could’ve been used to better flesh out the leads and give us a better insight into the player’s actions. There could’ve been conversations about their current relationship, their future plans, ANYTHING other than a project that basically sets up a Beach Episode event. However, that doesn’t occur and the game is lesser because of it.
Overall, Roommates is an enjoyable excursion: even for a withered bastard like me. My favorite relationships were Sally for Max and Dominic for Anne, and I think it’s where everything hits just the right note: especially Sally (hint hint). The goals this story wants to gain are low-hanging fruit, but it takes the time necessary to make that fruit truly enjoyable. For those who are either looking to write a fun, light-hearted tale or just want to play one, you can’t go wrong here.
Presentation & Gameplay
But that’s just me having a laugh on that issue. The serious point on the art is that there is no cohesive look for the cast. Anne looks somewhere around 17 while Dominic could easily be 30. Also Anne and a few others wear school uniforms despite being, you know, in college? This also goes to the background art which crosses the border from repetitive to lazy quickly. Most of it is clean and vibrant, but several backgrounds are copied for different locations: such as Dominic’s bedroom in the dorm, a debutante-looking outdoor venue and the local bar.
This is extended on small glitches where outfits don’t fit the scene. Case in point: there is a scene where either Max or Anne will prepare to take a shower only to catch Isabella pulling a prank on Dominic. If you decide to play the event, the main character will suddenly appear clothed. It doesn’t make sense, and this particular bug follows through on several scenes where characters claim to be clothed in a certain way or in a particular position, only for the art not to reflect it. In underfunded groups, this can be forgiven. However, with Winter Wolves’ deep pockets and years of experience, it is unacceptable.
And now for the Gameplay which is split between a visual novel and a life simulator. While I understand that the life simulator is Winter Wolves’ comfort zone, here it just isn’t necessary. The life simulator allows you to plan out your entire week in advance, and since the proper stats for each character are listed out for you, you’ll quickly find yourself skipping through that portion to get back to the storyline. Also, considering that the stat builder only works to unlock the special romance scenes and has little effect on the story proper, this could’ve been a straightforward visual novel: just shorter.
This feature, along with the fact that Max and Anne have to be purchased separately, feels more like an attempt to extend the playing time than give the player their money’s worth. The story is good and is best applied in short doses: allowing the player to enjoy it for what it is and not feel pressured to grind out every little plot point. It is the one point I just don’t get and maybe it’s just me.
+ An Enjoyable Story Featuring Fun Characters
+ Relationships Feel Natural and Continues Overall Tone
- Presentation Is Hit or Miss
- Life Sim Feature Unnecessary