I have a guilty secret, besides being obsessed with Japanese cartoons. I am also thoroughly engrossed in, and a huge fan of, Otome Dating Sims.
Completing the stereotypical circle of the introvert-shut-in, I’ve had a fascination with Otome games since I was at least thirteen. After thoroughly ripping into the likes of Harvest Moon and Rune Factory I was looking for something around the same lines and discovered the joy that was Dating Sim games. Those led me to finally try Visual Novels and other titles under the frilly Otome Umbrella, and now they’re a normal part of my game library. Everyone always takes the time to tell me the games are “weird” but it’s hard to hear them over my Romantic Choose-Your-Own Adventure.
This series will take the time to review Otome-style games. The Saturday posts will still be happening though, never you mind. But, today, we’re starting with a name that should ring a bell to any like myself: Pacthesis.
Also known as “Amy” on Deviantart, Pacthesis has built a name for herself by making different Dating Sim games for free both there and on Newgrounds. They have a specific feel and art style, and always play about the same way. But she and one other woman were my gateway drugs to this feel-good insanity, so it only fits we climb back up the rabbit hole and start at the very beginning.
I’m excited if you can’t tell
Because you never forget your first time, we start with her very first title: Festival Days.
Welcome to Cigam, or a tiny square map of it. You are Mayu, the innocuous protagonist who loves to cook and treats everyone with the same sweet sincerity. Your school is holding a big cultural festival at the end of the month, and your friend suggests getting yourself a boyfriend.
Now Yumi of course says this is just a rumor, and that the only deciding factor in a happy life is compatibility and luck, but Video Game logic knows better. You are now charged with the task of getting Mayu a partner and having the best relationship possible by the end of the month. It’s the most simple and basic of scenarios for these kinds of games, making it neither outstanding nor bad. It just is what it is.
I like to think this first title was Pacthesis testing the waters, stretching the fingers and seeing where it took her I say this because the gameplay mechanics, mechanics that will carry into her other titles, feel very introductory. The simple, easy to use mechanics lack much in refined detail or polish, but they work great as a testing ground for how people play.
Lots of screenshots ahead. Pardon the awful quality, I only have MS Paint.
You get a simple map of “Cigam”, your sleepy city with the never-ending piano tune and the five buildings to visit. You’ve got fifty stamina points to spend however you see fit, and 30 days to make the magic happen or face eternal loneliness. Here you can work to earn money, chat with useless NPC’s, or try to solve some of the hidden puzzles located about. You also have a home base/home screen, conveniently located at the only house on the map. Here you can sleep to move onto the next day, look at the items you have, or check your stats. You also have a kitchen where you can make Bento Lunch Boxes or Cookies, which will raise your skill stat.
Your romantic quarries are hiding on the map. To ensure -er, win – their love you must track’em down and talk with them, using ten stamina per conversation. Each time you chat them up you have two replies to choose from. One will set their heart all aflutter, earning you relationship stats; the other will make them wonder if the exit is nearby. But worry not, my duckies. If your foot finds its way into your mouth, another chat will give you the chance to pick the right option instead. But you don’t just get to talk to your crush, oh no: you can also give them gifts. In fact, when you see the blue text pop up, that’s a prompt for you to give them a specific gift.
Once you’ve gifted and chatted them high enough, you get to go on a date. On this date you have to build up a “mood” meter, which is done through talking, giving gifts, and taking a picture. This whole mechanic threw me off the first time I ever tried, as I never brought a gift to my dates, but one failed date was all it took for me to get in gear. Now each person has specific gifts they like, which you have to learn through trial and error. My advice: stick to the homemade food and soda from the vending machine. It’s cheap and your date won’t mind in the slightest.
Now I won’t spoil where the story goes but, needless to say, if you earn about 1000 relationship points and deplete their dialogue tree, you’ll get the best ending, earning yourself a free rom-com moment and a sense of achievement.
As previously stated, this Pacethis’s first game. As such, these are her early drawings with flash animation, and they have not aged very well. The designs are so lackluster when you compare them to her newer work, which has so much more shading and detail to it. But I’m not here to scold an artist for her first work being her worst.
So, putting them in a vacuum, the art here is not bad for a free online game, especially an Otome title. The male designs are just cartoony enough to be interesting but just realistic enough to be arguably good looking. With some bright and cheery colors splashed in as well, you’ll find the game easy on the eyes at the very least.
The Prey – er, Love Interests
All images from Pactheis’s website.
I decided that if I was really going back to the old days, it only fit that I begin with my very first target: the nice, friendly Cafe worker, Akito who…. Turned out pretty bland on this retrospective, I must say. Not that any of these choices will be all that complex, since this was a first try, but Akito seemed like he didn’t have much going for him at all. I suppose if you’re a fan of the easily approachable type, he’ll be right up your alley.
As per usual in my plays of these games, after I complete the path I like best, I tend to go through the others in a way I deem to be the “proper order.” In this case I just went in a circle and went with the fellow closest to our house, Kaoru the Otaku. He’s the nerd, meaning he likes Video game and MP3s and makes comments about how he’d rather be playing video games than being at school. He’s rough and tumble and likes to call himself a rebel, though the closest thing you’ll see is him punching the snot out of the Secret Option. Even so, I’m not against the Nerd-Love Fantasy, so I believe this one is solid.
He’s the athlete with an ex. But don’t worry, no home-wreckers here.
Arguably, Mako is the “better looking” of the simple flash drawings, what with the long hair and the big green eyes. That being said, his strongest character trait is a downright obsessive love of soccer and the fact that it’s causing tension between him and his current girlfriend, Hana. Because this game revolves around getting a date, that relationship is, of course, bound to crash and burn. Thanks to some good writing, you are not part of the crash but you are part of the recovery; the girlfriend even gets a redemption in the end. Otherwise, Mako is a very down to earth fellow who’s easy to talk to, so he’s another solid option.
Secret Option: Ren
Ah, the Moody Jerk, my new standard first choice. Says a chunk about me, I’m sure. Ren is inconsiderate and cold for the beginning of the game, and it’s up to sweet little Mayu to invade his personal space and make him a nice person with the power of love.
Joking aside, Ren is a great character idea that just needs a little polish. He’s what they call the “secret” or “hidden” option, the one that isn’t apparent and has to be ‘unlocked’. In Ren’s case, you have to go on Kaoru’s path for awhile until you see the blue text about him forgetting a lunchbox. Make one and give it to him and you’ll unlock a cutscene which unlocks Ren.
Tracking this game down and playing it again was more fun than I thought it would be. I expected the game to be lacking, given the better titles Pacthesis has now, but something about this game still held up. While it’s clear the game hasn’t aged well while other titles in her library are far better, I still had a good time.
And, at the end of the day, that’s all that matters.
So my final thought on Festival Days is a rosy-tinted one. It’s a game that feels like the first draft of an Otome, with the bare-minimum personalities on the guys and it’s simple mechanics, but it holds a special place in my heart. It’s a good game, despite the wrinkles, and a great place to start if you’re unsure about Otome in general. I recommend anyone curious give it a try, and see where the path takes you.
My Cup of Tea – Dating Sim