Arcade Spirits, a romantic comedy visual novel, paints life in an alternate reality in which the arcade gaming scene is still huge.
Title: Arcade Spirits
Developer: Fiction Factory Games
Platforms: Nintendo Switch (reviewed), PS4, Xbox One, PC
Release Date: May 1, 2020
Fiction Factory Games’ Arcade Spirits promised an interactive story taking place in an alternate timeline where the E.T. game didn’t trigger a video game crash that slowly resulted in arcades dwindling out. It’s a game where you build a character based off yourself, choose your pronouns, name, skin tone, all that and enter a realm of modern-day arcade life. Now that the game is out digitally, we can finally see how it holds up to its own hype.
When the game first starts, you build your character. I was really disappointed in the limitations. I can understand why some of the options are limited considering it would need the artists to draw a large amount of scenes over and over but I hated that there were only three options and I could either have long straight hair or two shorter cuts that made it look like I straight up abused styling gel. Also, I hope you like wearing an oversized hoodie because that’s how they cover the body type being gender neutral. Your character looks like a Male Medium build wearing a Men’s 3XL hoodie.
Luckily, the game takes place from your point of view. I will admit, when the game started I was a little bothered because I was supposed to lose myself in the game, and your character has probably one of the last people on Earth I could ever live with — an incredibly hyper E-girl who looks like she’s a shareholder in the only company in their time line that produces neon colors. To put it bluntly, the game had a rough start for me.
As my character struggled to find their way, however, I found myself almost immediately identifying with my character. My personal character uses he/him pronouns so I’ll be using these to describe my experience but you can also choose she/her or them/they. He laid in bed, struggling with his life and career path and I fell into the role.
You’re given a couple of choices on how you want to go job hunting that are fairly linear and designed to move you in one direction but, luckily, it was the direction I wanted to do in and my character wound up working in an arcade. From there, you meet a large array of characters right out the gate. The eccentric owner, the mysterious stern gentleman that is in charge of the finances, the quirky repair person, the bubbly mascot and a ton of different type of gamers.
This alternate reality is very familiar but also adds a ton of neat twists to things. Popular game streamers have special rigs where they clamp camera and lighting set ups to arcade cabinets that capture everything. Dance Dance Revolution games have competing dance crews. And a thing that really hit me was the slightly overweight bearded older man who hangs out there all the time to play games from his past. Yep, definitely couldn’t relate with that last one. *cough cough*
As you meet new characters you get to pick your first impression of them. Your inner monologue of how you perceive them. Do you find their personality obnoxious, do you admire them, are you attracted to them? And the friendly holographic app that lives in your phone keeps track of how you talk to people and respond to questions. It’s an interesting set up that heavily focuses on human interactive over more traditional game play goals.
You can also have various situations where you have to choose how to do your job. For example, there was a children’s birthday party and, as floor manager, I noticed three different situations but only had time to tackle too. Do I see why there’s a man swearing and causing a scene? Do I check in on the woman berating a child? Or do I try to stop some kids from putting gum on a cabinet?
As I went through these situations my choices helped the other characters form an opinion of me. In one situation, for example, I decided to bring in a witness to help explain to me what they saw happening. Why my manager wasn’t pleased with my choice, the person I brought over was a local celebrity gamer who appreciated my respect and my relationship with them grew.
Much like in real life, your choices can sometimes go wild from where you think they’re supposed to go and I appreciated that. The game definitely tries to steer you down certain paths but there’s enough options where I feel like I had a lot of control of the situations.
The most surprising aspect of this game is just how well the game makes the characters come alive. I knew these characters for a very short time before I started having real life emotional triggers. When I was having a good moment with my coworkers and my boss swung by to let us know she forgot to tell us she booked a five-year-old’s birthday party that was starting in a minute, I felt genuine panic. When a character I had zero interest in romantically started hitting on me hard, I felt fairly uncomfortable. When a character started dumping work place drama on me, I felt like I had been there a million times in previous jobs.
Outside of the roommate I mentioned earlier, every one of these characters, even the one that hit on me when I wish they wouldn’t, felt like a real person I wanted to know more about and that’s what makes these visual novel style games really click.
All in all, Arcade Spirits it’s a very solid game. With so many branching paths, I can see myself going through it multiple times just to see how it can pan out.
The art is also really good. Vibrant color schemes and expressive faces really sell the narrative, as does the insane amount of care taken to background noises that don’t seem to loop. As I was hearing the background sounds of the arcade I was occasionally distracted by what sounded like someone playing a machine that hadn’t been used in a while. It was honestly really impressive and it shows an incredible amount of love went into this and I appreciate the authenticity.