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!
Roommates is the story of the residence of a campus residence called Latin House, specifically the freshmen Anne and Max. Anne is a structured bookworm looking to let loose in her first year of college and Max is a consistent slacker using college as a means to get his band prestige. Each game covers their first year of college and the misadventures that follow, along with forming friendships and maybe something more.
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 developed 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
As refreshing as the story can be, the Presentation is pretty hit or miss. One comment pointed out the lack of defined male sexual features, while the women are either DD Cup or over. While I’m not suggesting that their genitals should hang down to their knees, the lack of nipples is just bizarre. Regardless of the author’s feelings on the subject, if they can draw Isabella without a second thought, they could’ve made sure the guys were anatomically correct.
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.
The soundtrack, however, is very good and fits the tone of the game. The LeetStreet Boys are long-time collaborators with Winter Wolves and usually give their games a unique sound, so kudos on their continued relationship.
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.
There are four relationships to pursue and each relationship clocks out to roughly two hours if you just skip through the stat raising screens. So, 100% completion means you’re looking at around eight to nine hours of game time. The individual price is $14.99 per story and $25.98 for both. However, as I stated earlier, you really only need one and it comes down to your preferences. There is replay value for those just looking for a bit of fun and one full play through will lead to some good laughs.
Roommates isn’t exactly setting the world on fire with its ambition, but it doesn’t need to. It’s an enjoyable excursion that finds fun and entertainment in simple relationships rather than grand quests or star-crossed lovers. It has fun with its premise and that allows for the rest of us to have fun in the ridiculousness as well. And while it is far from perfect, especially on the Presentation front, after the slip ups of the previous year it is nice to be able to enjoy one of Winter Wolves’ games for what it is rather than what it should’ve been. If this is a sign of things to come, 2014 is going to be a very good year for the group.