Arcade Spirits (2019)
Developer: Fiction Factory Games
Despite the fact that I actually started playing Arcade Spirits way back when it was released in February, I just now finally completed it. I've been looking forward to reviewing this game since then and, what do you know, the review happens to fittingly fall on Pride Month! Arcade Spirits a visual novel about following your dream of running an arcade, and finding romance (if you so choose) along the way.
Arcade Spirits' character creator isn't the most customizable in terms of giving you every type of look and accessory, but it does give you the freedom to be whoever you want to be. Identify yourself with whichever pronouns you prefer, without picking your gender, just pick the way you want your hair, body, and clothes to look. Also, despite the fact that Arcade Spirits has a large focus on romance, you're also given the option to not romance at all, if that's what you prefer. Arcade Spirits shows that it's not so hard to make your game accessible and relatable to everyone. However, if you do choose to be open to romance, you've got quite a set of options: QueenBee, Naomi, Gavin, Percy, Teo, and Ashley. The choices you make not only influence your romancing of individual characters, but they determine your character's personality traits as well. If you're putting energy into getting a specific character to like you, the game will show you as your points increase with them.
As I mentioned above, I took my time with Arcade Spirits. My partner and I like to play through visual novels together, so we played this one together when we both had time, a bit every week or so. I was constantly surprised with how much content there was to this game. Every time I thought I was coming close to the end, another big twist was thrown in the story. We only played through this game once, and we spent 16 hours playing, way more than we expected. There's also so many branches along the way - you could choose a different romantic partner, different story-altering decisions. It's a little mind-blowing to me how many routes this has for an indie game, but I'd need to be invested to spend 20+ hours playing if I wanted to try doing all of them. It definitely wasn't easy to decide who to pursue, especially between the very sweet Naomi and the outspoken, bold QueenBee. They were our top two candidates but in the end, QueenBee won us over. Thankfully, before making your decision, you have plenty of time to spend alone time and make moves on any of these eligible bachelors/bachelorettes.
Arcade Spirits takes place in the future not too far away, except in a timeline different than our own. There's one just one big difference: in this world, the video game crash of 1983 never happened (including Atari's famous E.T. debacle). This was an early-game explanation of the world, which I found really clever and amusing. Due to this difference in history, videogames are even more widely respected and arcades are still around, acting as much more popular forms of entertainment than they are in our real world. The character you play is relatable to many young adults/"millennials" - living with a roommate, trying to find a job they care about, and trying their best to make rent. Their luck seems to turn when an AI assistant on their phone helps them find their "dream job", which turns out to be quite simple: a job at a local arcade. However, from this point on, the protagonist finds people they care about and a job they feel invested in.
Arcade Spirits includes voice-acting, not for the full game, but for quite a good bit of it, which is honestly better. All the voices fit perfectly for their character, and the dialogue feels realistic for each character and definitely adds to their development. The developers chose a diverse cast, and each of them bringing life to the characters. I only have a problem with one of them - Hamza. He's a wealthy arcade cabinet collector, who is played up as a "middle-eastern prince" way too hard. I'm not sure if the voice actor legitimately had this accent or it was played up for the character, but it just didn't feel believable. His "extra-ness" was on purpose, I'm sure, as he even refers to himself in third person... However, it just didn't work for me, and I just hurried through his parts to be over.
Once you start spending time with the cast of characters, all somehow involved in gaming, you get to hear about what their life is like in each of these areas. Also, since you work in an arcade, there are entire games invented within the world Arcade Spirits, such as "Moopy" and "Fist of Destruction" - the developers even went through the trouble of showing what these games look like, in the art style that fits each of them. This doesn't mean there aren't references to real life games, of course, there's a good bit of that too from these "gamer" characters. One small complaint is early-game story arcs that were really interesting, and even a little spooky, that I feel were not carried through to completion. I won't say the specifics due to it being a spoiler, but specifically I enjoyed a scene and reference to a real-life videogame "horror story" that you get to experience in Arcade Spirits.
Arcade Spirits is a lovely, diverse, and impressively complex visual novel. Through this game, you become invested not only in your character's love life and career, but that of the other characters who become your close friends. Just when you think you know where the story's going, things get very weird, and sometimes even very difficult, but you always have back-up in facing your obstacles. I recommend Arcade Spirits as a very LGBTQ+ friendly visual novel full of loveable characters, romance, game references, and story-branching choices.
Arcade Spirits is available on PC.
Played on: PC
Playtime: 16 hrs