Yamato Nadeshiko; Do you know her? ‘She’ is the personification of everything beautiful in a woman. This is one of many things Tokyo School Life educates you on, as well as a proper reflection of the Japanese society, language, and the chance to romance one of three young girls.
Tokyo School Life is a visual novel published by PQube Games and developed by M2. PQube Games needs no introduction, we all know by this point that they’re the Patron Saint of Oppai for us Westerners. M2 is a very niche company but has been around for a while now, 28 years to be exact. Developing games for over a dozen consoles, they’ve certainly made a name for themselves but they’re most known for the Sega Age titles; essentially, they are masters of emulating re-released classics.
In Tokyo School Life the protagonist’s school awards the highest scoring student with an exchange student program to a sister school in Japan. It just so happens that our lucky protagonist studied harder than ever to achieve this prestigious goal! He couldn’t be more elated as he is a wholesome Japanophile who wholeheartedly wants to experience the Japanese culture. You’ll quickly come to realise that the protagonist’s sensei has rubbed off some of his idealisms onto him, construing the protagonist’s view of Japanese culture.
His first goal upon reaching Japan is to experience a Yamato Nadeshiko, a perfect idealised Japanese girl, which is quickly shot down.
You’ll meet Karin, Aoi, and Sakura, all of which you’ll not only befriend but live with as well. This is due to your dormitory being a shared residence with them, which also happens to be a shrine owned by a friend of your sensei’s. Through experiencing Japanese culture, learning the ways of life, cultivating friendship into love, you as the protagonist will get to experience Japan at it’s finest.
Tokyo School Life is a romance visual novel, meaning all the routes and choices will have endings relating to love. Though there are only three females to romance, the game is still of good length and quality.
• First up is Yayoi Karin, a kind and friendly girl to those that know her, and with tall aspirations to become an Idol. She’ll come across abrasive and hostile when first met due to circumstance, but you’ll learn she’s almost Tsundere-like.
• The second girl is Hazuki Aoi, who you’ll immediately notice is rambunctious but caring, with her heart in all the right places. Though she enjoys company and is the ‘mother’ of the shrine, she’s a feisty girl who practices karate and has a great level of athleticism.
• Lastly is Minatsugi Sakura, a closet otaku who suffers from an illness. She’s probably the kindest and most sincere girl of all three, and you’ll often find her reading or drawing.
Instead of simply being a fictional novel of one’s imagination, with influences from the holy land of Japan, this game actually reflects upon Japan’s culture, teaches you of the country, the language, society and so much more! It helps that the developer is a Japanese resident themself. I wouldn’t blame you if you came out of Tokyo School Life with a hankering to visit japan or study the lovely country for all it’s worth.
To extend the reflection above, Tokyo School Life has done what I’ve never seen before. If you know anything of Visual Novels, you’ll know that one of the marketing factoids is dialogue length, whether it be 10, 20, or 50 thousand words and that’s usually presented in the language the gamer chooses. This title not only has the option of Japanese, Hiragana, and Romaji, but it impressibly allows you to have dual subtitles, having them appear simultaneously alongside the English.
So, for those wanting to study or have basic knowledge of these languages, it’s beautifully done. Speaking of studying, all the Kanji in-game has Furigana which will aid in your reading and learning. Since Tokyo School Life is fully voice acted as well, you’ll get to learn pronunciation on all the Japanese that’ll pair with the text.
The way Tokyo School Life plays out is like your standard Visual Novel, you have the main route that’ll have some backend flags which branch you off into locked routes of different characters. Don’t let that deter you though, because as standard as it appears, it’s approached with an unorthodox style. Tokyo School Life, as stated earlier, is all about imbuing the reader with the knowledge of the Land of the Rising Sun! Think of it more like a Japanese Tour Simulator featuring a Romance Visual, if you will; you’ll learn of phrases, words, idioms, locations, foods, events, holidays, culture, everything the country will have to offer.
That isn’t to say the main routes or character routes don’t hold their own weight, they very much do! It’s just I couldn’t be more engrossed with how they approached this game!
As visual novels gain more popularity; they tend to bring new ideas to the table. Some of them offer interactivity, puzzle mechanics, location choices, etc. What Tokyo School Life does is it stays with the tried and true route but did it without ‘static images’. All of the characters are dynamic, and not just stop motion or picture changes. They are fluently done in real-time with reactions, expressions, body language, and appearance, you even see the breathing mechanics – it’s probably my favourite Visual Novel in terms of dynamic models.
The same level of detail goes into the background as well, it’s not dynamic but there’s just something so awe-inspiring about it. It’s like they took real pictures as every scene in the game lives right on the border between reality and animation – it’s just the right amount to call it ‘artwork’.
The characters in Tokyo School Life are well fleshed out, just like everything else as you can see from my endless praise so far. Take Minatsugi Sakura for example – in the very beginning of the game she lies to you about a hospitalised sister just so she could purchase the last issue of a manga which is in stock as she’s a closet Otaku who hides her true self and lives in the idealisations of other people. However, once you’re on her ‘route’, she’ll accept who she is, draw manga in the classroom openly, live for herself, and you physically see the character transform over the course of the game – it’s more than just a few traits that are developed, or a slight personality change.
When you finish a route and reflect on the character themselves, you actually feel like you’ve witnessed a journey. That’s the key thing here, Tokyo School Life’s characters all have a sense of progression that leaves you feeling like you actually got to know them.
Tokyo School Life’s immersion is sometimes disrupted by the main character though. You name him and are supposed to immerse yourself in this Visual Novel like any other – the problem is that he can be awkward more often than not. In Visual Novels, it is commonplace for the main character to have inner monologues, or thoughts, that reflect upon situations – while these often reflect what the character thinks or how they feel, with maybe some added information, it’s not often the case with this particular protagonist.
The Visual Novel is ripe with the clichés of bumping into girls and knocking them over, spilling things on them to make them wet, walking in on shower scenes, bumping into each other at the manga store, etc.
The main protagonist also often finds it necessary to reiterate the scenarios you just witnessed, without adding any more information to the situation, which gets a little annoying and redundant at times. An example is right at the beginning when you learn that the dormitory is a shrine that houses the three main girls, a place you’ll be living for two months. The protagonist will then immediately sum it up with “In other words. I’m going to be staying under one roof with these cute Japanese girls… For two whole months! This is even more fantastic than I had imagined!” It would’ve sufficed in literally half the words and could’ve been a reflection before going to bed – that would’ve been that much more appreciated.
Tokyo School Life’s choice-based routes are very accessible for gamers new to the Visual Novel genre. The overall game consists of eight choices, a final location, and then a final choice. It may not seem like a lot for those who are used to 50+ hour Visual Novels, and that’s due to the overall length of this game…
Tokyo School Life, dependent on reading speed, is somewhere between five and eight hours, and as much as I did boast about the character progressions, they are rather fast-paced and sometimes felt too direct. Sometimes things can feel rushed and not connect properly, though it’s not frequent enough to notice and you’ll often be attracted to everything else this game has to offer.
What I did like is that if you do pay attention, you’ll notice choices have different audible chimes that’ll reference different affection gains. All your choices will lead you to an ending for each girl or a bad ending, this means there is no harem-like ending though.
Tokyo School Life accomplished what it set out to do, teach you about Japan whilst romancing three adorable girls. This one simple feature, the dual subtitles, left me wanting this to become the norm in all Visual Novels – it’s such an interesting mechanic which almost educates you whilst providing entertainment. However, what Tokyo School Life could take from others is how to portray the protagonist and dial back on stating the obvious so often. Despite the few flaws and annoyances, the game offers multiple relationship routes, accessible gameplay, and stunning aesthetics, it is a beautiful and endearing Visual Novel which I honestly recommend to fans of the genre.
Tokyo School Life£12.99
- - Aesthetically, the game looks brilliant
- - Dynamic animations on all of the characters
- - Very well-done character progression
- - Fully voice-acted and sounds great
- - The dual subtitles, in English and Japanese, is a great idea and works really well
- - The Protagonist is a little annoying and not very interesting
- - Occasional rushing/pacing problems
- - No epilogue/post-story wrap-up
- - For a Visual Novel, it's not as long as I'd usually come to expect