People may be interested about how the Love Plus gameplay works. Depending on how you look at it, this may either be the most innovative dating sim ever or a freaking marketing gimmick. After playing for almost a whole day, I managed to get one girl and move on to the second part of the game, which is supposed to be the, er… Tamagotchi part. Anyway, enough for intros, this may be a long one. Let’s start.
She’s Nene Anegasaki. She works part-time at a local family restaurant, on which you will too. She also attends your school, where she is 1 year senior to you. Yup, she has the elder sister vibe, the type of character I kinda don’t like the most in bishoujo games and anime. Somehow she passes for me because she’s not as overly mature as the other onee-san types. You will meet the other two girls at school, one would be a tennis player (Manaka Takane) and a tsundere (Rinko Kobayakawa) which may be the favorite for the lot of you. For one, Rinko is voiced by returning seiyuu Sakura Tange of Cardcaptor Sakura fame. For my game notes though, we have to stick with onee-chan here.
THE DATING SIM PHASE
I have played a lot of visual novels but this may be one of the few times I’ve dealt with gameplay other than just dealing with decision-point choices. Recently I have also played a bit of Time Leap Paradise, where you schedule events every week and try to build up points and cash for romance and Idolmaster-esque concert events for your girl. The same goes for Love Plus. This game will have you schedule four tasks per day, one at each time slot from morning to evening. With each event you build up (or reduce) one or more of your four personal statistics, namely Health, Knowledge, Sensibility and Charms. You need these bars to rise in order for character-specific events to open up. In the case of Nene, most of her events open up at the third time sked, when we usually go for the part-time job task. You know a character-specific event is available whenever a little girl icon opens at one of the tasks. It’s usually at the third time sked.
You have 100 days to court your girl. For my first playthrough, I managed to make Nene confess by the 78th day. Impressive, but below 50 days may be possible. This will be an easy game for those who fully understand Japanese. As for me, it’s hard to decipher many aspects. For the stats, I focused more on Sense and Charm, because I thought Health would be mostly for the tennis girl and Knowledge for the bookish tsundere. Maybe I was wrong, because the visual cues would tend to go for Nene sometimes in the other stats. In any case, I won with only those two stats full, and the other two stats at half. That should be enough assuming you follow the girl you want always, and avoid the others using bad decision choices.
There seems to be a very specific task for a specific day required for each girl. This is clued onto the player by the texting system. After a few more events with Nene around, she eventually gave me her cellphone number somehow. You can text the girl, or she can text you randomly, before sleeping and also before morning scheduling of tasks. You reply with predetermined choices of course, but sometimes she doesn’t reply to a text. I wonder if I did some choices wrong. Some of her texts will even remind or warn you of some task that you need to do at a very specific day. You will know this (assuming you replied correctly to her text) when there is a “check” icon. If you go for that task, your stats will rise higher than usual. Thankfully I got enough right. You need a good balance in the tasks. As I said, some will reduce especially if you didn’t do it at the time that the girl probably preferred you to have done it.
How the girl gets closer to you is quite interesting. At first, I see Nene at school and I’m the one calling out for her to chat. As time passes, she will be the one to approach you instead. Early on, I was the one offering to walk together with her after school, but later one she will be the one taking the initiative. Also, there were no morning events until the 40th day I think, when she started meeting me walking towards school. This is where Love Plus seemed impressive. Each of these events has some unique dialogue. Yes, even the repeating mundane events like walking to and from school, as well as idle chats at school and also in the evening. She always had something else to say. I wonder when will start to notice her lines to repeat… of course there will be a limit here. But having thousands of lines of voice in a DS cartridge is a huge feat.
I can’t say there’s much of a story in Nene’s scenario. It actually seemed shallow even. Without spoiling much, basically you get closer to Nene because of the part-time work. As your senior though, she starts to feel pressure when you instead grow to be better at the part time job. Nene seemed to see herself as the dependable senpai, but she started to fall for you and swallow her pride. Sweet but shallow story, but maybe as the game tries to aim for reality this is very much in line.
THE STEADY PHASE (preview)
So, with her confessing, she started to call me by the first nickname. Actually you will decide how you would be called by the end of the first part. The game opens up to… well there is the much-advertised Real Time Clock mode, in which the 4-task day would run in real time. Surprise to me, there’s also a Skip Mode where you schedule and play through many 4-task days as you would in the first part. Anyway, this phase adds more gameplay. Aside from the text messaging system, you can also “call” your girlfriend, either if you want to meet for a little chat and “cuddling” (ehem, later explained), or to schedule/cancel a “date” (a more eventful form of chats and cuddlings). You also have a freaking internet inside, where you can read the news related to various stuff around your city, probably to check out new movies, events, places, horoscopes and stuff. I have not reached the part where this is even useful yet.
There is a map where you can check out locations where you can take your girlfriend out on a date (take note that sometimes “she” will call you out for a date too). Some locations have level bars that rise as you frequent that location. I have not leveled up one so I don’t know what will happen yet, but let me say that each location has a number of unique events on it. Me and Nene have been to the karaoke bar twice. While there are some repeating conversations in each, there have been unique ones which surprised me. I didn’t hear her sing at the first one, but she “sang” a bit at the second outing. Whoa. With more than 20 locations (and who knows if a new location pops up someday), there is a wealth of stuff to do.
I hadn’t seem to have unlocked some parts yet. There is a option related to events and presents where there’s nothing in it yet. I assume that this will be related to the internet function. When I checked the gallery, half the CG I haven’t unlocked for Nene yet (30 in total). There are also Dream events (maybe unlocked when you open the DS at night). I only experienced 1 out of 10 total. This is where I realized Love Plus’ gimmicky marketing scheme. All in all, this is a slow-paced item unlock and discovery system. Even with the Skip Mode, you wont experience the entirety of the game in one go. At RTC, you even need to wait for the real Christmas or Valentines Day to get whatever event is in there. There is a time-travel option in RTC though so you can progress like Hiro Nakamura if you want.
Okay, let’s go to the “cuddling” part. There are some events (like walking to and from school) where you can tap the girl to get a reaction. Sometimes if you tap her at the right places she will open to you for cuddling her face. As seen in Manaka’s example above… this gameplay is so cheesy, embarassing, and weird. You need to swipe at parts of her face to collect hearts. If the colors start turning blue you may want to swipe elsewhere. I somehow managed to collect 5 hearts (not the max I think) which granted me to kiss her 5 times. All of this tapping, cuddling and kissing seems random. She may not like the parts you tapped, cuddled, or kissed. The kissing part though may have visual cues when she wants to be kissed at the cheek, nose or lips. Oh, I forgot to mention. You still have statistics in this part of the game, so if you don’t cuddle her right the date might be a disaster and your stats lessen. If your stats lessen you might need to do the tasks more. She may not ask you for a date, or she will cancel one, if your stats are low. Heh. I wonder if a break-up is possible.
You may wonder about a girl’s magical transformations in this game. Sometimes in conversations or text messages she will ask you what kind of clothes or hairstyles you prefer. Indeed this works. By the second date she wore a ponytail and more casual clothes to please me. If you’re good enough the changes may be permanent over time. I will want to make her less of an onee-chan type. I wonder if it’s even possible…
Finally, the odd Love Plus speaking mode. You speak to her through the microphone. This sucks for me. It’s not my Japanese, I think I have not discovered the “specific” words in which she will react correctly. I try to ask her about her favorite movie genre, and she answers back how she loves casual clothes. She will also ask about your favorite color, clothes, etc here, and it might affect those transformations I mentioned. There seem to be unlocks over here as well. Also, I need to mention that there is a limited point system for the game tasks, so you can’t just text or call for her too often each day in the RTC mode. Those points can be replenished by merely moving to the next day, or talking to her through this speaking mode.
Whew. As you can see, this is some kind of dating simulation indeed. While I don’t think this breaks new grounds, it’s innovative at least in terms of the after-confession gameplay, something which I rarely see in similar games anyway. Of course, this will be the lame part for some people, because the conversations with the virtual girl will be kinda story-less. The game will mainly depend on the “charm” of the three heroines by this time to keep the interest going. I only had this game for a couple of days. I don’t usually play a game at years lengths unless it’s an online game. Offline games like this would rely on the randomness to keep it interesting. Whether the slow and random unlock system would keep “my” interest going, I wonder. I would say, Nene is charming enough for now. It’s another matter if she’s good enough for me to keep playing a DS game for weeks or months. Time will tell.