Some time back, Tokimeki Memorial came to my attention. While I’m a fan of both visual novels and in-game social systems (think your Personas, Fire Emblems, Animal Crossings, and obviously The Sims), I haven’t done particular reading on either subject. So while it’s been running for decades at this point and apparently did a lot to popularize dating simulation games as a whole, it’s not especially strange that it only came across my radar in the last several months.
(If you’re Capsulejay, thanks for pointing it out! If you’re not, I recommend you go read his blog; it’s a wealth of chummy posts about games both old and new, and the reason I’ve been jamming to the Crypt of the Necrodancer soundtrack recently.)
The first thing that struck me about Tokimeki Memorial (aside from its reputation as grandpappy of its genre) was the apparent on its game’s systems. A lot of games that get pegged as “dating sims” really boil down to a set dialogue trees that you need certain number of “relationship” points to access – sometimes even just the dialogue trees.
Tokimeki, though, appears much less start-to-end in its approach. There are heavy time management factors, a full range of social stats that come into play, the need to actively manage social standing with multiple characters simultaneously, and other tricky gameplay elements depending on the entry.
It’s not just a game about social interaction, it’s a game designed around emulating the tricky feeling of navigating social spaces in a time when you’re still building yourself up as a person. We just don’t see a whole lot of those in the West, which makes Tokimeki Memorial deeply intriguing (granted, its ’90s-anime aesthetics speak to me).
With that said, I doubt that I’ll ever play a single one of them.
The thing is, the games aren’t even translated for the most part. Even the existing, very unfinished fan-translation of the original is notoriously difficult to get working and (as noted) isn’t even complete.
There’s a major caveat here for the “Girls’ Version” spinoff series, most of which seem playable in English to varying degrees. But I’m passing over those here because they’re Otome titles aimed squarely at a female audience and centered around forming romantic relationships with boys.
I realize that’s a deeply unfair double-standard, provided how many visual novels and other games with “dating sim” elements (a limited pool to begin with) lock the player into a male role and provide no romantic options targeting men. Still, it’s enough to make me keep looking elsewhere.
Even were I to learn some Japanese (heck, if my blog posts are any indication, I’ve got the interest) and attempt to read the original text on my own, its focus on dialogue and stat management mean having to second-guess your own interpretation can be mission-critical, and the sheer word count in these games is daunting.
I could follow a translation guide, sure, but the nature of randomized events complicates things, and matching up two screens of text the entire time feels more like a homework assignment than a game.
And you can bet your bottom dollar that this series looks dead in the water to anyone with the business pull to get it translated and released internationally in any official capacity.
So it’s kind of dead on every front.
Which is a bit of a shame, seeing as most of the meaningful alternatives in the genre don’t appear to be much better off. Regardless, it’s like not having access to Street Fighter (albeit for a much narrower audience). Other games in the same space will get most of the same points across, sure, but nothing else is quite the same in trendsetting power or significance.
I still like the idea of it very much, though. A properly-thought-out approximation of a whole social ecosystem? With more character build options to consider than many role-playing games, a broad cast to play against, and a sentimental, humorous atmosphere to boot? Very appetizing, especially considering its relative lack of competition in Western markets.
And I could be wrong – maybe curiosity will someday push me to get over my reservations and date some cute boys in the DS games.
But for now, it’s something that’s nice to admire from a distance.