Arcade Spirits is a game I first came across a few years back at EGX. A dating-sim based around arcades, I played a preview of the game and was interested to see what the full game offered. Although it had a PC release back in February of last year, it wasn’t until now that I managed to review it. With the release of Arcade Spirits on PS4, Nintendo Switch and Xbox it seemed the perfect time to finally see what the full game had in store.
Arcade Spirits follows the story of the player’s custom character, so I’ll refer to the character as you. The game begins just after you lost your job, something the game says happens quite often. You insist that the family curse is at fault. A curse that, as soon as you start to become happy, strikes you down. You recently moved from the suburbs to the city, and it’s safe to say that so far things aren’t going great for you.
Your roommate recommends you download a life coach app called IRIS. IRIS is designed to help those achieve their dreams and offers to help you find your dream job; as well as your dream partner. You download the free version of IRIS, but for some reason, IRIS becomes sentient. It feels an urge to help you and so upgrades itself to the premium version. Armed with a premium IRIS, you take a job working in an arcade.
In Arcade Spirits arcades have once again become a hot spot. They are popular with older gamers looking for some nostalgia, and younger gamers playing for the first time. From here the story begins. Will you find your dream partner? Can you make this plucky little arcade the talk of the town? That all depends on the choices you make throughout the game.
Arcade Spirits plays as a visual novel dating simulator. It’s all fairly standard in terms of actual gameplay. Character models appear and screen, and disappear when they’re finished talking. Lots of reading, and quite a bit of decision making. You can even decide how flirty you wish to be right off the bat, and even choose not to romance anyone.
In terms of the responses you can make, IRIS explains that there are five to choose from. They are Quirky, Steady, Kindly, Gutsy and Basically (neutral). Every time you pick a response, your score for that trait will increase. This, in turn, affects what you can say at certain points in the game, as well as which of the characters in the game you can charm.
If you decide to go full gusty, then, later on, you may not be able to use a kindly response. This becomes a more relevant issue when the game presents you with an Intense Identity Situation. These are key situations in the game, in which you can only respond with one of two options. Those options just happen to be the two traits you are currently scored the highest on, other than the neutral approach. It sounds as if it would be a little restrictive, however, it actually adds to the game. Makes it feel more authentic.
A nice feature in Arcade Spirits was the ability to be able to choose to hide which response would sit best with each character. This is what I chose to do. It felt like the right way to play on my first playthrough. In subsequent playthroughs I would probably not use this feature if I was looking to romance a certain character.
From time to time, as you work at the arcade, there will be situations that need diffusing. Arguments between customers, abusive customers; the sadly standard stuff for most people who work with the public. In this time you must pick which situations to tackle, as you won’t be able to tackle them all. Who you decide to help, and the way you decide to help them, influences your relationship with that person.
Graphics & Audio
Graphically the game is actually rather pleasing to look at. The aesthetic matches the backstory to the game, and the character models are well designed. The backgrounds could do with a little work though, as in some places they are rather bland. Backgrounds are also reused a little too much for my liking personally, but this isn’t a dealbreaker. In terms of audio, Arcade Spirits once again manages to match the aesthetic of the backstory. The retro-sounding music matches the heyday of arcades, and even the small sound effects add to the overall experience.
All of this praise being said, Aracde Spirits is not without it’s issues. My main issue would be the inconsistent levels of actual dialogue from the character. You may find yourself talking to a character for a good few minutes. Yet in that time you may find that you only hear them say one word, such as “Yay!” or “Hmmm…” but there will be a mountain of text on the screen. You may find that of the 3 minutes you talk to them, they speak for 30 seconds in the middle and that is it. It was annoyingly inconsistent. No speech at all would even have been better than inconsistent levels of dialogue.
My only other major gripe with the game comes from the screen between chapters. Every time you begin a chapter you are greeted with the above image. At first, I assumed it was because I had just started the game; fair enough. After a few times, it just became … well obnoxious if I’m being honest. It was also counter-productive. I assume it was shown to reinforce who is behind the game, but in the end, I ended up not caring.
If I had to sum up my experience of Arcade Spirits I would say that it is, overall, an enjoyable visual novel/dating sim. The game itself is aesthetically pleasing, with an interesting story and characters I couldn’t help but find myself connecting to. The game tackles some modern-day issues very well, such as that of mental health and the issues that online personalities face. A worthwhile game to play, despite the issues it has.
Arcade Spirits offers a great visual novel/dating sim experience. Characters are easy to connect with, and the aesthetic of the game fits perfectly with the game’s setting. Arcade Spirits brilliantly tackles such as mental health, and pressure on online personalities to perform, adding to the ability to connect with the characters. Unfortunately, inconsistent dialogue and an obnoxious start screen at the beginning of every chapter take away from what is otherwise a fun experience.