“ Developer: 773 (Nanami) / Publisher: Nyu Media „
Although when it comes to gaming I am more of a console/handheld player, I have recently decided to expand my gamer palette by trying out some of the PC doujin (indie) titles available to purchase through the Rice Digital webpage. My first port of call was a visual novel style adventure titled Cherry Tree High Comedy Club. What attracted me to the release was the unique premise were players are tasked with aiding high school student Miley, who dreams of following in the footsteps of famous stand-up comic artists, in establishing an after school comedy club.
In order to meet this goal Miley will have to use her powers of persuasion to attract at least five club members to her cause. Unfortunately for our heroine time is of the essence as there are only two months left before the school board closes registrations on new clubs. When the game kicks off Miley can count on the support of her best friend Harriet, but she will need to entice three others to sign up for her comedy group to get it sanctioned as an official school club. Oh and before you ask, no you cannot coerce fellow students to join via bribery or using Miley's feminine wiles!
From Miley's circle of friends there are a total of six potential candidates for the player to recruit. The targets in question include Viv the Swedish transfer student, Miley's punk rock loving friend Cindy, May who owns a struggling candy store, Curtis the son of a famous comedian, Sara the shy lass who recently moved into the dorm Miley resides in and Tyler who has been accused of being a stalker due to his obsession with collating information on the female student body. The game plays much like the dating sims we seldom see outside of Japan, only instead of wooing love interests you are befriending chums with the purpose of getting them to join the club. As you interact with the six targets their friendship levels gradually increase from one (the lowest) to five (the highest.) Each level up rewards the player with a humorous clip or a cut scene that reveals some back-story pertaining to the characters in question.
If I had to compare this game to something else I would say that it reminds me a little of a watered down Persona 4, with simplified social interactions and no turn based combat. Like in the aforementioned Vita RPG, each day is broken down into morning, afternoon and evening. You are free to explore Miley's town to find empty bottles that can be sold for cash, chat with friends or take advantage of the services offered by the various retail outlets you come across. Time passes whenever you perform a substantial action so the key to success is organizing yourself to balance out making friends whilst not neglecting important stuff like meeting homework deadlines (in the game I was a good boy and got my homework done ASAP, in stark contrast to my youth when I would leave it for the last second.)
Raising friendship levels simply requires that you travel to the location were your chum is hanging out and then speaking to them. It's possible to engage in idle chatter or specific topics (such as video games, romance, travel etc.) If you happen to mention a topic your pal is interested in there is a greater chance that their friendship level will increase. You can also improve the effectiveness of your conversational skills by boosting Miley's repertoire of knowledge, which is accomplished by reading books/magazines and watching TV/movies. Some of these activities don't come cheap though so, if you intend to get your hands on a novel or buy a cinema ticket, be prepared to earn income by expending free time at your part time job sweeping the local shrine's dusty floors.
In terms of localization I think the team that translated the game into English have done a fine job. I did spot a couple of typographical errors, I was surprised got past quality control, but they were minor typos that didn't affect my enjoyment of the game. One concern however is that I suspect the game's dub has changed the story's location to try to appeal to a western audience. Characters mention that they live in the States, but the school Miley frequents looks identical to what I have seen in high school anime shows - not to mention that Miley's town has cherry blossom trees and even a Japanese shrine! I understand renaming characters with hard to pronounce Japanese names or tweaking gags that get lost in translation, but changing the story's setting seems needless especially when you consider that the average player who would be interested in this game is likely to be a rabid otaku (anime geek.)
For a game put together by just one guy, I am impressed by Cherry Tree's presentation. As per games of this ilk, well-drawn anime portraits and text boxes are used to put across the verbal exchanges between the cast. The in game graphics are made up of cute sixteen bit sprites, which should prove popular with anyone who grew up playing the Super Nintendo back in the day. The soundtrack is composed of various upbeat tunes that go well with the game's cheery tone. The game's script may not have any gut-busting laugh out moments, ironically for a story revolving around a comedy club, but the silly antics of Miley's group will provide some chuckles.
Cherry Tree High Comedy Club proves to be an enjoyable game providing you know what you are getting into. If you are expecting a deep game were character dialogue is determined by Mass Effect style conversation trees, that influence the story, you will be disappointed. Those seeking a simple visual novel were you pick an action and then read the resulting consequences will however have a blast. My only real gripe is that it only takes three hours to run through the story. Some more content would have been welcome, but this is offset by the fact that there is some replay value to be had.
On my initial run I recruited three characters so I am now replaying the game to see if I can enlist the remaining three to the club. Once I'm done with that I'll likely play the game again to try and unlock the best ending, obtainable by recruiting all six friends in one go (thankfully the repertoire boosts you earn carry over to a new game making things much easier on subsequent visits to Cherry Tree.) The game's length shouldn't be a huge concern either as it only costs a fiver. If that sounds too costly be aware that both Rice Digital and Steam, who sell the game, have sales from time to time. Waiting around for a comedy game discount may therefore be worth it as he who laughs last laughs best.