Matchmaker, Matchmaker, Make Me a Match
Okay, let’s just get this out of the way: Kokurase is exactly the kind of game you think it is. It’s an RPGMaker anime adventure game about four high schoolers helping a shy fellow classmate get up the courage to ask out the hottest boy in class. One of the bullet points on the Steam store page proudly proclaims the game’s “Teenage, Highschooler angst” as a selling point. It’s completely non-sexual, no fear of that, but there’s no way around it: Kokurase is a trashy, silly anime game that can only be described as…[masculine, first-person-shooter-playing sigh]…kawaii.
But if you’re the sort of person who’s not immediately turned away by such things, there’s a lot to like about Degica’s latest offering. Though the plot may be a bit generic at times and the presentation itself often leaves much to be desired, the quirky, personality-rich characters carry the narrative effectively and mark this as a series to watch.
The game’s first episode focuses on Sakura, a cripplingly shy freshman girl whose desire to woo Yoshimitsu, the most popular boy in school, calls her to call upon the services of a secret society known as Kokurase, or Cupid’s Helpers. The titular gang has four members, two girls and two guys: the bubbly Riho, the mysterious Meg, the spooky Kanta, and Genji, the gang’s disorganized and easygoing leader. The game, which in the style of shareware has released its first episode for free in the hopes that you’ll buy later episodes as DLC, is selling itself mainly on these four characters, and that’s a smart play.
Sakura may be ostensibly the main character, but gameplay switches between her and the four members of Kokurase, all of whom are far more interesting and do a lot more to carry the story. While Sakura can best be described as “the shy girl in every anime”, I found myself genuinely curious as to the true nature of Meg, who covers her face and skin at all times, and the good-natured teasing between the ever-optimistic Riho and the more pragmatic Genji. And in my opinion, the real show-stealer is Kanta, who inexplicably has the ability to utilize a sixth sight that lets him see through walls and sense the true nature of people’s spirits in what is otherwise a run-of-the-mill school story.
It’s goofy, sure – Kokurase’s got nothing to say to you about the human condition, no deeper themes to really dive into as a critic. But to be honest, that’s the appeal – it can be fun to take a break from AAA gaming’s love affair with the dour and serious. And Kokurase’s bizarre rituals – which only ever make sense to the gang’s members – remind me of the sort of clubs my younger brother and I would start in elementary school, all secret knocks and passwords to tree forts. And the game’s ending is a delight worthy of any sitcom, as days of preparation culminate in your having to perform intricate tasks with all the characters in order to set up the most perfect – and most ridiculous – date ever conceived.
As for the gameplay, Kokurase‘s store page calls it an “RPG”, but that’s really not accurate. It’s an adventure game, somewhere between a visual novel and more puzzle-heavy games like Corpse Party. You don’t really have any sort of inventory, but you will occasionally encounter some light puzzle-solving, usually involving remembering key phrases of dialogue or doing some task in the overworld. The sprite graphics are nothing spectacular, pretty standard fare for this sort of thing, but the hand-drawn portraits and cutscene images are quite nice, and the soundtrack is enjoyable as well, featuring different themes for each playable character which blend nicely together in the main theme.
Sadly, the rest of the presentation is pretty unimpressive. It’s clear Kokurase was made on the cheap, and even though the first episode only takes a couple hours to play through I still experienced game-breaking crashes, as well as the realization that taking a screenshot (something I have to do for my job) would take me to the main menu without saving. The game also suffers from pretty serious framerate issues, and I know it’s not a hardware issue, because it’s freaking RPG Maker. Nothing against the engine – I think it gets a lot of undeserved hate – but if I can run the latest DOOM without any problems, I should certainly be able to run this barebones-graphics game for children.
And sometimes the problem are with the actual design of the game. For example: the opening credits, which smack of something they’re going to be doing all season, are an absolute mess. For the principal characters, the text describing them is completely obscured by the artwork, and the bios for the NPCs fly by so fast there’s no way anyone on Earth could read them. Add to that the random (and possibly genuinely epilepsy-triggering) flashes of Japanese text and a six-second loop of music, and you’ve got an absolute trainwreck of a series intro. It may seem petty, but that’s a good example of how other aspects of the game – like the layout of certain areas – could have used a lot more attention to detail.
For all that, though, I really would recommend Kokurase to any fan of the genre. If nothing else, you can’t beat the zero dollar price tag, and you can try the game for yourself and see if you’re interested enough to pick up the rest of the series. For me personally, I know I’m excited to see what else the Cupid’s Helpers gang will be getting up to, and I’ll be keeping an eye out for the next episode, which will hopefully have spent a lot of time ironing out the many technical issues.
FINAL VERDICT: 3.5/5
Available on: PC (Reviewed); Publisher: Degica; Developer: galanti; Players: 1; Released: November 10, 2016 ; MSRP: Free
Full Disclosure: This review was based on a PC review copy of Kokurase provided by the publisher.