Title: Kowloon Highschool Chronicle
Release Date: February 4, 2021
Reviewed On: Switch
Publisher: Arc System Works
I’m really into the idea of a game that I couldn’t play growing up, finding a way into my life. Kowloon Youma Gakuen Ki was initially released in 2004 on PlayStation 2 in Japan from developer Shout! Design Works. However, it was never localized, and I knew nothing about it.
So when Arc System Works and developer Toybox announced that the newly remastered version would be coming west as Kowloon High-School Chronicle, I was thrilled at the idea that I could play a game that went under my radar for so long yet had an adventure visual novel appeal that I’ve grown to love in recent years.
I didn’t expect that Kowloon High-School Chronicle would resonant so well with my younger self’s imagination and craving for adventure. Not to mention my obsession with Indiana Jones.
Kowloon High-School Chronicle has players take on the role of a treasure hunter who has great skills in the profession. After the tutorial mission and introduction, he is given a new case to investigate an underground tomb in the cemetery near Kamiyoshi high school.
The Rosetta organization creates an identity for him where you can choose the general interests on a report card, and then you’re sent off to school to make friends and investigate. You make friends with some of your classmates, who explain that curses exist at the school, and the last transfer student didn’t last too long, which is around the time that a new curse appears tied to the very ruins you’re looking for.
The game is split up into visual novel and dungeon-crawler segments. The visual novel portion has you hanging out with friends at school and attempting to appeal to their needs through a choice system. The system is bizarre, and those who have played Tokyo Twilight Ghost Hunters will notice the similarities right away. There are eight emotions, three base reactions, and then extreme versions of them.
Emotions are pretty much Excited, Mad, Sad, and Love. If you hold the response down, you’ll be able to do get a more emotional response within those categories. Depending on your responses, your classmate will react, and if you hear a ding, you probably did something right. The relationships increase throughout the game, and you’ll be able to get even closer to your chosen best girl if you play your cards right.
Interestingly, your grades are also determined by if you go to school or not. It’s totally possible to ditch, which will affect your grade in a class. Further, as curses appear, you will make friends who will add their names to your address book for you to add them to your party and use them in the tomb.
The choice system is very confusing and, if I’m being honest, I don’t really understand it even after 8 hours of playing. Still, I have a general idea of how a character will react, so at least it didn’t ruin my relationship with best girl Nanase. The characters’ reactions are simply a few text boxes, and then they’ll move on, but it’s always funny to see them flustered or surprised by my responses.
The entire game is written in episodes as if it were an anime. There are several curses you’ll encounter, and each one gets its own tomb within the underground ruin. This is not explained initially as I felt lost as to what to do within the first area. After each episode, you’ll get some insight into the antagonists of this adventure, who is even more deadly than the curses that you fight.
During adventure segments in the tomb, the game turns to a first-person view, and you’ll be able to explore various rooms. Still, the layout is a bit jarring when you first enter because the place you need to go is directly behind you, but you’re dropped in a huge room with tons of locked doors and no real explanation of what to do.
This will be a recurring theme in the game as you find yourself hitting roadblocks and solving puzzles with minimal context given. That’s when you realize that you’re exactly like Indiana Jones, and every puzzle solved after is just another badge on your adventurer’s sash.
Puzzles encountered in the tomb can be straightforward in concept, but they always seem to have something that will stump you. Some advice will be to read the description of items you acquire as it tells you what you need to create other items. One puzzle gave me coal and asked me to make fire, so I made it more difficult thinking I had to make a torch with a stick and linen combo. However, come to find out, I just needed to wrap coal with a tissue.
Items can be found during all portions of the game. During intermissions at school and during the evening around town, you can visit areas and pick up items. You’ll soon have a pretty decent collection of random stuff around your room that can be combined to make other items. It’s important to collect items even if you don’t know what they are needed for because the synthesis system will require them at some point.
Then there are battles, which take place in the tomb. These are traps that spring on the player. You have an allocated AP to use each turn that is consumed by your actions. After, the enemy will take their turn. Depending on the difficulty you set, these fights can be exceptionally challenging. After a few encounters, you’ll gain level, and your stats can be adjusted on your report card.
Boss encounters also take place in the dungeons and can be rather challenging. It’s best to be completely prepared for these encounters with HP and AP items, so you don’t die. Ammo is also needed, and there are even some rare weapons found within the walls of the tomb that can be blown up.
Kowloon High-School Chronicle filled me with so many emotions while playing. I was engaged during visual novel segments because many of the interactions had to do with the curse that I will face in the evening. Also, you don’t want to mess up responses and hurt the relationship with your friends. During adventure segments, your puzzle-solving skills are put to the test, and I was on edge trying to figure out what the game wanted me to do or remember some cryptic phrase to progress.
All this doesn’t even touch on the fact that there are also side missions that you can accept for money to buy new weapons. These missions are delivered in clues to the player that they’ll have to figure out based on a musical note that plays if they enter a room in the tomb tied to a quest. There’s also another game entirely that you can play in a room starring a detective who gets a case pretty much thrown into his lap.
The gameplay is exceptionally cryptic in Kowloon High-School Chronicle and not for those who want everything handed to them. It shows its age in some assets that look completely washed out on screen. However, the animated enemies and voiced audio was a great addition to this updated version, and I thought the localization team did an amazing job here. Given that game’s cryptic puzzles, I’m sure it was not easy to make sense of them in English.
Getting through Kowloon High-School Chronicle will make you feel like a true adventurer. It’s not user friendly at all, though, and you’ll be stumbling on the controls hours into playing. Still, similar to the relics you discover in-game, this adventure is a product of its time and really fun to play. I think it holds up in many ways in terms of illustration, character interaction, and unique puzzles that make it a must place for western fans of the genre.
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