Lover Pretend Review – Concealed Feelings of Love

    Title: Lover Pretend
    Developer: Otomate, Idea Factory
    Release Date: December 01, 2022
    Reviewed On: Switch
    Publisher: Aksys Games
    Genre: Adventure, Visual Novel, Otome

Otome games come in all sorts of different ways to present their stories, but one sub-genre stood out for me: Romantic comedy, or romcom, for short. After experiencing one title in both last year and this, I was just yearning for more comedies like this, because I just love to get myself some solid entertainment from the banter and interactions. So naturally, I was very excited to see if Lover Pretend would live up to my already lofty expectations.

In Lover Pretend, our story begins with Chiyuki Ueda, an aspiring scriptwriter who was raised by her mother and grandmother when she was little, with no recollection of her real biological father. Her only memoir of who he could be lies in an old romance movie her mother once wrote the script for, titled “Pretend to Love”. In a stroke of luck however, Chiyuki lands a new job thanks to her college mentor Eiichirou Asagi, where she becomes part of a movie production by none other than Director Makino, who just so happened to be also involved with the movie.

There are four love interests this time. First, we have Kazuma Kumikubo, a stylist and the main character’s childhood friend; Yukito Sena, a fashion model who is known for his flirty attitude; Harumi Makino, a college student and the son of the movie’s director Yuzo Makino, Riku Nishijima, a rising star young actor. There’s also a secret finale route, which only unlocks after you’ve played the other four.

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Nice Piofiore poster you got going there in the background, game.

Most of the routes have your typical clichés, and the comedy is really light-hearted. True to its moniker, all of them have the poor Chiyuki roped up in a situation that requires her to “pretend a relationship” in one way or another. Perhaps the one that caught my eye the most however was Kazuma’s because even though it starts with your typical childhood troupe at the beginning, it’s also where I felt the love between him and the protagonist was more genuine. The other routes also had some punch to them, but in general, but Kazuma was just the type of dorky friend that made it really funny and entertaining.

There are also some back stage stories that you can watch, but I’ll be truthful when I say: I completely forgot they existed. You don’t get any indication when a new Back Stage is unlocked, nor are you given the option to instantly go watch it. Since they offer some extra conversations between the love interests while Chiyuki is not present, as well as dialogue from the main story with a different point of view, it felt odd that they were just shoveled into a sub-menu.

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Speaking of menus, the localization team sure went there with the font choice. The keen-eyed might notice that it’s the same one that is utilized in Variable Barricade, but therein lies the problem. It seems the translation team wasn’t informed that this condensed typeface would be the font they would use, so you’ll frequently see the lines break off really early, despite there having a lot more space to work with the dialogue.

Furthermore, there were also some formatting issues in the Pretend Time mechanic, such as instances where the question number was missing, or the text was not centered well at all. This didn’t bother me too much, but considering the line break issue was also a thing in the Japanese version, I can sort of see how this might’ve slipped through the QA cracks.

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The soundtrack of Lover Pretend is not that memorable, but it’s not poor either, with only two or three soundtracks really catching my interest. The game also offers a toggle that will automatically reduce the volume of the BGMs while a character’s voice plays out, which leads to a broader focus on the characters’ voices instead of the actual soundtrack. Even during tense moments, it doesn’t carry enough of a weight.

It’s hard for me to describe how I felt about every route without clawing my way deep into spoiler territory, but somehow, it felt like something was missing in them all, because you’re given a completely different interpretation by the end of it all. Furthermore, though there are only five routes in total, they are all rather short, especially since from your second playthrough and onwards, you can practically skip the three first chapters outright, which makes up for almost half of the entire timeline.

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At certain times in a love interest’s route, you’ll be face-to-face with the Pretend Time mechanic, where you’ll be asked a series of questions that you must answer according to the situation.  I’ll admit that I had to restart the game a couple of times since, well, both the Save and Load features are entirely blocked off during the segment, and I always seemed to miss either one question. Now, my main gripes with this mode? It sometimes feels like a Quick-Time Event that was shoehorned into this game.

It can be deceptively hard to get all of the answers right because it’s not very clear cut on which answer is deemed “correct”. It also seems that even if you miss a question or two, you can still get through to the happy ending, which puts this mechanic’s usefulness into question.

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On the surface, it looks and feels like a very well-written base, but it also feels the writers of Lover Pretend didn’t really plan for a proper end to the story, because not only is the finale route extremely short, but I was left with more questions rather than answers. Furthermore, there is a lot of wasted potential on some routes as well, making some routes feel really odd when it comes to their foreshadowing and twists.

Lover Pretend is not a bad otome game, but it certainly isn’t without its faults. While the plot is full of cheesy moments, none of them were memorable. If you’re tired of overly serious stories this is a breath of fresh air with a more light-hearted romance. Unfortunately, it failed to subvert my expectations, even if I can’t “pretend” that they were perhaps too high to begin with.

Score:
7.5/10
A review copy of the title was provided by the publisher for review purposes

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