Title: Tokyo School Life
Developer: Dogenzaka Lab
Release Date: February, 14 2019
Reviewed On: Switch
Genre: Visual Novel
Visiting Japan is something that is probably on many wishlists, including my own. Seeing the amazing sites that I’ve only seen in pictures and checking out the arcades are just a couple of things that I’d like experience. It seems that developer Dogenzaka Lab understands that there is a demand from western foreigners to visit Japan, so they did the next best thing and created a visual novel where a foreigner goes to Japan.
Tokyo School Life introduces a handful of interesting features outside of what players would expect from a visual novel. These features are definitely what sets it apart from being totally generic, but it still has its moments. However, Tokyo School Life does have a few tricks up its sleeve that includes having the reader learn interesting things about Japanese culture without really knowing it.
Tokyo School Life begins with the protagonist, who players can name, as he heads over to Japan for a semester of school. At first, I commended the protagonist’s drive to learn Japanese and follow his dreams, but early on he makes it clear that meeting a cute Japanese girl is on his list of things to do. I’m not sure why this bothered me, but I would have rathered he travel to Japan without the idea that he was going to find romance and instead just watch it play out naturally. It also foreshadows the events of the visual novel to reassure the player that, yes, this is a romance visual novel.
With that said, its no surprise that our western protagonist finds himself in a handful of cliche situations seen in manga and anime as he tries to make it to his first day of school. These situations are so fitting given that the writers play on the idea of what Japanese culture is to outsiders so expect moments like bumping into characters and walking in on them in the shower. Interestingly, I didn’t mind these scenes and after a few hours of playing, I discovered that throughout these cliche events I was learning interesting things about Japan that I didn’t know. The issue about the main character that I have is how unlikable he can be at times and this is only a big issue because players are supposed to attach their name to the character, but sometimes he does or says things that can easily make your eyes roll, which hurts the immersion overall.
Tokyo School Life has three heroines: Minatsugi Sakura, Yayoi Karin, and Hazuki Aoi. Each of the characters falls into a trope, but the story doesn’t let their personality types get too out of hands outside of Karin’s temper which can get annoying after the third time she hits the protagonist for something that isn’t his fault. Each of the characters can be romanced when summer comes around, but the path there is a little confusing. Throughout the game, players can make choices, but I’m not totally sold on these choices have any weight on the story outside of a general reaction to what the choice is. I only say this because once it’s summertime, players can just choose the route they wish to go on.
In terms of routes, Sakura is definitely the one that is a true emotional rollercoaster after she comes forward with her health issues. Although Karin and Aoi also have issues of their own, they just seem a little forced after playing Sakura’s route. However, after each of the three routes are complete there isn’t much left to do in Tokyo School Life which is disappointing because unlocking a nice story scene reuniting all the characters in some way would have been appreciated.
Tokyo School Life uses the emote system that adds life to the characters and I actually thought it worked well for this story. The developer used the system to also express the character’s personalities more such as Sakura barely being able to stay way in the morning. Similarly, I thought the CG scenes were also all nicely done and there is plenty to discover, but unlocking them is pretty straight forward so I never felt like I had to go out of my way to unlock special scenes across each route.
As I mentioned before, the game does offer some moments of educational teaching. The developers added these scenes brilliantly by using the female characters to quickly give a history lesson or explain an object without it feeling messy. Although this way of teaching culture might work for male readers because of the cute girls giving the lesson, I don’t think it will have the same impact on female players, which makes me wish that a supporting “male friend” character was added if only spice up the conversations a bit for female players. Additionally, the game offers the choice to assist in the player’s Japanese reading by displaying Japanese text on the top of the screen.
Tokyo School Life could be your everyday generic romance visual novel, but the steps it takes to include education and a few great moments of storytelling make it nice for visual novel fans. The mobile nature of the Switch also gives the players a quick and easy way to study their Japanese reading in a new medium, which is probably more beneficial to some than others. With that said, the story itself is a charming slice-of-life adventure in Japan through the eyes of a foreigner.
Tokyo School Life does some wonderful things with their main feature of teaching players about Japanese culture using the power of cute girls. It surprisingly works well, but with one stand out route, a not so likable main protagonist, and very little extra for the player to do after completing the routes, I would say this adventure is a better fit for players who are wholeheartedly practicing their Japanese text reading or trying to learn random facts about Japanese culture.
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