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Nintendo DS Video Game Review: Love Plus (ラブプラス)

 

“Love Plus” is a fantastic game and definitely much more than I was expecting. Delightful, hilarious and just a fun game! Of all the dating simulators I have played from Japan, this one has to be the most enjoyable one yet.So, if you want to experience “Love Plus”, definitely give this game a chance!

TITLE: Love Plus

PUBLISHED BY: KONAMI

CONSOLE: Nintendo DS

RELEASE DATE: 2006

You may have heard of “Love Plus”, possibly one of the most popular Japanese video games to come from Japan in the last three years and people who are spending hardcore money because of the popularity of its characters.

“Love Plus” is a dating simulator created by Konami and was released on the Nintendo DS back in Sept. 2009. What followed was a “Love Plus” manga featured on five different Kodansha magazines. In June 2010, “Love Plus +”, an upgrade version of the game was released and since then, there have been soundtracks, artbooks, electronic chargers, DSi case protectors, an iPhone and iPad app and now a Nintendo 3DS version coming out soon.

And needless to say, I’m sure many of us were intrigued (or bothered) by an otaku who had a wedding ceremony as he married a character from his Nintendo DS. Or the guys who create birthday cakes for a character on her birthday or those who take their characters out for lunch or dinner. Strange as it may be… the game is quite popular not just in Japan but many people around the world are giving “Love Plus” a try.

As for me, I actually became interested in “Love Plus” right after the earthquake and tsunami disaster in Japan as I was reporting news from Japan and noticed several tech-ies and otaku were utilizing the Love Plus electronic chargers which I recently wrote about and the first thing I did was purchase the first “Love Plus” game for the Nintendo DS and see if it was to my liking.

When it comes to video game dating sims, I do have familiarity with them as I have played “Tokimeki Memorial” for the old PSX and also enjoy the elements that were featured in various video games. But suffice to say, I wanted to experience “Love Plus” to see why people are going ga ga over this game.

GAMEPLAY:

“Love Plus” is a game that is about you, a second year high school student who just transferred to Towano High School. After you name your character, enter your birthday and blood type, you then set the voice system which the female characters you meet can actually say your name. It’s important to note that the characters can’t just say any game, so you want to use this as a guide of what names can be used. I used my usual online gaming name ケネデイ アミス and because the game could only recognize so many names, I ended up selecting Ken (short for “Kennedy”) and “Ami” (short for Amith).

As a new student, you join the library committee, the tennis club and take up a part-time job at a family restaurant and you will meet three female students named Manaka Takane, Rinko Kobayakawa and Nene Anegasaki.

There are two story arcs to “Love Plus”. The first storyline is that you have 100 days to get one of these girls to become your girlfriend. The second storyline is what you are going to do with this girl, after she becomes your girlfriend and if you can maintain that relationship and make her happy. Suffice to say, the first part is a bit easy, while the second part does take a little more effort.

STORY ARC 1:

Everyday, you will have to plan out what you are going to do in the morning, noon, afternoon and at night. By the classes you take, the selections you make (ie. go to club committee meeting, going to work part-time at a restaurant, going to a tennis club meeting etc.) will increase certain levels in your stats. BLUE indicates fitness, GREEN indicates intelligence, SENSE indicates ORANGE and PURPLE charm. So, for example, if you start your morning off going to science class, you will notice an increase in INTELLIGENGE. Go to Arts and you will notice an increase in CHARM, go to P.E. and you’ll notice an increase in FITNESS. And over the course of time, you will see how these characters start to warm up to you.

I highly recommend using this guide as a good way to know of which class and extra-curricular activities can help your character get the girl you want.

First, let’s discuss the characters:

Manaka Takane

Manaka Takane is a second year student and a tennis athlete at Towana High School. She is also very smart. She’s a bit shy and always kind but she also tends to worry about her tennis match. She is also known as “Takane no Hana” (because she’s so perfect, guys feel they don’t have a chance) and she loves making pastries and playing the piano.

So, you know that she will be interested in a guy with a high interest in FITNESS and INTELLIGENCE. So, you want to focus on classes and extracurricular activities that relate to that.

Rinko Kobayakawa

Rinko is a tough girl. She is a freshman but a senior library committee member and can always be seen listening to punk music on her digital audio player. She loves fighting video games, music and Calbee chips.

Part of the reason why she is tough is because her father has remarried and she has a new mother and younger brother. She feels that she is unwanted from her home and that no one cares about her. She is always seen out at night because she doesn’t want to come home to a family that doesn’t want her there.

Rinko is interested in a guy with a high interest in SENSE, INTELLIGENCE and a little FITNESS. So, you want to focus on classes and extracurricular activities that relate to that. Primarily focusing on SENSE.

Nene Anegasaki

Nene is a third year high school student and works part-time as a waitress at the family restaurant Dixies. Nene is like the big sister for everyone when they need someone to talk to for advice. She enjoys cleaning around the house, watching horror films and eating Lozenge mints.

She is very calm and active and thus you want to make sure you take part in activities to CHARM her. Because she works often, you know you can find her at Dixies but also find her at night out and about.

Everyday, as you attend classes and partake in various activities, you get to have conversations with these young women. And judging by your choices, will determine if they will get closer to you or not. Gameplay for the first story arc is actually quite easy because most of the time, you are saying hello (with three or four version to say hello), trying to be supportive and joining them in conversations or just listening to them. If you can’t read or understand Japanese, a rule of thumb is to stay with the top 2 choices and you will be fine.

STORY ARC 2:

After you have one of the girls become your girlfriend, the next thing is maintaining the relationship. This is where things get a bit complicated because now, it requires you to set the time on your DS and making sure you meet your girlfriend on dates at that day and time. You are given two choices: Real Time Mode (this will match your DS clock) and Skip Mode (one day in the game is a few minutes in real time). The main difference though is that if you use Real Time Mode, you get to celebrate birthdays, holidays, school breaks. Also, you get to have more dream events.

So, in a way, it’s better to do Real Time Mode but the question to ask yourself is how much time can you put towards this game? Do you want the real experience? Or are you a busy person who can only play from time-to-time and not daily or at certain hours. It all depends on you?

In the second story arc, now everything is opened other than just your daily activity and e-mail. This time, you have a cell phone to call your girlfriend, you need to schedule a date and making sure you use a calendar to plan that date, selecting locations of where to take your date, selecting a time and doing research on the Internet via your computer.

While Real Time Mode allows you to live life daily on “Love Plus”, Skip Mode goes quickly and you can date your girlfriend as any times as you want to gain more affection and unlock costumes for her to wear.

And although my Japanese is OK, what helped me through the second story arc is using the following guide. I highly recommend it if your Japanese is not that good or you can’t read or understand Japanese at all!

CONTROLS:

Controls are very easy to select using the direction pad and clicking on the response via your stylus or finger. There are also times where you need to speak in the mic, well for Rinko this was the case. There was one point where the girl you like (before she becomes your girlfriend) needs to hear that you love her. So, prepare to say the following word in the mic a few times, nice and clearly…Aishiteru (I love you) or for Manaka, you will have to say “Zettai Uwagi wa Shimasen” (I will never cheat on you).

But once you get to the second story arc, this is where the stylus starts to come in play because you need to learn how to be a good boyfriend and kiss your girlfriend correctly and know what she likes (ie. feeling her cheek, touching her hair, etc.). I remember when I was with Rinko and the hand icon to “touch” came on. and I kept touching her shoulder, her hands and she was getting pissed off. It appears that there is an order of what the character likes to be touched.

Your girlfriend will be more vocal if she doesn’t like it and you will see indicators with pink hearts being good, green as OK and blue being bad. Don’t worry, you’ll get some practice time to see what she likes and doesn’t like early in the game (for the second arc).

GRAPHICS:

Graphics are good for what to expect on the DS. As most sims that I played tend to feature more of anime-like animation or stills, this one is animated via CG and there are mannerisms. Also, I like the various locations you can visit throughout the game such as going to a shopping area, cafe, conbini (convenience store), etc.

AUDIO:

Audio is very good. Good amount of spoken dialogue, crowd ambiance and the audio is utilized very well for this game! But where “Love Plus” excels is its voice acting by Saori Hayami (Manaka) known for her voice as Saki in “Eden of the East”, Wako in “Star Driver” and Lei-Lei/Hsien-Ko in “Marvel vs. Capcom 3”; Sakura Tange (Rinko) who is known for her voicework as Sakura in “Cardcaptor Sakura”, Kasumi in “Dead or Alive”; and Yuuko Minaguchi (Nene) known for her voice as Hotaru Tomoe (Sailor Saturn) in “Sailor Moon S”, Tifa Lockhart in “Ergheiz” and many other video games/anime series.

The voice acting was delightful and fantastic!

IS IT USER-FRIENDLY FOR NON-JAPANESE READING PLAYERS

While I do feel this game, especially the first arc would be easy for non-Japanese reading players, the good news is that there are translations out there created by fans of the game on the Internet. I’m not fluent and my Japanese has waned a bit since my college years where I spoke and read Japanese quite a bit but I noticed that it does help to know the storyline, especially to enjoy the humor and the emotional parts of the game. But again, there are translations up online and I believe that anyone who wants to experience “Love Plus” can do so.

I began playing “Love Plus” and thinking “How will this be different than any other sim game?” and for starters, this is not some ecchi/hentai dating simulator, nor is it a sim that tries to focus on sex or fan service. It’s a dating simulator that seems genuine in that your character really works at trying to get close to these characters and winning their heart.

During my second playthrough (the first time was going for Manaka), I decided to go for Rinko. Knowing about her tough exterior, I was slowly trying to win her affection but you realize that this girl had quite a bit of personal problems back home and to see her get a phone call and get so upset and leaving, while you search for her and catch her crying. That was a surprise for me… You don’t really see these emotional moments in a dating simulator in this manner.

But what won me over with “Love Plus” was during your dream sequence and I’m not going to give it away but it was one of the most delightful things I have ever seen in a game where Rinko is your wife, and you have to head off to work and the things that she does to stop you from going to work and wanting to hear how much you love her was hilarious!

I really enjoyed this game and its a shame that Konami has no interest in releasing this game outside of Japan but you can find this game, especially for this first game, pretty cheap on eBay. Bare in mind, that there are special edition DSi package releases (which are sold for over $500 online but fans have bought them regardless of the price) and there is an enhanced version for the Nintendo DS titled “Love Plus +” which adds more scenery, dating areas but unfortunately, unlike the first game that has translations online, fans may not be able find that much material on “Love Plus +”.

And as mentioned, there is a Nintendo 3DS version coming out but it’s important to remind everyone that the Nintendo 3DS is region-blocked and while it depends on the publisher to make the game region-blocked, it is not known if the game will work on a non-Japanese Nintendo 3DS. So, for now the first two DS games will work on the various DS portable consoles.

Overall, “Love Plus” is a fantastic game and definitely much more than I was expecting. Delightful, hilarious and just a fun game! Of all the dating simulators I have played from Japan, this one has to be the most enjoyable one yet.

So, if you want to experience “Love Plus”, definitely give this game a chance!

Highly recommended!