Arcade Spirits Review
Arcade Spirits is a well-written visual novel that cleverly uses its story and fictional technology to build a fun and relatable narrative. A single player romance visual novel, it is great for those who are interested in dating attractive geeks who love retro games, cosplay, and more. But maybe romance isn’t your thing and that’s OK – you can decide to go solo and become friends with people instead. Riddled with pop culture references and witty remarks from a cast of colorful supporting characters, Arcade Spirits is a welcoming experience that tailors to everyone’s desires; you’ll just have to keep track of your relationships and make the right decisions for yourself.
The game’s protagonist is Ari Cader, name and gender flexible depending on you (I made Ari a female and for the purpose of the review, I will refer to her as such). Struggling from apathy and constantly losing jobs left and right, Ari downloads “IRIS”, a personal assistant app introduced to her by her best friend Juniper. With IRIS, Ari’s life and interactions are scanned and recorded, helping her land an interview at the Funplex, a popular arcade located in an unassuming strip mall. What started as a job to pay the bills eventually becomes a life-changing event for Ari, as the work she does and the people she meets slowly lead her down the path towards her unrealized dreams.
To start off the game, we can customize our character Ari. Not only are we able to choose a name and gender, but we can tweak their appearance as well. While the selection is quite limited and nearly impossible to make Ari look anything like yourself, you still get to choose their hair, eyes, skin tone, and the color of their hoodie. There are a couple of instances where you can see your masterful creation in the visual novel, and it is amazing how your customized appearance is seamlessly incorporated into the scenes.
Many of the choices we make in the game are important to the progress of the story. Even though some of the dialogue options may seem to mean the same thing, each one has a different personality attached to it. You can choose to answer people in different ways, and they will react either positively, negatively, or neutrally depending on your decision. As IRIS always keeps track of our responses, the rankings for different personalities will go up or down.
To check on relationship progresses, with a handy click of a button IRIS will display who you are closest to so far and what personality you are maxing out on. It is a helpful tool when making dialogue choices, especially if you are actively seeking to get to know one character more. Some characters may prefer to hear you say something kindly while others would like to hear gutsy statements, so while you could strive to be the most logical soul around, the character you want to date may not be as attracted to that.
One of my favourite things about Arcade Spirits is its acceptance of diversity and allowing the player to accomplish whatever they want in Ari’s story. No matter what gender you choose Ari to be (male, female, or non-binary), the people you meet are still open to dating you…that is, if you choose your actions and words correctly. The characters in the game range from well-dressed and conventionally handsome men to cute and quirky female otakus, and the way you interact with them will determine whether they see you as a friend or something more. Of course, there is no pressure to involve yourself romantically with anyone, as platonic relationships will still bring satisfying results. Regardless of whether you choose to date in Arcade Spirits, and no matter your choice with who to impress, the story remains just as fun and heartwarming.
While visually pleasing to the eye, the audio in Arcade Spirits could be tweaked just a little. Packed with beautiful colors, bright neon lighting, and nostalgic beeps and boops, it feels as if we have just walked into a retro arcade. By default though, the audio of the game is quite low and often hard to hear. Characters also speak up randomly, with some parts of the game voiced and others not and is often distracting to the storytelling due to the unexpected dialogues. While having a voiced element does add to the charm of a visual novel, I believe consistency would be more appreciated in this case.
At first glance, Arcade Spirits may appear to be only fun and pleasantly nerdy, but it is actually a visual novel packed with unexpected and heartwarming lessons. While not entirely perfect with room to increase character customization and to adjust audio consistency, Arcade Spirits demonstrates what a geeky romantic visual novel should be like. Besides the friendships and romantic relationships you develop on your journey to self-discovery, it also teaches the player a lesson on not giving up on your dreams. Despite how cheesy this may sound, sometimes all we need is a lighthearted dating sim to remind us of what truly matters.
*** A PS4 code was provided by the publisher ***
- A diverse and inclusive cast
- Cleverly written story
- Fun and geeky references
- Default audio levels are low
- Voices pop in randomly
- Customization options for protagonist are lacking