Idol Manager Review – Spice Up Your Life

Idol Manager Review

Take part in one of Japan’s biggest entertainment industries in Idol Manager, an inventive management sim recently ported to the PlayStation 5. Hire girls, fend off rivals, and squash out drama as you lead your music group to stardom – and make lots of money in the process.  

GlitchPitch’s Idol Manager simulates running a Japanese pop group. The game is actually a revelation because I had no idea idol management was so elaborate. There’s a lot more to the business than finding the most talented girls and you’ll have your hands in many pies. There are two ways to experience the simulation: Free Mode or Story Mode. Story Mode tells a story of a young man taking the reins of an idol company. Free Mode strips away the plot and puts the focus on making a profit and an active fan base. 

I am ignorant of the world of idols so I was surprised by the game’s depth. There’s a lot going on that requires the player’s attention. You’ll scout talent, hire managers, study music trends, and plan appearances across all entertainment mediums. Performance, music, and appearance options are limited at the start of the game. The sound producers, business managers, and choreographers you hire generate research points that unlock new music genres, dance moves, and promotion opportunities like live streams and meet-and-greets. Your production staff is only as good as the money you spend. Starting out, it’s best to grab the cheapest people in their fields. As your revenue increases and fans grow, you’ll find that more talented, and expensive, employees make for better output. 

A young woman chosen to join your idol group

A Mind For Business

Idol Manager is not hurting for things to do. There are so many options when it comes to creating content that deciding what to do isn’t always so easy. Music trends and monthly top ten lists offer clues as to what combination of music, dance, and lyrics has the potential to be a hit with audiences. You can create whatever you want but you risk losing money if you don’t do homework. Besides trends and musical tastes, you must also consider fan appeal.

Your audience’s gender, age, and devotion to the group determine what sells or flounders. For example, “Sexy” dance moves and “Happy” lyrics may play well with young adult males but they can alienate your group’s hardcore female fans. There’s so much data on hand that it can feel pretty overwhelming. Add in the ongoing expenses that drain your finances month over month, and Idol Manager has the potential to get downright stressful. 

All this information is presented through a user interface that shows the game’s mouse-and-keyboard roots. Interfacing with screens and menus isn’t terrible on a PlayStation controller but takes getting used to. I really didn’t like how the game maps promotion and performance events on the D-Pad. Decades spent playing video games have led me to expect the D-Pad to let me scroll through blocks of text or navigate hotspots. In Idol Manager, tapping the Up or Down button costs 12,000 yen each time. I made a lot of expensive mistakes before I realized what was happening. Promotion and performances are something you need to do anyway to advance your idol’s skill and success. With money being so precarious in the early game, however, every unplanned expense feels like a mistake. 

Menu screen depicting concert options

My Strongest Suit

As much as Idol Manager focuses on the day-to-day aspects of management, the idols are what truly keep the business afloat. You can hire talent by holding local, regional, and country-wide auditions, spending upwards of a million yen to find the best girls. Each randomly generated woman has stats that determine their individual skill and what they bring to the group. Stats can be improved by spending time with your idols, fulfilling their Wishes, and caring for their mental and physical health. These women also have traits that impact the business and group dynamic. Some idols are shy, while others are outgoing. Some are prone to scandals and fits of jealousy. You can mitigate potential issues by setting rules when it comes to social media usage, public appearances, and dating. 

Scene of the player on a game show

Dark Idolatry

All of these different gameplay elements come together to create an incredibly fascinating management experience. I’ve played a few management games in my lifetime but little offered such a deep dive into a unique entertainment industry. There is, however, an elephant in the room. Women, some as young as 12 years old, are business assets. Their anxieties are a liability to the business. Furthermore, dictating their personal lives through restrictions is uncomfortable.

The most detestable moment of the game happened when my business fell into serious debt. In a cutscene set to tense, sinister music, Mr. Fujimoto had a conversation that boiled down to, “Hey. People would pay money to have sex with idols. Would you be into that?” I said “no” and Mr. Fujimoto turned around and gleefully declared “Aha! That was a test!” Taken in the context of an idol’s potential young age, this entire exchange poisoned Story Mode for me. 

Idol Manager is a comprehensive and in-depth business simulator that presents its financial data in a format that is both pleasant and digestible. Creating content is fun because of its melting pot approach. Making personalized content would be fantastic if it weren’t so important to follow what the game determines is “cool.” As fun as it is to engage with Idol Manager’s business mechanics, watching a  woman’s value reduced to a trading card puts a damper on things.

***PS5 code provided by the publisher for review***

The Good

  • Great Gameplay Depth
  • Lovely Character Art
  • Personalizing Content Is Fun

The Bad

  • UI Takes Some Getting Used To
  • Women Are Treated As Assets
  • Some Genuinely Uncomfortable Story Moments