System(s): Windows, Mac, Linux
Release Date: November 1, 2013
Publisher (Developer): Winter Wolves (Winter Wolves)
ESRB Rating: N/A, I’d say ages 13 and up
Though Winter Wolves is fast becoming known for visual novels and RPGs, the developer has also been one of the strongest indie supporters of the otome (girl’s dating sim) movement. It’s released life sim love games in the past, like Always Remember Me and Love and Order, and Nicole is the latest game to build on the developers experience. As expected, the most recent adventure is certainly the strongest.
School, Love, and Psychopaths
Nicole begins with our heroine, Nicole Graves, arriving at college. It’s her first time away from California, but fortunately she got into the Floridian university of her dreams. Her roommate Chandra is nice, she’s learning the layout of the campus, and adjusting to her new life, when she receives some rather unfortunate news. It seems her school has a serial abductor on staff.
Three girls were taken last year. All were later found unharmed, but it doesn’t change the fact that something isn’t right. Which means Nicole has more to do this school year than just go to class and work towards becoming a lawyer. Due to her rather nosy nature, she’s going to also try and find out who’s been taking the girls and why.
Of course, she’ll still make time for social activities too. In fact, successfully solving the mystery and living to tell the tale will rely on also building a strong bond with another person, to ensure she has the proper backup.
A, B, S: Always Be Stat-Building
Nicole straddles a lot of genres. It’s a life simulation, for starters, following a young woman through her first semester at college. It’s also a mystery visual novel, with plenty of reading and endings depending on Nicole’s decisions. Not to mention the whole love aspect, which is tied into telling the four dateable guys what they want to hear and giving them gifts. It seems like it would be a lot to manage, but it comes together quite well.
The key is building Nicole’s stats properly. To solve the mystery, which can lead to the best ending, she must investigate around campus and town and make sure she has filled up the mystery bar before December. The other four stats each correspond to one guy, but filling them to the best of your abilities means also taking the time to get rather basic knowledge in non-related stats. Plus, there’s the matter of taking jobs to earn pocket money for occasional personal expenses and gifts. Also, Nicole’s moral and energy have to be taken into account, which means she’ll sometimes need a recharge day if you want to solve the case and find her love.
Of course, stat building is a means to an end. It’s only by filling up the right bar, and giving all four of the right gifts to a certain guy, that will unlock story events and give Nicole a proper end. Reaching 999 in the Clue stat, to solve the mystery, and in a stat geared towards one of the four guys, to ensure she has a happy end, isn’t terribly difficult even though it seems daunting.
Besides, those event scenes are a nice reward for getting those stats up. The writing in Winter Wolves games has been getting better with each installment, and Nicole‘s script is one of the best. The characterizations are especially well done, and Jeff is the only one which didn’t really feel right or realistic to me. While the rest of the cast behaved and sounded like real college students, he came across as some kind of cartoon character.
I did have one other issue with the storyline, though it’s a personal qualm. The mystery of the missing girls is a big part of Nicole‘s storyline, and after a certain point is reached, I feel Nicole acts irresponsibly and stupidly. Granted, it wouldn’t be much of a story or game if she did something rational, like go to the police. But when that point did come, I lost respect for the character because of her Scooby Doo antics.
No ordinary collegiate experience
People familiar with Winter Wolves’ body of work will be quite pleased with Nicole. The developer has clearly learned from its predecessors Always Remember Me and Love and Order, resulting in a life sim/otome/mystery with a stronger story and more balanced stat building. It’s a very polished game with an interesting story to tell, even if one character does come across more like a modern day Wile E. Coyote than a human being. Some additional in-game hints suggesting people buy and distribute gifts as soon as possible would be helpful, since it’s easy to miss the best endings if you delay, but other than that, it’s quite an enjoyable game.