Namco High Review: Ditch This Class

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namco high

Title: Namco High
Price: Free-to-Play, but $1.95 per character and a full character pack can be $13.50
System(s): PC
Release Date: December 17, 2013
Publisher (Developer): Namco Bandai (ShiftyLook)
ESRB Rating: N/A

I like to play bad games, because I guess I have some latent masochistic tendencies. And there’s no kind of bad game I enjoy more than a dating sim. (Which explains my Twitter tirades on the Shall We Date series.) So when friends told me Namco High was bad, I didn’t believe them. I thought it was the kind of bad where I could still have a great time. Instead, it’s just disappointing and painful.

namco high

Everybody’s in detention.

Namco High begins with the playing discovering he is now one of the many nameless Katamari Damacy cousins. He’s been sentenced to detention at Namco High because he decided to see if he could roll like The Prince. He could, but got carried away, hence the disciplinary action. He’s not the only one, as 18 other Namco Bandai and Homestuck characters have also been put in the lock-up by Principal Dig Dug.

However, there is hope for redemption. If the students join a club, Principal Dig Dug will set them free. Since the Cousin has no mind of his own and is looking for love, he can join the same club as one of these 18 cameo characters, fall in love with them after two brief interactions, and get a happy ending that also ensures a quick escape from detention. Everybody wins! Except for the player, that is.

namco high

What have you done to these classic characters?

Right from the start, Namco High wants players to spend money. There are 18 playable characters, but only Aki, Al. B. Tross, Anti-Bravoman, Galaga, Lolo, Meowkie, and Valkyrie are free. The rest are $1.95 each, or $13.50 for a full pack. Which means you have to pay for the other Namco Bandai or Homestuck cameo characters. It’s understandable, but the problem is Namco High never manages to make any of these characters appealing. Any prior development for the Namco Bandai characters is gone. They’re nothing like you may remember, and ShiftyLook fails to build any kind of connection for any of them. Not to mention the Homestuck characters come in from out of nowhere and there’s no explanation to make them interesting to newcomers. Instead, ShiftyLook quickly throws all of them at the player at once, in an attempt one will stick.

It’s bad storytelling. Most visual novels and dating sims gradually introduce players to their characters and world. Namco Bandai has a few, fourth wall breaking moments with the Katamari Damacy Cousin before shoving everything at the player at once. Instead of telling, ShiftyLook missed a prime opportunity to show us how the Cousin ended up in detention. It would have been much more humorous and entertaining. However, it would also have involved more work on the developer’s part, requiring them to actually draw out the scenes and extend the storyline, and that didn’t seem to be a priority for them.

Each Namco High storyline is ridiculously short. While even the smallest indie projects, made by one or two people, can easily amount to 40,000 plus word stories and adventures that carry on for hours, a Namco High can be finished in under 3 hours. There’s barely any substance there. There are plenty of times when ShiftyLook tries to be funny, but instead it’s painfully awkward. I’ll admit a few times there were lines that amused me, but more often than not it was unintentionally amusing.

I suspect it’s because ShiftyLook didn’t do their research. The developer decided to make a dating sim visual novel, but didn’t actually play any other dating sims or visual novels to see how it should be done. I suspect if they’d taken some time to play good examples of serious and satirical games from this genre, like Hakuoki, Sweet Fuse, Katawa Shoujo, or Hatoful Boyfriend, Namco High would have come out much better. The pacing is flawed and it feels like it’s more of an excuse to be ridiculous with iconic characters and say, “Look! You can date Galaga!” than make an actual, entertaining game.

Also, I’m not a big fan of the choice to go with contrasting art styles in Namco High. I realize that’s a stylistic decision and some people may like it, but I felt like it only made the game feel cheaper and sloppier. There’s too much disconnect and discord. The characters look nothing like each other. Nothing fits in with the backgrounds. I just wish there could have been some kind of common ground. Perhaps have characters either all have a stylized appearance that looked similar to the Cousin, with a few select characters like Galaga, Valkyrie, and Dig Dug appearing in pixelated form.

I guess the biggest problem is that Namco High doesn’t really feel like a labor of love. I’ve played a lot of visual novels and dating sims from both major companies and independent developers, and the time and effort put into their projects is evident. Namco High doesn’t have that feeling. It’s more like ShiftyLook had a chance to try and capitalize on Namco Bandai’s character catalog and went for the easiest way to make money off of it. As a result, nothing seems to come naturally. You can almost feel the pressure to be funny and silly, and it’s painful. Which is odd, because a really good cross-over, visual novel dating sim with these kinds of cameos should have been as casually funny and genuinely entertaining as Hatoful Boyfriend. Instead, a great opportunity has been squandered.

namco high

Stop trying so hard.

Namco High is too forced. It’s as though ShiftyLook did no research into the visual novel or dating sim genres, and just decided to see how far pandering could get them. The answer is, not very. Good storytelling techniques are thrown aside in favor of introducing as many possible, romanceable characters at once for players to buy. Instead of the clashing art styles being funny, it’s difficult to look at them. Not to mention the actual script is ridiculously short and provides no opportunity to connect with any of the characters. All attempts at humor fall flat. It’s just painful, and if you’re honestly considering giving it a try, don’t bother with any of the paid characters. Namco High isn’t worth your money, and is barely worth your time.

Site [Namco High]

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  • JG

    I have to pretty much agree.

  • M.

    I bought the game — I wanted the Homestuck characters but they weren’t in a pack (and I’m still a bit bitter about it). So far I’ve only played those routes, but it IS incredibly short, and while I liked the humour, a particular route ended up being so depressing I ended up with serious mood whiplash.

  • S. Hawks

    This game brought together two things I love- Andrew Hussie, and dating sims. I knew I would love it. Sadly I was very wrong. I per-ordered it weeks in advance, excitedly waiting for it’s announced release, December 17th. It wasn’t done. I didn’t mind too much though. Then, it was released, and I dove in, prepared to be immersed in a wonderful storyline of my choosing. Seeing the blurb about needing only a current browser and a lot of free time, I got excited. I was sure this game was going to be lengthy, which I enjoy. Then I was subjected to the story, which was not that bad. Knowing all the homestuck characters best, I started with Davesprite. He charmed me a bit, but then again, I loved his character before the game started. You couldn’t save on multiple files which is odd for a dating sim, but I just figured it was to force you to put stock into each decision. I followed the story until, literally a few minutes later, I ended on the credits screen. I thought it was a joke or something. Unfortunately it was not. With no real ending to Davesprite at all, the game was over. If I hadn’t per-ordered, I could have tried a free path and then realised what a waste of money it was. If only I had waited, as I had to anyways.

  • Eric B.

    I’ve gotta add my own backing to these assessments of the game. I preordered the deluxe to get all the characters. I’m a huge fan of Andrew Hussie’s work, though I’m not one of the rabidly aggressive Homestuck cosplayers the fandom is infamous for.

    I didn’t think the writing in the game was terrible, but I wouldn’t call it anything more than amusing. I’ve only completed it a couple times, so I haven’t seen all the dialogue, but the only real laughs I got so far were from Davesprite dialogue and obviously that’s only going to appeal to people who already enjoy Homestuck.

    The biggest problem I have is that the thing is so damn short that it hardly qualifies as a game. I decided to time it from the point you click “New Game” to the beginning of the credits and with extreme speed reading and no exploration whatsoever into other characters, the game can be completed in under 8 minutes. You literally make three decisions on what characters to hang out with and then the game ends. This would be completely fine if the thing was advertised as a short parody of a dating simulator because that’s what it actually is, but it was advertised as a full game.

    If you love MSPA enough to spend the $15 in order to play through it with the HS characters, it”s good for some laughs. If you love parody and dating simulators, just play through with the free characters and maybe buy some characters if you enjoy the experience. Just don’t go into this expecting a full game.