Review by YusakuG
Reviewed: 05/10/03 | Updated: 06/09/03
Single White Male seeks Single Ultra Cute Bubbily Anime Girl for roommate
Roommates...They steal all the food, leave a mess, don't obey your rules, and constantly ''borrow'' or just plain use your things, even the things they shouldn't be using in the first place (like your toothbrush). Fortunately, in the video game simulation world, things are a little different. The kind people at Datam Polystar have given you a chance to experience living with Inoue Ryoko - a kind and gentle anime girl who is just about everything a guy could want in a roommate. And best of all, if she ever pisses you off, you can just turn off the game, instead of having to put up with her crap, like you would a real roommate.
To get to the point, Roommate: Ryoko in Summer Vacation (to be referred to as Roommate 2 from now on) is the second game in a popular series in Japan where you try to build a perfect relationship with your cute roommate girl. Yes, at its heart, it's one of those ''Dating Simulators'' you sometimes hear about, but never get a chance to play unless you frequent the world of import gaming. Say the right things to Ryoko, and don't break her heart, and you may wind up as more than roommates at the end. What gives Roommate 2 its unmistakable charm is the ingenious use of the Saturn's internal clock, and the just plain likable character of Ryoko herself. But, I'm getting ahead of myself. Before you start wooing Miss Ryoko, you must know a little bit about her.
Apparently, the very first Roommate title (which has not been played by me) chronicled a year in the life of Ryoko and you living together. Sparks flew between the two of you, and you managed to get very close as time went on. Unfortunately, lover's bliss was short but sweet, as at the end of the year, Ryoko had to leave for America. With tears in her eyes, she promised she would visit you again.
As Roommate 2 opens, that time is now, as Ryoko has returned to Japan for a one-week vacation. And guess who she has chosen to spend it with, you lucky devil, you? That's right, this is your big chance to pick things back up with the lovely Ryoko. Unfortunately, this time, you've only got one week instead of a full year in the first game. You've gotta make every second count if you want Ryoko to have good memories of her trip back home.
The gameplay is fairly simple, yet complex underneath. The key aspect to victory in this game is keeping Ryoko happy. Choose the right response when she asks you a question and never miss a date, and she should stay fairly upbeat and cheerful. It's pretty easy to win her heart, just be a perfect gentleman, and never let her down. However, the undeniable fun of the game is seeing how she will react to some of the ''wrong'' choices or decisions. Ryoko has a wide variety of expressions and comments (in Japanese, of course) that range from hilariously over the top angry to pitiful and sad if you truly hurt her. This gives the game quite a bit of replay value. With the vast amount of ways you can respond, you don't have to play this game the same way twice.
What pushes Roommate 2 above the norm, however, is that the game is portrayed in real time. Thanks to the internal clock built into the Sega Saturn, this game will practically run your life for one week. For example, if Ryoko tells you she wants to meet at the park on Thursday at 4:00, you'd better be playing the game on Thursday at 4 PM, or else you'll miss her. Miss a date with Ryoko, and you will find one very angry roommate when you turn the game back on. The game uses the Saturn's clock quite well, and bases the entire gameplay around it. It gets to the point where you begin to question if you're playing the game or if it's the other way around. There are all sorts of neat little touches involving time that I've never seen in a video game before. Sure, there's the gradual cycle of day and night in the game, but everything else is tied into the theme as well. Order take out, and the guy on the phone will tell you it will be there in 30 minutes. Exactly 30 minutes later, your character's doorbell will ring. I hope you've set at least a week of time aside if you play this game, because if you want to win, you'll have to give as much time as possible to it.
Aside from the brilliant use of time, the rest of the gameplay is fairly basic. There's an icon that allows you to move from room to room in your apartment. From there, you can explore as you see fit, and even investigate certain items you find lying around (like that photo album that Ryoko told you not to look at...). Nothing really too difficult to understand. In order to spice things up a bit, there are some fun events and mini games worked in. If you head down to the local tennis court with Ryoko, you will play a simple game of video tennis against your roommate girl. There are also a wide variety of events that will occur during the course of the week (dates, meetings, etc.), so you will never have to worry about being bored during your week with Ryoko.
Visually, Roommate 2 is quite strong. The strongest aspect is Ryoko herself. She has a wide variety of animations and detailed facial expressions allowing you to read her like a book. Some of her angrier expressions can be quite funny, and you might find yourself pissing her off, or saying the wrong thing just so you can see how she'll react. The design for Ryoko is great. She's attractive without being impossibly beautiful like some anime girls. She also has a wide variety of outfits, so you'll never see her wear the same thing twice during the week. The design of your apartment is quite nice as well, with lots of little details like flowerpots, stereo equipment, or tea kettles on the stove.
What really amazes me about the graphics, however, is the vast variety of animations included in the game. Whenever you come across Ryoko, she will be doing something different. You'll find her sleeping, watching TV, listening to music, or cooking at various times of the day. Sometimes she'll be so wrapped up in what she's doing that she will hardly even acknowledge your presence! This adds a strong level of realism to the game. It's almost like this video game character has her own private personal life when you're not around. The fact that they could squeeze so many unique animations into the game is quite a feat indeed, and the programmers should be commended.
When it comes to sound, Ryoko once again takes the center stage. Every piece of dialogue she has is voiced by a professional voice actress. Sure, this means you have to have quite a strong knowledge of Japanese to get the most out of the game, but the girl who plays her has very good emotion in her voice. It's quite cool how they give her a wide variety of things to talk with you about. She'll talk about the weather, ask what you've been up to while she's been gone, and even talk about her experiences in America. This too adds to the overall realism of the game. You never know what she's going to say next. Aside from the massive amount of voiced dialogue from Ryoko, there's some nice sound effects from your surroundings (birds chirping, music playing from a radio, etc.) and music that always lets you know how Ryoko is feeling. If you encounter Ryoko, and sad music starts playing in the background, you know you've done something wrong. Better think of a way to make it up to her quick.
Roommate 2 is a very fun game, but it's obviously not very import friendly. With my extremely limited knowledge of Japanese, I had to have a lot of help playing through this game. Ryoko's facial expressions and dialogue can help you figure out things, but if you want the full effect of this game, you'd better have the skill to understand Japanese quite well. I also wish you got to leave your apartment more. It'd be nice if you got to see the outside areas more often. Another obvious problem is that since the game only covers one week, it is very short. However, with the vast amount of ways you can respond to Ryoko, it never has to be the same week twice. Very good replay value, I just wish there was more.
In the end, I can highly recommend spending a week with Inoue Ryoko. The game's kind of eerie in the way it almost takes control of your life for a whole week, but if you don't mind that, I say go for it if you can find it. It's innovative games like this that continue to make me curse the Saturn's bad luck in the US. Maybe if Sega of America hadn't completely dropped the ball, we could have seen more ingenious games like this over here. Roommate 2 is a perfect example of why the Sega Saturn remains one of my favorite systems for imports.
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