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Animal Lover Review

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There’s a study to be done on modern visual novels. Angels with Scaly Wings swaps out men for dragons. Boyfriend Dungeon transforms them into swords. And now Animal Lover has the men turning into pets, from cats to dogs and hamsters. Unrealistic body standards is what it is. 

We’d love to see that study. There’s definitely something deep-seated going on with these games, and without that study, we’re jumping to so many unsubstantiated conclusions: men are less threatening when you can transform them and stick them in your pockets; men would be more attractive if they were capable of change; men would be likable if they were also cats. 

Animal Lover is absolutely what we’ve made it sound like. It’s a visual novel and dating sim where the men can become animals. It’s The Frog Prince, modernised, and with a full bestiary of animals to smooch. But while that’s true, the description makes it seem more salacious than it really is. It unfairly simplifies a visual novel that is inordinately well written, surprisingly thoughtful and a whole lot of fun. 

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You play an intern in a local veterinarian clinic. You get to name her, so fill your boots with something outlandish. She mans the phones and welcomes patients into the clinic, and the latest through the doors is a hamster called Hamchop. Driven by a strange impulse, she kisses the hamster through the bars, and that’s where The Frog Prince comes in. Hamchop transforms in a flash of white light, becoming a rather hunky, buck-toothed man. Completely starkers, of course, and a little bit bloodied from expanding out of a hamster cage. 

Hamchop’s owners run away, and you’re left to smuggle him into a storage cupboard and get him some clothes (Animal Lover has the hilarious habit of covering nethers with a sticker of your character’s face, which is pure gold). It turns out that Hamchop is actually Edmund, a prince, and he’s been stuck in the body of a reincarnating hamster for centuries. 

Other stories would have stopped right there and built a romance out of it, but Animal Lover steers away from the obvious and runs full pelt elsewhere. Because, rather than become The Frog Prince with hamsters, Animal Lover encourages the main character to build a kind of sanctuary for transformed men.

You see, transformed men emit a kind of twinkly glow, which Edmund can see. So, your character and Edward go on the hunt for other men in similar situations: him as the spotter, you as the kisser. Soon, you’ve built a naked entourage. There’s Frank, all the way from the 1950’s, who’s spent that time as a cat; there’s Miguel, a heterochromic husky, who happens to be something of a 90’s beefcake; Clarke, an actual frigging bear, who’s only been transformed for the past year; and Kyle, a ferret, who was an anarchist in the ‘80s. 

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What we love about Animal Lover is how realistically it deals with all of these fantastical shenanigans. The main character is on an intern’s wage, so can’t support these grown men and their sudden need for housing and feeding. They don’t have social security numbers, so they have to remain ghosts until they can get them. And they are all suitably disoriented and carrying the tics and behaviours of the animals that they turned from. Dealing with them all is a challenge that you will be quietly contemplating yourselves.

And while the situation can get dark, exploring the very sad truths of the decades – even centuries – that some of these men have lost (and the loved ones that went with them), Animal Lover is an optimistic, good natured game. There are a few tensions in the group, but they all get on famously, and it’s enjoyable just to spend time in their company. Frank clearly hasn’t experienced the #metoo movement, so his old-fashionedness gets roundly ridiculed by everyone. Kyle is the rebellious one, stealing anything he can get his hands on, foraging for the group when they’d rather do things lawfully. And Miguel is just a kind-hearted chef who comes from a time when cooking and men were supposedly not meant to go together. 

The writing and the premise do wonders for each other, and we found ourselves forming something of a bond with the group. They are fantastically well-defined, and the dialogue is snappy and witty. We laughed, we cried, and it’s testament to the writing that the plot meandered to places we expected, but more that we didn’t. When everything ends in a slightly conventional manner, we were almost disappointed.

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The only asterisk comes in the form of the number of choices, and how much they truly deviate the story. If a visual novel, in your eyes, is only as good as the amount of agency it gives you, then Animal Lover won’t be to your tastes. It does offer choices, but they are mostly just for character inflection and a bit of fun; they don’t often switch the narrative train to a different track. There are really only five or six truly significant choices in Animal Lover, and that’s spread over five or six hours of visual novelling. One big choice an hour isn’t a big hit-rate. 

But if story, character and subversion are more important to you than chasing multiple endings, then Animal Lover is a worthy companion for a few evenings. Few visual novels can lift you to the belly-laughing highs, and then plunge you into the tearful lows of Animal Lover. Squirrel away the cynicism and give it a go: you may start looking at pets in a completely (and innocent) new light. 

You can buy Animal Lover  from the Xbox Store

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