LoveChoice is less a visual novel and more an anthology of three of them. Split into Love-Game, Love-Distance and Love-Detective, these are three stories all centred on choice, and how one moment can change the future years of a relationship. The very first choice you make is ‘which one to play first?’.
The three games are varied enough to make you wonder whether different teams created them. It’s either that, or they’re made by a designer who greatly improved after the making of each one. Love-Game is less accomplished than Love-Distance, which is less accomplished than Love-Detective.
Love-Game is the one that most people will play first, simply because it’s on the left-hand-side of the three. It tells the story of a young boy who encounters a girl at a Game Jam, asks her out, and then deduces the ideal setting and food for a date from the scrappy details he knows about her. Then there’s a time-jump and we’re seeing the relationship develop or unravel, based on the choices you made.
Love-Game is beset by translation issues where the others are less impacted (LoveChoice is made by the Japanese Akaba Studio), making it a stop-start experience. But, more unfortunately, there’s a culture-shock to the writing. You’re forced into a slightly uncomfortable series of conversations where you gaslight the girl. She approaches you with a problem at work and you have two choices: either shift the blame onto her, or minimise the problem, implying she’s overthinking it. There’s a correct option here, apparently, but they both felt grimy. When the main character also trawls her Twitter feed for her likes and dislikes and then presents them as his idea for a date, well, we wanted to kick our main character up the ass and tell him to sort his sleazy life out.
It’s very easy to waltz through Love-Game without fully understanding what it wants from you. At the end of this ten-minute story, you’re sent a letter by the girl, and she sometimes writes in green, other times in red. Any writing in red means that you failed at a particular section, and Love-Game doesn’t make this wholly clear. So, in true visual novel fashion, you are expected to replay the game (LoveChoice offers you handy chapter headings if you don’t want to replay the whole thing), to unlock the ‘good’ ending.
But a successful choice in Love-Game is opaque. You have to do stuff that you’d never expect to do. Rather than choose from dialogue options, say, you’ve often got to do unnatural things like say nothing, drag something from the environment to another thing, or even fiddle with buttons on your controller. Every question and binary choice seems to have a gamesmaster off to the side saying “Ha! The correct option was actually secret option C!’, and it gets irritating.
We weren’t altogether taken with Love-Game, as you can probably tell (a miserable moving-cups minigame compounds it), but things do perk up with Love-Distance. A bit.
Where Love-Game pushes you away by being scuzzy, Love-Distance pulls you in by being unfathomably sad. It’s the story of a boy and girl who meet when they’re young, and grow up sharing a love of the same bands and radio stations. But life keeps separating them, as her music career and his electronics vocation pulls them in different directions. It’s less about love trumping all, and more about when to let go.
It’s affecting, and you’ll be questioning which – if any – of the endings is the ‘good’ one. None of them are fairy-tale, and it leaves a bittersweet taste in the mouth. And that’s a good thing – gaming doesn’t often tickle that taste bud.
But Love-Distance trips on its gameplay. Half of its puzzles take a leaf from Love-Game’s book, requiring odd, counter-intuitive interactions to complete (spam-click a piano! But why?). The other half are benign, just requiring a few clicks on cassette tapes and posters for you to progress. You’re going through the motions.
All of these issues are removed with Love-Detective, which is a different game entirely, made by a completely different studio. It’s a point-and-click game rather than visual novel, and the art style shifts too, delivering a more brushy and detailed aesthetic. It’s all set in your apartment, no more than three rooms total, and – like the other two games – it won’t take much more than fifteen minutes to complete.
There’s a darker edge to this story: your partner is getting suspicious texts from another woman, so you’re hunting around the house for proof of foul play. So, you’re hovering your cursor, picking up items, and gathering information that might incriminate him. Strange objects in the house imply that things are not what they seem.
It’s over barely before it’s begun, but there’s not an ounce of fat on Love-Detective, and it’s got a single idea, executed well. There’s no gaslighting weirdos, no obscure puzzles, and no trick questions. It’s the chapter that pushes the scores up.
But is Love-Detective, the third of the three stories in LoveChoice, good enough to make the whole package worth investing in? We dither on this one, but we’d suggest that the answer is ‘not quite’.
Part of that’s down to the overall runtime. Even after chasing all of the endings, we didn’t get an hour’s worth of playtime out of LoveChoice. These are verging on short stories rather than novellas, and – particularly in the case of Love-Game – they can feel like scraps of ideas, rather than something complete. Of the three, Love-Detective may be good, but it’s gone in the time it took you to read this review.
But where LoveChoice falls down is in its illusion of choice. It’s not because it doesn’t offer you agency – it’s because the choice it presents is an illusion: it doesn’t want you to pick any option. Some may call it brave or tricksy, but we found it irritating, as the solutions to scenarios were hidden behind an obscure button press, or simply waiting and saying nothing.
There’s no doubt that LoveChoice will take you on an emotional rollercoaster. It’s sensitive and wistful, and you will feel the highs and lows of its characters through the three visual novels. But too often the rollercoaster judders to a stop, and you have to guess what illogical thing the game wants from you before it restarts again. By that time, that sensitive, wistful feeling has gone.
You can buy LoveChoice for £4.99 from the Xbox Store for Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S
- Awww, it looks and sounds lovely
- Two of the stories manage to twang your emotions
- One of the stories even plays well
- But there are too many obscure solutions to its puzzles
- Love-Game has an unsavoury underbelly
- Doesn’t last the hour
- Massive thanks for the free copy of the game go to - Ratalaika Games
- Formats - Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, Switch, PS4, PS5
- Version reviewed - Xbox Series X
- Release date - 10 Sept 2021
- Launch price from - £4.99