As a gamer of advancing years, I’m old enough to remember the Renault Clio ads that seemed to play everywhere on the TV in my younger days. With very involving dialogue, an aging Lothario father whose only line was “Nicole?” and a flighty French girl whose only line was “Papa?”, these adverts were classics of their time. Nicole, the video “game” has nothing to do with these adverts though, being a dating sim coming from Ratalaika Games. Taking the form of a visual novel on Xbox One, is it worth a try?
When I saw this Nicole pop up, it immediately reminded me of two previous Ratalaika visual novels I have played – Syrup and the Ultimate Sweet and Jisei: The First Case HD. It has to be said that I really enjoyed playing through both those titles, being a fan of the way they played, the branching dialogue and the multiple endings. My hopes were high going into Nicole. It is billed as a dating simulator, where you take the part of the titular Nicole, a young girl going to college. Nicole has managed to get into her first choice of school, and as such is very excited to move into her dorms and experience college life in all its infinite variety. Of course, it’s not all going to be plain sailing: as soon as Nicole gets settled in, she learns that there has been a series of disappearances on the campus. There have been three girls go missing in the recent past, and if Nicole isn’t careful, she could be next.
Now, the dating simulator part of things comes into the visual novel as we follow Nicole on her day to day routine. There are four boys that Nicole can build a relationship with: Ted, Darren, Kurt and Jeff. Of course, one of these guys could be the kidnapper, but that just adds to the spice of the game. As you talk to each boy, the answers that you give to the conversational gambits of the four guys can make them like you more, and building a relationship seems to be the point here. As the game goes on, you can also buy each of the male characters presents that will raise the amount that they like you – assuming you give them the right item, of course.
Luckily, the life of a college student isn’t only about flirting with a succession of young men. Nicole also has to attend classes, go to places like the gym and the cinema, and even get a part time job to make ends meet. Some activities that Nicole can engage in require money, and so going to work means that you could go drinking or have a nice meal in a restaurant, for instance. Also, some locations allow you to either observe people or gather clues as to who may be the kidnapper, so this is always a valid way to spend time. At the end of each day, you will be given a breakdown of what you have achieved in the day, with scores given for clues, diligence and so on. Each action takes energy and morale, and the option for sleeping in your room or taking a bubble bath will raise your energy and morale, so don’t let them get too low. Basically, in this game you are a teenage girl, and I have to say that I’m glad I don’t live in Nicole’s world.
Now, there is a great deal of replayability built into this game, with multiple endings to unlock. Each boy has an ending associated with him, and it’s entirely possible to raise your relationship with each chap and get a different ending as well. However, I’m struggling to find the will to try and unlock too many of these endings, if I’m brutally honest.
The issue I have with Nicole is that it is tedious, boring, uninspiring, and – well, you catch my drift. Being a college girl must be the dullest existence it is possible to live. Without a world of a lie, by around day 45, I was willing whichever guy she was currently having a dreadful, stilted conversation with to say “Hey, I’m the baddie, surprise!” and kidnap her just so I didn’t have to read another turgid scene.
It may seem like I didn’t like this game from the previous few sentences, and that’s for a very good reason: it’s awful. There’s no flow to the conversations, the guys you date are two dimensional at best, Nicole is so annoying I hoped she would come a cropper, and the game commits the worst crime it’s possible for a game to commit: deliver dullness. I don’t want to go to class, to go to extra classes, to go to virtual work; this is more like real life than an escape from real life.
So, all in all, I’m not a fan of Nicole on Xbox One, either the game or the heroine. The gameplay is dull, the hook of trying to get these boys to like you is boring at best and annoying at worst, the characters don’t ever come alive, and it’s generally not as much fun as other visual novels I’ve played, even others from the Ratalaika stable. My honest recommendation would be to play Jisei instead, as that, with just four locations, does much more than Nicole manages with three times that amount. Being an American teenage college girl is not as much fun as Buffy would have us believe.