Sitcoms like Friends, How I Met Your Mother, The Big Bang Theory and many more have a unique appeal. On one hand, they are fine; immediately watchable, yet very much a throwaway bit of TV when there is nothing else on. Jump in at any point and know what is happening. The personality of the characters is such that you know straight away how they will react to a situation they are thrown into, and the humour comes from that side of it. Roommates – the latest port from Ratalaika Games – is the visual novel equivalent of this very format.
The game opens on your first day at college, and you have the choice between either Max or Anne. Max is a rockstar in the making, or at least he thinks he is. He’s the type of guy that acts like a dog with two penises, and he doesn’t know what to do with either of them. Misogynistic, arrogant, and a little bit racist in the first few moments – it’s fair to say I wasn’t too keen on him.
Anne, on the other hand, is one of those rare students that goes to college to learn and further her education. She is shy and timid but get her out of her shell a bit and she flourishes. Instantly likable.
You have a choice between either of these characters to play as, but their journey through Roommates is largely the same. Regardless of who you choose, both move into the same student house, and most events will be identical for both. Guess who I preferred?
In fairness to Max though, despite his obvious flaws in the beginning, he played the lovable rogue traits, and I was able to tolerate him soon enough.
Roommates also features a large dose of dating sim, as both Max and Anne have a supporting cast they can try and romance. Depending on your chosen character will decide who is an option to pursue. Despite the large cast of minor characters, it is only other roommates in your residence for the next year – Latin House – that are open to you.
Max can romance Anne and vice versa, but there are others. Isabella is the wild child party animal of the bunch and Rakesh is the eccentric artist. These two can be romanced by both Max and Anne. Then, Sally, who is very much the girl next door, is only open to Max. Likewise, for Anne, is the Resident Assistant Dominic.
The supporting cast are all written well enough, despite having no personality traits to lift them over anything other than a generic cast.
Building relationships with these characters comes through events that happen during the week. As the game progresses, events will pop up with the opportunity to play or skip. A short introduction usually plays, and if it is a character you have your eye on, it is best not to skip them. By playing it, a decision will arise that can improve or be detrimental to your relationship. The answer you want is usually easy to figure out; it isn’t like other conversation trees where there is trepidation with your responses having an adverse effect. Thankfully, Roommates is a lot simpler than that.
As well as an emphasis on romance, Roommates also features a very basic life sim. Away from the events that can help build relationships, players have a weekly rota to maintain. Here they can partake in college studying, part-time jobs and various social activities. Doing any of these will increase your stats in areas such as Creative, Active, Spontaneous and more. As well as improving your relationships with characters, to really take the romance to the next level you need to increase specific stats that your preferred person would find interesting.
Some activities require money, so keeping a healthy balance with part-time work in between social events is crucial. All activities will require energy – some more than others – so there is no shame in having an early night scheduled in instead of a trip to the bar.
Events that pop-up though will overwrite what is in your planner however. It is always worthwhile noting what has been missed.
Succeed in romancing over the course of the year and towards Spring Break and then Summer you will unlock intimate moments with your lover. These are in keeping with the game’s faux anime art style, but in reality don’t show anything too illicit. Should you enjoy what you see after unlocking it though, they can be replayed again at any point in the Gallery.
In keeping with Max’s rockstar aesthetic, the soundtrack features a pop-punk theme throughout. The tunes are catchy enough that you don’t mind them in the background whilst reading the text on screen; just don’t expect to be searching for them after playing the game (the soundtrack is on Spotify though).
Roommates has 16 achievements to earn, and all of them are related to unlocking the intimate moments in Summer and at the end. These are made easier by making a note from the very start of whose moments you are trying to unlock in this playthrough. In total though, Roommates will require eight different playthroughs to unlock every achievement. Sadly, it will overstay its welcome long before that.
Roommates on the Xbox One does feel like you are playing through a teen/young adult sitcom, but that comes with all the negative tropes around that too – unlikable characters, cheap laughs, and not likely to stay with you after completion. It has two playable characters with multiple romance options each to encourage replayability, but each playthrough will be identical, even between characters. Some features such as the weekly planner help differentiate it from other visual novels, but then it has an easily imitable art style to make it look like all the others that have been before. Roommates is very middle of the road.