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Review – High School Dreams (PC)

April 15, 2010 | DR Studios

Back in my college days i played a fair number of Japanese “dating simulators”.  The style pushed by these games tends to be still image graphics with walls and walls of expositional text.  Occasionally you make a choice.  It’s sort of like a Choose your own adventure book.  High School Dreams is sort of an American take on the same basic concept.  This game has a fairly rough development history according to Wikipedia.  Originally developed by Eidos, it was dumped when SquareEnix bought out Eidos.  After being dumped, DR Studios went on to develop the title themselves before being released on the GreenMan Gaming download service.  Several sites such as IGN still list this game as canceled despite being released in early 2010.

Originally I had picked this up because I wanted to try out Greenman’s service and it was the cheapest thing on the site that wasn’t a DLC, being on sale for around a dollar.  After playing through I have to say I was rather pleased with the game itself.  You play as the “new girl” in town and must navigate through the ins and outs of the High School social network.  The game pushes itself as a dating simulator style game and there is a “main plot” of courting one of the 6 main male character in order to get a date for the Prom, though the prom occurs only a few weeks into the school year so it’s more of a Homecoming event than anything.

The game has much much more depth than simply trying to find a date for the prom.  It actually has so many concurrent social mechanisms running at once things become a bit overwhelming at times.  I will say that it is impossible to actually manage to “go out” with all of the guys at once time during one play through.  For starters, your clothing options all influence what different folks think of you, so you’ll never be able to impress everyone at once.  Even if you try rotating the wardrobe, there is the problem of needing to buy more clothes to fulfill every option.  There are several mini game jobs to play to earn cash but this will eat into the time you have to interact with everyone. 

There is also the basic underlying idea of interacting with the world eating up time.  As you talk to random NPCs you can learn different bits of gossip, then you can turn around and spread this gossip.  This is sometimes necessary to help keep yourself from gaining a poor reputation.  There are also numerous magnets hidden around to collect, though they do not serve any purpose as far as I could tell.  In order to help better your friendship with your best female companion you’ll have to have the occasional sleep over which can be made more beneficial by updating your room’s furniture. 

In short, being a new girl in High School is a lot more work than I’d ever expected.

The game is not without it’s short comings.  I have my suspicions that some of these shortcoming were spawned from the game’s rocky development cycle.  Basically, they lost their publisher and budget and had to cut some of the ambition out of this title.  For example, there are a few additional male characters that seem like they were originally intended to be options during the dating sequences.  The game itself is also somewhat buggy.  The path finding mechanisms are iffy sometimes for the NPCs.  The game itself takes an eternity to load, at least it did on my wimpy laptop, though once the initial load is over it runs pretty briskly.  By “eternity” I’m talking at LEAST ten minutes once you leave the title screen, probably more like fifteen.

The game also lacks a lot of overlap between the characters that really could flesh out the world.  For example, you can end up “dating” 3 or 4 guys at once and no one seems to notice or care.  You never seem to get a “what the hell I thought we were friends”.  Also, despite that I ended up very high on the scale with the nerdy photographer guy, yet had only done one favor for the class clown guy, there were suddenly rumors about how pathetic I was for going out with the class clown.  Really?  I barely interacted with the guy.

This brings up another point.  Every one of your dating options is a blatant stereotype, though fortunately, you do tend to find that they are more than their stereotype would suggest, though not MUCH more.  There is the pretty boy, who won’t even speak to you; the jock who is obsessed with basketball; the nerdy photography obsessed guy, who ignores his best friend who is a girl for you; there is the lonely goth kid who spends all his time reading and indoors; and finally there is the “token black guy” who is into music.  It tends to make selection on things like gift really obvious from the start.  Also disappointing, you almost never interact with anyone outside of the school itself other than when you go on a date.  You pretty much never just happen to run into someone at the mall or the beach or the park.  The interactions are somewhat limited as well, unless you’re at a point for a special event, you get the same idle chit chat whether a guy is totally indifferent to your or if he’s totally in love with you.

There are also some issues a bit with pacing.  Thankfully, the learning part of the school day is totally superfluous.  You get up, get dressed, go tot school, the clock jumps to 3 PM.  The clock runs very quickly though, which is frustrating when you’re trying to complete some fetch quest for one of the many NPCs.  On the other hand, the game tends to plod along before getting to any level of a resolution.  After about 2 weeks of in game time, I was wondering when this game’s plot was going to go somewhere.  It barely gets off the ground unfortunately.  You do fetch quests and pick the “best” chat choices until you get asked to the prom.  Prom culminates in a series of mini games to see if you can win being Prom King and Queen.

The Prom mini games are mostly rehashes of the job mini games.  These actually are surprisingly varied and reasonably fun.  Each has 3 difficulty levels though the difficulty is more based on not missing things more than actually getting more difficult.  There are a few match the music notes DDR style games.  There is a matching game at the Laundromat, the ice cream parlor has the most challenge where you must quickly fulfill orders while keeping your supply of Ice Cream stocked.  The park ranger has you plant flowers in the flower bed though I’m not sure if there is any way to actually lose this mini game.  Completing mini games on the higher levels also earns special outfits that generally have a high appeal to one of the 6 boys you can court.  Doing the Cheerleading game for example will net you a cheerleader outfit which the Jock loves.

The overall result is a huge mixed bag.  Maybe I’m just viewing it from the wrong perspective, not really being anywhere near the target audience for this title.  It’s extremely ambitious in it’s presentation but at the same time it’s lacking some key interactions to make the world feel rich while at the same time coming off as a bit rushed.  On the other hand, I’m sure my daughter will love playing this game over and over just for the dress up aspect.

High School Dreams is available here on Greenman Gaming.

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