Arcade Spirits depicts an existence many of us dream of having. Working at an arcade while searching for true romance? What else could one ask for? And despite a few rough edges here and there, this visual novel succeeds at providing an interesting narrative where your created character juggles their personal and professional life.
Focus on work while distracted by hotties
The adventure begins with the player creating an avatar. You can come up with a name, choose your pronouns, and customize your eye, hair, and clothing color. Sadly, there is no option to change your face or default outfit, and the options for skin tone and hair length are severely limited.
The story is set in the year 20XX. The video game crash of 1983 never happened, so places like arcades are not only thriving but are legitimate businesses where one can earn a living. You play as a down-on-their-luck individual who has a family curse where disaster always strikes when things are going well. Fresh out of a job, you are hooked up with an A.I. app by your best friend, Juniper, to find yourself the perfect profession. After crunching some numbers, you attend a job interview at a local arcade, where you are hired following a unique series of questions from the owner.
As you start your first day, you meet your fellow co-workers and regulars who frequent the arcade. There’s Percy, a British lad who is trying to get a high score on a retro title. Colleague Naomi, a mechanic who loves restoring classic games. And QueenBee, a tough fighting game professional who streams all her matches and is part of a league. Naturally, her penchant for trash talk left me instantly smitten, so she was the object of my desire.
There are a total of six people you can build a relationship with: three men and three women. Also, you have a number of personality traits to keep track of: Kindly, Quirky, Steady, Gutsy, and Basically. Depending on your dialogue choices, you will build certain traits up, and these will endear certain characters to you. Arcade Spirits asks you to always answer questions honestly, but there isn’t a penalty for, say, choosing more Gutsy answers to get QueenBee to like you more.
Deeper than you might expect
During the course of the title’s relatively short length, (There are eight levels.) the player will experience a whirlwind escapade. Depending on whom you spend time with, there is a lot of heavy subject matter thrown your way. Topics like sexual ambiguity, abuse, terminal illness, and depression are all handled delicately and explored in a positive manner. I was surprised at how many twists and turns Arcade Spirits has; chapters go from highs to lows and back again with great frequency, and the plot is thoroughly engaging.
The use of personality traits is a wonderful game mechanic. As I said before, choosing certain responses will affect whom you can potentially date. But in addition to that, the core of who you are as a person will also have an effect on major decisions your protagonist must make. If you decide to be a Kindly/Gutsy individual, for example, you cannot choose a Quirky or Steady answer to these life-altering events. It’s a smart way for Arcade Spirits to make sure you are being true to yourself.
Bumps along the journey
There were only a handful of things I didn’t enjoy in Arcade Spirits. For starters, you can’t be polyamorous. Sure, you are free to flirt with any of the six main potential lovers, but the game forces you to commit to one by the halfway point. While that isn’t a bad thing, I thought a poly life would be an option, especially with the variety of pairings you can have (my playthrough was same-sex).
In addition, there were some slight annoyances. At one point, I had a conversation with QueenBee in one chapter that was exactly the same as the one I had had with her in the previous one. And while the main group is drawn with a vibrant style, some NPCs look like rough sketches. Also, the voice acting is kept to a minimum. While I understand full voice acting might have been too daunting of a task, the personality of each romanceable partner really shines through in the audio.
Regardless, Arcade Spirits is a unique visual novel. It has a lot of humor as well as dourness, which will have gamers guessing their fate while simultaneously shaping it themselves. As you go from floor assistant to something much more, you’ll find true love along the way. The dream of working a job you adore while finding your soulmate: a hardship in real life, but achievable in a few short hours with Arcade Spirits.
A review code was provided by the publisher.