Pia Carrot e Youkoso!! (Saturn) review
"This port of Cocktail Soft's famous title has a decidedly different feel from the PC-FX incarnation. The world is brighter, the facial features are more stylized, the breasts are bigger, and the game in general feels less like an emotional adventure, and more like the 'hentai' (pornographic) dating games that developer Cocktail Soft and publisher KID were known for."
After its success on Japanese floppy-disk PC and the stunning console conversion on PC-FX CD, Japanese gamers anxiously awaited the release of Pia Carrot e Youkoso!! on the Sega Saturn. Not only was it a newer, slicker system, but for many gamers, who had heard of the PC-FX version's excellence (but never owned the console), it would be their first chance to see the girls in glorious FMV and hear the enhanced voices and music provided by CD.
Those eager beavers got their newer, slicker game — a great work of art no doubt, albeit with a decidedly different feel from the PC-FX incarnation. The world is brighter, the facial features are more stylized, the breasts are bigger, and the game in general feels less like an emotional adventure, and more like the 'hentai' (pornographic) dating games that developer Cocktail Soft and publisher KID were known for.(1)
Welcome to Pia Carrot!
The quandary: You want to spend summer on the beach. Your father wants you to help out at his restaurant, the Pia Carrot diner.
The gamble: Fail your courses, and you work at the Pia as punishment. Pass with flying colors and you get an expenses-paid summer vacation.
The outcome: FAILURE! Now you're stuck at the Pia, washing dishes, shelving boxes, ringing up customers, and cleaning the sidewalk.
But it's not that bad. Really, it's not! You see, some hot chicks happen to work at your papa's restaurant — so there are plenty of opportunities to lay the mack down. And every now and then, beautiful babes actually decide to eat at the diner. On those days, while filling in as waiter, you could simply serve them delicious food... OR you could serve them delightful schlong!
From all these women (nine in all, the Saturn port's got an extra pretty-pretty), you'll have to pick one to pursue; playing the pimp daddy won't get you anywhere in this part of town. You've got from July 25th to August 28th — a month to charm the pants off a particular cutie. Then on the last day of Summer, you'll make a fateful call to the object of your affections. If your advances have been successful, she will meet you and a fairy tale ending ensues. If you haven't succeeded at Prince Charming the ladies off their feet... you'll be alone, abandoned, broken.
To make matters worse, if you lose, you'll blow all your hard-earned money on birthday gifts for your little sister Rumi. So there's a lesson here. Pursue your love with diligence — or you'll be alone and destitute!
Plan Your Day
The mouse-style interface of the previous Pia port has been cast aside, replaced by a simple cursor; move the blinker from left to right across a bar at the top of the screen, and make a selection. While it's easy to handle, it's almost too simple — no longer is the interface a "full screen" experience, like you'd find in Can Can Bunny Extra (also available on the Saturn).
Can Can had a reason for the mouse-style interface — in that game, you could move a hand icon around the screen and click on the girls' breasts or buttocks to attain humorous reactions and observations. In this game, by relegating all the cursory action to a one-inch strip at the top of the screen, it becomes apparent how non-interactive the majority of the visuals actually are. Where PC-FX Pia hid its weakness and flaunted its strength (the emotional impact of the story), Saturn Pia hides its strength and flaunts its weakness (lack of interactivity with the scenery).
Fortunately, both versions still contain the same innovative workday simulation, whereby you increase your characteristics of charisma, kindness, so-on and so-forth, by performing the appropriate chores and duties. It's important to mix and match your personal parameters, as each girl expects a particular assortment of attributes. You can't win over a bookworm with a buff body alone!
Stop to Smell the Roses
Bright, stylized graphics are more suited to a fanciful setting (for example, the sex-Goddess tale of Can Can Bunny Extra — of which the Saturn port is my preferred version). It's hard to fault the developers for trying to modernize Pia's graphics for a new generation of gamer, but some of the down-to-earth emotional impact is lost in the absence of earth tones.
The game follows a post-Slayers art style — larger eyes, perkier chests, longer foreheads. It's certainly attractive and colorful, but by being more stylized, the new character designs have lost a bit of their humanity. Considering the nature of Pia Carrot, which is that it teaches the player something applicable to real life, this divergence from realism works against the suspension of disbelief, reminding us more and more that instead of "people" we are looking at "pretty pictures".
Every version of Pia features colorful, resolute artwork. The difference is in the style, not in the quality. Pia on the Saturn has opted for primary colors and cuter facial features, making it more similar to all the other hentai dating games available for the Saturn and Dreamcast. It's sad to see a large chunk of Pia's identity sink into the bright blue-red-yellow sea.
Although the artwork has taken a more modern approach (if at the expense of soul), the music has become decidedly more primitive. First off, the melodies are totally different now. Saori's melancholy yet passionate track has changed. It's still slow, but more serene than somber. And the main Pia track has changed, which is very odd considering Pia 2 (also available on Saturn) uses the PC-FX version of that music!
Second, the music isn't CD audio, it's Midi — but it's not even good Midi. Games like Astal proved you can weave an intricate, vivid soundtrack with the Saturn's soundchip. Pia's music sounds tinny and sparse — more appropriate for the 16-bit generation. And not the good 16-bit games, at that.
Work Hard, Play Harder
You've got a lot of girls to pursue, and the Saturn even adds something new — a starlet on the rise, running from the life she was born to lead. Her story is touching and considers some deep issues regarding finding one's own identity, as opposed to simply following the wills and wants of your parents, as she abandons her former life and joins the waitress workforce. Airi (the aforementioned starlet) thinks she's held back in life by her mother — and she is — but she's also holding herself back, afraid to acknowledge her own value to the world. Afraid to live the life in front of her.
Unfortunately, this character is an anomaly that breaks the pattern of the Pia world. All the other girls are real: people that you might already know, either working around you, or attending your school. Airi is not real. You don't know Britney Spears. And, even if you did, Britney would not suddenly abandon her singing career to work as a server at TGI Friday's.
Even more unfortunately, Airi's story climaxes in a film shoot staged at the Pia Carrot. Never ever, never never ever!, was there such an outlandish scenario concocted in Pia Carrot... until now. Once that ridiculous scene is over, you rendezvous with little miss starlet in the back of the restaurant... and she isn't there to grab a late-night BLT. She's more in the mood for some spicy HBI.(2)
But these girls aren't exactly hot to trot from the start. Like the sexy dogs they are, the Pia girls can smell an ass from a mile away. If you want to win these, uhm, female dogs over, you've got to play it nice and smooth. Taking sweet little Shouko to the love hotel won't win you booty points with her protective man-distrusting friend Satomi.
But if you're just looking for a nice bod to bounce, you're really looking in the wrong place. Pia Carrot has never been about banging all the girls on the block. If you want that much honey on your ham, go out and get Can Can Bunny Extra, where you have to hammer all the hardbodies to win the game.
Just to make it clear to anyone who might be confused — this game does have sex in it. Yes, it only has a "yellow label". That just means there's no nudity. There's still plenty of raunch tucked away inside.
Surprisingly, the lack of nudity does not detract from the game's eroticism. In fact, due to the original nature of the game, the Saturn port is sometimes sexier than ever before. Not all of the nude scenes in the original Pia are meant to be appealing. At one point, an 18-year-old sweetheart drops by your place, offering her body — as her flesh is all she believes she has left to give.
In the original, if you chose to accept her self-deprecating offer, what followed was... a surprisingly plain, unemotional scene of intercourse. A matter-of-fact performance, which screamed "that was not the right thing to do!" The Saturn version, in an effort to compensate for its lack of nudity, has stylized the art design, altered the sexual positions, and added flashy colors in the form of lingerie (sexy reds and blues contrasting against the pale fleshtones). In other words, Cocktail Soft has crafted a heated moment that is more gratifying, energetic, and enticing than the original — which works against the spirit of the scene. This newly erotic performance screams "oh yeah baby yeah!"
Sadly, this misguided reinforcement detracts from the player's desire to be a nice and noble guy, undermining Pia's thought-provoking lessons about love.
The End of Summer
This is a great game in its own right, but lacking the perfect presentation of its more involving cousin on the oft-forgotten PC-FX. While the plot and storyboards between the two are nearly identical, the music, graphical style, voice actors, and front-end are wildly different. There's a gap in passion when one port (FX) spools a beautiful FMV after booting the CD-ROM... and the other port (Saturn) loads a purple title screen. Welcome to Pia Carrot! on the Saturn is about as good as a console hentai game gets... but it's not the unforgettable masterpiece it could have been, having avoided the daring earthiness of its predecessor, having instead taken the hentai road more traveled.
(1) Oddly enough, despite no longer working together, both Cocktail Soft and KID have taken to producing more conservative work in recent years, moving away from the sexually-charged "Can Can Bunny" games of the Saturn era.
(2) HBI — 'Hot Beef Injection', one of the more nutritional meals available to the love-deprived youth of Japan. (source: R. Ruder)
Staff review by Zigfried (January 06, 2005)
Zigfried likes writing about whales and angry seamen, and often does so at the local pub.
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