Casual Romance Club (PC) review
"Suddenly, itís not so awesome that youíre given so much freedom, because the way the game is set up makes taking advantage of your options unpractical. More than in any other hentai game Iíve played, earning the nudity becomes a tedious chore. Even worse, you donít get to see everything. There are mosaic blurs over anything below the waist."
Itís surprising how deluxe Casual Romance Club really is. The game comes in nice packaging, and the instruction manual is a hardbound, full-color exploration of the play mechanics and characters. Thereís lots of truly fantastic artwork. I wasnít used to seeing hentai titles get such luxurious presentation, and I was anxious to see if the game lived up to that promise. Unfortunately, it mostly doesnít.
Thereís no question that the developer (the aptly-named company known as Libido) tried. The game features an assortment of twelve gorgeous girls, each with complicated emotions and desires. Not only that, but their personalities really do feel substantial. At least, they do at first. But then, this is a hentai game. The ultimate goal is to see the babes get naked, right? Yes, it is. And so the problems begin.
If youíve played other hentai games, thereís a good chance youíve become accustomed to a number of different systems. Personally, I was used to simply clicking through story elements, then making an occasional decision that would slightly affect the plot, sort of like a Ďchoose your own adventureí book from elementary school. The interface in Casual Romance Club differs from this substantially.
Basically, you start each day with a set number of girls you can talk to. The maximum number is three, and your first desire will be to keep that in mind as you plan not only who you chat with, but also the order in which you discuss things. For example, letís say youíre trying to win the heart of Jeannie Hamill. Sheís a sweet, sexy thing and the sister of your friend, Mark. When you talk to her, the subject is usually bicycling, and also friendship. But suppose that at the same time, youíre stringing along Caitlin Pritchard, the dazzling redhead. Or maybe you just want to get cozy with Paige McConley, who is starting a rock band of sorts.
Assuming the above description is accurate (and at first, youíll marvel at how many combinations there really are available), youíll find yourself scrambling to keep up with events. This is due to a stupid restriction in the system.
When you talk to a girl, youíll carry on a brief conversation about the events of the preceding day. The girl will tell you her worries and such, and sometimes youíll be able to select from a multiple-choice menu the answer that you feel is most likely to get you laid. Maybe youíll do well, and maybe you wonít. When that little bit of dialogue ends, your turn is almost up. From there, you can choose to invite the girl out on a date on that day, to arrange a weekend date, or to give up and talk to someone else.
Now, letís say you wanted to please all three of those ladies I mentioned above. You start by talking to Jeannie first, and she mentions that she really wants to go ride bike with you right then. You are now officially screwed. If you decide to ignore her, thatís a missed opportunity you wonít have again. If you take her up on the offer, though, you waste your remaining turns for the day. However, what if Caitlin was feeling frisky? You just never can tell.
If this seems like a minor flaw, let me assure you that it most definitely is not. Remember, this is a hentai game. Youíre not here to solve the worldís problems. To see much nudity at all, youíre going to do a lot to please the desired female. In order to accomplish this, you pretty much have to focus strictly on that one girl the whole way through the game. If you squander a dayís date on some other babe, the object of your most intense desire may slip through your fingers like so much water.
Sure, you can save the game. By default, it jumps to your ĎWindowsí directory, and each day you save the game wants to create a new file. This isnít intuitive. Worse, you can only save within a single trip through the game. Letís say you Ďbeatí the game on one path. You can save all the images youíve collected there, but the next time you play through on a different file, you have to start from scratch. Because of this system, the only time itís worth saving is when you want to resume a game, or if youíre willing to maintain a bunch of separate save files to load at your leisure. Itís quite irritating.
With saves not really a true option, youíre left with the only logical alternative: repeated plays through the game. At first, I was fine with this. Then I realized that if I wanted to meet all the girls, I had to do it twelve times, one for each of them. And since they mostly just repeat what they said every time you go through the game, it quickly becomes evident that you really donít want to talk to anyone but your main squeeze, lest you be forced to bear a rerun on a successive trip through. The game doesnít have any sort of ĎSkipí function to ignore the tomes of redundant text.
Suddenly, itís not so awesome that youíre given so much freedom, because the way the game is set up makes taking advantage of your options unpractical. More than in any other hentai game Iíve played, earning the nudity becomes a tedious chore. Even worse, you donít get to see everything. There are mosaic blurs over anything below the waist. I'm told this is the norm for Japanese hentai titles, but that doesn't mean gamers are going to like it. Is Jeannie fingering herself and youíd like to see it (you pervert)? Tough luck. Youíll make due with breasts and like it. Thereís one saving grace: you donít have to look at animated penis images. Every cloud has its silver lining.
Unfortunately, I havenít mentioned all the clouds. Besides blurred out goodies, the game also features irritating voice acting. Itís nice that someone cared enough to voice the dialogue in English, but the actors really do sound quite bad. Some sentences wonít be completed, and if they are the pronunciation and voice inflection is all wrong. It's no doubt what happens when you have Japanese women voicing in a language they don't really know, but the effect is a little bit like listening to a radio station that isnít quite coming through clearly. At the gameís most erotic of moments, youíll have to grit your teeth and endure.
Not only that, but youíll also find yourself hating the little windows that pop up all over the place. Every time the image in the main frame changes, you suddenly are exposed to a few small windows that hover somewhere to the side. On 1024x768 resolution, at least, they often overlap partially. So letís say youíre enjoying a moment of intimacy. As the girlís warbling voice covers the necessary dialogue, youíre busy sliding windows out of the way or closing them. Then, 30 seconds later, youíre doing it all over again.
So if the game is really so frustrating, why play it at all? Why subject yourself to the torture? Well, because the girls do look sexy. They truly do. For most of the game, the artwork is quite endearing, even when itís depicting a hottie sitting across from you in the family restaurant that serves as the setting for most of the game. Building up a relationship with one of the lovely ladies is at times quite satisfying. For most of the game, they do resemble (wait for this) real women.
Then the sex starts and suddenly they only want to talk about where you can put your Ďthingí and how it feels to have you doing your dirty work. At such points, the game regresses to the level of just about any other decent hentai title you care to name. Itís a shame, really. I really wanted to like this one. If only it werenít such a chore.
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Staff review by Jason Venter (March 26, 2005)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
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