May Club (PC) review
"Hajime Kudo is a glass half-empty kind of guy. Heís just graduated from university and already landed a decent job, so it seems heís on his way to enjoying a carefree bachelor lifestyle. But thatís precisely the problem. Convinced that beginning his career without a companion will doom him to eternal solitude, Hajime resolves to spend the totality of the next month and a half on one singular activity: finding a girlfriend. He will not eat. He will not bathe. He will not be merry until meet..."
Hajime Kudo is a glass half-empty kind of guy. Heís just graduated from university and already landed a decent job, so it seems heís on his way to enjoying a carefree bachelor lifestyle. But thatís precisely the problem. Convinced that beginning his career without a companion will doom him to eternal solitude, Hajime resolves to spend the totality of the next month and a half on one singular activity: finding a girlfriend. He will not eat. He will not bathe. He will not be merry until meeting that one special woman that makes his life whole. And he decides to make it happen at the May Club.
Thatís the Virtual Reality Date Simulator May Club to be exact, universally known by its much shorter title. This is the place where revolutionary technology is applied to mankindís most constant pursuit: consequence-free sex. Or the quest for true love, for the more wholesome out there. But of course, such extravagance doesnít come without cost, and Hajime must spend his entire savings for a precious pocketful of visits to the club. What he receives in return is a taxing game of hide-and-seek, one full of tedious small talk and fruitless pursuit, underlying drama and unforgettable surprises.
For the next forty-two days, each sunrise brings three opportunities to cash in one of those tickets. The goal is to find an eligible woman, really any woman, and success in the virtual field is based on mingling in the club at the right moments -- at times thereís no one there. Relationships can only be developed through repeated contact, all the while making the right decisions in responding to pressing situations. Hajimeís limited resources notwithstanding, thereís no doubt youíll want to jump right in and explore this land of make-believe. After all, the only alternative is to turn the hero into a narcoleptic, making him snooze for days or even weeks at a time. Unfortunately, because of the pass shortage, sleeping the time away is a staple of the necessary strategy, giving the game an uneven flow.
Adding to the fun/frustration, few clues are provided on exactly when to awaken to action. Sure, some girls are easier than others. For example, the lively college student Misato makes an instant connection with Hajime, and sheís quick to tell him the precise time of their next meeting. Also, the shy girl Rei desperately tries to shed her image as a wallflower, happily announcing her regular routine to every passerby.
However, most tend to the other extreme and require enormous effort to pin down. The sophisticated hacker Kazumi provides the ultimate challenge. The virtual world is her plaything, and she uses her skill to appear, and subsequently disappear, whenever she pleases. Discovering her whereabouts requires Simonís Quest logic, where an obscure series of moves must be made without any prompting or reason. Overall, itís a methodical process of trial-and-error, maddening because itís rare to find exactly who you seek. Yet itís also constantly interesting. Itís basically impossible to focus on one girl, leaving Hajimeís fate in an exciting, undetermined state.
Whatís less impressive is the virtual atmosphere itself. Upon entering the matrix, Hajime can spend time on an empty street in the business district, wander over to an empty street in a residential neighborhood, or kill time on an empty street in front of an unnecessary train station. For a racy twist, he can embarrass himself by standing in the empty street in front of the love hotel, or venture into a dingy back alley (also empty). From the very beginning, thereís a stifling sense that this game is incapable of presenting anything really electrifying.
But whether these unspectacular environs were created through intention or indifference, they are absolutely brilliant and key to the gameís defining feature. By placing the characters in such ordinary locations and having them engage in ordinary conversation, itís easy to forget that they are not in an ordinary world. Youíre completely disarmed by this illusion of normalcy, and then the game clobbers you with thoroughly surprising twists. After all, there has to be a reason why the sexy high school girl Kirara suspiciously canít keep her story straight. As for Hiromi, who seems like a female version of Hajime, when the explanation for her behavior pops up, itís one of the most hilarious shocks youíll ever receive. Each of the nine women is hiding some sort of secret, masterfully unfurled as the game progresses.
These indelible surprises make the game worth playing on their own, with the adult content serving as a bonus. Actually, May Club is rather unique, in that it allows you to simultaneously pursue and win as many girls as you can handle. Womanizing aside, almost every catch will only star in at most a couple of sex scenes, and while these look beautiful for a game released in the 1990ís, theyíre roughly rendered compared to todayís smooth CG. At least each one is a nice combination of a seductive pose and explicit action, with no creepy transparent body parts revealing too much of a view. However, all the titillation must come through visual stimulation and its text accompaniment, as there arenít any voices or naughty sound effects included.
This will only diminish the game in the eyes of rampant hentai fiends though, who wonít have enough patience to grind through the game anyway. Painstaking effort uncovers the real reward, the memorable moments that lead up to the final climax. Unfortunately, the gameís age makes it virtually impossible to experience in its original form. However, its inclusion on the Milky House Memorial Collection, along with the equally strong game Nocturnal Illusion, gives everyone an opportunity to experience a double dose of classic bishoujo gaming at a cheap price. If youíre looking for a bewildering adventure where nothing is as it seems, take advantage of this attractive package.
Community review by woodhouse (May 21, 2005)
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