My virtual dating life is complicated. The only time I’m not bored by my prospects is when they’re trying to kill me, which maybe says something about me and my self-worth. Self-reflection aside, I haven’t really found a virtual someone to scratch my itch like my husband does. Not that I expected to.
So, with that in mind, it’s back to school as Nicole’s titular heroine. It grabbed my attention because I like the art style and the description implies there’s a bit of danger involved. It seems someone has been abducting some of the girl’s at the college we’ll be attending, and the mystery has yet been unsolved.
If you’re new to this series, get ready as I blindly dive into this dating sim to try and find me a hunk. Just note that I’ll be giving a running narrative of my experience that will spoil a romantic sub-plot, if not the entire narrative. The first heading is relatively spoiler free, so if you’re interested, give that a read to see if the game is something you’d be into picking up. Also, feel free to provide suggestions for games I might want to tackle in this feature series.
A LITTLE BIT PROBLEMATIC
Marketing advertises that you may even inadvertently wind up dating the culprit behind the abductions, which sounds kind of kinky, but the more I think about it, the less I think that may be true. Just because someone strangles as a hobby, doesn’t mean that they’re going to bring that to the bedroom. Of course, I’m not exactly going to look up the sexual acuity of serial killers. I can’t see that research going well.
Not that it’s really relevant. As it turns out, the girls that disappeared were all found dumped in various locations three days later with no memory of the time they spent AWOL. That sounds kind of… date rape-y, especially when it’s learned that they had opioids and narcotics in their bloodstream. They then left the school, though it’s later implied that this was in response to their abduction, not because of some spooky compulsion or lingering threats.
But enough of that, let’s get to the real reason we’re here: Boys. There’s Jeff, who is nice enough until sudden moments where he reveals a creepy side. He’s studying for pharmaceuticals which is kind of suspicious. There’s Darren, who is super shy, but also a really popular blogger on the game’s version of Tumblr. There’s Ted, who is a diligent hard worker and also has a southern accent. Also, there’s Kurt, who is a jock.
There really is no separating the wheat from the chaff here. It’s all chaff. I tend to gravitate towards the more forward characters, but in this case, that’s just Kurt and Kurt is a dumb jock. No, I mean it; that’s his personality. He at least tries hard to impress, but he needs Nicole to tutor him. Not that there’s anything wrong with seeking help. I just don’t think we’d connect on much aside from his well-toned abs.
That leads to me falling back on the most enigmatic, and that turns out to be Jeff. Early in the game, Jeff reveals himself to be something of a mad scientist (really, he aspires to being an alchemist), and he hides a dark, arrogant personality behind a more affable veil. He recruits me as his assistant in gathering ingredients for his love potion. Well, it’s not explicitly called a love potion, it’s said to just make someone grow fonder of a person… somehow. Again, I’m getting date rape vibes from this.
Anyway, part of the reason I’m drawn to Jeff is that he’s a likely suspect in the disappearances. He was at school at the time and studies drugs. But it can’t be that obvious, right?
THE WEIRD KID
Nicole is a true dating sim, which means that there’s stat building to go along with all the romance. The game helpfully drops the hint that in order to get a romantic ending, I need to put a lot of stat points into that boy’s favourite trait: diligence, zeal, amity, or wit. I figure Jeff is the boy genius, so he’s probably into wit. I typically study hard in these dating sims anyways, so I pour my effort into that stat.
Along the way, you need to search for clues to advance the mystery. There’s not much more to it than that; it’s just another stat you put points into. After passing a certain threshold the next point in the plot will reveal itself.
As for the boys, you score points with them by picking the right dialogue options, as is usually the case. Unusually, however, you also need to buy them gifts to increase your relationship to the maximum. That’s not all that strange to have as a mechanic, but the fact that it’s necessary to maximize the romance is kind of shallow.
Things progress well with Jeff and me, I think. Although he’s completely insulting and antagonistic, I slowly worm my way past his defenses and learn… nothing very redeeming. He shows a softer side a couple of times, and I help him with his concoction. Afterwards, we test it on a girl who often gives him the cold shoulder and we get no reaction. The potion is a failure and he’s distraught.
Jeff locks himself in his bedroom and refuses to emerge. I give him reassurances until he lets me into his room, then he completely loses control and flips out. It’s obvious he’s confused by his feelings for me and lashes out. During the argument, and I swear this is true, he threatens to rape me. The game makes it obvious that it’s an empty threat, and that he wasn’t planning to go through with it, but…
Yeah, that happened.
While all this is “romance” is going on, I’m also getting threatening messages from the abductor, telling me that I’ll be the fourth victim. I do some investigation into this instead of, you know, telling the police, and track them down to what Nicole believes is where he took the abducted girls. She finds a room with a locking door, a bed, a chair, a table, and a toilet. But apparently that isn’t enough evidence that this is where the crime took place.
IT GETS WORSE
So, you’re probably wondering how Jeff and I resolve this gargantuan rift that has been created. So do I, because once the date hit December 21st, the game proclaimed I received the “very bad ending.”
I was a bit dumbfounded. I had my clues at 999, as was my wit, and my relationship with Jeff was capped out. The game’s own hints suggested this was what I needed to get the best ending.
I get another message from the abductor telling me to go to his hideout, and like the complete idiot I am, I go there alone without telling anyone. Sure enough, I walk into the little jail cell room, have the door locked behind me, and wake up three days later in the streets with no memory of what happened. Fade to black.
When I say that this game is “date rape-y,” I’m not trying to be funny. There’s nothing funny about date rape. It’s just that — and maybe I lack imagination — I don’t know what else someone would want to do with an unconscious woman for three days. The game states that there’s no sign of physical harm on the women, which I think is the developers way to try and distance themselves from that interpretation, but something about it struck me as very disturbing all the same.
Again, maybe I’m misreading it. Maybe it’s better explained in one of the good endings. I imagine the abduction angle was more to add a sense of danger to the romance, rather than cater to a particular fantasy, but that’s just not how it hit me.
This may seem like it’s in stark contrast to the playful receptiveness I’ve had to some of the darker situations in previous dating sims I played. I admit that some of my fantasies and preferences lean into territory that some would consider disturbing, but I guess that there’s a point where a narrative crosses into the territory of “too real,” and that’s where I landed with Nicole.
It bothers me that Nicole is unrealistically daft. A lot of characters mention how smart she is and she brags about her test scores, but when it comes down to it, she makes some ludicrous decisions at every turn, culminating in her trying to confront the culprit alone, unarmed, and without notifying anyone of where she was going.
Then, there’s the fact that Jeff straight up threatens to rape Nicole. Whether or not he intended to go through with that, making the threat is abusive. Because of my circumstance, I don’t know how that romantic sub-plot resolves. Like I said, I pegged him as the culprit right from the word go, so if that’s the case, maybe this was a deliberate attempt to make him less sympathetic. I’m hoping I just don’t have the full picture here.
In any case, this didn’t turn out. Not that I think things would have really worked out with Jeff after what he did. None of the other guys proved to be all that interesting either. Ugh. I think I’m going to do what the other abducted girls did and just transfer to a different school. I don’t feel safe here.
Oh, by the way, you may be wondering how I ended up with the “very bad ending.” I looked it up. Apparently I was supposed to max out the clues stat first before I passed 900 points in wit. Yeah. Somehow I was supposed to know that in advance, I guess, and as punishment, I get to be locked up and drugged for purposes I don’t want to think about.