Well, this is different. I came across Pub Encounter because it was on sale. I read my husband the description and joked that this is at the other end of the world from my dating fantasies. He then made sure I bought it.
I don’t drink; never have. I’ve only ever been to a bar for live music. The bar dating scene is a complete mystery to me; it might as well be a culture from space. I don’t know what it’s like to be “picked up,” nor am I the type to flirt. This is making me uncomfortable just talking about it.
So, here I am playing a game about getting hit on by middle-aged men at a bar. If you’re new to this series, I’m doing blind runs of romantic sims and giving a running narrative of my experiences. With that in mind, there’s going to be a lot of spoilers. If you want to play along, maybe read the first heading and see if it’s something you’d be interested in.
With that said, and with great hesitation, I now step into the bar.
I’LL TAKE A SHIRLEY TEMPLE, PLEASE
As previously described, Pub Encounter, is a romantic visual novel focused around a bar, Audire. You stop by after a bad day at work and find that it’s a hang-out for refined gentlemen. You’re told that there hasn’t been a girl there in a hog’s age. Naturally, you get swarmed, and everyone immediately tries to get you drunk.
Much like Iris School of Wizardry, Pub Encounter is a romantic visual novel that has you select from a set of different characters from the offset, then guides you through their story. I was initially going to look at all of them and tell you about them, but then I realized the story is strictly linear and I’d be spoiling everything by doing it, so I’m cutting it down to three.
As for the whole cast: there’s Ryunosuke Yuze, who is the CEO of a producer of women’s “innerwear.” He’s presented as being very severe and serious — job oriented. Next is Mamoru Arashiro, a civil lawyer who immediately takes to hitting on me. Hideaki Kodama is a police officer and the butt of the bar’s jokes. Yorihisa Hodo also moved in quickly to try and pick me up. He’s a writer that is apparently quite popular. Finally there’s Soichiro Toyoizumi, the bar’s owner. He has a horrible ponytail and I don’t like it.
Let’s start at the bottom and work our way up. So, up first is:
The silver fox. Yeah, okay, this guy is the bottom of my list. It’s not that I have a problem with age, but that monocle — that ponytail! He looks like a steampunk art teacher. I’m willing to look beyond the book’s cover and give him a chance, but I’m feeling like I could have trouble relating.
Case in point, not long after he saves me from attempted sexual assault, there’s basically a whole chapter about wine tasting. Oh, gosh…
Oh, gosh… There’s still six more chapters.
I guess now I know what a sommelier is.
Yeah, it goes on like this for the whole episode. Obviously my avatar sees more in Soichiro than I do, because she falls hard. The episode toddles through some stuff about updating the bar menu and flower arrangement, then reveals Soichiro’s dark past: he hasn’t been getting along with his brother. Be still, my beating heart.
We ended up banging exactly once, which was too many times, but at least it was in the bar. So that’s nice, I guess.
Mamoru is my second top choice. I figure after Soichiro, I could use some excitement. What drew me to Mamoru is that he’s a lecher, but, like, gentlemanly? What I’m saying is that he has game. He’s not so bad that he’s going to invite you to the men’s room at the first sign of attraction, and he’s not going to say, “nice tits,” like it’s some sort of universal compliment. No, not quite. He makes no secret about the fact that he’s trying to moisten your panties, but he’s going to do it with tact.
Things progress in a predictably speedy manner. We’ve made love by the third chapter and have done it in a public park by the fourth. However, it’s not long before Mamoru attempts to put distance between us because of something to do with his dark past. It’s not immediately revealed that he was Yakuza, but it’s pretty damned obvious.
I wind up entangled in this revenge situation where Mamoru’s old boss is trying to get even with him because his girlfriend committed suicide after not being able to get over her love for Mamoru. Wow, that’s a little dark.
It gets darker, though, as the Yakuza attempt to kill me, take me hostage on two occasions, and reveal that they’ve recorded Mamoru and I during our passionate moments… for some reason. The Yakuza boss then, at one point, cuts my neck with a knife and reopens the wound with his tongue, or as I call it, gives me a Leonore. I wonder if he’s single?
Anyway, the police show up and take the Yakuza boss away, leaving Mamoru and I to continue our romance in a less dangerous situation. But hopefully not too much less dangerous, there still needs to be some magic in this relationship outside sex in public places.
Yorihisa was my top choice for two reasons: the first is that he was one of the most forward guys at the bar, the second is he is a writer of some renown. That can be dangerous. Creative type people can often have dark spots that drive them forward as their muse. Take it from me.
Unfortunately, a lot of that forward behaviour evaporates when the flirting really begins. Not all of it, though, it doesn’t take long before he makes a challenge: first one to fall in love, loses. If I win, he has to write another romance novel, as my avatar is a fan and he hasn’t written one in years. If he wins, he never has to write a romance novel again.
We grow closer over time, going out on a few dates. My character is often conflicted by her obvious love for Yorihisa and her unwillingness to lose. She wants to tell him her feelings, but doing so would cost her the game.
Remember those dark spots I mentioned? In this case, it’s Yorihisa’s dead wife and daughter. First his daughter died at a young age, then his wife passed away. This has left him feeling that he can never love again, and he stopped writing romance. He makes hints that he may be falling for me, but after a night of passionate love making, he disappears for a month.
He later reappears and explains he’s been busy writing and apologizes for leaving me in the lurch. To try and get him to stay, I tell him my feelings, but he simply takes that as confirmation that he won the game. He hands me a package to open in one month, then goes back to work. Later, the cat’s out of the bag; he’s writing a romance novel. But… does that mean that he actually lost the challenge?
So far, so cute, right? Let me snap you out of that bubble for a second. Can you guess what is in that package? I thought it would be a copy of his manuscript, but no — it’s his dead wife’s dress. He expects me to wear it for him. He has mentioned that I remind him a lot of his wife. Has it clicked for you why this is so creepy? He’s trying to use me to replace his wife.
Okay, so the game gives me reassurances that, no really, he’s ready to move on and I was the one to repair his broken heart. That dress, though.
Back to the land of cute romance, his new book is indeed a romance inspired by the challenge we had for each other. It’s dedicated to me, the love of his life. D’awww.
That dress, though.
I can’t get around it. You can’t replace someone who has left your life. “Reminds me of my dead wife” should not top your list of traits you look for in a lover. Yeah, that can be nice to have since there’s a reason why you loved that person to begin with and it didn’t change, but you can’t force someone into that role. They’re an individual; their own person. Love that and learn to move on. Please.
I guess I shouldn’t be surprised by how that went. Just as predicted, Pub Encounter really wasn’t my scene, but it did give me a glimpse into a world that isn’t my own. A world where men are actually interested in me. Pow! Right in the self-esteem!
I don’t normally comment on gameplay, but I really don’t think I’m a fan of this “Choose your dude, then here’s a story” setup of romantic visual novels. It wasn’t a problem with Iris School of Wizardry because it went so far off the rails it would take a map to find them again, but with Pub Encounter, it just made things feel bland and predictable.
I’m not saying I’m going to completely avoid this subset of visual novels, it’s not a complete dealbreaker, but if I spot it in a feature list, it will drag down the chances of me picking it up. I’m also not going to choose three romantic options again. It seems less dynamic that way.
So, what about the romance? I think only Mamoru interested me in the end. Soichiro is as boring as a dry bagel, and Yorihisa is just kind of creepy. At least with Mamoru, I got to play damsel in distress a few times, and given his past, I may get the opportunity to do that again. Of course, it wasn’t always Mamoru who saved me, so he’s not exactly a knight in shining armor.
I’m back off the drink. Not that I ever started, but this game sort of cemented that it’s probably for the best. I’m also not sold on older guys, but that’s maybe because, at this point in my life, I’m closer to middle-aged than I am to infancy. I really just need to find myself a good vampire to settle down with.
This article is based on a digital Nintendo Switch version of the game. It was paid for by the author.