A few years ago, I found myself in a lonely portion of my adulthood where absolutely nothing was happening. Without getting into it, it was a very introspective period that left me hyper-aware of the things that were affecting me. During that period, I had the premise of the game, Chulip, explained to me, and immediately took to the internet to scoop up a brand new copy of my own.
The feelings I had when I first played Chulip linger on to this day. I still remember keeping reading material nearby for when I was waiting for an event to occur, and I recall being drawn in by its shocking depth. I’ve carried the experience with me for years, never forgetting the characters I met and the situations that perplexed me. It’s one of the few games that had such a profound impact on me that it actually altered my perspective. And all I had to do was kiss a few dozen people.
Chulip is, from head to toe, a game about smooching. You play as a poor schoolboy who moves to a new town and is immediately smitten by a local girl. However, when he attempts to plant on on her, she chastises him for being inexperienced and having no reputation. His only course of action is to raise his profile by kissing everyone he can get his lips on. No, really.
That’s the whole plot, really. Later, a carrot is dangled in your face in the form of a letter writing set that you need to obtain, but the main narrative just involves you kissing as many people as possible. You’re introduced to a small cast of townsfolk who have various problems you have to help them with before they’ll let you plant one on them, but you’ll be getting most of your smooches from the subterranean residents
Yeah, see, for a reason that is only vaguely described as being related to their deviancy from the school system, a number of strange characters live in holes beneath the city. They only emerge for short periods at certain times of the day, and it’s up to you to figure out when it’s best to smooch the dude wearing a signboard. Sometimes, it’s as simple as waiting for the right moment, other times, you need to perform some sort of action, like eating an eggplant, for them to pucker up.
THE KISSER’S DISEASE
That may sound cute and quirky, but make no mistake; Chulip will kill you. It will kill you frequently, suddenly, and without apology. No aspect of its design is more shocking than its willingness to throw you to a game over screen.
See, you can’t just plant one on whoever you feel like, you first need to meet certain criteria. If you try to kiss them, or sometimes even get near them, when they’re not open to it, you’ll get a firm slap across the face. The amount of damage you take varies depending on the character, but some of their slaps are downright deadly. If you don’t have the heart to take that kind of embarrassment, you just drop dead.
You can die from things besides kissing, too. Jump on the playground equipment, and you’ll suffer some damage. Go through the trashcan and find poop instead of treasure, and your dirty hands will cause such shame that you suffer some damage. Try to walk home past your curfew and you could be gunned down by the police or murdered by your local doctor. It’s a hazardous world for a boy with such a fragile ego.
This is mostly a problem at the start of the game when you don’t have much health. As you kiss more people you level up and gain more hearts. That enables you to take bigger risks, but the threat of an embarrassing death never goes away. Sometimes you need to cut your excursions out into the world short, because the only way to fully heal is to sleep at home, and if you take damage, you may have no other choice.
WAITING FOR A TRAIN
The world is going to be a make or break deal with a lot of people, since it’s equally unfriendly. Chulip’s world is actually one of the least bizarre things in it, instead featuring a lot of the mundanity of the real world. It’s broken into four distinct sections, all connected by train, and in order to actually get from one place to another, that means actually waiting for the train to arrive. In keeping with the realistic take on its world, the train also doesn’t run in the early morning, and there’s a transfer you need to take to get to the furthest point in the map. This can lead to a lot of waiting.
There are comics books that you can read to push the time ahead, but I actually got more mileage of having something (maybe actual comic books) on hand to distract myself while waiting for the train. Usually I played another game on my DS or read old issues of Nintendo Power.
This actually gets worse the further you go into the game. At the beginning, you can wander around and simply run into people emerging from their holes in the ground. Towards the end of the game, however, after you’re chapped the majority of lips out there, you may be left sitting beside one of the few remaining holes, waiting for its inhabitant to finally pop out. The time frame that they’re above ground is incredibly brief, so if you can’t figure out how to romance them in time, you may be left waiting for another round. You don’t have to kiss everyone, mind you, but who can resist those pillowy lips?
It doesn’t help that the solutions to some of the game’s puzzles are ridiculously obtuse. You’re given hints if you peak into a resident’s home during off hours, but the hints are only sometimes helpful. It can get so mystifying that there’s actually a miniature guide posted in the back of the instruction manual that you can follow to make things easier. I’d suggest only using it if you get stuck, but I’m not the boss of you.
THESE LIPS ARE MADE FOR KISSING
The bizarre premise and strange characters may be what draws you in, but for me, it was the human side of things that opened my heart. In spite of how strange the inhabitants are, a lot of them have really relatable problems, and helping them come to terms is what I found most rewarding part of the game.
There are simpler situations, such as a quack doctor who can’t get his sleep schedule under control or a man who had his prized statue stolen by a crane, but then it gets a bit deeper and darker. Take for example, the man who loves creating music, but desperately needs a job. Or perhaps the woman who bottles up all her emotions, leaving her a hateful, spiteful mess. How about the sad tale of the washed-up director who is unable to leave behind his glory days, and is whose lazy habits are placing great strain on his verbally abusive wife. Or maybe the uptight bathhouse owner whose high school sweetheart was tragically killed before graduation. Maybe you’d like to sit down to tea with her on some lonely night in the graveyard?
The characters are all heavily flawed, with many of their problems being due to their own imperfections. Despite being so bizarrely designed, they come across as entirely human. When you get down to the bare bones of Chulip, it’s a game primarily about helping people. On the surface, it may sound like this strange society values people based on a lifetime of ceaseless promiscuity, but in reality, it’s about opening your heart to people and accepting their imperfections.
Speaking of flawed, however, the translation seems a little half done. There’s a bunch of typos to trip over and certain facets, like the silent movies that you can watch at night, haven’t even been touched, leaving their Japanese text as the only way to decipher them. The localization is functional, but that’s about it.
Chulip is going to be a game that not everyone gets. It’s deeply unfriendly; killing you without apology and leaving you to wait at the train station because it’s too deeply invested in presenting a world with all its problems and flaws
Yeah, and you know what? That’s what Chulip and love have in common; they’re both imperfect, sometimes frustrating, yet deeply worthwhile experiences. It’s about looking past the flaws that scar the surface and finding the fulfilling parts beneath. It’s about accepting that sometimes you have to make sacrifices to get what you need.
Of course, maybe Chulip’s just not your type. Maybe you’re just out looking for fun, and don’t care about things like depth and charm. Maybe you don’t want to work for something meaningful, and would rather just get your jollies and move on. That’s fine, I guess. For me, Chulip just feels right. And I’m willing to look past its problems and give it a big smackeroo.
This review was conducted on a software backwards compatible PS3 using a disc copy of the game. It was paid for by the author.