I still don’t know what to make of Kairosoft. They may be a nimble mobile studio with a good grasp on brands, or they could just be a shovelware studio that struck gold with its addictive formula. The fact that they don’t seem to credit their developers is a bit of a problem for me. We don’t actually have any names behind any of their games – just “Kairosoft.” I just don’t know, and It makes me itchy.
I also don’t appreciate that their games on Switch are nearly twice the price as they are on mobile. That’s hogwash. They’ve been using Unity since 2016, which should make porting to other systems relatively easy. On Switch, they also don’t have to account for different hardware, screen sizes, or other variations that happen on mobile. So, I can’t see it as anything more than a Switch tax. Then they’re also now coming out on Windows PC, which is cheaper than Switch but more expensive than mobile. I guess this is just a case of different marketplaces. Itch, itch.
However, I waited until Manga Works went on sale, and I still think I paid more for it than I would have with the mobile version. I might be a sucker. Then after sitting on this review for too long, I eventually bought the PC version, as well. I am definitely a sucker.
SO, YOU WANT TO WRITE A MANGA
The idea of Manga Works really appeals to me as a writer. You play as a fledgling mangaka who is trying to bust into the industry and make it big. I don’t draw comics, but it’s storytelling all the same, right? I spend a lot of time typing away at a keyboard, hoping to produce something that either I or someone else can publish. You can see how I relate, right?
In fact, I spent a lot of the downtime in The Manga Works typing out fiction of my own while I waited for events to pass. It was almost a surreal experience, especially since I was doing this late into the night.
Anyway, it’s a Kairosoft game, so it’s an abstract, hands-off approach to the creative process. You pick a few categories to mash together, and your mangaka hacks something out based on their stats. Over time, you build them up with money and experience, rising in the ranks and bringing home the bacon. This can be helped along by finding combos in the various genre configurations and piling on the PP (the unfortunate initialism for plot points). How it helps you is sort of a mystery, honestly. A lot of the math is kept kind of under wraps.
The goal is to get in good with various publishers until you’re asked to do a series. Then you do your best to keep the series alive without running out of popularity, money, energy, or PP. Leveling up allows you to expand your living quarters so you can fit in assistants or more stat-boosting stuff.
LIFE IN BLACK AND WHITE
Gameplay relies heavily on a lot of random factors. You can pour a lot of experience into a certain skill, but not only does the skill increase by random amounts between 2-12 (1 point if you’re at the cap), it doesn’t guarantee a consistently high rating when you write your manga. You’ll always do better, but sometimes your mangaka will just flub it, and that’s outside of your control.
That’s Kairosoft games for you, though. There are often abstractions of undefinable processes. Sometimes even a skilled writer can produce trash, and when you’re not in direct control of the creation, then that’s just sort of what happens. It works, though. It’s not quite as bad as Game Dev Story where a perfectly fine product can be kneecapped by a random event. There’s some consistency here, and a bad chapter isn’t going to destroy a whole series for you.
THICK AND FAST
There’s also a veneer of customization over things. You can name all your stories, which doesn’t serve any practical function. It allowed me an opportunity to laugh at my own jokes, at least. “Sumo My God.” Hah! Good one, me.
When you strip that and the premise away, however, you’re left with a lot of stats and progress bars. That’s a bit of a cynical way to view video games, though. RPGs are largely just stats and progress bars, but I wouldn’t say that out loud in a crowded room. As I said before, it’s a way of presenting abstract concepts in a way understood by the human brain. In the end, video games are a type of human expression, and Kairosoft’s own subgenre isn’t any different. It just asks that your imagination do some of the expressing.
It’s also a very addicting way to design a game, as rewards come thick and fast. I generally expect this from Kairosoft games, but this one was a bit devious. I was constantly waiting to see how the next one-shot would come out or thinking that I’d stop after the series was done running. It hurts. It’s like subsisting off food exclusively from a convenience store’s hot dog roller. It may be delicious and satisfying in the moment, but it’s going to leave you distressed and unfulfilled afterward.
It’s maybe not a very nice way to describe a game that I was glued to for hours. The fact is that these games are all rather mindless. Perhaps it’s a great fit for the mobile market, and it’s definitely an enjoyable distraction, I can’t help that it emulsified my brain.
The upside is that it helped inspire more writing out of me. I guess seeing a depiction of myself becoming successful at something I’m passionate about is a good motivator. It kind of makes me feel like if I spend all my waking time jabbing at a project, I might actually make it somewhere someday. It’s enriching in that regard.
On the other hand, your mangaka’s life is entirely just creating new manga. You make money so you can spend it on things that will allow you to make better manga. You work 20 hours a day, and in your downtime, you’re just doing things to prepare yourself to make more manga. It depicts such an unhealthy lifestyle that it’s almost hilarious.
It’s something that I sometimes grapple with. Writing and video games are my biggest passions, so when I do that as a job, it’s hard to even tell when I’m giving myself downtime. Where is the work/life divide? It’s hard to tell. Right now, for instance, I’m using my time away from my job to do the exact same thing for my own enrichment. I even spend a lot of my extra income on buying more video games. How can I even tell if I’m pushing myself toward burnout? I’m not sure.
I don’t think Kairosoft really would have expected that kind of interpretation of their work, but they might have. In reality, a mangaka has to work extremely hard to be successful. If you run out of energy in The Manga Works, your character goes to the hospital. If it’s there, the message isn’t exactly clear. Would they be saying they admire an artist working themselves to death, or would they be advising moderation? Phew, I don’t know. I’m itching again.
YOUR MOXIE MAKES UP FOR YOUR LACK OF TALENT
The Manga Works is another successful application of the Kairosoft formula. They rarely miss the mark, and usually, when they do, it’s because they’ve been experimenting with additional ways to squeeze money out of their audience. Again, I don’t want to frame them as a soulless developer because they’re pretty mysterious about their business culture. However, I can say with relative certainty that they like money. How else can you justify such a massive Switch tax?
Speaking of which, the Switch version is fine. It works okay with buttons rather than strictly touch screen, and I probably prefer it this way. However, it has no advantage over the mobile version aside from the ease of playing it on a TV screen. The same goes for the PC version, which doesn’t have any interface changes or display options to make it more comfortable for the platform. They’re all just the same.
Which is fine. The Manga Works is quite enjoyable. Even though it stared directly into my soul and stirred the cauldron of emotions that I keep within, I have had a good time on every occasion I’ve picked it up. Although, next time, I’ll maybe pick one that I have less connection with. I hear there’s one about a convenience store.
This review was conducted on a Nintendo Switch using a digital copy of the game. It was reluctantly paid for by the author.