By Benny Carrillo / December 24th, 2015
|Release Date||December 9th, 2015|
|Genre||Adventure, Indie, Visual Novel, Slice of Life|
Highschool Possession is another game from AJTilley.com and the second in the publisher’s Highschool series. The previous entry being Highschool Romance. Other than having “Highschool” in the name and of course taking place at a high school, there’s not too much the two games have in common. In fact, one could almost call them polar opposites in just about everything. Does that extend to how I feel about it? Might this finally be the AJTilley.com game that wins me over? Let’s analyze this game and find out starting with its premise.
Highschool Possession stars Hikaru, a young man who is just trying to get by in his school life while secretly admiring two girls. Those two girls being Akiko, an ace student who for some reason is very friendly towards Hikaru and whom he feels is perfect, and Kasumi, a fellow member of his swimming class who is flawless in the water. Hikaru calls them both his idols and while he admires them, he believes they are too far out of his reach to even consider pursuing romantically. Then, after going to sleep with a headache, he wakes up in Akiko’s body and begins to learn that his idol’s aren’t quite as perfect as he once thought. From here your goal is to try and solve each girl’s dilemma and try to find a way to get back into your body. There are two versions of this game. The MangaGamer version, which includes some adult only eroge content, and the Steam version, which omits said content. This review will cover the Steam version. I will be writing a separate Eroge Re-Review to cover the eroge bits and whether they add or take away anything from the experience. Let’s take a look at Highschool Possession’s graphics next, starting with the logo.
I realize it’s a bit odd to start a graphical analysis with a logo of all things, but this can pretty much sum up my thoughts on the graphics of this game. It feels rushed and unpolished, almost as if everything was just thrown together. The logo is one of the things that defines any product to a consumer. Think back to any of your favorite games, or even this site, and you can probably recall the logo easily. Much like how I made this point during the Beach Bounce review, it’s always important that the first impressions a player has are good ones. This doesn’t set a good precedent for the player. While the artwork isn’t horrible it also isn’t great. It feels rushed and unpolished. I may not have liked Highschool Romance’s art style, but the quality was excellent. I can’t say the same here. If I had to make one specific complaint, it’s namely the proportions of the characters, especially the eyes. They just really feel out of place and the CGs don’t fare much better as you can see below. Next is Highschool Possession’s music and this is probably one of the better soundtracks of the AJTilley.com games.
Musically I really do enjoy the soundtrack. The pieces are all enjoyable to listen to on their own. The problem is they aren’t necessarily used well. Akiko and Kasumi seem to have a theme that plays during their parts and for Akiko, in particular, there were a few times where the theme felt a bit inappropriate for what was happening on the screen. On the flip side, there’s a piece of music that plays during more of the crisis moments that is used really well. It’s a very short piece lasting only about a minute, but it’s very effective for keeping the tone right. As I said, it’s a good soundtrack, it’s just not utilized to its fullest. Highschool Possession’s game design is another mixed bag, not due to any major technical issue, but due to the way the game is written.
Visual Novels, especially dating sims, are very much all about player choices. Unless you’re writing a kinetic novel like A Kiss For The Petals: Remembering How We Met, then you not only need to have choices, but they need to feel like they matter. Beach Bounce handled this very well in its first episode as everything felt like it mattered. In Highschool Possession, not so much. The problem here is that while there’s a few minor differences, the end result is the same. For example, Akiko is forced to deal with Arata’s advances no matter what you choose. Also, Kasumi will get bullied and her clothes ruined no matter how you chose to deal with Rika, one of her rivals in the swimming club. The other thing this creates is a confusing experience for the player. While getting Akiko’s ending was easy enough, I struggled to get the right combination of choices to unlock Kasumi’s ending due to some choices feeling like either could be correct, and when both result in the same event taking place it just makes things somewhat frustrating.
While I understand from a writing perspective what the author was doing, you have to remember that this is a game and the experience should be simple and enjoyable for the player. Unless we’re going for a mystery like something out of the Ace Attorney series, where the player is expected to do some puzzle solving, the choices present should have pretty obvious outcomes so that the player can see if the result is favorable. Another way to solve this would be the implementation of a gauge or some way of notifying the player that the choice positively or negatively affects the route. It’s things like this that show the developer is looking out for the player. We don’t need our hand held, but when you’ve created a situation in which the player can feel lost or confused, you’ve got a possible problem on your hands. To some this may be nitpicking, but it’s further evidence of the rushed nature of the game. Which is a shame because Highschool Possession’s story is actually really good. In fact, it’s probably the best AJTilley.com story to date.
The central idea behind Highschool Possession’s story is living life from another person’s perspective and it does this quite well. At first Hikaru thinks he’s dreaming and, in true eroge fashion, despite the scene being cut, explores the body he’s inhabiting at the time (the game still makes it obvious this is what occurs despite the cut content.) He quickly comes to realize though that each of his beloved idols have some serious issues they’ve been trying to deal with. This leads to an interesting ethical question which even the game poses. Does Hikaru take it upon himself while possessing the girls to fix and solve their problems, or does he just try and live their lives as they normally would so as not to interfere? The problem I have is that this is the wrong question. You’ll quickly see that Hikaru has to act otherwise very bad things could happen to both girls. The question the game should have asked is whether or not Hikaru fixing their problem for them is setting them up for failure down the line as they didn’t face the problem themselves. Someone else did for them. It’s never a bad thing to ask for help or to accept help from others, as that takes courage. The game however doesn’t really give you that option to just help them. You have to act as them. It’s a nitpick sure, but that just means I don’t have much else to complain about. Let’s look at both girls starting with Akiko and you’ll see why.
Akiko herself, as mentioned, is essentially the perfect student. She excels in her classes and is beloved by many. She also is emotionally and mentally in a very, very bad place. Hikaru quickly finds out that not only is she depressed, she’s also in a sexually abusive relationship with her current boyfriend whom she cannot get the courage to break up with. It’s pretty serious stuff and one of those times where one can justify Hikaru’s actions. Keep in mind he’s not just learning about this, but experiencing it firsthand. I’ll touch more upon this in the Eroge Re-Review, but it is unsettling. Kasumi meanwhile, is being bullied by Rika. While bullying is no small matter, when compared to Akiko’s problems, Kasumi’s don’t feel nearly as heavy. Rika’s very much a threat as her bullying is physical, but there’s just something about it that feels odd when a few scenes ago you were trying to brush off advances by Arata. It just feels a bit disjointed. That said, Hikaru still needs to find a way to deal with Rika while not making Kasumi’s already hectic life worse. This brings me to why I like Highschool Possession’s story so much – it’s rather thought provoking.
To me, a good story should always leave the reader in a state of reflection and contemplation. The story should make you think about what you’ve just experienced and what you might have done in those circumstances. This doesn’t always have to hold true, but generally the more you think about a story, the more of an impact it had on you. Highschool Possession does this very well. The situations it presents are things that are occurring in daily life and plays upon the idea that it could be someone you think you know really well. It doesn’t give you any easy solutions to said problems either. From a game design standpoint, this can be a little frustrating as I mentioned, but from a writing standpoint it’s designed to make you agonize a bit over some of these choices. This creates a rather unique experience that I rather enjoyed despite the various issues I’ve brought up thus far. If I have any complaint in regards to the story, it’s that it felt a little too simple. I would have liked to see the plot go even more in depth into how these situations are affecting both Akiko and Kasumi, especially with how short it is. So, what are my final thoughts and recommendations for Highschool Possession?
Highschool Possession is not a bad game. In fact, it’s probably the best AJTilley.com game to date. The main problem with it is the same thing I’ve mentioned in every other AJTilley.com review, a lack of polish. By this point I think it’s apparent that AJTilley.com strives quantity of titles over the quality of them. More games are always good, but you also need to take time to craft them well. If this game had another month or two of development it could have been awesome. With what we have though it’s not horrible. The biggest hurdles with this one are the graphics, the price and the length. At $10 for about three hours of gameplay, it’s not something I can say you have to buy. If you were going to play just one of the AJTilley.com games though, this would be the one I’d recommend. All in all, Highschool Possession is about not assuming people are what they seem, and the same could be said about this game. Despite the rough look, there’s a good game buried underneath there and that’s all that matters.
Review copy provided by publisher and reviewed on a Windows 10 Laptop
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