|Title: Sentimental Graffiti
Publisher: GungHo Online Entertainment (US)
Developer: NEC Interchannel/Index Digital Media
Console: PS3/PSP/PS Vita (PS1 Classic)
Release Date: March 12, 2013 (US)
Genre: Visual Novel/Dating Sim
Rating: CERO B, ESRB N/A
With years of language study under my belt, I take my adventures in Japanese gaming even more seriously, and I can also thank GungHo Online Entertainment’s US branch for this. Along with MonkeyPaw, the company is releasing rare PS1 imports to the PSN service, but with a catch―they’re completely untranslated. In other words, this is as niche of a market as it gets, and it helps that one of the latest titles released with this program happens to be one of Japan’s most successful dating sims of all time.
Sentimental Graffiti, first released in 1997 on the Sega Saturn and ported to the PS1 several years later, is, along with Konami’s rival series Tokimeki Memorial, considered by many Japanese gamers to be the pinnacle of its genre. Sentimental Graffiti, also called “Senti” or “SentiGra” in its homeland, involves twelve different girls that your main character has met during his early life. For those of you who don’t know about the Japanese school system, the country is split into elementary school (1st through 6th grades), middle school (7th through 9th) and high school (9th through 12th). The story begins during the spring vacation before your 12th grade year. You receive a letter that states, “I want to see you,” and set out to retrace your path across Japan and find the girl who sent this letter.
The game plays like a usual dating sim, with a rudimentary map of Japan as the center point. While you live in Tokyo, your acquaintances through childhood live in many different areas, from Nagasaki to Sapporo. Whether by land (buses or trains), sea (boats) or air (planes), you can meet up with any girl in the 12 cities featured in the game during your days off. This also costs a lot of money, so you have to balance your part-time work, energy and affection with each of the girls, and it can get just as hectic as any traditional RPG you’d ever see. In addition, there’s a bit of an educational aspect: in each city except for Tokyo, there are several different real landmarks that you meet up at, and you can read up on them (in Japanese, of course) with a press of the triangle button, which is pretty cool.
Sentimental Graffiti‘s nature is in its story and writing, making Japanese language knowledge absolutely required. Each of the game’s girls has her own unique personality, and they each relate to you in different ways. For instance, Emiru, the character I fell in love with almost instantly, is a quirky sort that calls you “Darling” almost all the time. Asuka is a waitress who wishes to become a singer. You saved Honoka from a horse riding accident in childhood. Manami is a sickly girl with a kind heart. As this is definitely a dating sim, it’s only natural that you would want to chat with the heroines in real life, but the developers of Sentimental Graffiti decided to take it one step further.
When you date each girl, you reveal little memories that you have about her. Some of these would make even the hardest-hearted gamers tear up a little bit. Alas, this is a dating sim, and you must beat the game with only one girl, but here’s the catch: you have to meet every girl in the game at least once, then get at least one memory from at least six of them. Of those six, you must get a second memory from at least four, a third memory from at least two, and a fourth from at least one. The subsequent memories lead to the reveal of a promise that you made with the girl during his childhood.
Sometimes, there are also one-off “special” dates where you go somewhere with the girl, and you even have short dates in the girl’s town, dates at night, and even when you’re hitchhiking. When you get the requirements for ending the game with a girl met, she sends you a letter, and the next date you have will either move your relationship with her forward or keep things going. She will send you another letter, you go on another date, and then she will send you one more letter. The final date you have with the girl fulfills the promise she made. It’s an addictive system, that’s for sure.
Sentimental Graffiti‘s presentation is quite good for the time period. Although it’s not very hard for a visual novel/dating sim to look decent, the character designs are the exception to such a rule, and they’re all wonderfully done here. After all, who doesn’t love a bunch of girls that fit every anime archetype in the book? The backgrounds do each Japanese city justice, as do the adorable 2D sprite maps of each city. The music, while quite dated, is also worth mentioning, and the theme that plays with each character really fits her well. The voice acting is another real plus, though a few voices―such as Emiru’s―could possibly get a bit grating to some people.
There are a few faults with Sentimental Graffiti. For one thing, this game shows its age in more ways than one. In Japan, 1997 was a time where regular landline telephones were a necessity for hooking up and MiniDiscs (MDs) were popular. While this has sorely passed, this could actually be a positive, especially considering the game’s memory-based nature. The game is also fairly short and linear, but the twelve different endings you can get provide quite a bit of replay value. Contrary to Western conventions regarding PlayStation games, many Japanese games use the circle button as a confirmation button and the X button as a cancel button, and Sentimental Graffiti is no exception. It takes some getting used to, but it’s not terrible.
However, Sentimental Graffiti‘s major problem with regard to its Western release is its accessibility to English speakers. Even those just learning hiragana and katakana, the two basic writing systems, could be stupefied at the sheer amount of kanji (Chinese characters) throughout the game. The kanji reading level is about fourth grade. Although the fact that the girls’ lines are pretty much all voice-acted certainly helps, the menus and navigation, especially with regard to your schedule and places where you and a girl are meeting up at, do require some kanji knowledge.
Despite its short length and dated feel, Sentimental Graffiti is a true gem, and it’s wonderful that GungHo decided to bring this, well, sentimental game overseas, even if a single word of it isn’t in English. There’s lots of fun to be had in travelling across Japan to find your love, as well as learning memories your character has had about these girls. If you have some basic fluency in Japanese, this is well worth your $5.99, and you owe it to yourself to give this classic dating sim a try. After all, there’s a girl who wants to see you, and only you can figure out who it is.
Review copy was provided by the publisher.