|April 30th, 2021
|Romance, Comedy, Visual Novel
It’s finally time that we discuss Sugar*Style. On the surface, it’s the third Smee title to hit the west following the release of Fureraba and Making Lovers. Furthermore, and to add beauty to it all, NekoNyan has been responsible in all three. While I personally haven’t reviewed Fureraba, I did review Making Lovers. To clarify, it’s a brilliant comedy with some of the most beautiful character development ever. So naturally, when I hear that Sugar*Style is coming very soon with the same developer-publisher combo, my expectations are the same. However, this time we’re going back to school, college to be precise. It’ll be interesting to see if they can keep their charm while going back to very familiar territory for experienced visual novel readers. Without further interruption, and with all expectations on the table, the big question remains. How does it hold up?
Right out of the gate, you’ll be glad to know that Smee is keeping up with past traditions. To clarify, I’m referring to the ability to be able to name your main character. It’s a little thing in hindsight, but a small thing that can enhance the reading experience tremendously. There will be more on that in a bit. Once you’re done naming yourself, they throw you right into the fire as all four heroines look at you in disgust and a flashback ensues to get you up to speed. As most of us worry about what the heck did we do to cause this, others, particularly Making Lovers readers, will be glad to see the disgusted looks make a return. Is that joy stemming from pure masochism? Who can say? But you’re now in the Sunshine Dorm and off to a rocky start in your vocational education journey.
Once you’ve sampled both extremes of your luck in this opening scene, you’ll experience a rather nice prologue. A prologue that hands you samples of what to expect from each girl in every other scene transition. It’s a traditional visual novel buffet with laughs galore. Seriously, I personally haven’t laughed this much since I reviewed, well you guessed it, Making Lovers. Laugh all you want because a difficult choice is on the horizon. There are four beautiful maidens, and you’ve got to choose one to progress. But, in true Smee fashion, all it takes is one choice and you’re in. No roundabouts here, just a quick and direct question of: Who do you want to see now? Short, simple, no strings attached and just like that you’re in the route. As someone who can’t figure out route algorithms, this is a blessing.
The less time spent thinking the better as, once that initial choice is done, the common route will play with sprinkles of story for the girl of choice. In addition, there’s a second choice that will provide mostly more hijinks while traversing through the common route. You get to choose how the main character spends his time in the dorm, carrying out responsibilities while still getting closer and sharing laughs with your dorm mates. With four options to choose from, and four routes to choose from, this adds fruitful variety to the common route and fully encourages a complete playthrough. Plus, with how good the common route is, you really won’t mind giving it a revisit anyways. So whether you spend time with Kaname, Ichika, Mao, or Hare, you’re always going to be in for a treat before you fully commit to them.
When discussing pace for this kind of story, it’s important that we take into consideration the main character’s development as well as the route choice. Since there’s no real drama this time around by going to college every day, the characters do all the work. You’ll be glad to know that within Sugar*Style, you will see a main character that does a ton of soul searching in the midst of trying to win over the girl he’s got his eye on. He isn’t just a jester, but someone with a difficult upbringing and no real set path for himself. The choice of following after a girl also leads to the main character figuring himself out too. It’s an incredibly satisfying build up before you witness an all-in approach once the route formally begins. It’s extraordinary and I feel captures the difficulty of reality entirely.
On the subject of the characters and securing a date, it can’t be said enough how well written these maidens are. While you think you understand the motherly types, sporty types, mysterious types, the reality is that you don’t. As you laugh at every other scene, and understandably so, Sugar*Style is breaking down barriers and stereotypes to tell unique stories with each character. It’s an impressive piece of work to lower the guard of the reader through laughter, and surprise them with something profound. In other words, it just hits different. Once the main character breaks through and gets the girl, I find myself celebrating way harder than I should, even if I know it was guaranteed. Once you witness the “trials and tribulations” underneath the comedy, you’ll walk away feeling astonished. I was hooked and needed to read every route, so I did.
The writing in Sugar*Style is exceptional. However, I wouldn’t know that if it weren’t for the amazing localization behind it. The sheer difficulty of making sure that these jokes were properly adapted to western audiences cannot be overstated. If jokes start going over my head, the impact of all the romance that follows would be no different than the average romance title. Translation work should always be applauded, but what NekoNyan has done with Making Lovers, and now Sugar*Style, is amazing. I really love every line of this script. Sharing tidbits of it with colleagues and friends even convinced them to check the game out. If that’s not an exceptional job, I don’t know what is. A perfect mix of comedy and romance in one beautifully localized package.
Okay, now that we’re done with the writing, what about everything else? Let’s start with voice work. No matter how good a script is, if the delivery fails it’ll all be for nothing. Take that sigh of relief as you’ll find the voice work to be just as exceptional. Lovey-dovey moments hitting you right in the heart, and comedic deliveries that just make you take a moment to get your composure back. It’s perfect, and wild considering I didn’t recognize any of these voice actors upon closer inspection. Exceptional direction really brought out the best of them. Furthermore, it’s accompanied by the most colorful and expressive character art that I’ve seen in a while. What do you know, another masterful blend of the arts? Who would have seen that coming?
While we’re on the topic of art, I know a lot of people are going to be curious about the 18+ version of the game. So I want to take the time to say that if you’re going to buy this game off Steam right after closing this review, get the patch! The lewd character sprites and CGs are exceptional, and if you play through this game without those glorious H-scenes, you’re missing out. To clarify, it’s not just on a visual level but a narrative level as well. Because that intimacy is truly the reward of all the build up to the moment. If you take that away from this game, it just won’t feel right. Everything ranging from the angles, shading, coloring, and more is so mouthwatering good. There’s a little bit for everyone to appreciate.
Now a part that really needs its own paragraph is sound. Readers will be quick to notice how over the top some of the tracks will be. What do I think about it? It’s great! Some of these tracks truly add on to a magnificent comedic bit and sometimes really set the tone for what’s to come emotionally. I’m not one to buy visual novel soundtracks personally, but if NekoNyan made this one readily available in the west, I’d cop it in a heartbeat. The opening and ending themes are still stuck in my head as I write this.
Now that we’ve got that all out of the way, it’s time to discuss the problems with Sugar*Style. The elephant in the room being that if the style of comedy doesn’t hit, you’re going to have a bad time. It’s constant and ever-present even after the common route culminates, if you’re not laughing and are just cringing, you’re going to have a bad time. Now I don’t expect this to ruin the experience for a ton of folks, it certainly didn’t for me, but it’s what you’re signing up for with a story like this. Those of you also aiming for immediate romantic gratification will also be disappointed as it will take time for the main character to get his feelings across. Personally, this indecisiveness is a charm but can annoy a small portion of readers. Other than that, I can’t think of much else.
Sugar*Style is a masterful blend of romance and comedy that you don’t see that often. The girls are absolutely breathtaking, and the main character is phenomenal. The jokes are ever-so-persistent and wonderful. The romance is mature yet sweet to the core. Visually astonishing and music to my ears. I wouldn’t trade the 33 and a half hours that I’ve spent with it for anything in the world. Take your time with it and read everything. You won’t regret it. A massive congratulations to NekoNyan for yet another stunning localization work. Now I get to relax before I tackle their current release: Kinkoi. Please consider picking up Sugar*Style today on Steam for $29.99.
For those wondering at home. Kaname > Ichika > Hare > Mao.
Game provided by publisher for review purposes.