Thanks to the never-ending winter the east coast seems to find itself in, I was snowed in earlier this week. And what better way to pass the time than with a short game? Given that the two console games I’m playing at the moment are longer games, I decided to pick up something more casual on the PC. Recently, I’ve had the urge to try my hand at visual novel games. These types of games tend to be more akin to interactive stories than traditional games, & more often than not are dating sims. I’ve often thought I could get into romance stories if I felt I had some control over them. So after a search through Steam for the most popular visual novels aimed at females (because I don’t want to play as a dude trying to pick up chicks), I downloaded Dandelion – Wishes Brought to You.
In Dandelion, you play as Heejung Kim, a stressed out Korean college student. Heejung has felt pressured all her life to be the perfect student; Perfect grades, perfect resume, perfect job. But after struggling to keep up with so many demands, Heejung feels nothing more than anxiety & apathy towards her future. Then one day, she awakens to find a basket of animals have mysteriously appeared in her bedroom. After some initial hesitation, Heejung decides that keeping the animals will help cheer her up. As she grows closer to the animals, she soon realizes that these aren’t normal animals. They’re actually five young men who’ve been transported to her world by a Wizard to fulfill a mysterious contract. But as the months progress, it becomes apparent that this “game” involves Heejung in some way, & that the puppet master doesn’t have the best of intentions towards Heejung.
Dandelion is what’s known as an “Otome” game, meaning it centers around a single female protagonist surrounded by potential male suitors. As Heejung, you choose one of the five men to pursue while going about her daily life. Gameplay consists of choosing a daily activity that increases Heejung’s stats. Certain activities increase the chance of interacting with one the men in the house, where you can choose interactions that hopefully increase their affections for you. You can also choose to go on dates with your potential, go to work to earn money, or go shopping for items that increase your stats or buy gifts. Ultimately, the goal is to increase your chosen character’s affection enough to progress the story… but you only have a year to do so, so you have to balance your time wisely.
Narrative: Dandelion’s protagonist hits a little closer to home than I’d care to admit. Heejung is a very believable, relatable character. Her struggles to find what makes her happy in life in the midst of the pressure to keep up her academic performance and an uncertain future are sympathetic. She is, however, more than a bit clueless (although the extent does depend on which route you take). And that’s saying something coming from a woman who’s admittedly pretty dense about when men are flirting with her. Especially towards the end, when all of the guys start talking about Heejung being happy even if they “disappear” & not having much time left. I also liked that there are a variety of guy-types to choose from. The five men seem to cover most of the tropes for romance stories; the rough-around-the-edges-but-good-hearted loner, the cold & polite hottie, the arrogant-to-keep-his-distance sassy one, the eager & clingy one, & the is-this-legal pretty boy. I’ve only played through 3/5 of the routes, but I like that each character’s story plays out differently. My only complaint about the story is that, once you’ve pick the character you want to pursue, you can’t really interact with any of the others. Well, you can, but often having too much affection with more than one character will give you the Bad Ending. Also, aside from good & bad endings, you don’t have a lot of control over how the relationship progresses. Discounting choosing how to display affection or where to go on dates, the progression is linear. Also, the endings are a bit vague. They’re not, just bittersweet & open-ended, but that’s probably just my preference to happy endings. But overall, in spite of some fantastical elements, I thought the story was well-paced & realistic. Score: 4
Mechanics: Gameplay can become very repetitive, especially after the first time you’ve played through. Everyday you pick an activity, originally hoping to monopolize on the ones that allow you to interact with your chosen beau or increase your stats to meet the requirements to continue the relationship. But after that, you’re just wanting to reach the next milestone to see the next cutscene. It starts to feel like busywork after a while. I wish there had been button shortcuts for the quick save & quick load, because it’s necessary to use them frequently. I also wasn’t thrilled about the dates you can go one. You can go out on the weekends to one of several locations, but there isn’t much to do on the dates. You only get two dialogue choices, & it’s over. Gameplay in general is pretty sparse, with the emphasis on the story. If you plan to play through all the stories (which is necessary to unlock the bonus chapter to see what the Wizard’s beef is with Heejung), you’ll find yourself spamming the enter key to speed through the messages just to reach the next milestone. I also took issue with the stats some of the activities increased. In general, you need to increase Heejung’s artistic, beauty & femininity traits while managing her stress & pressure levels. Most of the time it makes sense what traits the activities increase. Obviously sketching would increase her artistic score while taking a bubble bath would increase beauty. But why does talking to plants increase my femininity? Or watching infomercials increase my beauty? It’s not really a problem, just weird. Score: 2
Aesthetics: Being a visual novel, most of the scenes are still images. That being said, the artwork is very nice. The characters are nicely detailed, and the special scenes are quite beautiful & artistically done. Of course, they’re in anime-style, so if you prefer more realistic designs this might not be your cup of tea. Also, for those worried this might be one of the more adult novels, the scenes are pretty tame. Aside from kissing & some suggestive comments (which usually go right over Heejung’s head) it stays safely within its rating. The music, like the gameplay, can become repetitive, especially the song that loops when your in the everyday menu. Dandelion only has a few musical scores, actually, which tend to be situational. Aside from the general one, there’s the one for angry scenes, the one for emotional scenes, the one for dates, and the “sexy-time” score. I joke, & it is a nice piece, but I challenge anyone who hears it not to feel like you’ve just walked into a porno scene. The opening theme is also really nice. Also be aware that the spoken dialogue is in Korean. It can sometimes be hard to judge foreign voiceacting, but I thought they voices were well done. They always seemed to hit the right tone for the lines. However, I did notice some typos in the writing. I don’t speak Korean, so I can’t speak for the translation, but there were typos in rare instances, like using the wrong name to address a character. Also, sometimes to English words didn’t fit in the space properly & got cut off. It wasn’t enough to throw off the atmosphere of the game, but it was noticeable. Score: 4
Replay Value: Fairly high. Although I can understand if most people only play through one or two of the stories with the characters they like, as I mentioned you can unlock a bonus chapter that fills in the questions about how the five men came in contact with the Wizard & why he want to hurt Heejung so badly if you get the good ending with all of the men. And after the first time, the play time shortens reasonably, aided by the fact that you can skip entire scenes. Score: 3
Overall Score: 3
Final Word: I can’t see most gamers, male or female, giving this game a chance, but it’s not bad. The price is a bit steep for it’s length, but if you’re into this sort of thing or what to give visual novel-style games a shot & have a day to spare, it’s worth a look. The story is sweet & it has more than enough eye candy to keep most women happy for the duration.
Title: Dandelion – Wishes Brought to You
Release Date: August 27, 2012