Visual novels have always been a staple of internet storytelling. I remember playing a really in-depth fan fiction Digimon visual novel back in the early 00s. Thanks to games like Dream Daddy, Hatoful Boyfriend, and huge online marketplaces like steam and itch.io, this bold new world of story telling is bursting at the seams. A fun new take on the visual novel that’s being crowdsourced through Patreon is Arcade Spirits, and based on the groundwork laid in the first three chapters, it is going to charm the pants off a lot of people.
What sets Arcade Spirits apart from most visual novels I have played is that it isn’t immediately about finding romance. That is an option later on down the line, but it isn’t the end goal. Instead, the protagonist of the story is trying to find their dreams, and maybe, just maybe, smile after a hard days work.
After creating your character through a series of menus, including picking your pronouns, you immediately lose your job at the local pool, and have to start the job hunt again! Thankfully, you’re always helpful roommate Juniper bugs you to install a personal assistant app on your holo-phone, and it finds you a job that matches your personality 99.97%! Suddenly you get whisked away into the world of Funplex, an arcade tucked into a strip mall, where you get thrust into a colorful world of blips-boops and children’s birthday parties.
Aside from standard visual novel flair, the writing in this game is scary good. In the first chapter alone, I was already excited to explore the world more thanks to two key sequences, one involving a flash back to the 1980s, and one where you are communicating directly to IRIS, the AI assistant downloaded on your phone. Instead of just being about the quest to bang hot anime drawings, Arcade Spirits challenges your relationship with technology and teaches you gaming history too.
As far as the characters you interact with, they all have their own unique personalities and quirks, with some liking certain responses to situations over others. Nearly every response you select has one of five different attributes; Quirky, Steady, Kindly, Gutsy or Basically, and each character reacts differently based on your choices. The best part about Arcade Spirits though is that I don’t want the protagonist to hook up with anyone quite yet. This world has drawn me in, and I want to explore these relationships and make friends, much like I would after starting a new job in real life.
As far as individual characters are concerned, Arcade Spirits covers the full gamut of gamers. There is the competitive esports streamer QueenBee, who is a rising streamer. You get to befriend Ashley, your co-worker with a burning passion for cosplay. Naomi is the hardware nut who repairs all the cabinets, and Percy is the old school gamer chasing high scores. There is even a new kid character who just moved to town and has no friends, looking to escape from the real world thanks to gaming. I wish this arcade mecca was real, and people clamored into arcades like the days of old instead of the world where everyone has their heads buried in their phones. Maybe a trip to 1up is in my future.
We will continue to watch Arcade Spirits and its development, and can’t wait to see more from this talented four person team. If you are interested in some of the more nitty gritty of game development, head over to the Arcade Spirits developer blog. If you want to support the development of this charming indie, head on over to their Patreon. Arcade Spirits is being developed for PC, Mac and Linux.