Arcade Spirits released in February of last year and only now have I managed to play through the game I had been so excited to see release. From the offset Arcade Spirits looked like it would provide plenty of hilarious dialogue and moments, a lot of heartfelt and serious topics explored, and one of the best video games for inclusivity and representation. And I’m happy to report that it’s got all that and much more.
Simplicity at its finest
Arcade Spirits is set in a distant, alternative future where the video game crash in the 80s never happened. This made for a future where arcade machines still thrive, and has become as abundant on the high street as restaurants and cafes. Our player character however, default named as Ari Cader, has a problematic case of ancestral bad luck where their family have never managed to stay in a job. Ari also has this case of being unsuccessful with employment but with the support of their flat mate recommending an AI app, they will be attending a job interview at the Funiplex arcade.
The game is built around building up relationships but it’s completely up to you if you want the relationships to be romantic or just friendly. In fact the AI app’s introductory couldn’t be any less simpler. Players can choose to hide the icons that indicate what category their responses fall under that shapes their future replies when characters communicate to them. The categories are Quirky, Gutsy, Kindly, Steady and Basically, and by keeping them a mystery, it allows for playing as yourself to see genuine responses and the shaping of your own personality onto the player character.
With each character comes new interests, a dream they’re working towards, and very different values and beliefs. It’s one of the strongest visual novel casts out there to really reinforce that there is someone out there for all of us considering how different each one are to one another. Character arcs and dilemmas may be close to home, with a few that involve mental issues, others suffering from discrimination and those dealing with LGBTQ+ situations, but the game is respectful, delicate and hopeful to the conclusions. Better yet, the game values itself on not being played any wrong way, with little to no bad endings. But just like a visual novel, you do have multiple endings to discover and it’s well worth the many replays to do so what with the customizable personality of your player character.
Inclusivity at its best
While the player character customization leaves a lot more to be desired, what with a more masculine appearance no matter how much you try to change it up due to the very few options from only three hair styles and no body proportion changes, it has a massive pool of skin tones to make up for. And on top of this, you can choose your pronoun, including those who identify as them. It’s a step in the right direction for a lot of gamers and even those who do not play any games as an overall improvement on representing others. And with its love interests, it does even better.
Its whole cast range from different body types, such as the “dad bod” and chubby as well as different nationalities such as Hispanic, Indian, British, Japanese and American. Not only is there brilliant representation for face value, but each character is as distinct and deep as the other. In fact the game even allows anyone to be romanced no matter how you identify. It’s heart-warming and just one example of the game being extremely welcoming and supportive. You can tell that a lot of care and love has been put into this.
Both humorously brilliant and seriously heartwarming
While there’s many hilarious moments and dialogue to enjoy, Arcade Spirits can get into many serious but just as wholesome moments. Each character is so lovely in their own unique way that it encourages journeying and helping them through their current struggles. I was immediately taken with our own player character for this reason, who has difficulties in finding and keeping stable work. They have a consistent edge at being sarcastic even when you’re not choosing responses, but it makes for being an entertaining player character for a change. The dad jokes are also on point, I just wish I was that funny to actually make them in real life.
There is a lot to enjoy with Arcade Spirits and it strikes a unique duality in its exploration of serious topics with its overall light hearted presentation. The vibrant and entertaining characters of not just the seven love interests but also supporting characters such as Ben and Matt found in their cozy book store are extremely endearing and cute together. I would not think twice in working in their little book/cafe store if I had the chance! There’s also the many hilarious situations, from the Funplex workers having to steel themselves for a sudden kids birthday party they have to watch over on our player character’s first shift and one off sprites such as our player character saving Naomi from cupcakes (Taking a moment to acknowledge my love for the line “you’re my knight in shining icing”).
And on top of this, there’s the exploration of the very relatable difficulties many of us have or are going through, with the one that personally stands out to me is with anxiety and self confidence. Our player character initially being uncomfortable in discussing their own confidence issues and anxiety around others with an outcasted kid looking on from a distance at the kids party is just one example of a heartfelt and realistically supportive moment of such a feat. Through discussing their own discomfort around and communicating with others, it was a touching reassurance and very real small talk about an ongoing problem many of us gamers can relate to, making everyone feel more supported and accepted.
Conclusion: Stop reading this and support it right now!
For someone who got into gaming far too late to even care about what was once considered gaming in arcades, it provides a lot of nostalgia for those who can remember and have fond memories of the gaming scene at that time while being very entertaining as educational pointers at what once was our source of gaming entertainment for those unknowing like myself. Thanks, Naomi! As far as Western visual novel go, Arcade Spirits is my favourite one by far.
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