Doukyuusei: Bangin’ Summer is a brand new localisation of a 2021 remake of a classic dating sim from a real golden age of the genre — 1992. Got all that? Good. ‘Cause we’re going to be taking a close look at it over the course of a few articles.
Back in the late ’90s and early 2000s, I remember hearing about “dating sims” and being fascinated by the very concept of them. Despite not being an overly social person at the best of times in “the real world”, the idea of a video game that was actually about relationships seemed thoroughly intriguing — plus, I will admit with no shame that as a lonely nerd in the late ’90s the idea of a “virtual girlfriend” of some description was really quite appealing. Certainly more appealing than getting drunk and standing on the sidelines of a local club dancefloor with a friend, steadfastly refusing to even approach any girls, let alone talk to them.
But I digress. Around then, dating sims were considered a bit of an “oh, Japan!” sort of thing, and consequently no western publishers wanted anything to do with them. For the most part, anyway; early adults-only visual novel localisers such as JAST USA (who are still around today) and Otaku Publishing (who are not) took a chance on a few 18+ PC titles, with one of the most notable being True Love ’95, which we’ve previously covered in our The History of Lewd series.
Doukyuusei (which translates to “Classmates”, if you were wondering) was originally released in Japan in 1992 by an outfit called Elf. It came out for a number of different platforms including the Japanese NEC PC-98 and Sharp X68000 home computers — the former in particular being the spiritual home of both the dating sim and 18+ eroge in the early days — as well as MS-DOS PC, then was ported to PC Engine CD, Sega Saturn and Windows PC a few years later.
Elf was a pretty prolific developer in the early days of the visual novel business, with a number of well-known and influential titles under its belt. Besides Doukyuusei, which is regarded as a pioneering work of the dating sim genre, the company also gave us the Dragon Knight series of role-playing games — one of which was localised in the mid-’90s as Knights of Xentar by Megatech, the same company who brought us Metal & Lace: Battle of the Robo-Babes — and the extremely well-regarded visual novel YU-NO: A girl who chants love at the bound of this world, which got a remake a few years back.
Despite the original form of Elf folding in 2015, a complete modernised remake of Doukyuusei was announced by Fanza Games and frequent Elf collaborator Silky’s Plus in 2020, finally releasing in Japan in 2021.
A year later, rapidly growing localisation outfit Shiravune have brought Doukyuusei’s remake west, in both all-ages form on Steam for those who want an experience closer to the console ports of the game, and in 18+ form for those who want the old-school lewd experience. The Steam version can also be patched to add the 18+ content; said patch is free. Note that the 18+ version also features considerably racier dialogue in general compared to the all-ages version, as well as the erotic scenes.
In Doukyuusei, you take on the role of a student with just three weeks left in his summer break. You’ve spent the first half of your holiday earning some money, and now you’re hoping to hit the town, score with some girls and perhaps find true love in the process. Only trouble is, so far as the romance angle goes, you’re pretty much starting from zero; although you have a few pre-established friendships with classmates and other acquaintances, no-one has shown any particular interest in you — and what’s worse, your class rival Kenji seems to be out to get you, too.
For the unfamiliar, dating sims differ from romance-themed visual novels in terms of the amount of freedom they give you. While visual novels in general tend to provide relatively limited choices in order to nudge you in the direction of a specific narrative route, in dating sims you’re often free to pick at several narrative threads at once — and indeed in some cases, Doukyuusei’s storylines require that you progress relationships with several characters in order to continue.
Rather than events unfolding through a simple series of choices, you have to manage your own time over the course of each in-game day. Rather than taking the True Love approach of dividing each day up into large time blocks, Doukyuusei instead has an in-game clock that advances when you visit a location or take an action. And it’s a pretty unforgiving clock, too; miss a timed event or a meeting with someone and you’ve just missed it — though in many cases there’s a time window during which events happen rather than a super-specific time you need to be in attendance.
In the original version of Doukyuusei, you were expected to figure out everyone’s schedules pretty much by yourself, meaning that you could quite plausibly play through the entire in-game three-week period without ever resolving anyone’s storyline. Thankfully, the new version defaults to what it describes as “Easy Mode”, where not only can you see which characters are in which locations on the map at any point, you can see which dialogue options increase their affection ratings and look at a helpful time chart showing where you need to be and when in order to advance their storylines.
Of course, all of this is completely optional — there’s a “Classic Mode” available for those who want to struggle through the original experience — but “Easy Mode” provides a nice balance. You don’t have to use all the information available to you if you don’t want to — in my own playthrough I’ve been avoiding the time chart, for example, and simply paying characters a visit when I happen to spot them on the map — but if you do want to optimise a particular playthrough and see a specific character’s storyline, it makes doing so a breeze.
I’m not going to talk too much about the narratives themselves just yet because I’ve only played through a single in-game day at the time of writing. This was enough to get me thoroughly intrigued in the game world and the various characters, though — and to make me really wish that the rather juvenile English subtitle “Bangin’ Summer” had been omitted, since it’s already clear that this is very much a character-centric game with lots of cool stories to tell rather than “a hentai game”. Don’t come into this one expecting quick spoff material, in other words; all of these girls are going to take some work to get to know.
Where Doukyuusei really shines is in the astonishing level of detail in each and every scene. And I’m not talking about the visual images — which, outside of the beautiful new high-definition character art, are a little blurry, ill-defined and inconsistent in resolution at times — but rather the fact that every location you visit affords you the opportunity to go into “point and click mode”.
While this is activated, you can click on pretty much anything on the screen and get some commentary on it from our protagonist; there are even different responses for different body parts of characters in the scene, and sometimes there are even hidden secret items and money bonuses to acquire. And when there aren’t secrets to find, there is some delightfully amusing meta humour to discover. It’s particularly refreshing to occasionally discover other characters hanging around talking about sex and relationships between themselves.
While this feature isn’t especially useful early in the game — on your first day in the world of Doukyuusei you’ll likely just want to chat with everyone you possibly can — it makes the whole game world feel a lot more immersive, interesting and well-crafted, and by extension it really helps you inhabit the role of the protagonist. Like most dating sim protagonists, he’s a bit of a penis at the outset of things, but he soon softens as he starts to develop his feelings towards the members of the cast.
And what a cast! Forget your visual novels with just a couple of heroines here; Doukyuusei has 14 beautiful anime women to interact with, and they’re all different from one another. There’s the mysterious and dreamy Mai, whom everyone tends to keep their distance from, but who seems to have an interest in you. There’s your friend Misa, who is textbook tsundere on the surface but one of the characters most likely to put up with your stupid bullshit. There’s your somewhat-but-not-completely estranged childhood friend Satomi, the childishly cute Miho, school doctor Mako, her dissatisfied pharmacist sister Ako, your teacher Yoshiko… and plenty more besides.
In classic ’90s dating sim tradition, you’ll find yourself enjoying a few mildly lewd scenes — primarily of the “provocative pose with visible panties and stockings” variety — fairly early on, but these girls each have their own stories to tell that are clearly more than just how quickly you can get their pants off them.
Moreover, some of their narratives intertwine both with one another and with other events happening around Doukyuusei’s world; one of the available love interests, for example, is initially introduced as your best friend’s girlfriend, which is some drama waiting to happen, and your aforementioned rival Kenji certainly doesn’t take too kindly to you getting close to Mai, who is his childhood friend (and, apparently, obsession).
As noted, at this early point in my own virtual summer break, I’m certainly not feeling qualified to comment in depth on any of the narrative paths that have got underway — although apparently accidentally spending 10,000 yen to get sucked off by a granny in the dark is plot-relevant, according to the game’s interface — so we’ll return to this very soon.
For now, though, I will say that if you’re in the mood for some classic ’90s style dating sim gameplay with plenty of 21st century quality-of-life features, Doukyuusei: Bangin’ Summer is absolutely a worthy investment of your time and money, stupid subtitle or no. Now, question is, who is Best Girl that I should be concentrating on first…?
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