Blooming Panic was originally released during the Otome Jam of 2021, which unfolded between April and June. Since its initial release, it has enjoyed a positive reception, solid download figures and plenty of happy players.
I was not expecting its new Full Bloom version to be even better — but considering how much additional material has been added, its ranking on my top 10 video games of 2021 list is now completely and utterly wrong! It’s become a top 3 at this point, and is perhaps even competing with Cupid Parasite as my most-enjoyed otome title of the year.
While the game has most certainly received great recognition on itch.io, it could always do with more, and it would be great to see it get more broadly recognised.
It’s exceptionally designed, and since we have been blessed with a free update to the Full Bloom version just in time for Christmas, it is a game that deserves to be highlighted in an article all of its own — even if I have previously covered the game three times already on Rice Digital. It’s become a full-on masterpiece.
If you haven’t already checked it out, here’s all the encouragement I hope you’ll need to dive into this splendid experience.
Jumping at the chance to join a modern chatroom setup
The main character, whose pronouns are selectable, works an exhausting job in finance that drains them on a daily basis. They find themselves winding down in their busy schedule with Blooming Panic, a webnovel that has become their one and only interest — they have no time for barely anything else.
Similar to the classic Mystic Messenger, the main character finds themselves clicking a mysterious link, causing them to find themselves in a Discord-like chatroom with only a handful of other users.
The server happens to be dedicated to the Blooming Panic fandom, and that’s where our narrative thread begins and ends — the mystery of the invites that brought all of these random users together. While the sense of mystery is both refreshing and intriguing — the eventual reveal concerns advancements in AI technology — there are so many other reasons on top of the game’s memorable “main” revelation to commit to this one-of-a-kind experience.
For example, the witty dialogue captures a truly appealing and realistic depiction of a fandom joined at the hip. We meet various personas that make up the endearing cast and enjoy dynamics not at all unlike any real-world chatroom you might find yourself part of.
Its love interests’ routes each touch upon vastly different yet just as important life-lessons and relatable themes audiences can feel emotionally drawn to, and the production values on display are especially notable considering the game is free.
But let’s start from the top.
An indie otome unlike any other
Written by robobarbie (NakedToaster/nightowl routes), Destini Islands (Quest/xyx routes), and Allie Vera (webnovel/xyx route), there are many themes that Blooming Panic’s character arcs and overarching story cover. Firstly, there is a certain amount of gravity to the main character despite them not being voiced or having their own arc — they are plagued by past treatment from their ex, who demeaned them and their confidence. They even reappear in one particular route, just to highlight how deplorable their stalking tendencies are.
It makes for a main character that it’s easy to sympathise with. In a similar way that Our Life: Beginnings and Always reaffirms the player, characters encourage our main character to appreciate their kind disposition, and love interests frequently comment on their physical attractiveness during video calls.
Alongside the heartfelt gestures and comforting environment, it’s just as much of a hilarious romp. Characters bounce off one another like the tight-knit group of buddies you’d expect to find in a chatroom who share the same major interests as each other — but they also feel close enough to touch upon their insecurities and woes about their private lives. All of this adds plenty of depth to them.
For example, depending on the route you follow, the user BIGLADY may discuss her real life issues concerning romance, such as being stood up, and having had a bad experience in her education whilst pursuing taboo love with a teacher.
Then there is two2, who expresses doubt in their current studies and future ambitions in their career — they have little to no direction in what they want to aim for.
It all adds to the fleshing out of not just the dynamics and genuineness of the server as being more than just “characters” or icons on our computer screen. It gives each cast member plenty of solid and memorable opportunities to truly showcase how undeniably human they are, no matter how brief our exchanges with them might be.
And that’s still not all.
Genuine characters, believable chemistry, a Discord server you’ll never want to leave
The cast of Blooming Panic: Full Bloom are voiced, and everyone is fantastic in their delivery and depiction of their character’s certain quirks – Charlatean as NakedToaster comes across as the necessary amount of deadpan and sarcastic in his tone until he starts becoming a blushing mess with the main character, completely breaking his blasé attitude.
Kija as nightowl projects the much younger, more energetic personality with a flirty side perfectly with an irresistible tone.
BardCommander as Quest, the older, fatherly and capable gentleman of the server, expresses a warm and patient voice.
And Mike Young as xyx has a wonderfully playful personality complemented perfectly by his unexpected accent — and he does an especially fantastic job at the tongue twisters. Kudos!
But possibly the very best voice acting in Blooming Panic comes with BloomBot, voiced by Katy133. She manages to capture the subtle humanism in the tone with auto-tune for the sentient AI.
Even outside of the talented voice acting, the depths of Blooming Panic’s characters are well explored and fleshed out through the excellent writing, despite the game only clocking in at around 7 hours if you’re going for all its endings. There are 8 endings in total; 4 good and 4 bad.
You get a great look into what a server like this encompasses when so many different types of people are inadvertently brought together to form a “family” of sorts. For example, we have the fangirl behaviour from BIGLADY; the misspelling/typo-prone two2; the grounded and vocally opinionated onionthief; the older lady June, who never fails to bring an enthusiastic and positive vibe to every conversation; and the best member ever — the much older salociN, as evident by his unplugging of his computer by accident, and wholesomely asking who the user is in a meme that’s shared in the chatroom.
To reinforce just how deep the title can unexpectedly go, salociN imparts his own knowledge during NakedToaster’s route, and has just as much impact as the game’s main love interests in the process.
He loves his wife, visits his deceased first wife’s grave, and sends across a message of finding the good in your own circumstances and happiness, with his takeaway being that if your workload leaves you feeling unsatisfied, and you’re not following your ambitions, you’re doing something wrong. Speaking of how much wisdom its characters can dish out to its player…
Charismatic LIs backed with emotional and relatable backstories
Blooming Panic’s original game was one of my favourite releases of the year for making every single love interest so genuine yet still flawed — and even with such a short runtime, their sense of growth is both satisfying and believable.
Full Bloom sees the addition of not only troll user xyx’s route, but further material for the existing routes to fully maximise the love interest’s potential and likeability in their personal journey of self-improvement and the establishing of their backstories.
Nightowl gets arguably the best glow-up from his original route, since the additional scenes and dialogue to further conceptualise and explore his trauma and backstory make him much more sympathetic this time around. A scene where he takes out his frustrations at his life situation on the main character was far more uncomfortable and distasteful in the original, whereas in Full Bloom, we have the necessary amount of information and emotions to understand him more in regards to his unsupportive, borderline abusive family — as well as study pressures on top of such a constricting and stressful living environment.
It’s a captivating exploration into how others should do their best in lifting one another up and supporting them in whatever way they can, even when it’s over a long distance. Being that ear to lend to be vented at, and a voice to guide someone with could be all a person needs to get them on the right track and have their mind refocused on what really matters.
Quest received the least new additions to his route, but there’s not much else you can add to something already perfect, other than fluffing out more details on the situation that was out of his control when he was part of a bad crowd.
It’s the details that count here, and once again, the team do well to make Quest believable and fleshed out to make us care for and love him, flaws and all. He turns over a new leaf and is a pacifist as a young adult, highlighting how some people deserve second chances since they learn to grow and become the best versions of themselves that they can be. His route is a redemption arc first and foremost, as his juvenile behaviour in the past is juxtaposed to his fatherly position as the moderator of the server.
NakedToaster’s route sees an additional plotline involving a game he created in the past — the main character plays through this as a text-based adventure game in their private chat along with xyx as an observer and fellow Final Fantasy fan.
NakedToaster represents a mellow and humble character, considering his well-established and rewarding job. His character has parallels with the main character, as the pair share the same desire to partake in their interests to escape the everyday stress of their professional life. His route also happens to be the “true” route since it answers its main mystery of the chatroom invites, so it’s best left for last.
The previously teased and new addition for the love interest pool comes in the handsome form of its iconic troll, xyx, who is scared of connecting with others to show his true self. He believes his relatability comes from his humour, and that this is what makes people stay connected to him. He fears that people would otherwise lose interest in him if he were to express his true feelings, thoughts and worries.
Overall, Blooming Panic’s routes all carry the overall message that no one is perfect — and that making mistakes is in our nature. We can always learn to improve ourselves, both for our own sake and for those who care about us.
But most impressively is how the core themes of Blooming Panic are also present within the context of the in-game webnovel — it supports this message, with Lola and its writers’ themes usually encompassing a person going through a transformation, for better or for worse. It’s subtle programming, and the details that are hidden in plain sight are lovingly conceptualised, building up each prominent storyline with the server’s characters wonderfully.
It’s free to play and Full Bloom is the perfect first step into the fandom
Design-wise, Blooming Panic has a ton of polish considering it’s an indie title that was originally put together in a two-month timespan. The visual details are a continual treat to discover, and there are so many different art styles incorporated into the game to reinforce the fact that there are a variety of different artists and projects in the game’s universe. There’s fan art, memes, emojis and even a fanzine. And the basic “chatroom” functionality is well implemented, too; you can pause and speed it up depending on your own reading speed.
The additional bits of storyline also flesh out the characters superbly. For example, the quiz plotline in nightowl’s route encourages the use of the newly implemented bot commands and exploration of the other channels — it also gives nightowl and the main character a private channel that was omitted in the original game.
It was a greatly satisfying way to further showcase the dynamic of the best friends NakedToaster and xyx here as the quiz makers and masters. Furthermore, the addition of certain restrictions also has a hand in making the experience even more interactive, with the main character feeling integral to the chatroom’s system, just like every other character.
Full Bloom also adds voices to the rest of the server in snippets of audio files for certain messages; this adds a sense of realism and further likeability to its already lovable cast of characters.
As an otome, Blooming Panic is an entirely casual experience that can go as deep as you want it to go by exploring its “fiction within fiction” material. The parallels between the game’s characters and those in the webnovel make for multiple layers of context. This adds many levels of relatability and realism to the cast and world — so much so that the webnovel Blooming Panic’s story and writer touch on overarching themes the love interests and secondary characters encompass. It’s an unbelievably creative and organic way of capturing the essence of its messages while simultaneously making it fun to explore.
Additional bonuses in this edition include the addition of a nickname/username preference option, each character having their own bio, a ping system that actually alerts the player by noise/colour, and fanfiction characters having their very own art to represent them. These can even be explored in certain moments of the story outside of the game when clicking on links that the characters share with you — yet more “game within a game” content and backstory to enjoy!
For me, I found the real highlight to be how the love interests would sometimes start talking without being prompted, and show a shift in their animation to highlight their changes in thought process during video calls. They’re all subtle changes, but they add to the immersion.
On a final note, you have plenty of replay value here, since love interest routes take two runs — more if you’re not on their good side by the last chapter — to get both their good and bad endings, and there are also story epilogues for both endings. These show when the love interest and main character meet offline for the first time after their long-distance relationship across several months, and we see a short story segment of their relationship thereafter.
The verdict is – go download Blooming Panic right now!
You’ll be fully entrapped and captivated with the world of Blooming Panic from the get-go for one reason or another — be it the catchy theme song, relatable premise of a chatroom, humorous dialogue, or its heartfelt messages and emotionally captivating characters.
There’s something here that you’ll be thankful for, I can guarantee it. My compliments to the team won’t ever stop for gifting us this gem — and I hope you make the right decision in making your way to downloading it for free on itch.io. You’re missing out on the fun otherwise!
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