Nicole Otome Version
Before I get into this review of the Nicole Otome game, I’ll admit that I have a small piece of history with the game. I was a writer for the Yuri version of Nicole until my health dropped out. I think I was the third writer before I passed the baton to a friend. I wrote a good chunk of Bethany’s path, though I am unsure how much of my work will make it to the final game. That being said, while I had a good experience working with the creators, my review will not be softened by said experience. Still, I am excited to see the second game, as I have high hopes for it.
Name: Nicole Otome Version
Genre: Visual Novel, Otome, Simulation, Adventure, Casual
Platforms: Steam (Win/Mac), Windows/Mac/Linux
Developer: Winter Wolves
Publisher: Winter Wolves
MSRP: $18.99, $19.99 Deluxe Edition, $0.99 DLC
Demo Available: Yes
Nicole is thrilled that she managed to get into her first choice school and is looking forward to experiencing college life there. However, as soon as she moves into the university dorms, she finds out that there’s been a series of mysterious disappearances going on around the campus!
From there she can attend classes, get a part time job, date one of four cute boys, solve the mystery, or all of the above.
The plot is okay at best, mostly due to glaring plot holes involving the mystery. As a fan of the mystery genre I was really disappointed when my gut instinct told me who the culprit was the second time I saw him and I ended up being right. There was no twist or great challenge.
The characters of Nicole Otome, while charming, are very two dimensional.
Nicole is a character that should be relatable, but because she’s too fill-in-the-blank, I don’t relate to her at all. She’s too ordinary, nothing about her really sticks out. Though she can be witty and charming, especially in humorous scenes, she doesn’t really stick out as a detective character. She just seems like a regular sort of girl who is over-confident and blunders her way into solving a crime that is child’s play.
The date-able young men are all based on tired tropes.Darren is the shy social media geek who participates in a Tumblr-esque site called Rollr. His personalities online and offline clash, and to me this honest characterization makes him the most relatable. Jeff, the vaguely unsettling science student seems a little too self-righteous in the way he treats Nicole as an assistant–more like accomplice to his crimes. Kurt is the lovable yet jerkish jock that doesn’t have any brains for school but does have a scholarship for being great at football. His ability to brag about said athletic prowess makes him somewhat annoying. Ted is the hardworking hick with a cool cop dad. He often gets flustered by Nicole and her antics.
The other female characters are barely seen throughout the game. Chandra, the shy roommate appears most regularly. There is also Kate the athlete, Bethany the librarian, and Miranda the model. None of these characters made much of an impression on me in this game, but I’m sure that will be saved for the next one.
While these are basis of potentially great characters, the delivery falls flat, especially when some of the characters show violent tendencies towards women. But we’ll go over that soon enough.
Writing from a Technical Standpoint:
The dialogue isn’t too special, though it is stylistically consistent and has it’s funny moments. It provided just enough amusement to keep me interested through the first playthrough. However, once you read the same scene for the second, third, and fourth times to get a different ending, it gets a bit boorish, so I recommend using the skip text function. You can customize that in the options menu.
Moral(s) of the Story:
There are some intimidation tactics used on Nicole by all of the guys but Darren. Jeff, as the culprit, is particularly predatory–not that Nicole minds, considering she stays with him after he goes to prison. Kurt can’t seem to understand that “no means no” and is willing to physically intimidate Nicole, which she admits to being nervous that he’ll strike her. Ted is harsh on everyone, but he also grabs Nicole’s arm and hurts her during an altercation with Jeff. But Nicole doesn’t seem to get any danger flags tripped by any of the male characters. I consider this strange, especially when there are disappearances going on. She doesn’t seem to realize that her overconfidence can bite her, and bite it does.
So the moral of the story could be that it’s okay to be an overconfident young lady, because even when that bites you in the ass and you are cornered in a dangerous situation, it doesn’t bite too hard because you’ll be saved by another man or be too lovestruck to care that your boyfriend just trapped you and is most likely a rapist. Not a great moral, but I’m pretty sure that wasn’t the intent.
I’m always happy to see games directed at a female audience. However, some of the morals I mentioned above let me down as a female player. Also, I didn’t see very many scenes with the other girls, and when I did they seemed to be short and kind of meaningless.
I was also really thrilled to see a character in the first scene who wasn’t white! Her name is Chandra and she is Nicole’s soft-spoken roommate. My excitement, however, was almost instantly cockblocked by the main character wishing she could be tan like Chandra. This made me uncomfortable. While Kurt is tan, Chandra is not. Let’s not whitewash everything, folks.
Nicole employs a few tropes. Most notable are:
The sprite art is soft and expressive like a watercolor. Despite some anatomical issues, I actually don’t have many qualms with the sprite art. However, I don’t like that some of the expressions force the characters’ faces to move around completely–it’s rather unnatural and stuck out when I did my speed runs.
The CGs appear to have been done by the sprite artist. It shares the soft expressiveness. It also shares the anatomy issues, but that is pretty ignorable. I enjoyed unlocking the different CGs.
The background art is pretty nice. It has pretty good perspective and a pleasant coloring job. It’s a little different than the sprite art, but not enough to clash. There are quite a few backgrounds, so feast your eyes.
The GUI is sound in its design. It’s pretty but it doesn’t stand out, other than the fact that it is red. Personally, I would have chosen a blue theme for the GUI since it seems to be Nicole’s main color and I don’t see dark red as having a particular significance to the story or symbolism. On the final playthrough, I noticed that the GUI has what seems to be a water-lily motif. I’m not entirely sure why this is, since water-lilies don’t make an appearance in the game, but it does look pleasant.
There were a few issues that I had with the GUI. The part of the window with the stats goes widely unnoticed while grinding for stats. It fades into the background like white noise, which is a shame considering it actually looks and functions well. The map system is too much like the activity options system, so instead of feeling like I’m going to a location, despite background changes, I feel like I’m endlessly clicking through options. Which helps when the player is grinding, I suppose.
I’m afraid I don’t have much to say on the sound effects or voice acting, as it didn’t make much of an impression on me. Well, that and the fact that there wasn’t any voice work.
The soundtrack is by Leetmusic and Sebastien Skaf. The music is enjoyable yet repetitive. It got stuck in my head a lot while play the game. Maybe that’s appealing in its own way since it makes me think of the game. The soundtrack is mostly made up of piano-based tracks, which I liked very much, as a piano composer myself. The range of the instrument lends itself to the various tracks from a lively dancing theme “Tonight is the Night” to the somber “Uncertain Future.” The upbeat songs “Kindly” and “Sunny Day” are particularly memorable.
Despite not making any particular efforts towards accessibility, the game is fairly accessible. Players can change their settings in the options menu, which is handy. The font has different colors for choices and important notes so it’s eye-catching. My only issue is with the save/load menu. I almost always clicked the “x” in the upper right hand corner thinking it would close the save/load menu and return me to the game, but instead it closes out of the game with the “are you sure?” warning screen. I continually hit this button and had to back out of closing the game. I understand why the button is there, but it is rather confusing at times, at least to me.
Platform(s) and Technical Capabilities:
This game is for PC/Mac/Linux and isn’t at all heavy on processor usage. Visual novels, dating sims, and life sims tend to work well on computers, and Nicole Otome is no exception. It worked well as far as technical capabilities of the game go on both my Mac and my PC.
The game boasts a “Simulated Life” that is almost as boring as real life! It drags on just as uneventfully from day to day until something dramatic happens every so often, just to keep you on your toes.I often wished that I could easily plan out and pass by weeks, not days while playing. In reality, I sunk about six hours getting all of the paths on my steam version. However, some of that time was wasted as the Ted ending would not trigger no matter what I did. I raised his related stat, his affection, and then snooped for clues all to the maximum, and nothing happened. I followed the same exact thing I had done for the other guys but to no avail as I got the worst ending. As soon as I figure out what my issue is, hopefully I can rewrite this section of the review and claim my Steam achievements.
As far as features go, romance is the strongest thematically while crime solving feels like the weakest. The Life Simulation is the prevalent gameplay feature, but it’s also very dull.
Relation to the Story:
When it comes to solving the mystery, it wasn’t by the act of gathering clues through the story or in investigative gameplay that I realized who the culprit was–it was too obvious that he was a creeper by his second appearance, not to mention the tired trope of the mad scientist. Or in this case science student, a baby-villain with weak motives.
It wasn’t a challenge or a twist for a mystery fan such as myself. I disappointed in clue gathering, we don’t really meet Nicole the detective. We mostly meet Nicole who flirts with guys and danger. We don’t get to solve the crimes through gameplay so much as being dragged through the plot by dumb luck. It’s more of a task than a brain teaser..
After an initial bad-end play through, I skipped much of the dialogue in favor of mechanically raising stats like I was building muscle memory (which I think I ended up doing) to reach the different endings.
Many of the daily pieces of text are repeated, well…daily. So I skipped a lot of that and ended up overdoing it and running over into the next plot bit I was hoping to read. However, once I did stop, it was easy to piece together what I had missed. I never went back to re-read anything, since I honestly didn’t care to.
Decent art, so-so story, and okay gameplay make for a cohesive experience of mediocrity. All of the elements fit pretty well together, but despite that the game doesn’t really benefit from it.
I got my copy of Nicole Otome for Steam in a bundle, but the game normally goes for $18.99USD, $19.99 if you get the Deluxe Edition, which includes the game’s OST in .mp3 format, wallpapers of the characters, and high resolution chibis from the gameplay. For the experience, I’d say that it’s a bit pricey, so if you want to play the game, definitely get it in a bundle or on sale.
I know that generally people say that longer gameplay is a good thing, but this game is too long. I expected that after I maxed the stats, won the heart of whichever guy, and gathered all the clues, that it would immediately trigger the ending, but I instead “napped the day away” for several days in-game before the ending triggered. I did this over four times to get all of the different endings, resulting in me actually wanting to take a nap.
If you have the urge to unlock everything, the game is fairly replayable in order to get different endings. There are small variations here and there, but once you’ve seen two of the endings, you’ve probably seen the the majority of the different paths.
The game isn’t hard on the eyes graphically, so repeating the same stuff isn’t so bad. It just becomes really apparent when the faces of the characters slide around unnaturally.
Gameplay is where the replay value is delivered a blow. I clicked on the same location and activity options so many times that it caused my wrist pains to flare up.
As a whole, Nicole Otome Version is kind of disappointing–probably because it had so much potential. It doesn’t seem to live up to similar works like Alway Remember Me, which despite using most of the same mechanics is considered to be much more enjoyable.
Review: Nicole Otome
On a scale from one to ten, I give Nicole a 5.04--it’s it’s okay, a step above mediocre. That’s like a 50% on a test--in the US, that generally means you’ve failed. I tried to be generous but many factors worked against the game, mostly the grinding gameplay and the lack of replay value in a game that forces you to replay to unlock all of the content.
- Story (5.17/10)
- Presentation (5.83/10)
- Gameplay (4.83/10)
- Replay Value (4.33/10)