Arcade Spirits is a romantic visual novel set in an alternative future where the video game crash in the 80s never happened. Imagine: the now-infamous E.T. game was held back until a higher quality title could be produced, meaning that Atari didn’t have to dump hundreds of thousands of unsold copies in the desert. The gaming industry prospered instead of suffering an almost cataclysmic decline in profits. It seems a strange event to pick as the fulcrum of human history but it does mean that, in this timeline, arcades are thriving and are as abundant on the high street as coffee shops.
What isn’t thriving is the protagonist. They’ve been struggling from one low paid job to the next and have just been made redundant yet again. The stress and worry of not managing to find any kind of financial stability is a situation that many people can relate to. It can lead to you just surviving rather than actually living. Thankfully, your room mate is on hand to recommend a new phone app to help get your life back on track. With your new digital AI assistant, you land an interview at an arcade. After nailing it, your new life as an arcade floor attendant begins.
As this is a visual novel, you won’t get to walk around and sample the delights of the arcade machines. Instead, this is a game about building relationships with people. It’s up to you if you want any of them to be romantic or if you’d prefer to just have friendships. You’ll get to spend a lot of time getting to know your fellow coworkers as well as some of the regular customers, so it’s a good job that they’re an entertaining bunch.
The game offers diversity, not just in the types of personality that you’ll come across, but also in ethnicities and body types. So, if you’re looking for romance, there’s bound to be at least one person that you’ll want as your Player 2. The writing for each character is well done and they have a lot of heartfelt moments. Their personalities won’t stray too far from your initial impressions of them, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The more you get to know them the more you’ll end up wanting to help them all achieve their dreams.
It’s actually quite surprising that, even though the storyline and characters are not the most complex, you’ll end up feeling quite engrossed in what’s happening. The story is told in such a charming way that you can’t help but want to see it through to the end. The game does deal with some more serious issues, but even when looking at things like mental health, the game does it in a way that leaves you feeling hopeful rather than depressed.
While there is voice acting, not every line in the game is voiced. The casting is mostly spot on with the actors really managing to bring their character to life. The only miss is a British character where the actor doesn’t quite manage to nail the accent; it has a tendency to veer towards an Australian twang, but the character is so loveable that it’s easy to forgive. Some of the voice talent used is likely to be familiar to you – of particular note is the rival arcade owner, voiced by Mark Meer of Mass Effect and Dragon Age fame. His voice just drips with villainy, and he does a brilliant job at making you dislike him.
The art style of all the locations you visit and all the characters you meet is very eye-catching and vibrant. This makes it unfortunately a bit more noticeable that the player character has a fairly bland design when compared to everyone else. You’re given options at the beginning of the game to customise the protagonist, which is fairly unique for a visual novel. However, the options are fairly limited. You’re always going to be an androgynous looking person with a slim build and baggy clothes, but you do get to change hair style, clothing colour, as well as your preferred pronouns. It’s nice to have options but a shame that there aren’t more of them.
You do get to shape the protagonist's personality, though. By selecting certain types of replies in conversations you can become feistier, more humorous, caring, or more level-headed if you prefer. It’s nice that how you choose to respond has an impact on how the protagonist will react to certain situations. This also offers a bit more replayability, as you can see how a different personality type would handle a situation.
All the standard things that you’d expect from a visual novel are here, including multiple endings, as well as the ability to skip through previously read text. There are even certain points in the game where you can choose between visiting different areas. This makes it fun to play through multiple times to see what happens if you go help out a different friend. The main story beats are always the same but you get to see how things play out from a slightly different narrative angle.
Arcade Spirits is a visual novel with a diverse set of characters to romance or befriend. It doesn’t really bring anything new to the genre, but the characters are charming and the vibrant arcade setting offers a fun nostalgic feel. The storyline offers plenty of heartfelt moments that will make you really care about many of the characters and want to play through multiple times. While it’s a simple game, it’s definitely one that’s worth your time.