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Backlog Review | Arcade Spirits: The New Challengers

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In the distant future where arcades and video games aren’t just a hobby, but a part of everyone’s daily routine, aspiring to do more than just play them to unwind is like saying you need air to breathe or food to survive. It’s second nature, common knowledge, and an inevitability. Well, that’s at least true for you, a hardened Fist of Discomfort 2 amateur league player, who just wants a shot at making it to the top. Of course, the part where you play the game will be easy, the hard part will be finding a team of like minded players that’ll help you realize that dream. Oh and getting the aid of an AI companion of dubious legality, couldn’t hurt either.

In Arcade Spirits: The New Challengers from Fiction Factory Games you’ll manage a diverse and passionate team of video game enthusiasts as they work through their daily challenges, personal dilemmas, and friendship dynamics in an effort to make a living doing what they love – playing video games!

If you’re looking for a chill vibe, Arcade Spirits definitely delivers with its clean and colorful aesthetics. I especially like its use of neon, particularly during the scenes when the characters are playing games. It gives the whole game a futuristic yet familiar feel, that invokes the blacklight lit visual cacophony of hanging out in an arcade. Paired with its fantastic synthwave soundtrack and I’m ready to spend a fortune in quarters with the regulars of Good Clean Fun.

On top of its overall aesthetics the designers of Arcade Spirits did a great job of creating a visually diverse cast of characters, each of which has their own unique style that mimicked and fortified their personalities. Like Zapper whose bright red hair, lipstick, and t-shirt magnified her fiery disposition, or the impish Locksley whose green hooded jacket and pink teddy bear keychain reflects his empathetic yet mischievous nature. I also appreciated the use of colored text and icons, which gave you an at a glance hint as to who was talking at any given time. My favorite pairing being Matt and Ben the pizza shop owners, who used green and red text (like an Italian flag), and sported two halves of the same heart. So when both spoke at the same time, it would be complete! It was little details like that that gives this game so much appeal!

Once you settle in with how vibrant everything is, the one thing that stood out the most, and what made each character’s personality shine, was the exceptional writing. Like their style, the colloquialisms they used and the way they carried themselves through speech was the last piece of the puzzle that helps you figure out who these people are! And in a game where all you really get to see of each character is a portrait drawn in a few different configurations, well written dialogue makes all the difference! The smattering of well executed voice snippets and fully voiced lines, really helped as well and made the characters that much more likable in their own ways.

Although the dialogue was exciting, the story itself wasn’t really anything to write home about. The driving force behind Arcade Spirits is mainly that you and your newly formed group of friends want to become professional esports players, with a few intriguing and possibly supernatural threads springing up in there as well. However it was the characters, their growing relationships, and their dramas that kept me coming back for more.

What made those interactions especially fun was the variety of choices you could make when conversing with the various characters. Depending on how you respond it could affect your relationship with them as well as your own personality, which really made playing the game feel dynamic and in some ways that much more personal. I don’t think many of those choices would drastically change the outcome of the story, but the effect on your friendships was interesting to watch unfold. Most notably when that friendship would lead to something more romantic.

A good story, and fun characters is great and all, but what drew me to Arcade Spirits: The New Challengers was that it had more than just that! It was everything else outside of what the typical Visual Novel norms that had me curious to play it. Things like its personality trait system, which gives more weight to your choices, and makes you think before you speak because saying the wrong thing could spin the conversation in a direction you didn’t want it to go. It isn’t black and white either, and sometimes being blunt is more effective than just being agreeable, or even logical. This also has a big effect on “life changing” choices you can make, which will narrow your responses down to the two that are associated with the traits your character most identifies with.

One of the coolest additions to the game is that Fists of Discomfort 2 isn’t just a part of the story, it’s an actual mini-game you can participate in, and plays out similarly to something like rock-paper-scissors. By that I mean, each team will select their actions and depending on how they match up, you’ll either win, lose or draw that round. For example, if you were to attack, you would trump your opponent if they used their special, while you’d be defeated if they happened to use defense. In theory and in practice this seems simple, but it was a nice change of pace to semi-passively watching people chat among themselves. Your performance also has an impact on how the story plays out, but if you’d prefer the fates didn’t decide which direction the matches go, you can also opt to skip them and just choose if your team always wins or always loses. A nice feature that streamlines subsequent playthroughs! Especially if you’re trying for a specific ending.

Finally, you’ll also gain access to a gallery of concept art that will unlock as you progress the story or trigger specific events like romancing each of the characters. Something I always enjoy in games like this. Especially when you get to see how the character’s design progressed from conception to the final product.

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Arcade Spirits: The New Challengers was a light hearted and charming game that celebrated one of my passions, video games, and went outside the norms of what you’d typically find in a Visual Novel, and I truly appreciated that! Its inclusive approach to character design and storytelling meant that it was built with everyone’s enjoyment in mind, and the more people that can enjoy it, the better! So, if you’re looking for the next great VN to kick back and chill with, then you won’t need to look much further.

If you’d like to check out Arcade Spirits: The Challengers for yourself, you can find it on Steam starting May 27th, 2022!!