According to NTT Solmare Corp.’s press release about their latest manga-style romance RPG, Shall We Date?: Blood in Roses+ allows players to “Experience crazy and painful love with beautiful vampires!” To their credit, the game technically delivers on that promise. But after a brief fling with this dating sim, it’s clear the real vampire here isn’t a hunky dreamboat with a tortured soul; it’s the game itself.
The heroine is a healer-witch who can occasionally see into the future. After getting lost in the woods and looking for help in a spooky old building, she is imprisoned by vampires, who suck her blood. According to a talking cat, if she doesn’t drink the dew from a particular rose within ten days, she will be a vampire forever.
The plot and the ending of the game can change depending on which supernatural cutie the player decides to romance. It’s an interesting enough premise with potential for replay value, even if the whole “abusive vampire boyfriend with a werewolf rival” thing has been done before. I’ll get this out of the way early, though: the idea of falling in love with someone who locks me in a cell is a more difficult suspension of my disbelief than the idea of vampires or a talking cat. And I wish that were the most irritating thing about this game.
This game is only technically free. Every single aspect, from the core story to the customizable avatars, encourages the player to spend money. Even your choice of beefcake boyfriend is hampered by how much money you can spend; the jerk vampire brothers who suck your blood are both free, but the werewolf, the goofy chef, and the quiet manager all cost extra.
Reading a section of the story, (about 15 sentences, many of which are only a single word) costs the player one story ticket. Each story ticket takes 4 hours to regenerate, unless you’re willing to pay. Then, even when you wait patiently for a story ticket, the came will occasionally block you with “love challenges,” wherein you need a specific avatar item to continue the story. At one point I could not progress the plot until my avatar had a blue bracelet. These items can be purchased with coins (real money) or “tokens,” which are in-game currency earned by grinding away in tedious mini games. While I waited for my bishōnen boyfriend to suck my blood, a corporation slowly drained away my time and energy.
The “Miss Rose Contest” pits your avatar against another random user’s avatar, and you face off to see who is prettiest or something. But the stakes are ridiculously low: You win the Miss Rose Contest every time, no matter what. It uses up 20 units of “Power,” of which you only have 100, which takes time to regenerate. Every five times you participate in the contest, you can win tokens or random prizes like a cookie or a cake, which refills your power, so you can participate in the Miss Rose Contest. The “Make a Date” game uses up 200 “romance points,” and consists of tapping a button to win a random prize, usually tokens, but sometimes avatar items like dresses or new hairstyles.
It is also possible to earn tokens by greeting your in-game friends, of which you can have a maximum of 50. Scrolling through nearly identical avatars, individually greeting my 35 friends and fellow vampire drones in exchange for fake currency to afford a fake hat, so that I could spend a few fleeting moments with my emotionally abusive fake boyfriend, I began to wonder if perhaps I actually had been inducted into some sort of coven.
Finally, advancing the plot was like waiting in line for three hours to ride a roller coaster at an amusement park, while watching people with fast-passes cut in front the whole time. The ride ends and you feel a let-down, wondering if you actually had any fun. Despite the technical price tag, this game is not free. I would have preferred to pay a little up front and avoid the mind-numbing drudgery.
If the story were well-written and compelling, these faults could be forgiven. Sadly, this is not the case. The translations are rough and the copy is full of awkward syntax (not to mention several typos). With the money they must be making hand over fist from charging us to romance virtual hunks, NTT Solmare Corp. should have some room in their budget to pay someone to check for that sort of thing.
I’m not such a language snob that an imperfect translation will drive me away from a game outright, but a game that asks me to sink a huge portion of time or money purely to read the story should have a phenomenal story to tell. Even if the translations were better, the plot feels lacking, and the fact that I can only read 15-20 sentences at a time means I don’t have time to bond with the characters or care at all about what they want.
For the cost (in money or anguish) of finishing this game, I could pay up front for a whole book of well written manga and read it at my own pace to my heart’s content. I’m sorry, Blood in Roses+, but I won’t let you drain me anymore. You can’t satisfy me. We have to break up.
This “free” dating sim requires tons of mindless grinding to advance the plot, but the story is not compelling enough to be worth the effort.