STAFF REVIEW of Arcade Spirits (Xbox One)

Monday, June 1, 2020.
by Adam Dileva

Arcade Spirits Box art Being that I was born in the 80’s, some of my fondest memories are from arcades I would visit after school on the way home. For those that might be too young to have frequented an arcade before, there used to be a time where home consoles weren’t really something nearly every gamer had, and to play the newest games you’d have to bring a pocket full of quarters to your local arcade and hope it was enough cash to beat it in one standing. My mom would give me a few quarters every day before school so that I could stop on the way home to play a few games, and that’s most likely where my passion for gaming started.

I miss those days, as arcades aren’t a commonplace any longer since everyone has consoles at home now. That being said, there’s nothing quite like an arcade experience. There’s something about the sights and sounds of the machines and cabinets, hearing the pings and pongs from the pinballs machines and the curiosity of a crowd gathering around a single game when someone is on the verge of a high score. When you’re putting actual money on the line every game, it’s a different feeling and experience compared to simply hitting continue at home.

If you’re my age or older, you’ll most likely remember the video game crash of the early 80’s. E.T. was a monstrous movie for the time, and of course, there had to be a tie-in videogame, but it turned out to be so terrible that it nearly crippled and destroyed the whole industry. Look up the specifics and the documentary, as it’s a fascinating sequence of events, but it’s a major point in videogame history early on. Set in 20XX, Arcade Spirits takes this series of events but flips it, asking what if that crash never happened? It’s an odd premise for a game backdrop, but as Arcade Spirits is actually more visual novel than game, it’s quite fitting.

You begin by creating your character from a handful of different looks, choosing their name and pronoun. The default name is Ari Cader, which I thought was clever, so I kept it. Your family has a long line of back luck streaks, and now that you’ve found yourself recently unemployed, you believe the bad luck has finally caught up with you. This isn’t a good excuse for your long time best friend and roommate, Juniper, as she suggests trying out the new Iris app on your smartphone to find a new job. Not only does she want you to find a new job, but one you’ll really enjoy and love.

Of course, you eventually launch Iris, which turns out to be more than a simple app, but more an AI that can read your personality and report on your traits and relationships. As you’re given different dialogue options, they’ll be broken into different categories such as quirky, steady, gutsy, kindly or basically, each with its own symbol to show what type of answers you’re giving, though you can toggle these off if you don’t want ‘hints’ as to what replies will trend towards. There’s no right or wrong, and you can create any type of personality you want as you progress.

Iris finds you a job interview in a matter of seconds, so naturally you go with it and try it out. After nailing the oddest interview you’ve ever had with the owner Francine, you’re the newest employee at the local arcade, Funplex. Sure, you start out as just a lowly floor attendant, but this becomes more than just a 9-5 job, as you search for what you actually want, discovering yourself in the process.

You’ll meet some interesting customers and fellow employees along the way. Gavin is the assistant manager, tasked with keeping the doors open and the books balanced. He can be a bit dry at times and focuses on work almost solely, but has a good heart. Ashley uses cosplay as her outlet for her personality when she’s not busy working alongside you at the arcade. Naomi is the one I relate to the most, as she absolutely loves arcade machines and is the resident fixer of said machines, appreciating their worth and value on more than just a physical level. Teo is a star at the hottest dancing game, keeping tabs and organizing the community. QueenBee is the top of her class in eSports, taking on all comers and trash talking like no tomorrow. Percy is a seemingly regular guy, but going for a world record on a classic retro game, but why is it so important to him? With a wide range of characters, there’s some depth given each of the personalities, and it’s up to you to decide how you’d like to interact with each when given the opportunity, maybe it’ll even lead to some romance down the road.

Given that this is a visual novel moreso than a traditional game, there’s a lot of reading you’ll need to do. Some sections of the dialogue is spoken, but not all, which seems odd. You can toggle the settings and have it auto play, only stopping when there’s a dialogue choice to be made, or you can wear out your ‘A’ button if you want to press it at your own pace. Part of the appeal is playing as yourself, or something completely opposite. Your choices will have certain reactions and outcomes, so naturally this means multiple playthroughs if you want to see everything Arcade Spirits has to offer, but that's quite a daunting commitment.

You’re able to boot up Iris at any time to see how every relationship is trending and what your personality type is like. Again, there’s no right or wrong, so it’s interesting to see how each character reacts to certain response types. Sometimes you’ll also need to interject with irate customers or handle a crisis, and with a few hours of narrative, you’ll come to appreciate how much writing and dialogue went into Arcade Spirits.

I enjoyed the comic style visuals, as everything is bright and neon, though being a visual novel, there’s barely any animations. The dialogue is decent and occasionally funny, though filled with pop culture references that might go right over the heads of some. The voice acting is decent at best, but it’s jarring when some lines are voiced and others are not, especially since nothing your character speaks is voiced at all. The soundtrack also cuts in and out depending on what dialogue box you’re reading, so it can be a little distracting at times.

While Arcade Spirits won’t be for everyone, especially since it’s a visual novel at its core, it’s really meant for gamers of my generation that have fond memories of going to arcades back in the day and craves that nostalgia. Even though there’s no real ‘gameplay’ aside from dialogue and decision making, it’s done in an interesting way with a narrative that, while quirky, had a lot of charm to it. More than a simple story about working at an arcade in the year 20XX, Arcade Spirits tries to delve deeper into something more meaningful with its array of interesting characters, though it’s completely up to you how you want to forge your relationships.

Overall: 6.5 / 10
Gameplay: 5.0 / 10
Visuals: 7.0 / 10
Sound: 6.0 / 10


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