If there are two things I love in this world, it’s video games and visual novels. So when I discovered Arcade Spirits, a visual novel-slash-dating simulator about video games, I thought I’d hit the jackpot.
Arcade Spirits follows the aptly named Ari Cader, a twenty-something trying to find their way in the world with the help of an A.I called Iris – a surprisingly common theme in visual novels at the moment. It was a fun experience that I’d be keen to replay to see the different endings. So you can imagine how quickly I mashed that download button when I saw the sequel’s demo at Steam Next Fest.
I wouldn’t technically say Arcade Spirits: The New Challengers is a sequel to the original. Instead, it’s more of a new entry into the series. From what I can see in the demo, only two of the original characters are present, and there aren’t any references to the previous title. This can be a little disappointing for players of the first title, but it’s fantastic for new players not to require prior knowledge of the world.
“Without spoiling anything, the story is very different to the first game.”
The game does an excellent job of setting you up with the context of the in-game universe. It takes place in 20XX on an alternate timeline where the arcades of the 80s never waned in popularity. Instead of esports communities growing around console and PC games, they grew around the big, bulky arcade machines. The writing is a love letter to gaming culture, with characters calling each other n00bs and saying hilarious quotes like, “oh, thank RNGesus”.
Without spoiling anything, the story is very different to the first game. This time, you play as Sydney or Seeker, as they are commonly called by their Gamertag. They are a fan of the game, Fists of Discomfort 2, and aim to reach the pro leagues. Seeker is fully customisable, including things such as body type, hair colour, skin tone and, importantly, pronouns. The game gives you the option of less common pronouns too, such as Ze/Zir and Ey/Emself, to name a few. This is the first time I’ve seen a game with so many inclusive options, and it was a lovely surprise.
“It’s a breath of fresh air and a reason why I love indie games so much.”
It’s not just the player character who is inclusive; the entire cast of supporting characters are diverse. Characters use varying pronouns and are incredibly supportive of others. It’s a breath of fresh air and a reason why I love indie games so much.
Gameplay is your traditional visual novel gameplay with choices that directly the storyline. Each choice you have is weighted towards a personality trait which each dateable character prefers. Choosing responses that build those traits will help you develop your relationships throughout the game.
At the end of each chapter or level, as this is a game about games, your choices are added up, and you get to see which direction the player character’s personality is headed and which supporting characters like you. The personality trait, which each choice corresponds with, isn’t shown until after you’ve made your choice. This leaves less chance for people to rig their answers and go down a specific route. It’s a fun mechanic that gives the game a distinct difference from other visual novels.
I’ve found the art to be quite hit and miss, a problem I also had with the first game. Some characters look great, but other characters look pretty unusual. It has definitely improved since the first game, but they still suffer from the issue of having extra-long chins. The music isn’t anything to write home about. Most locations visited are accompanied by 80s vaporwave tracks that don’t necessarily fit the joyful atmosphere the rest of the game exudes. It could just be a personal preference, but I’m not a fan of that genre of music in general.
“Arcade Spirits: The New Challengers is a fun visual novel that truly is a love letter to games of yesteryear.”
Despite my issues with the art and music, the dialogue and relationships between characters are wonderful and make me wish I lived in this alternate reality. The arcades are full of friends supporting each other and jumping on to join the player character when they need a teammate on Fists of Discomfort 2. No one is judged for their differences, and small wins are celebrated together.
While there are some issues in the game’s overall presentation, Arcade Spirits: The New Challengers is a fun visual novel that truly is a love letter to games of yesteryear. The demo runs for roughly an hour, and I recommend anyone with even a slight interest in visual novels to pick it up and have a go.
Be sure to head on over to Arcade Spirits: The New Challengers Steam store page to try the demo out for yourself. You can also wishlist it on Steam to be notified of any future updates.