Prom Dreams

For some reason, the two pots transform when examined from the side. Presumably a glitch but I thought it was cool.

So, there’s this boy, and his friend thinks he needs a date for the prom! You’re challenged to find three likely girls, then pick one to actually ask out. While you’re at it, you can explore the school, listen to kids’ hopes and fears as the days pass, and help some idiot who thinks haunted houses are a prank.

Also, it’s secretly a horror game.

That casts an interesting pall over things – does any of the idle chatter foreshadow later disaster? That elevator you can’t use without a key… The fire extinguishers set at regular intervals… Talk of chemistry lab dangers and safety equipment… Does it mean anything how people keep talking about books? Does it mean anything how when your friend’s dialogue is specific gameplay advice in colored text, it goes red?

On the other hand, it means the dating sim aspect isn’t particularly real. While I thought the initial gameplay would be to explore and talk to everyone to find datable girls, they all show up in mandatory cutscenes, followed by the main character’s mandatory stupid agreement to meet them all tomorrow at the exact same time, followed by him realizing late and then trying to deal with it by not thinking about it. And that then makes it clear you don’t have to explore or talk to most people…

…and yet, the designer put a lot of effort into making the setting. There’s two floors of the school, each with several classrooms that have a teacher and various students, almost all of whom say new things every day, giving you little updates on their life. First day, the music teacher’s yelling at the kids. The next, if you eavesdrop by the teacher’s lounge, you’ll find he’s there with one of the science teachers telling him he’s being too harsh. Next day, you enter the class to find he’s given the kids a day off of practice. Then there’s an open area and a few other smaller buildings, each stocked with their own NPCs and their own drama. And then this game has a time loop with slight changes each time, so you really need to talk to everybody the first time around to appreciate how things shift from that baseline.

There’s sidequests meant to engage more, but the first one is the hardest to do where you have to find a bunch of people with unknown criteria and locations. The second one is a simpler matter of following a chain of people, and the third and final just tells you to go to locations. The fact you can’t miss the girls made me assume that if it mattered I’d be getting forced into it, and since I didn’t like the guy and thought setting up a haunted house isn’t a valid prank anyway, plus there was absolutely no reason I needed to do it as opposed to him, I ignored it. This turns out to be mandatory for getting the true end, which yeah, that’s how these games work, but it’s odd to make the least engaging and most tedious sidequest first so you’d have to replay almost the whole game to get a different ending.

I think giving a little more leeway on the dating would’ve helped bridge the gap. There’s a big point made that your friend would tell you who was/wasn’t still available for prom and gives you notes about anyone you say you’re curious about, so having options that only result in a few more character bios would’ve worked. The others could have a date and/or be gay. More character bios would also have helped to flesh out the characters of the school.

Also a problem is that the game is heavy on little emotion bubbles which are redundant 99% of the time. Multiple bubbles will pop up in a single simple exchange, and they take place between the text, making chatting with people take far longer than it should. That plus making the dialogue slowly write itself out instead of just showing it make talking to people once already tedious and discourage checking back in, even though it’s that checking back in aspect that’s really the game’s best point. (You can speed it up with button mashing, but it does sentences individually and has a bad habit of having the first sentence take forever, so button-mashing through the first half of a text box can make a huge sentence suddenly appear and get clicked through.) Lots of work went into something that would’ve been better as just plain text boxes for the most part, especially given how incredibly many people there are to talk to.

The final section of the game where you’re no longer chatting but just running around has pretty good puzzle gameplay. There’s one tedious puzzle where you have to decode numbers into letters but otherwise it’s relatively straightforward, and the fact there’s fun death screens with a hint for each helps speed things along. I purposefully died just to see what insult she had waiting.

As to the storyline…this a really good version of the high school gets creepy and deadly because an abused person is taking out their revenge on everyone subsubgenre. If you’re at all into that, then just go play it yourself before reading the rest of this, which is all spoilers for the plot and – spoiler alert – everything about the ending kinda wrecks the rest but the storyline is really pretty good while you’re still speculating and wondering.

I guess I’m just kind of sick of the villain-is-secretly-abused-person-taking-out-their-revenge-on-everyone concept. This one was trying to do a thing about disability, and I guess it worked, but the fact we had to take the villain completely at her word bugged me. Her mother was great and then dies and then she goes to live with an aunt who coddles her, but it can’t just be that people trying to be nice can end up being condescending, it’s actually that her aunt is a monster just in it for the inheritance money, except in that case why would she be so terrified of her niece hurting herself? If the niece breaks a leg, it’ll only make the girl more helpless and dependent on her. If she cracks her head on the floor, it’ll just make it likely she never becomes independent and her aunt keeps control of the money forever. I think the idea was that if she died her aunt would lose the money, but that wasn’t very clearly communicated and it’s not clear who else would get the money given her aunt appears to be the only relative who can care for her. And then it undermines the message that people want to have some control over their own actions by introducing the issue of intent – so, if you don’t intend to steal someone’s inheritance, it’s okay to always be hopping up to get stuff instead of letting them walk five feet no matter how often they say they’d rather do it themselves?

Similarly, the revelation that the school was secretly horrible and everyone completely ignored her to the point someone would strike her wheelchair, knock her to the ground, then just keep going, as opposed to just that she was already having a horrible time and no one really knew how to deal with it. There’s this bit about how she’s bullied and hated for not helping someone cheat off her…but she was actually a complete asshole in her response – people being angry at being told no is one thing, but if you tell someone, “If you have time to beg, you have time to do the work,” well, that’s incredibly condescending and also not true, of course they’re going to complain to a friend about it. And it makes perfect sense she’d say that when she works so hard and is dealing with so much and she still found the time to do her work while someone else just screwed around, but it’s not proof everyone else is a monster who only cared about her as a homework vending machine. Rather dubious at her secretly having magic powers the whole time as well – she really just has so much else going on in her favor (smartest kid in the school, richest kid in the school, literal superpowers) that it’s hard to believe her when she says she’s defined solely by her disability. A simple suicide that opened hellgates due to her despair would’ve been fine, without her having done tons of magic before now that somehow could never improve her life in any way. From what we see, she’s friendless because she never makes any attempt to interact positively with others, which is the complete opposite of what the narrative was going for. (If she’d offered to help out with homework instead and been rebuffed, that’d have really fit with how she says she was treated, and make for a great contrast with the other ablebodied girl who’s popular for helping everyone with homework.)

There’s the same lack of nuance in the secret-real-villain prom dates, where actually one girl is just mega ultra evil while the other two are innocent victims themselves forced to do mega ultra evil things, rather than that it’s a normal-level mean prank that spiraled out of control. (Honestly, why even do the whole fake prom invite with plausible deniability when she was going to assault the girl regardless? This whole thing could’ve been fixed by the supposed mastermind just taking a baseball bat to her rival and directly killing her. Clearly, legal repercussions were not a factor.) It’s also undermined by the fact mega ultra evil girl is a sociopath motivated by simple expediency (…sorta. She doesn’t seem to get that colleges give out scholarships too.) and would’ve done the same thing to anyone, so it has nothing to do with society thinking disabled people are worthless. (And this in turn makes the villain seem more cartoonishly evil, since she knows two of the three were forced into it yet gruesomely mangles all three – if anything, what she does to the less involved kids is more painful.) I’m honestly kind of surprised that in a storyline about disabled people getting treated differently from extremely popular hotties, the idea that people who are generally thought of as friendly or who are friendly to you the player character might not be friendly to absolutely everyone equally didn’t actually factor into the reveal.

So yeah, I found the final chunk of the story really poorly written. The lead up is actually really good, so perhaps part of it is that it’d have been hard to make an answer that was as intriguing as the hints dropped, but it’s also just a huge departure from the way it seemed like there was actual depth to the characters. I was really interested in finding out how a character who just seems to be sweet to everyone was a liar – was it an act to be popular? Did she secretly spread rumors or do other things but get away with it because no one would believe she was the one? No it was one time she was blackmailed into telling a lie and hated every second of it and she really was otherwise nonstop one-dimensionally sweet. What did the jock girl even have to do with any of this? Forger??? That’s a really skilled art and she’s presenting herself as someone who’s just a dumb jock so why is she keeping it a secret…oh she wrote a fake facebook post one time. Mastermind? Mastermind what, what sort of high school things even involve masterminding? Why is she apologizing for involving me??? Oh she was really straight up an evil mastermind.

That said, all those complaints center around the very end of the game. The writing during the story of the game is far stronger. The main character, who’s the standard blank slate, actually does have a great backstory that’s got actual subtlety. We know he’s unwilling to date because of a previous relationship but what actually happened is doled out slowly (in such a way as to keep suggesting something new each time) and his ultimate sin isn’t something like breaking up with his girlfriend because she was disfigured and immediately dating her twin so she killed herself but a completely understandable situation that at the same time is absolutely something to hate yourself over, and it actually fits in great with the issue of him never noticing villain-girl at all and the question of if he’s really a good person or just self-centered. And the NPCs’ many tiny storylines were nicely done, as was the steadily building spookiness to the school. I examined everything and, despite my mechanical issues with the dialogue, talked to everyone each day to see what would change.

11 Comments

  1. Hi! says:
    “and would’ve done the same thing to anyone, so it has nothing to do with society thinking disabled people are worthless.”

    Well, the way she kept talking about the worthless cripple taking her scholarship, it was pretty clear she expected to get away with it for this very reason.

    “I was really interested in finding out how a character who just seems to be sweet to everyone was a liar – was it an act to be popular? Did she secretly spread rumors or do other things but get away with it because no one would believe she was the one?  No it was one time she was blackmailed into telling a lie and hated every second of it and she really was otherwise nonstop one-dimensionally sweet.”

    Really? I actually thought the reveal with Neela was one of the most interesting. It wasn’t just one lie, she was so good at lying because she spent her whole life doing it to cover for her horrifyingly evil father. Though the narrative kind of skims over just how very, very much he DESERVES to go to prison, which makes Neela fighting so hard to keep that from happening is pretty evil in and of itself.

    “I’m honestly kind of surprised that in a storyline about disabled people getting treated differently from extremely popular hotties, the idea that people who are generally thought of as friendly or who are friendly to you the player character might not be friendly to absolutely everyone equally didn’t actually factor into the reveal.”

    This is a good point though! It really could have done a lot more with that idea.

    1. Hi! says:
      Also, I want to say that one thing I really DID like about the ending was the way that the villain ultimately has to be dealt with. A lot of players were apparently miffed that she wasn’t punished and complain that “we’re supposed to accept her redemption because she’s disabled and not because she actually does anything to redeem herself,” but I think that’s missing the point. It’s not that she doesn’t deserve to be punished, necessarily, it’s that cruelty is counterproductive because cruelty is what created her. Of course treating her the way she’s been treated her whole life up until now isn’t going to accomplish anything. But capitulation also isn’t the correct answer and doesn’t lead to anything good, because this isn’t Uncommon Time. The sort of compassion and thoughtfulness that’s required to deal with a problem like this is difficult and time consuming, which I suspect is why the sidequests that unlock the solution were so obviously designed to be a pain.

       

       

      1. Farla says:

        I do like that the solution isn’t just destroying her. I guess it’s more like it bugs me that she’s just frothingly evil at all by this point? I don’t really buy that she should count as damned or fallen when she seems to be having a psychotic break. If her revenge was more measured, it’d feel like it still had a person behind it, while what we get is more like, she stopped being a person for a while but if you throw her mom at her she turns back into one. The combination of her apparently knowing and understanding everyone’s motives but not at all caring is really weird.

    2. Farla says:

      Well, the way she kept talking about the worthless cripple taking her scholarship, it was pretty clear she expected to get away with it for this very reason.

      The problem is I just can’t believe she’d take it any better if someone else was there. And she goes out of her way to make the other girls’ involvement as unpleasant as possible for them, so she comes off as a general sadist. She’d have to show any sort of conscience in the first place in order for it to seem like she was treating someone differently due to prejudice. That’s part of why I feel like it’d make more sense to be just a nasty prank for its own sake – that’s a situation where “lol cripple nobody cares” fits perfectly. Or alternatively, if it’s got to be at this level of stakes, maybe make it clearer that she would’ve just worked harder to bring her grades up had it been one of her other rivals…but since crippled people die young of complications all the time, it’s not really murder the way it’d be to do this to someone with a full life ahead of her. Some sort of justification that establishes what lines she wouldn’t have crossed and how it really was the disability that made her think it was acceptable.

      Though the narrative kind of skims over just how very, very much he DESERVES to go to prison, which makes Neela fighting so hard to keep that from happening is pretty evil in and of itself.

      I was actually a bit confused on that point – did the writer understand what “human trafficking” is, or did they just know it had to do with the mob? Because it would make sense for Neela’s sin to be more about hypocrisy, where she’s doing a tiny bit of personal good to a couple people she knows while allowing incredibly awful things to happen to tons of people because it benefits her, but it’s presented like her keeping her family together was almost virtuous as a motive.

      1. QueenieZ says:
        Hey there! I’m the dev of this game \o Thanks for playing it, first of all, and I’m glad there were at least SOME things you liked about it I guess?

        It’s like, waaaaaay too late for me to address every single one of your points, but here’s a few things I can at least try to explain the thought process behind right off the top of my head:

        The first sidequest: Randy actually will help you out with this one, although a glitch may prevent him from doing so if you wait until after you make the date’s gift to do it (for which I apologize, if I remake the game commercially like I plan to, that’ll be fixed!). I also made that quest go first because it’s probably the silliest of the bunch (and the Janitor’s quest had to be last because of the chapel scene and all). Sorry you found it tedious though!

        Dolores: Honestly, a lot of her perspective IS supposed to be flawed. Dolores is an extremely self-centered and bitter person at this point, and while the factual events she presents are accurate, her perception isn’t always as such. What might make her make a bit more sense is knowing that a majority of her backstory is based loosely on things I experienced as a bullied (with some discrete events mirror real life ones, albeit with details changed and exaggerated for drama), learning disabled kid in high school; her resentment towards her aunt reflects mine and a lot of disabled people’s frustration with being treated like they’re helpless, hopeless, asexual-by-default beings, and her entire rampage is supposed to be a negative example of what allowing victimhood and resentment to control you can do and was the kind of mindset I fought really hard against for a while. tl;dr she’s a trainwreck whose sense of blame and victimhood and ideals of romance are very, very warped because I was kind of a neurotic mess myself for about four years and decided it’d make a cool horror game bro

        (Also, she knows everyone’s motives/actions because of the limited omniscence Moloch gave her, but I probably didn’t explain that well enough in game. Again, fixing that in the remake.)

        Neela: Her defense of her father was absolutely not intended to be seen as virtuous, but as something a scared little girl who doesn’t want her life turned upside down would do. Neela’s flaw is cowardice, and I’d intended her to come across as someone with a good heart who simply wasn’t brave enough to do the right thing. And yes, I do know what human trafficking is (selling humans into labor or sexual slavery), and I wrote it in there to paint her father as someone with a very dramatic and contrasting double life. Nothing about the story was ever intended to be a defense of criminal activity, and perhaps I’ll look for ways of making that intent clearer in the remake.

        Again, this is just me trying to explain my thought process behind some of these issues; you’re free to interpret stuff how you like, and I realize some things like the Aunt being condescending won’t seem as such if you haven’t ever dealt with a similar scenario (I’ve seen just as many people want to hang her high and loved when she was killed, and I think the difference is whether you see her as well-intentioned but dense or just a complete, ableist idiot). But I just wanted to maybe help explain things a little bit? idk |D;

        (also I like the emoji bubbles you can pry them from my COLD DEAD HANDS)

        1. Hi to you too! says:
          Hello! This is interesting!

          “Nothing about the story was ever intended to be a defense of criminal activity”

          It’s less that it read that way, and more that human trafficking is so very much its own class of despicable that covering for someone doing that tips Neela beyond the Moral Event Horizon for me, whereas covering for a drug lord father who was NOT also a slaver would have gotten across “good heart but also too cowardly to do the right thing” without sort of making me think “well, no great loss” when Dolores murders her.

          1. QueenieZ says:
            Fair enough. Perhaps I’ll leave that bit out in the remake then?

            Although if it makes you feel better, I intended for him to be a MIDDLEMAN to the slavers/traffickers rather than the person responsible, but yeah, still bad, and I guess I get what you’re saying. That detail might have distracted from the point I was trying to get across so thanks for the feedback on that!

            One more thing re: Dolores and her reaction to the kid trying to copy her homework; it was snarky, sure, but at that point she truly believes that people only want to talk to her because they want to take advantage of her (another true-to-life bit; I told off quite a few people who otherwise would be nasty to me because they wanted to copy my work LOL), so to me at least it makes sense for her to react that way. When you’re convinced everyone hates you thanks to a few bad apples, you tend to get nasty even towards people who are trying to be nice. Again, just trying to show my POV for the writing choices I made :V

            1. Hi to you too! says:
              Ah, yeah, I didn’t respond to that part of Farla’s review but that scene made perfect sense to me. No one should be obligated to let anyone else copy from their homework, which is what that kid specifically asked for rather than general help, and while the most pro-social response is more along the lines “I could help you figure it out for yourself instead!” there’s even odds that will just make the person asking think less of you, because ugh, look at you, thinking your worth enough to actually TALK to rather than just steal shit from. I did not have any trouble filling in the blanks of how Dolores got to the point where she skipped over the overtures of friendship and just went straight to snarking at them.
              Reply
            2. Farla says:

              One more thing re: Dolores and her reaction to the kid trying to copy her homework; it was snarky, sure, but at that point she truly believes that people only want to talk to her because they want to take advantage of her (another true-to-life bit; I told off quite a few people who otherwise would be nasty to me because they wanted to copy my work LOL)

              Ah, see, my issue isn’t that it’s unbelievable, it’s about who the narrator is/what the argument is.

              I understand her motives in the scene, but these are memories she’s intentionally picked to argue her point about it all coming back to an accident of birth dooming her to misery therefore everyone should die, but it’s poor evidence for her argument that people treat her badly because she’s disabled.  Showing a scene where she does something that an ablebodied person (even an ablebodied non-depressed etc person, for that matter) could’ve done and then gets bullied only proves her point that she was getting bullied/the school at large was not the shining beacon of perfection other people might think. And it’s also confused by the fact another girl is a superstar for helping with homework – the setup makes sense with a general idea of how most schools work, but here homework help is actually a highly valued skill and a great way to become popular. So saying, “I tried to make friends by offering hang out in the library and do homework with a classmate, but they just demanded to copy what I wrote” would make it clear that there’s a distinct difference between how people treat the two of them. 

              Actually, you could instead just make it more like, these are random moments that stuck in her head more than an intentional attempt to form a narrative for the main character. The scene works fine as a snapshot of her life, it just jars because it seems like there must be plenty of situations where someone opens an interaction with her by showing prejudice instead.

              Reply
        2. Farla says:

          I also made that quest go first because it’s probably the silliest of the bunch (and the Janitor’s quest had to be last because of the chapel scene and all).

          The problem is it combined with the structure means you have to play the entire game over if you miss it, and the only clue it’s got a time limit is when I tried to leave on the last day, at which point it appeared to be too late to complete it because I couldn’t get into the cafeteria. Maybe let people have another chance to try on the second loop, where things are still relatively normal but it’s been made clear time is looping and messing with stuff might help? I had a much better grasp of the school’s layout and NPCs by then and didn’t mind running all over so much.

          Neela’s flaw is cowardice, and I’d intended her to come across as someone with a good heart who simply wasn’t brave enough to do the right thing.

          I’d really suggest vagueness there then. Given how little she wanted to know about what she was doing with the prank, I could understand her refusing to even know what her dad does because that makes it easier to pretend it’s not so bad and can be balanced by personally being nice to others.

           I think the difference is whether you see her as well-intentioned but dense or just a complete, ableist idiot

          Oh no, I get that part and the murder, I’m just thrown by the idea it also had to do with the money. She seems to be doing what she thinks is best to provide for Dolores, either because she does care but is too ableist to listen to Dolores herself or because she wants to play the part of the sainted aunt dealing so well with this burden. I just couldn’t see how wanting to spend all the inheritance money played into that – why not just leave Dolores at home while partying all night instead of jumping up to get her stuff any time she tries to move? (And generally it felt like being crazy rich and such was a distraction to the point – it also gave the school a counter motivation to take her complaints seriously because maybe she’d end up throwing a ton of money at them as an adult for taking her side.)

          Which reminds me, since you’re here, I really couldn’t figure out whether the rest of the disabled kids were supposed to be actually how the school was or not. The pamplet changes seem like all the back-patting the school does about how great their services are is fake, but the place and kids seems pretty stable across the loops instead of degrading into similar misery. Was the point that it wasn’t enough, or does she not care because it didn’t help her but it actually was helping the other kids, or what?

          (also I like the emoji bubbles you can pry them from my COLD DEAD HANDS)

           T_T Is there any way they can trigger at the same time as dialogue? Or cancel? The line of dialogue – pause – bubble forming – bubble animation – pause – line of dialogue… means everything takes forever, especially tied to the fact checking for new dialogue means getting a ton of repeated dialogue too. It feels like you’re punishing the player for checking back regularly even when that seems like it’s the main point of the game.
        3. lurker says:
          I second Farla here; I dropped the game because of the emoji bubbles taking up so much time to get through. Could there be at least an option to turn them off? I hate to sound like an ass (but right now I can’t think of a better way to say it), but I have a limited amount of time to play games, and how long it took to get through dialogue just so I could watch some dumb tchotke felt outright disrespectful.

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