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.

4 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.




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    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.

       

       




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      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.




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    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.




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