Cherry Tree High I! My! Girls! – Review

Title   Cherry Tree High I! My! Girls!
Developer  773
Publisher  Nyu Media
Platform  Windows PC
Genre  Visual Novel
Release Date  November 20, 2014
Official Site

It’s no secret that I am something of an otaku scumbag. Sure, deep underneath my collection of anime posters, my many hours poured into JRPGs, and my nightly hentai watching, I’m just your regular warm-blooded male, but there’s a big well of Japan to dig through first. It can be a hard life, waiting for senpai to notice how kawaii you are, but I’d like to extend a huge arigato to everyone who’s stuck with me through it all. And if none of this opening paragraph made sense to you, then Cherry Tree High I! My! Girls! will probably not be your mug of sake.

Continuing directly on from the adorable but oddly tricky Cherry Tree High Comedy Club, without so much as an attempt at summarising the events of the original, I! My! Girls! follows Mairu and the rest of the newly formed Comedy Club as they battle to stay together and actually make people laugh. All the cast of CTHCC return, with a few extra characters thrown into the mix for good measure, and a couple of new areas for the characters to meet up in. One of the immediately obvious changes is the de-westernisation of the dialogue – Mairu, for example, was renamed Miley in the original game. It gives the game a more authentic feel, but it is a little daunting to have been thrown into the same cast you knew from the first game but with radically different names, and no reintroduction of the characters to help you remember who’s who.

But by far the most obvious and radical change is in the gameplay, which has effectively been completely removed. While the first game let you explore the town, chatting to friends, levelling up your conversation ability and deciding whether or not studying was important, the new edition strips it down to a visual novel, where the only interaction is to progress to the next piece of dialogue. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – there are plenty of good visual novels out there, and this isn’t a bad one by any stretch. It’s just a shame that there was a perfectly good game engine waiting to be used again, but it was instead gutted to the point where only dialogue remained.

So if we can’t judge the game as a “game” by normal standards, let’s judge it as a visual novel. If you’ve never played the original game, then this one will make zero sense. It works on the understanding that you’ve played through the first game and seen the best ending, and launches straight into a new story. The story is that young idol sensation Ai Towano has decided to move into town so she can join the newly formed Cherry Tree High Comedy Club, but has to keep her identity a secret so she isn’t swarmed by fans. Meanwhile, Mairu, leader of the Comedy Club, has to fight bureaucracy and a general lack of enthusiasm for making comedy by the club members, and keep the club afloat. The story shifts focus between these two main characters in the seven main chapters, but there’s five bonus chapters that explore the lives of more minor characters and the adventures they have. There’s plenty of variety in the stories to keep you reading, and the characters, while all typically cute and Japanese, have different enough personalities that their interactions are still interesting.

The writing is fairly strong throughout, with a good mix of humour and drama to keep things light-hearted but not completely silly. That said, some of the jokes rely a little too much on what is effectively the sexualisation of 16-year-old girls, going so far as to have Mairu walk into a room, yell “Hoemi looks great naked!!”, and then try to pass it all off as just a harmless joke (though in this instance, Hoemi does at least call her out for sexual harassment). There are also some plot lines that either go nowhere or are resolved far too quickly. A recurring plot point is Mairu’s apparently awful “real” personality, which characters use to discredit her to some members of the Comedy Club, but it’s never revealed what exactly makes her evil or why people would ever think that of her. Developer 773 has stated that the Cherry Tree High story will be continued in later games, so it could be that they’re holding back some nuggets for future releases, but it’s annoying to have such an apparently devastating piece of information repeatedly used but never explained.

Graphically nothing has changed from the original game, even down to the walking and running animations of the characters, but everything is so lovely that it’s hard to find fault with not changing anything. Backgrounds are hand-drawn while the characters are detailed 2D sprites, with hand-drawn portraits overlaying these during conversations. The animations are incredibly basic, almost to the point of being wholly unnecessary as part of the overall experience, but the actual design is incredible, and there’s clearly been a lot of care and attention paid to every character model and background used in the game. Everything’s bright and colourful, almost to the point that you can forgive the fact that around three-quarters of what you’re seeing has been directly lifted from the original.

What cannot be forgiven, however, is the soundtrack, which was annoyingly repetitive and hyper-cheery in the first game and has been transplanted into the sequel with no change. There’s a couple of new songs thrown into the mix, but they loop so frequently that you’ll be searching for the mute button way before they worm their way into your head. There’s a couple of sound effects in there too, with an occasional piece of canned laughter to help along some of the worse jokes, but overall this is not an aural experience you’ll want to remember.

It is, therefore, very difficult to recommend I! My! Girls! to anyone who was not already a fan of the original game. It’s already limited audience has been further cut down, thanks to a de-Westernisation of the content and a lack of any kind of reminder of previous events. The graphics are still glorious, and could help you forget the horrible soundtrack, but if you’re just looking for pretty pictures to look at then Cherry Tree High Comedy Club can offer them to you alongside a fun, at times quite difficult game. Fans of the series will enjoy the continuation of the story and a chance to see all the characters again, but newbies will feel far too alienated to make it worth their while.

  • Enjoyable, well-written and at times genuinely humorous story
  • Loveable cast of characters
  • Beautiful hand-drawn backgrounds mixed with incredibly detailed pixel art
  • Far too alienating for newcomers to the series
  • Some plot threads are never fully explored or simply stop abruptly
  • Soundtrack is diabolical

If you know your samas from your senseis and absorb any kind of Japanese media our grubby Western hands can get a hold of, then Cherry Tree High I! My! Girls! will probably appeal a great deal to you. It's a fairly decent story wrapped up with enough humour to not be boring, and a good number of entertaining twists, even if some of the plots just drop out without being resolved. But for everyone else, especially those who never experienced the wonderful Cherry Tree High Comedy Club, this is going to be just a little too weird. It's alienating, painfully Japanese, and at times painful until you turn the soundtrack down a smidge. My best recommendation would be to play the original before considering this edition, else you may find yourself very lost indeed.

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