Tokyo School Life – Review

Title   Tokyo School Life
Developer  M2 Co
Publisher  Dogenzaka Lab
Platform  Windows PC
Genre  Visual Novel
Release Date  February 12, 2015

There are some things we do in life that don’t entirely work out, but which seem like a really great idea at the time. It could be as harmless as eating a slice of bread that went out-of-date a few days ago, before finding yourself curled up around a toilet bowl for a few hours. Or it could be something more serious, like dropping a used cigarette butt on the floor after a brief smoke, and suddenly causing a retirement home to blow up with your own parents inside. My life is filled with these moments, but the one preying on my mind most recently is the result of a tweet I sent out not too long ago. I asked the world if someone might buy me a game I had just noticed on Steam. I was half-joking, as I so regularly am, and never expected our own Adam B to go through with it. But only a few hours later, a copy of the game popped up in my inventory. And the game I regret so much? Tokyo School Life.

Tokyo School Life puts you in the shoes of a male American high-school student who, through hard work and diligence, earns a trip to Japan to study at a Japanese high school for two weeks. You can name the character after yourself, which is great if you don’t mind role-playing as a creepy otaku who, five minutes after setting foot in Japan, decides he can’t wait to meet cute Asian girls who’ll fall hopelessly in love with him. And within a few hours, he manages to accidentally grope one girl, spill tea over another, and then find out he’ll be sharing a dorm with both these girls along with another who he keeps referring to as the “perfect Japanese woman”, because she is pretty and slightly subservient.

This isn’t exactly an unusual turn of events for a dating sim involving a Westerner heading to Japan, but I still felt decidedly uncomfortable about attaching my name to an openly racist and sexist lead character that you know for a fact will end up bedding one of these poor women. He remarks early on that everyone in his class has black hair, before adding “but of course they do!” He wholly buys into the myth that “gaijin” (Japanese for “foreigner”) are considered irresistible by Japanese women, and gets pissed off when the female characters don’t jump on his dick on first sight. And, worst of all, he mostly gets away with it. After a few initial instances of getting the shit kicked out of him by one of the girls, your character finally starts to realise that race doesn’t dictate personality, until he eventually forgets and starts claiming every man he meets is in the yakuza.

And yet, you can’t help but wonder if your bumbling idiot character is actually intended to be a terrible human being to reinforce a recurring theme in Tokyo School Life – that things shouldn’t be taken at face value. All three of the girls you live with have their secrets, and they’ll reveal certain details about themselves to your character once they trust him. Karin, the girl you grope in the opening ten minutes of the game, is at first a feisty young woman (with big, jiggly breasts, of course) who wants nothing to do with you, but is revealed to actually be an “idol”, which is essentially a Japanese pop star, who loves all things cute. Aoi, the short, cutesy girl you spill tea all over, acts as the mother of the group, doing all the cooking and cleaning, but is also a master of karate on the quiet. And Sakura is the smart one of the group, but is also secretly a huge anime nerd and has some mysterious illness that causes her to pass out when the narrative decides she should. The girls are actually quite well-rounded characters, aside from some kind of shared delusion that your character isn’t a total creep, so getting to know them is actually relatively interesting, even if the plot is largely quite obvious.

Tokyo School Life is a visual novel, so there’s not a whole lot to do other than watch the story go by, aside from a few dialogue options that the game throws your way to try and convince the girls you are a good mate. You get a choice of three options each time, and choosing the “best” of the bunch scores you some points with the girl who poses the question. But there’s only about one or two per character, and all that happens if you choose the “best” options for each girl is that, at a certain point in the game, you can choose to focus your efforts on pursuing one girl and alter the story to revolve around her. I only discovered this after I accidentally unlocked the Aoi-only path, despite being far more interested in getting Karin to show off her knockers (sorry, Mum). Thankfully, however, there’s an “auto mode” that skips through all the dialogue you’ve seen before, condensing the time to reach the ending choice from about an hour to more like five minutes. This means that if you’re truly dedicated enough to find out what happens between you and the girls, it won’t mean trawling your way through the earlier, more racist days for quite so long, which is pleasant.

Visual novels live and die by their writing and, to be honest, it’s a bit lacklustre here. Most of the game revolves around teaching you about Japan, its history and culture, and how it is today. You will learn all about over-crowding on trains, idol culture, different areas of Tokyo, and a few things about food. Weirdly, you don’t learn a whole lot about school life, meaning the title is something of a lie, but I’m willing to let it slide. And you learn a few things about the girls you live with, but each revelation is thrown at you in quick succession, so you never really get to know the characters anymore than just a description of what it is they do and how they feel about it. It’s even weirder given that your character happens to stumble into their lives and start convincing them to make life-altering changes that, in one case, could potentially kill them. Within two months of meeting the three girls, you’re helping them change their entire outlook on life, which just feels rushed and a bit cheap. All in all, the narrative is fairly weak, and used mostly as a reason to give you a surface-level look at Japan and its culture. Your character is a terrible person, and your love interests are so quickly reduced from well-rounded characters to blushing kawaii sex toys that it’s a miracle they manage to have any personality at all.

At least if the words don’t interest you, then the visuals might be a nice distraction. The girls are all animated and so will switch positions and look at one another during conversations, while still facing you. Their facial animations are always spot-on to match their dialogue, and there’s even lip-syncing in the more detailed, static drawings that are used sometimes to highlight a character’s beauty in a specific moment. The animations don’t get more adventurous than that, but it’s good that the visuals aren’t just static images of each girl that only change slightly depending on the situation. The backgrounds are fairly good looking too, and there’s enough variety in the locations that you visit to keep things interesting. Overall it’s a well-presented game, even if Karin’s boob jiggling is sometimes a little too over-the-top and pointless.

The game boasts a fully voiced cast, which helps add depth to the characters thanks to some solid performances by the three voice actors. That said, there are a couple of incidents where the girls uncomfortably attempt English, which comes across as a tiny bit too stereotypical and are by and large kind of unnecessary, as well as being jarring after hearing Japanese being spoken for the rest of the game. The music is your standard upbeat, poppy soundtrack that gets annoying while you’re playing but is rather quickly forgotten once you stop. Not even the J-Pop song at the start, the appropriately titled “Moe to Love You” (“moe” here being a slang word for “adorable”, not a Simpson’s character), is catchy enough to stick around in your head. The audio might well be a treat for all you otaku out there, but for the average Joe, you might want to take advantage of the volume settings before you get started.

It’s really quite hard to recommend Tokyo High School to anyone who isn’t buying it ironically. Most of the information about Japan has already been given in the far more informative Go! Go! Nippon! ~My First Trip to Japan~, and at least your character in that wasn’t a slimeball who desperately wanted a nice, submissive Japanese girl to cure his yellow fever. The girls themselves have relatively deep stories and personalities that play out in fairly interesting ways, but all too quickly revert back to simply being love interests for your annoying guy. The story can be engaging at times, but ultimately blasts through two months of socialising so quickly that you hardly see the friendships forming and understand the characters better. It looks pretty good and the audio isn’t hugely aggravating, but if you’re looking for an interesting visual novel that you can really sink your teeth into, this isn’t it.

  • Female characters that actually have some depth to them
  • Animations, while limited, make the visual experience more interesting
  • A fully voiced cast that doesn't completely suck
  • Your character is detestable and not in a fun way
  • The story itself is shallow and only used as a way to teach players about Japan
  • The teaching itself is lacking in any depth
  • Soundtrack goes from annoying to forgettable in the blink of an eye

There are plenty of ways to learn about modern day Japan, but I'm afraid Tokyo School Life is not one of them. It's a relatively harmless way to spend a few hours, so long as you accept your character as a racist, sexist loser and don't take his beliefs to be fact. There's some depth to characters and the story, but ultimately the whole game feels shallow. If you're desperate for the opportunity to look at some jiggling boobs whose owners are having a personality crisis, then this might be your kind of thing. But otherwise, you might be better off asking a friend on Twitter to buy it for you instead.

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  1. Nelly Toffercups says:

    So it essentially it’s one of those ropey hentai text-adventure games that became popular in the 90s, except without the excessive (and often violent) sexual content and bonus malware?

  2. Anonymous says:

    In my experience in Japan, the myth about how much attention foreigners get is no myth at all. To say otherwise is honestly just disingenuous.

    Now, did those girls have any real interest in me? Obviously not, I was just the new zoo animal for them to gawk at and freak out about. So the myth is true, but in practice it really just hampers your ability to get to know Japanese people as they are, rather than just be another passing set-piece for them.

    As for the main character, I fail to see the problem. In real life, his ilk are truly annoying to deal with and to be associated with, but given that it’s fiction, I instead took it as a nice opportunity for self-effacement, to remember and have a nice laugh at the fact that I too was, once upon on a very long time ago, that guy, and that I eventually grew out of it and was better for it. It’d be ridiculous to try to attribute any depth of character to the MC, of course, but I also think it might do you well to loosen up a bit and learn to laugh at stupid characters instead of grumbling about how they don’t match your specific view of how they should be.

    As a final note, I found it a bit humorous that you repeatedly brought up how sexual everything was, how it was all a quest for sex, and chuckled imagining your response to a game that had actual sexual content in it.

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