Life as a freshman is all about fun, friendships and flirting. You should be able to make a fool of yourself, and fall in love freely. Imagine if this was ruined, as you had to live under a cloud of fear and mystery! That is how the new intake feels in Nicole. Students are taken at night and surface days later with no recollection of what happened. Can you lead a “normal” life while solving the mystery? Nicole is a dating simulator developed by Winter Wolf Games, and published by Ratalaika Games.
This visual novel (VN) plays out like any other in the genre, except it has a gameplay twist. At the start you can select 2 different modes; VN, or one that allows you to experience the life of a freshman. In the latter mode, you have the freedom to choose your day’s activities. These earn you a stat boost and give the title an RPG feel. This reminded me of Steve Jackson’s adventure books, but without the dice and fantasy setting.
Like with all VN’s you must sit back and relax, while the story unfolds before your eyes. You will be given the opportunity to influence the outcome of the story. Depending on your choices, the plot will twist and turn to one of many set endings. In Nicole there are 10 finishes, and 4 men to date. You must be careful as one of these men is the mysterious stalker. Ask questions, listen to the answers, and choose wisely.
Though you are free to play this as a VN, or adventure mode, they both follow the same key principle. You will experience the same cutscenes, and dialogue choices in either mode. The VN flowed much better, the story was less bitty, and I could keep track of what was going on. It was a lot easier to play than the adventure game, as I found that this mode was fussy and over complicated. Each day allowed for set tasks to be completed, all at the cost of energy. You would have to nap, or rest to regain energy, and then begin your tasks all over again. It was like Groundhog day, but without a focus. I played through both modes from start to finish, and I still don’t know if the stats make any difference. It seemed a pointless exercise as a gameplay mechanic. What I liked about it was that it was a good life simulator. Having been to university myself, I could empathise with Nicole. Most of what she was experiencing rang true. The uncertainty, the nerves when meeting new friends, and the fear of missing out. I have to applaud the developers for their efforts. If you’ve been to Uni, this will bring back fond memories. If you haven’t, then you will get to understand campus life from the comfort of your own home.
The story is well written, if not a little too cutesy for my liking. The relationships between the characters build at a comfortable pace. The action is easy to follow, even if some dialogue is shown in broken English. Though the undertones of the plot keep coming back to the stalker. Most of the story focuses on the relationships, and it uses a cliched American approach. It reminded me of a 90s sitcom or teen show, such as; Dawson’s Creek or Saved by the Bell. It was sickly sweet, and not to my liking, but I know there is a big market for this. I guess all VN’s can’t be about nudity, crime, and horror.
If you can find a way around the sweetness of the plot, and the constant man ogling, you will find an endearing tale. I was put off by the theme of this Virtual Novel, dating Sims is a bit “plentyoffish.com” for my taste. But, once I broke through the initial cheesy layer, a lot of the story resonated with my past. Not the dating side, (SPOILER I didn’t date the captain of the football team!) the emotion and friendship parts were spot on.
If you have played a VN, you will know what to expect when it comes to graphic and audio presentation. If you haven’t let me break it down for you. The ones I have experienced are influenced by Asian art and Manga. The characters are big, bold, and over the top. The colour palette is vivid and bright, or dark and emotional. There is very little in the way of animation. At most, you will see clips of the same character, where their eyes or mouth will show the emotion. Like in a 50s cartoon, most of the backgrounds are reused throughout. You will revisit the same locations, which can lead to the action being repetitive. The audio is reminiscent to lift music. It’s not offensive and fades into the background. The tempo matches the emotion of the scene, and like the backdrops, it usually runs on a loop. I find that I’m so busy reading the plot, that I pay very little attention to it. It adds to the gameplay and without it, the game would lack emotion and would be flat.
Nicole adds very little to either of these elements. I’ve experienced the same style of graphics and audio in every Virtual Novel that I’ve played. It’s not me being negative, as it is nice to look at. It just brings nothing new to the table, and the developers are playing it very safe.
Unlike other VN’s this one demands more use of the controller. I’m used to sitting and watching the narrative scroll by, so it was refreshing to be in control of the situation. Even with the addition of selecting the day-to-day activities, it was easy to master. With only a few buttons required, you’ll know how to play this in no time at all.
With 2 different game styles to play, and 10 different endings, there is a lot to see during each playthrough. A lengthy script ensures that you will take several hours for each. You can skip through text if you don’t want to read it all again. If I returned to get the alternative endings, that’s exactly what I’ll be doing. Achievements are earned playing both modes, and they are attached to each of the 10 finishes. So perfection comes after a lot of hours of reading.
Nicole is a fun and colourful take on the virtual novel genre. It’s a dating Sim with a twist. Choose who you want to date and use your wits to not pick the stalker. Though it plays it safe throughout, it has enough about it to keep you wanting to read. I wasn’t keen on the theme, but plenty of you will be. Do I recommend that you play this game? If you like cheesy romance novels, or all things Americana, then you will like this. But, if those things turn your stomach, then you may want to give this a miss. Put yourself in Nicole’s shoes, explore your first year of Uni, and find the man of your dreams.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Microsoft Xbox One code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Gameplay - 6/10
Graphics - 6/10
Sound - 6/10
Replay Value - 6/10
Nicole has started her new life at Uni. She wants; fun, excitement, and romance. She finds all this and more in this Visual Novel with a twist.
- Safe graphics and audio.
- A well written script.
- 10 endings to experience.
- A lengthy novel that’s good value for money.
- The adventure game mode is unnecessary.
- The theme wasn’t for me.
- It was too Americanised for my liking.