Not Ripe for the Pickin’
- System: Playstation Vita
- Publisher: Aksys Games
- Developer: Otomate
- Release Date: October 13th, 2017
Who it Caters to
A lot of Otomate’s success stems from moving Otome games away from slice-of-life high school settings to push more ambitious and out-there story concepts. Even if the core appeal of their games is to get to know well-toned men of varying levels of sensitivity, the added focus on the overall plot serves as a gateway point for many would-be patrons to sink their teeth into something with a bit more meat. This method would even prove to have some unintended merits, as it would add just a flavor of crossover appeal to other otaku demographics due to sheer novelty of concept (such as 2012’s bomb-defusing dating sim Sweet Fuse).
Bad Apple Wars falls into Otomate’s “too strange to ignore” brand of appeal. While the genre dictates that your story will be driven by which guy you choose to pursue, there’s nothing about the concept itself that pigeonholes it to a fujoshi base exclusively. The core of the story is universal; it comes down to either siding with upholding order or rebelling against society, but obscures it with bunny-masked teachers lamenting over the futility of existence while punks knock bombs into the school walls with baseball bats. Regardless of who you are, you can’t say you’re not interested by the description alone.
What to Expect
Bad Apple Wars is a visual novel through and through. That is to say, expect quite a bit of reading and not a whole lot else. Your input is extremely limited; in fact, recent fans of visual novels may be let down by just how little choice you have in the game. Your only choices come down to choosing at the beginning of the game which faction you’ll side with, and then where to go during “map” sections (which affect which boy you’ll end up with at the end). You won’t have any dialogue choices, as the story is almost entirely determined based on which boy you end up spending time with.
However, while you may be content by simply finishing the game once by spending time with your man of choice, the game does offer some replayability with its branching paths. Bad Apple Wars tracks how much of the game you’ve actually seen. Even if you finish the game once with the boy of your dreams, you’ll have only cleared out about 30% of the entire game. However, a single playthrough will only take you around 5-6 hours, and you can set the game to skip over dialogue you’ve already read, keeping the story a light read (considering the genre, at least) while still providing around 20 hours of total game time if you want to 100% it.
You play as a spirit that’s been trapped in NEVAEH Academy, a school that effectively works like purgatory. All you have to do is follow their incredibly strict guidelines, and you’re ensured a painless “graduation”. However, some students have chosen to rebel against this authoritarian regime and choose to break as many rules as possible in hopes of breaking an unbreakable rule. You’ll have the opportunity to align yourself with either the Prefects to maintain order in the system, or with the Bad Apples.
Aksys has done a commendable job with the translation. Rather than it being a straight, by the numbers translation, every character in the game has their own voice that’s conveyed through the dialogue rather than leaving all the work up to the writing. From the cold and distant white mask to the bubbly and charming Naraka, everyone has their own character that’s instantly conveyed simply by how they speak. This was a smart move, as it’s difficult to convey personality otherwise in game with almost no other artwork beyond the character portraits and the occasional CG spread for when you interact with the other boys.
Unfortunately, though, so much of Bad Apple Wars’ appeal comes down to its image of rebellion and fighting against an unjust system. But for all its posturing, it is actually a pretty by-the-numbers game. We won’t really go into spoilers, but we’ve pretty much seen all these characters before in other games. Its own punk aesthetic plays against its insistence on relying on the tried-and-true otome game character tropes. Alma is the cool leader, Higa’s a wild boy, White Mask is the dangerous guy, etc. Not only that, but their character arcs and the overall narrative pretty much play out exactly as you might expect. For a game that’s about embracing the individual, it’s actually fairly conformist, destroying any credibility its narrative might have had.
You can’t really “analyze” the gameplay of Bad Apple Wars because there’s not really much to be had. Really, your interaction with the game ultimately comes down to loading up saves and picking which story path you’ll be going on. However, because of this, Otomate actually streamlined the process so that picking and choosing what you want to do couldn’t be simpler. You actually have the ability to move back to any chapter in the game with just a flick of the right analog stick, so if you’re not thrilled with how the story is turning out for one boy, no worries! Just go back to a map section and choose a somewhere different to hang out. It’s a remarkably easy, painless process.
Also, while some might be a bit disappointed by the lack of any real decision making, we will say this: it does make it pretty easy to end up with the boy you want to. Each of the boys are color coded, and where they end up on the map is conveniently colored in their corresponding color. You’ll have a few opportunities to spend time with a boy over the course of the game, but ultimately, if you pick the same boy enough, the game just cuts out the possibility of spending time with anyone else because, really, what’s the point otherwise? You’re playing through to see their story, and with so little gameplay, there’s no need to dress it up as anything else. Better yet, each of your save slots are color coded to the exact same ones as the boys (just hit R to move over to one in the save menu), making it remarkably simple to keep track of your save files for each story path.
Outside of just choosing your alignment, you do have one other interaction in the game. In order to get more of each boy’s backstory, you’ll have designated moments where you have to touch them in certain places on their body, and when you do, you’ll have a flashback as seen from their eyes where you’ll end up viewing a portion of their story from when they were still alive. These scenes were clearly designed so that the player could share a more intimate moment with a boy of their choice, but, well, it’s one of those decisions that sounds better on paper than it actually does in practice. Most of the time, you’ll just be aimlessly poking around on your screen, trying to trigger the next bit of dialogue to just get past the screen. Barring one moment during each story, these scenes are not really as steamy as they actually sound. They do a pretty poor job of selling the moment as well, as the fact that your onscreen character is generally there in the middle of these scenes, it’s difficult to even self-insert yourself into the moment. These scenes end up more aggravating unless you’ve bought into the fantasy the game is selling and are just that eager to spend your time poking your favorite boy.
Bad Apple Wars has a lot of great Quality of Life additions that provide an excellent framework for an otome game. However, barring the premise itself, the story is actually pretty boring due to its predictability and generic approach to the storytelling. If there was a solid or interesting dating game behind it with any real meaningful choices beyond just the opening, it might have been possible to excuse the overall lameness of the narrative. However, Bad Apple Wars streamlines the process so much that it makes it impossible to really invest into either the story or any of these boys, and without a strong narrative to back it up, the entire experience is just hollow as a result.
If you’re just an absolute diehard otome game fan who’s sick of playing whichever enhanced version of Hakuoki Idea Factory is porting to the newest console, or you’re just tired of replaying Norn9 and Amnesia, Bad Apple Wars might work as a quick weekend afternoon play assuming you can find it on sale for about 75% off. At $40, though, Bad Apple Wars is a really tough sell. The pieces were there for a really neat, cross-appeal male dating game, but unfortunately, it just doesn’t go far enough with its concept to make it worth a look.