Work to become a Pro, kiss someone, defeat your rivals. Not necessarily in that order.
Welcome to the alternate timeline in the distant future of 20XX, where arcades are still king. You play Seeker/Sydney Moore (handle and name can be changed) an aspiring pro gamer, trying to make your way onto the pro tour for your favorite game Fist of Discomfort 2 (FoD2). The desire is heightened when your friend/rival nabs a spot on one of the top teams in the world.
With the help of the illegal AI, IRIS, that almost everyone has but is hush hush about, you end up at Good Clean Fun, a combination pizzeria/laundromat/arcade, meeting a group of established friends who hang out there. Somehow, through talking to them about making a team, they elect you to be their manager, and you all set out to become a top FoD2 team!
Arcade Spirits: The New Challengers (ASTNC), is a visual novel about following your dreams while building new relationships. The story seems straightforward enough, but what would a fun story be without some pitfalls along the way?
The playtime for each run not very long, which could be a negative or a positive depending on how you view game length. For me, it’s a positive because it really didn’t feel like the game had too much filler, which I find to be frustrating in some games. Scenes have a purpose and chatting with characters didn’t ever make me feel like they were going on forever.
Once you get past the general setup of all the characters in Level 1 (chapters are referred to as Levels in this game), the story then begins to pick up, throwing you into a plot that could have even more twists and turns depending on if you choose to romance someone and whom you choose to romance.
ASTNC’s love interest are varied but also feel like real people. While they each have their moments, they don’t come off as tropes. And with the choice between two guys, three women, and a non-binary person, I found myself eager to see what each person was about. The game also has the option to skip out on romance entirely if you wish and just friend it up with the cast if you so choose. I do need to note that almost everyone in this game is quippy, including the MC, which might not be for everyone. I found myself laughing some of the time and eye-rolling others, which I believe is the desired outcome of the text.
Everyone’s game of choice gives you a peek into who they are as people. Domino is sarcastic and a bit of a doomer who’s favorite games are bullet hell games or shmups. Zapper is snappy and doesn’t like to be bored with a love of lightgun shooters. Rhapsody is the team rock who enjoys helping train with a love for fighting games. Grace is a kind soul who just wants everyone to get along and lover of console RPGs. Jynx is a woman with dry humor who lives her life the best she can while enjoying racing games. Locksley is not a big fan of “the man” and is constantly on a search for justice; his strong point is prize games.
Each teammate has their own issues they are working through, While being a friend with them will give you some small peek into what is going on, the best way to find out more is to romance them. I did enjoy some romances more than others, mostly due to being able to relate, but overall, I enjoyed them all.
Unlike most romance sims I play, ASTNC is a story where the romance is woven into the overarching plot with no route branching. It doesn’t have too much of a spotlight which is probably due to the way the story has been told. While you will have interactions with whomever you are romancing that will be cute, the romances are a little light. You do have the chance to have a slightly different experience with almost every run due to the sheer number of choices that the game allows you to make. There is the choice of what to name your team, who to choose as your sponsor, ect. Later on there are choices that affect how the ending plays out.
There is even a minigame that you can choose to actually play or skip it and decide how the match turns out. The game itself is very simple, as it must be for a visual novel. It basically equates to a game of RPS (rock, paper, scissors) and there is the added bonus of being able to save at any time. So, you can easily save at a move choice, make a move, and then reload your save if you don’t like the outcome.
In addition to just stacking up points for the person you want to grow closer to, there is an additional system of personality choices that allows you to dictate how you respond to others. The system equates to how snarky (Quirky), nice (Kindly), bold (Gutsy), honest (Steady), or neutral (Neutral) you want to be.
Sometimes, the person you are talking to might not like what you say or how you say it (saving is your friend here). While this may come off as a bummer, it’s true to real life. When someone is having a breakdown, they may not want you to crack a joke. The game has icons that it can place before each choice to let you know what exactly you are picking and you can choose to turn this off for a more mysterious game run.
Characters are partially voice acted with short quips here and there. While I am happy with what we do get, I do wish that the game was fully voice acted for at least the teammates. You can choose to turn off the short quips if you wish under preferences, if you just want to hear the fully spoken lines. Everyone’s voice actors did a great job voicing the dialogue, even though sometimes the for a character may not be as good quality as the rest.
While the game does have “prizes,” which include background and concept art, as well as ending illustrations, and other extras. The game doesn’t have an abundance is cut-in illustrations. There is one that happens at the end or your playthrough and it depends on how you chose (or didn’t choose) to steer your love life.
The game has an extensive character creation system. Where you can change the main character’s online handle, first and last name, and choose their pronouns along with many other cosmetic changes including skin tone, hair style/color, body type, nose, eye color, and various clothing options.
While the character creator is neat, the overall design of the MC and the rival (whom you can also customize) feels a little flat compared to the designs of other characters in the game. It’s not a game breaker by any means, I found myself wanting something a bit more. I’d have loved a print!
Also, on the Nintendo Switch version, I encountered a bug where, when you rename your main character’s handle, the game inputs the first and last name as the handle you picked. This caused me to keep the main character’s default name which I don’t have a problem with, but others might. After trying, and failing, to fix the problem, I ended up just restarting the game and leaving the defaults as is. (Note: I have been told there will be a day one patch of the game, hopefully, this will be fixed with it.)
Because of the vast amount of choices the game has you make, it will render the skip button on your next playthrough unusable unless you make some of the same choices again. It does get better the more playthroughs you do, but be prepared to be clicking through for at least two playthroughs.
While there are a few things that I wanted to be better thought out and wanted to hear more characters talk, Arcade Spirits: The New Challengers is a solid game. A visual novel strength should be in the story and this story is engaging while leaving you wondering what is going to happen next. Each run can be slightly different from the last keeping it fresh when you need it to be.
- Something for everyone if you want romance or not.
- A lot of choices to shape your main character the way you want, but also make it hard to skip through what you have already read on subsequent playthroughs.
- Interesting story with replay value.
- Character creator feels a bit flat desepite having a lot of options.
- Story will either be just the right length or too short depending on what you are looking for.
Final Comments: While there are a few things that I wanted to be better thought out and wanted to hear more characters talk, Arcade Spirits: The New Challengers is a solid game. I laughed, gasped, and cooed at the person who I was currently romancing.
Suggested Play Order: There really isn’t one. You can basically make everyone like you and try to choose someone later on if you wish. It’s really up to you!
Trigger/Content Warnings: Some are woven into the story and some are only hinted at or spoken about once.
Disclaimer: A copy of this game was provided by the publisher.
Game: Arcade Spirits: The New Challengers
Release Date: May 27th, 2022
Developer: Fiction Factory Games
Publisher: PQube Limited
System: PC (Steam, itch.io), Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4 and 5, XBox One, and Series X
Text Language: English
Official Website: https://www.arcadespirits.com/newchallengers/
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