" "It may be short, but Cherry Tree High Comedy Club is a nice change of pace from other games and offers something unique."
If you've found your way to this review then, chances are, it was the title that grabbed your attention. Cherry Tree High Comedy Club (CTHCC) is a little known Japanese doujin title picked up by Nyu Media and localised earlier this year. At just 2-3 hours in length it's very short, but its charm and unusual gameplay (and low price!) set it apart from the competition.
High school senior Miley's only dream is performing stand-up comedy. To help reach her goal, she sets out to put together a comedy club and it's up to you to guide her in recruiting students. You have two in-game months to enroll at least three members, and it's a fair bit more challenging than it sounds.
The story is functional, but little more. There are six potential club members to find and befriend, but though they may appear interesting at first glance, they develop little across the game. Once you do get grow closer to a character, you learn more about them and their backstory. Cute May Bonbon, for example, runs her family's candy shop and a big corporation is looking to buy them out. It's a cute story, but one that never gets you emotionally invested. Other characters, such as rock 'n roller Cindy, have plots that don't really go anywhere at all. There are a number of memorable lines (mostly from a shrine maiden who loves sci-fi), but overall the script is lacking, especially considering the game revolves around comedy. On the other hand, CTHCC never tries to be more than it is.
Interestingly, the game is overtly Amercanised. As I have not seen the original script, I can't say how much has been changed in the localisation, but I suspect a significant amount. This isn't necessarily a negative, but when the game is set in an architecturally Japanese town with matching cherry blossoms and cultural aspects, such as shrine maidens, it feels very strange to meet characters named Miley, Sara Croft, Stan and even Tyler Perez. There are tons of American slang and pop culture references too, and those feel out of place.
The entire game takes place within Cherry Tree Town and features many locations to visit such as the school, the shopping district, the park, station and more. In a style much like Persona 3 and 4 (minus the dungeon crawling), you spend your days roaming the town, establishing relationships, and then improving them until the character agrees to join Miley's comedy club. It's quite a time consuming process and takes nearly the whole two months to successfully recruit three people.
To have any chance at success, you must level up Miley's skills. These include fashion, romance, art, history, travel, pets, and all other sorts of small talk. Each potential recruit has subjects they like more than others, and it's important to first investigate each characters likes and dislikes first. Once you know what skills you need, you must level them up and then use them to establish closer relationships with each character. What I found particularly odd was that each topic could only be discussed once with the same person per game. So, if I'm chatting to Tyler about music, I can never do so again. Accidently picking a topic they love before your related skill is high enough can ruin your chances to recruit them as the game is fairly unforgiving. I found my second playthrough to be far easier as I had a better understanding of how all the game mechanics worked.
On school days you only have afternoons free to go chat people up and work on skills, but on weekends and holidays the whole day is open. You can use this time to chat with club members, explore the town, do homework, see an exhibition to improve your skills, or even eat food for stat bonuses. Considering only three of six characters need to be recruited per game, there's plenty of replay value too. Controls work well enough, but there are so many menus that navigating them to check stats is convoluted and slow.
The art is really eye-catching and the character sprites are beautiful. They animate fluidly and their charm does not lessen as you play. The background art is just as appealing, and it's quite amazing that the whole game was completely built by one person. The music is upbeat, catchy, and just as good. There are only a couple of tracks across the whole game, but it's so short that this matters little. The only noticeable artistic flaw is the character portraits: everyone looks a little cross-eyed!
It may be short, but Cherry Tree High Comedy Club is a nice change of pace from other games and offers something unique. The plot and characters may be far from genius, but the cute atmosphere and graphics greatly make up for it. The visual novel style gameplay works well (with RPG stat-building elements thrown in), and I felt compelled to play through again to see what I missed. It may not be the next cult hit, but for only $5, you really can't go wrong.