|Genre:||Graphic Adventure, Simulation RPG|
|Official Website:||English Site|
People love to set their stories in 1920s America. And why not, right? It was a busy time, and not just in the physical sense. The women's rights movement, the prohibition era, central banking...radical ideologies clashed and meshed all over the place.
It's in this turbulent decade that Keith Nemitz, founder of Mousechief and one-man powerhouse developer, created his independent fantasy game "Dangerous High School Girls in Trouble!" Set in the fictional town of Brigiton, you control one of any number of girls at a private girls' school. You spend the first part of the game recruiting your own gang of gals, learning how to use your creative wiles to gain power and prestige in your school, and even flirting with the boys, who protect you if you end up in a rough spot. Sounds interesting, right? It gets even better as the game progresses.
But you may be thinking, "how is this an RPG?" Well, DHSGiT (as I will henceforth refer to the game) is a little bit of everything. At first glance, it looks like a board game, with an opening map and character pieces that are reminiscent of the original Clue board game. But all of this is just glossy presentation; it's part of the graphic interface, and does not really affect the meat of the gameplay. So how does the game play out? Read on...
I suppose DHSGiT could be best described as a mix of Phoenix Wright, parlor games, and a skill/experience system borrowed from any number of Western RPGs. It's a mix of a graphic adventure and a sim, but all with strong enough RPG elements to be considered, in some backwards way, a true "Role-Playing" Game.
Every girl in your party has four measured stats, represented in the four symbols of playing-cards (Spades, Clubs, Hearts, Diamonds). These stats are Rebellion, Glamor, Popularity, and Savvy. These four stats are used in a variety of ways for each of the game's battle-of-wits-style conflicts. Whenever the game's action, or dialogue between characters, leads to an impasse, there are a variety of ways to deal with it. For example, there's "Taunt," which has you mocking your opponent with witty jibes. If they know a clever comeback, you take damage instead of them. However, you can only improve in taunting by learning new phrases from each of these transactions. Your health bar in Taunting is determined by one of the four stats, and different taunts take a different amount of health away. May the best taunter win!
Other games include: "Fib," which plays like a game of Poker; "Expose," which uses each of your four stats as free spaces in guessing words in a sentence; "Flirt," which is a sort of guessing game where you have to devise a pattern from the boy in question; and "Gambit," the most difficult to master, is a complex form of rock-paper-scissors where you pick two out of three types of attacks, some of which have "block" or "steal" effects depending on where your opponent stacks their own points. Winning one of these events earns experience, which, when you level up, allows you to permanently increase one of the four statistics. However, losing can bring about temporary or permanent damage. If you have a boyfriend, sometimes he'll "take the hit" for you, and the other girls in your posse will always protect the main character. You get to choose which of your girls takes on an opponent, but you can get a Game Over if you're the only one left and you lose.
These battles are an important aspect of the game, but they are only one part of the whole. There is also the exploration, the dialogue, and the entire "adventure" aspect of the game to take into account. The game runs on a day-night schedule, with certain events only available during certain times of the day or week. Much of the adventure involves collecting information and items. Figuring out where to go, and when, and whom to talk to (and whom to avoid), is all a part of the challenge. Though the story is generally linear, there are whole subplots you can choose to either take on or skip. But then, the more you do, the more experience you gain, making your girls ever stronger for the challenges ahead.
DHSGiT is self-described in certain press releases as the ultimate "casual game." Being the type of gamer I am, I always throw up a little when I read this phrase. Yes, you can play this game in 5 minute spurts, and you can save anywhere, anytime. But it is much more fun to take on large portions of the game at a time. A complete playthrough (and there are multiple endings) takes at least 10 hours. If there's anything I could say about this game, it's not made for the casual audience. It's made for people who want to experience something new, especially from the indie scene.
Coming from a company called "Mousechief," it's no surprise that the game is played entirely by using the mouse. You click on the game pieces to speak to the people those pieces represent, and you go through a variety of dialogue menus using the mouse.
Speaking of which: there are a lot of dialogue boxes that appear throughout the game. They often show up as cards that get flipped over, and while this is a cute novelty to keep the "board game" aspect alive and well, it does slow down the action of the game: the screen can quickly get cluttered during a dialogue sequence.
There are a few keyboard shortcuts built in, but about 90% of the game is built for mouse play, with some basic menu functions made more useful thanks to the Esc, Enter, and Arrow keys. If a future installment comes anytime soon, however, I would recommend more intuitive keyboard controls.
Let's start by getting one thing out of the way: this little-known indie title was nominated for a Writers Guild of America award for best videogame writing. DHSGiT went up against all large, mainstream titles (including Fallout 3 and Star Wars: The Force Unleashed). As of the time I write this review, the winner has yet to be decided, but the mere fact that a small-scale game like this could compete in the big leagues in terms of writing alone, well...you get the idea.
The point is that the dialogue in DHSGiT is incredibly well-written and entertaining. How many times have you typed "LOL" on a forum or chat room without actually laughing out loud? Stop and think about that. I want the reader to know that, as I played this game, I LOL'd more times than I can remember. And unlike the many times I've used "LOL" without actually uttering a noise from my mouth, I really mean it here. This game had me laughing. I would regularly call over my wife or other adult members of my house to show them the dialogue and explain the curious situations the girls of DHSGiT would find themselves in.
The plot's pace is another incredible aspect of the game. Your girls start out at the high school, but as you gain notoriety and find yourself able to subvert the various authorities in place, you are able to freely skip school to travel downtown, the suburbs, and even the docks, the "shady" part of town. Not that Nemitz is necessarily condoning truancy, mind you, but in the context of the plot their actions make quite a bit of sense. You see, Brigiton is a very strange town with rules all its own. On the surface it seems normal enough, but the "issues" plaguing the town keep you (the player, and the character you control) on your toes.
And the big reveal at the end? Incredible! The game puts out a fairly clear message about public morality, and it all comes back to gender equality and gender politics. The trick that is played on you, as the player, is that you think you're just playing in a silly 1920s-era game: interesting and entertaining enough. But when you realize what it all leads up to, the lessons learned and the story conveyed are all so much more valuable than your average "save the world" plot from JRPGs and Western RPGs alike, and you'll find yourself wishing that more developers could tell a story like this one.
For all the work that went into this game, I have to say that Nemitz and his small crew slacked on this key aspect of the game. Instead of writing virtually any original music, they just took some copyright-free 1920s music and stuck it at random places throughout the game. And there really isn't much music to the game, in general. Songs are used almost like jingles, and rarely run for more than 30 seconds at a time. Sound effects are also sparse; they attempt to bring the board game to life, but it didn't impress me. It is my opinion that Mousechief should consider getting some help in their sound department.
Nearly all of the game's graphics consist of hand-drawn/painted stills, scanned in and put into the game. As a result, there is very little in terms of animation. The silver CG "game pieces" that wander the maps are the only real animation that the game offers. But to me, that doesn't matter. The point of the game's aesthetics is to create a certain mood and style to fit the 1920s setting. It works so well, it's ridiculous.
Some interesting choices were made in the character designs. Dean Hemlock has a hairstyle and nose that makes him look like a lion-man. A few characters, like "stoolie girl," look so ugly, it's almost beautiful. The secretary at the police station/prison is a talking desk with paperwork brimming off the top of the desk as "hair." There must have been well over 200 still portraits drawn for this game. The amount of work put into the illustrations makes up for the lack of gameplay animation. Of course, this is to be expected in a graphic adventure.
A lot of indie PC games are distributed freely, but those that aren't can only succeed if they are worth their price. Currently, Mousechief is selling Dangerous High School Girls in Trouble! for twenty dollars, and for the amount of fun, hilarity, and challenge it provides, I would say it's well worth it. But don't get this game if you're unwilling to do plenty of reading. To play this game, you need a computer with a mouse, and a fairly ranged knowledge of English vocabulary. Having an active imagination helps, too, I suppose, though I will say that imagination improved after playing this game, as though I had earned real-life experience points. I look forward to Mousechief's next project, and I hope Keith Nemitz can keep up the great writing.