Quite an experience.
Rare is the bishoujo game that is as thorough and as creatively done as Casual Romance Club. Don’t let the title fool you. Casual Romance Club isn’t about sticking your golf balls into every hole you find. It’s more about meeting new acquaintances, deepening friendships, and finding true love along the way. The word “casual” here doesn’t necessarily mean carelessly playing around, but more like having fun while learning about people and the things they enjoy. In some ways, this game is similar to True Love, although I find this much more entertaining. You’ll find out later why.
Gameplay and Features
I must admit, I was greatly impressed when the package arrived at my doorstep. CRC comes in this huge box — well, larger than most bgame packages, at least — and a hardcover user’s manual that can double as an art book. I gasped when I perused the manual and saw how detailed it was. Aside from the regular instructional tidbits, it described all 12 girls’ personalities, which were mostly based on their zodiac signs. Other interesting data are the map of the city where you lived in (Moriyoh), the Love Compatibility Chart (this one’s pretty useful), Love Equation/Personalized Drama, some information about the making of the game, and the Ten Rules of CRC. The ten rules, in particular, are something to read. You can actually apply them in real life because they teach very practical dating tips.
While the gameplay is generally like your regular digital novel dating sim — meaning, clickathon — the overall interface is something to behold. Casual Romance Club is window-based. You will see the Moriyoh City Guide, which contains a picture and a description of the place you’re in, a chatbox, and the Moriyoh City Map. When you view a prospective girl’s profile, you get to see her CG gallery, her bathing suit and school uniform photos, her basic information and her activity diary. The basic information contains her personality traits, interests, horoscopes and life and love philosophies. The activity diary, on the other hand, is like her blog. All twelve diaries, which also contain daily horoscope predictions, are updated on a regular basis. Since I am a person who reads her friends’ blogs almost every chance she gets, I find this to be an attractive feature. In a nutshell: I absolutely adore the interface.
View samples of the interface here and here.
There were a few setbacks that I experienced in the game. One of them is the absence of the “Skip previously read messages” option. When you get one ending (or successfully bag one girl), you normally start a new game from scratch and save that as a separate file. You can be an asshole, but don’t expect to end up with more than one girl...if you can end up with any girl at all. This is the reason why you can’t exactly skip previously read messages — you always end up starting a new game, and saving a new file. Another minor gripe is that you can only make the text go faster if you have the Japanese translations visible, and even then, you have to start shaping up your clicking fingers. Better yet, try practicing having your left forefinger on the “Enter” key and your right forefinger on the left mouse clicker. This makes your text go even faster. Third complaint will have to be the absence of a unified CG gallery, which should contain all the girls’ pictures. Again, this can be attributed to the fact that you always start a new game and have separate save files for each girl. Fourth minor objection: you load from the day, not from the actual time or choice you saved on.
Characters and Story
As I have mentioned earlier, the girls’ personalities are based on their zodiac signs. Although I can’t seem to reconcile Scorpios with the word “inhibited” and the Piscean is my exact opposite, I appreciate the fact that each girl is made distinct. Their personalities are complex enough in a way that makes it rather a challenge for you to pursue them. (My personal favorites are Kate, Bridget, Claire, Valerie and Sophie.) You really have to do your research to find out what makes each girl respond positively, without, of course, making a yes man out of yourself. Many of your character’s lines have actually made me say, “Aww,” even if they were meant for girls I dislike. You might also notice that even though you are the one making choices and initiating conversations, the story seems to be set from the females’ standpoint. This can be seen in the girls’ monologues, and the fact that it is possible for you to be dating other girls without you knowing it.
The options presented aren’t frustratingly asinine. They don’t make you go to unnecessary places like the roof, second floor, laboratory, and whatnot. The events occur after class, meaning the encounters are very direct and straight to the point. No more dilly-dallying in school corridors, where people shouldn’t be fooling around in the first place. Everything begins and ends in Starry Sky, the family-owned restaurant where the Casual Romance Club members hang out.
This is perhaps the most couple-friendly and realistic bishoujo game I have ever played. Many of the situations that you go through actually ring true for real-life scenarios.
Audiovisuals and Translation Notes
Because every aspect of game development was done by Libido in Japan, expect mosaic’d private parts. That’s the Japanese censorship laws at work. Still, don’t let this minor inconvenience keep you from enjoying the game. The mosaic isn’t badly done, and you can still use your imagination to fill in the blanks. The artwork is divided into three styles. You have the SD-type avatar art, which appear on the dialogue box; the regular polished CG art, which are used for the photo albums; and the dreamy sketches, which look to be watercolored. All of them are exquisite, to say the least.
The English translations, both in-game and in the manual, are somewhat crude. The English voices seem to have been done by Japanese seiyuu, which could explain why the dubbing is just as crude. If this bothers you, like it did me, you can switch off the English voices and use the original Japanese voices instead. What I noticed when I did this, however, is that sometimes, what the girls say out loud and what’s written in the Japanese subtitles aren’t the same.
Casual Romance Club is far from perfect. You may even be subjected to a few bugs here and there that I haven’t mentioned in the gameplay section, like for instance, the pager that shows two messages from two girls when you get to read only one. I still am held in awe by the work that has obviously been put into CRC’s development. There are so many things I want to say about this game as there's just so much to explore. I suppose it really is something one must experience for oneself. There just aren’t enough words.