So... I played England Exchange (EE) over the last few days.
The game was honestly a mixed bag for me, but I already expected this based on my impressions of the demo.
Things that I liked: You can play both a male and a female character. There are 8 love interests in total (= 4 men and women) from which four are exclusively straight. This means that 4 characters (= 2 men and women) are available to pursue in a same-sex relationship. Each character has their own romance CG (a sweet, intimate scene between MC and their lover). The character art is cute and there is even some body diversity.
Out of 8 characters, 7 have more than one ending. Endings vary from good to bad. There's even an achievement for getting the worst one.
The writing appears solid and fun compared to the more vapid things I've seen out there. Expect some surprises. The love interests are not always what they appear to be at first sight. And no, this does not refer to an unexpected yandere route. In fact, hurray, this game is blissfully free of any kind of captivity or insta death scene. While there is drama galore in some routes, others offer that much-needed, fluffy goodness.
Things I liked less:
1.) Unfortunately, your gender selection does not seem to change much about your POV (e.g. study major, abilities, dialogue). While the rival storylines certainly makes a difference, I found the male MC's job route pretty uninteresting in comparison to that of the female MC. The character moments just didn't feel as well integrated into the job situation. In my eyes, Aasi and Angelo also provided a much more interesting foil to the MC than Brendan and Ashley. Then again, I didn't care much for the latter two, so this definitely factors into my opinion.
A game that did it better: Roommates did something similar with the possibility to choose between a female and a male MC. However, regardless of player choice, both characters exist in the game universe because of their separate identities, including different characterizations and personal goals. Even though I'm not a great fan of Roommates as a whole (mainly because: frustrating stats system and romance requirements, romances not really to my taste), I much preferred this approach.
2.) I felt like I had no control over basically anything except the romance part. Why include job and school at all if they are nothing more than convenient places to flirt or chat someone up? I think this wouldn't be so bad if there weren't literally days going by without anything to do. Additionally, there is one choice mid-game regarding a planned activity (e.g. reading, exploring the city, improving your appearance) that doesn't seem to make any difference whatsoever. This is the part where I almost miss having a stat-raising mechanic that at least grants me the illusion of activity. This problem is only exacerbated by the unfortunate impression that, in game titled England Exchange, there's not a lot of England to be found here (?).
A game that did it better: C14 Dating is set in Belgium and you play as an American MC on an archaeology field trip. This is one of the few dating sims in which I felt fully immersed in its setting because it wasn't just a throwaway thought. Stat-raising activities, character moments/dialogues, and mini games feel all well integrated into the plot. Also, yay for cultural differences and language barriers.
3.) While the writing appeared mostly solid, even intriguing in places, the game just leaves you high and dry before it can really become interesting. This is, of course, highly subjective, just like pretty much everything I've written so far. Still, it grates on me because I see tons of potential in the characters and their conflicts (despite the fact that I usually end up not caring about 60% of available romance routes). For me, the most fulfilling romance was probably Angelo's which is mainly due to the impression that their relationship as co-workers helped to flesh out his interactions with the female MC. There is no route that I found completely boring but, aside from the usual suspects, Ashley's appealed the least to me. (She just wasn't my type, I guess.)
A game that did it better: Magical Diary: Horse Hall for the way it developed its character's conflicts and brought them to a satisfying conclusion. Nameless for some of the heavy stuff it introduces, even though I must concede that EE deals way more responsibly with its own occasional glimpses of darkness. (Which is exactly the reason why I am so mad that they aren't explored further.)
One final note: I don't mean to discourage anyone from buying this game. If you enjoy the demo, you will probably enjoy the rest. And this developer definitely deserves the support. As I said, it's a mixed bag for me, but overall it still left a positive impression.
At last, I finally discovered RockRobin and I cannot believe that it is free. Probably one of my favorite female MCs. Interesting, layered, and difficult. Writing is some of the best I've seen in an otome game. Plus, it has one route that pretty much pushes all my buttons (and some I didn't even know that I existed!). Also, lots of fun features and, finally, a game soundtrack I can truly appreciate.
Since I'm already writing this: I started playing some dating sim apps. (Another consequence of still being unable to play Mass Effect: Andromeda. )
The Arcana. Not yet released in full. Beautiful art/presentation. Cannot say much about the writing yet, but I'm definitely intrigued.
Choices. Mainly romance titles, but also some mystery and action. Writing, from what I've seen, is snappy and enjoyable if you don't mind the occasional corny cliché and being railroaded. I started with the Freshman series and one of this title's greatest advantages is that, even without deluxe content (can be bought with in-game currency), you can achieve a satisfying ending. Doesn't seem to be the case for some other titles, e.g. Endless Summer.
City of Love: Paris. So pretty! Too bad the mystery is predictably boring despite the game's (supposedly) original premise. Lots of railroading, bland MC, lacking impactful choices. And you can't romance the two most entertaining characters, your best friend or the sassy villain.
- I've never been a fan of Voltage games, but I've decided to try out their rebooted Speakeasy Tonight game. From what I've seen, the MC seems promising. Once more routes become available (meaning: those I'm actually half-way interested in), I will definitely check this game out. Downside: I pretty much hate everything about the Lovestruck app. What an ugly, inconvenient thing to force on your customers.