I have mixed feelings about this game - the good was very good, but the bad was almost unforgivably so.
Here are my pros and cons and a lengthy explanation or ‘review’.
- Great care to imagery – setting, character and language – creating nice sense of immersion
- Appealing love interests (for the most part)
- Sexy love scene (not rated properly by the Heart’s Choice scale, but was a very good and enjoyable surprise)
- Believable, well established main character
- Rushed ‘second half’, abrupt ending
- Rushed and disjointed romance arcs
- Plot holes
- Romances forced onto MC (without adhering to player’s choice or establishing sexuality)
To sum it up, the author had some skill and clearly knew the subject they were writing about but after a point it felt like they wanted to get it done and finished quickly. It felt like there was no thought given to taking a step back and viewing the main story arc (and each character arc) in its full context, noticing the glaring pacing problems, and working to correct them before publication. Further, it seems very surprising that whomever beta tested this game/story didn’t notice the issue either (but I’m not overly familiar with HC’s beta testing process).
The first ‘half’ of the story felt pretty good in terms of pacing and fleshing out the story - right up until MC went to the audition featuring the strict Russian choreographer. After that the story jumps all over the place, trying to wrap up too many of the major issues in the story – family farm problem, actor union and speakeasy – in superficial, rushed and poorly thought-out ways, rather then taking the time to play out each with the same care afforded to the ‘first half’ of the story. Done properly, it probably would have made the story double as long, and rightfully so.
It also felt incredibly inorganic and contrived to suddenly have these three major, life-altering decisions thrust onto you; only one truly had cause for MC to be wholly responsible – the family farm problem – and the others were just an excuse to make the player ‘have to choose’. Why am I suddenly responsible for the success or failure of the actors union rather then the woman heading it (especially if, choice-wise, I only just aligned with the idea MOMENTS before and was on the fence up until then)? Why am I wholly responsible for Lila’s speakeasy as a newly-arrived, minor bit-player in the whole affair? Don’t force that on the reader purely for the sake of having them make a choice, it has to be properly established first.
Another glaring problem, for me, was hinting at something major that was never delivered in the end. In the writing world it’s a concept known as ‘Chekhov’s Gun’. Basically, if a clear point is made of the main character noticing a loaded gun when they walk into a room, that gun must have a role to play at some point in the story to follow. Expectation is created in the reader, and there needs to be a payoff. In this case Chekhov’s Gun was John Curtis cutting a deal with Lila regarding notifying him of any major figures in the alcohol racket entering town, and considering that taking out the big guns is John’s singular focus in the story, that’s a major detail. This immediately got me excited because I reasonably thought, ‘at some point later on in this story there will probably be a major scene between John’s prohibition unit and some major mafia figure and his henchmen, likely where MC will find herself caught in the middle, or face the possibility of losing John’. Yeah. Never happened. Personally, that was really disappointing…
Now, the romances. Suffice to say, the romance arcs suffered the same pacing problem as the main arc, and sadly, also a break down of the character’s personalities. I really enjoyed John Curtis in the first part of the story - I could truly see him as a dark, cold Rudolf Valentino lookalike ruthlessly pursuing Prohibition, and the chemistry between he and the MC was electric and amazing. Enter the second part, John’s largely absent and then reappears tripping over himself to be with the MC, having lost everything about his personality that made him interesting, and having seemingly abandoned all drive for the goal he’d thrown everything into up until then. Massive disappointment.
And it’s been said before, but forcing John and Lila onto the player without allowing the player to dictate their character’s sexual preference, and worse, not respecting the player’s decision for friendship if they make it, was a huge mistake. I liked Lila as a character a lot, and as a friend, but by the end I actually actively disliked her because she didn’t seem to acknowledge the fact that I’d repeatedly indicated I only liked her as a friend and that felt creepy. Again, how did beta testers no notice this issue, especially considering how adamant Choice Of and Heart’s Choice is about respecting people’s sexuality and gender identities?
As an additional note, this is possibly just a personal gripe but I thought I’d mention it anyway. I got the impression that readers were meant to view the MC’s spunky younger sister with a sort of exasperated affection, but if that was the aim, it failed in my book - that kid was a brat of the worst kind. She was relentless in her misbehavior and didn’t appreciate anything MC did for her, and this at a time when MC was suddenly shouldered with all this unwarranted responsibility. Again, this was just a personal gripe, but man, I couldn’t stand that kid.
To finish on a positive, the PROS of this game were significant ones, hence why my feelings are mixed and not straight up disappointment.
I truly loved John Curtis’ personality (in the first half) - his drive, passion, Rudolph Valentino looks, everything! I loved the sparkling imagery of 1920’s New York - I was there in my head and I loved every moment (seriously, please make another game set in the roaring 20s). I loved the options for the main character and how their personality sparkled throughout. I loved Toni and Lila as friends and the whole speakeasy scene around them. I loved the auditioning and the performing. I loved the sex scene/s, though for balance I would have added another such scene at the end, with more full intimacy with our chosen love interest/s - what we got was fantastic, but left me wanting for just that little bit more satisfaction.
Also, bump that rating up by one chilli!