Saturday, March 2, 2024

Arcade Spirits Review: heartwarming and hopeful

One of the first things that Arcade Spirits tells you is this: everyone has a dream. For you, the player, that dream consists of going on a journey that’ll lead you to work at an arcade, making new friends, breaking a family curse, and maybe, just maybe, finding the love of your life.

But what is Arcade Spirits? Let me set the scene: the year is 20XX, and things are…pretty normal. The only real difference is that apparently E.T was actually a successful game, and wasn’t one of the prominent factors of the video game crash of 1983. Can you imagine that? A universe where the E.T game for Atari was good?

Anyway. With the video game crash not happening, arcade games are still popular and well-loved by people of all ages. This is great news for you, as with your previous job as a lifeguard in the bin, you end up being directed — by your self-help app, IRIS — to get a job at a small arcade called The Funplex. It’s here that you’ll meet your new friends, as well as love interests.

Arcade Spirits

As visual novels go, Arcade Spirits isn’t exactly unique but that doesn’t stop it from standing out in other ways. Instead of a ‘set’ character to play as, you’re able to customize your character’s hair, skin and eye colour, their pronouns and their first and last name. The actual options are pretty sparse, with only three sets of hair to choose from, but even that level of customization is pretty neat, especially as you’ll be able to see what your character looks like throughout the eight chapters of the game. It makes for some adorable moments, and it’s always nice to actually see what your character looks like. After all, you can’t fight crime if you ain’t cute!

But outside of your looks and pronouns, Arcade Spirits wants to know who you are and, unlike most video games that try to replicate romance, is keen to embrace the numbers behind the ‘correct’ choices you make when talking to other characters. If you say something a character agrees with, you get a +1 to their affection meter. Alternatively, if you choose an option that’s seen as ‘quirky’, you’ll get a +1 to your ‘quirky’ personality. While it may be off-putting to those who want a more ‘realistic’ approach of getting to know people, I found myself charmed at Arcade Spirits willingness to accept what it is: a video game. A video game about love, games and dreams. Not exactly in that order.

Gameifying romance aside, the cast of characters are likeable and actively remind me of my own friend group. All of them are romanceable, regardless of gender, and are engaging and expertly written — that’s without even acknowledging the superb voice work. You have Gavin, a realist who tries to keep the Funplex from falling into financial ruin, Naomi, a young woman who loves everything about arcade machinery and tech, Ashley, a peppy cosplayer, Percy, a mysterious arcade fan, QueenBee, an eSports star and Teo, a dancer.

Arcade Spirits

There’s more to them than meets the eye, with all six love interests having their own dreams and issues. But don’t worry, if you just want to hang out with the Funplex gang in a more platonic fashion, you can romance nobody and focus on friendships. It works out just fine considering you have your best friend to keep you company.

Outside of the general narrative and characters, the game looks great and as I’ve said many times before, visual novels just feel more at home on the Nintendo Switch. It feels great to settle down for the day, Switch in hand and read to your heart’s content without needing to grab a laptop or controller just to get your lovin’ on. Now it’s just as simple as grabbing your Switch and getting comfortable, and boy, does Arcade Spirits make me feel comfortable. Not many games are good at letting LGBT+ folks feel good in their own skin, but not only does this game do just that, it actively celebrates character’s differences and how that makes a person unique. How it makes loving them unique.

In a world that’s full of strife and uncertainty, Arcade Spirits is the game that you need when you just want to feel hopeful and I think that’s beautiful.

Aimee Hart

[She/They] Aimee Hart is Editor-in-Chief of Gayming Magazine. She specializes in queer fandom, video games and tabletop, having started her career writing for numerous websites like The Verge, Polygon, Input Magazine and more. Her goal now is to boost LGBTQ+ voices in the video games industry.