Heading back to the Christine Love visual novel well a second time, I recently made my way through the tangled romances of high school in don’t take it personally babe, it just ain’t your story. Yes, that’s exactly what it’s called. Capitalization and all. My spelling is prefect, don’t question me. dtipb,ijays is a spiritual successor to Christine Love’s earlier work, Digital: a Love Story, which we reviewed here. Like Digital, it can be downloaded for free here. As a spiritual successor, it hits a lot of the same themes as Digital. It’s about love, and the way the internet is used, and inter-character relationships drive most of the plot. However, the way diptb,jiysa delivers on those themes is radically different than its predecessor, and in my opinion, a lot stronger.
In this game, you play the role of John Rook, a twice-divorced 38 year old man who lands a teaching role at Lake City Academy, a private American High School that apparently has only seven students enrolled. Well, saying you “play the role” of Mr. Rook is stretching it a bit. pdibt,ayisj‘s storyline is a bit more flexible than Digital’s completely linear plot was, offering you the chance to push a variety of characters down a few different paths and having three different endings, but you’ve actually got very little input over Rook’s actions. Whereas the main character of Digital did nothing without you pressing a button for it, John Rook is his own man. Your only affect on the game is occasionally choosing which of two or three conversation options to take. It’s not a bad thing. If you go into a visual novel expecting to be able to bend the plot to your whim, you’re going to be more disappointed than I was when I was 5 and I learned my “Mickey Mouse’s Underwear” joke wasn’t funny.
Anyways: you=John Rook, teaching english literature at Lake City Academy. You have seven students in your one class. Maybe there’s more, but they’re never relevant to the plot so the game doesn’t bother to mention them. However, as the title mentions, this just ain’t your story. The story’s really about your students and the various juvenile romantic entanglements and personal problems high school always involves. Rook’s role is to take the bishop pawn and help the black queen put the white queen into checkmate within three moves. Oh wait. What were we talking about again? Right. btipd,jsayi takes place in a world were high school students actually talk to their teachers. Voluntarily even! So your role is to help your students work out their personal issues with love and… well, mostly love. Or, you could use your power to make sure everyone dies friendless and alone. If you’re a dick.
But you don’t go into your matchmaking services without help. Oh no! The school, in order to curb bullying, has given teachers full access to its students social media profiles and private messages! So you get every opportunity to spy on your students and learn that Jake is so dreamy but Rebecca’s already got dibs on him so I think I might try to move on his best fried Zack but oh he does that weird thing with his knuckles that’s soooooooooooo gross I don’t think I can go through with it. Obviously, there’d be some pretty big issues if the students found out that their worthless gossip spread outside their circle, so you have to keep your ability to read every private issue a complete secret.
Let’s take a look at the main actors, shall we?
Our hero, ladies and gentlemen. The guy this story isn’t about. As stated above, he’s the brand new teacher to Lake City Academy, and… well, he’s kind of damaged goods. Two divorces and a midlife crisis led to him taking this job. He’s devoted to it, at least, although that may be because he’s got nothing else to keep him going. Unless you make a few… questionable decisions, he’s never shown doing anything outside of his work and traveling between school and home. He’s committed to his job, always agonizing over whether or not he’s connecting with his students and if they’re picking up the coursework, but he seems to value building relationships with them over actually making them smarter.
Also, he’s pretty hot. I mean look at him! He’s supposed to be 38 and he’s still at least 31% as sexy as I am!
One of your students. Actually, the rest of these are going to be your students. It’s a really small cast. She presents your first dilemma, developing a crush on you fairly soon after you start class. She’s 16 or 17, meaning the squickiness of that may vary based on the laws of wherever you call home, but I’m pretty sure that teacher-student relationships are frowned on pretty much everywhere. You’ve got a couple options of how to deal with it, but once the first episode is over, Arianna pretty much disappears from the plot. She’s still fairly active on social networks, but it’s a long while before her character portrait pops up again in the game.
Forget Kendall for a moment, look at the background there. You see how many desks are in that classroom? It’s like each of your students could build their own private fort.
Right, back to the girl. Kendall Flowers is implied to be a wild child. She seems to be pretty sharp, although she rarely pays attention in class. You’ll either find her awesome or obnoxious. She had a relationship with Charlotte before the game started, and now that it’s over, she seems to occupy her time with trollig her fellow students and using her weird future slang. Oh yeah, also it’s the year 2027. I don’t think I mentioned that before.
Nobody likes Taylor.
Charlotte is the smart kid in class. The only smart kid in class. The biggest identifier of the fact that you suck as a teacher is that she’s no longer able to answer your questions. She’s a sweetheart, though. She’s one of the first to hold much of a conversation with you, and in all seems to be one of the nicest of your students.
She is quiet. That’s pretty much her initial characterization. So quiet, in fact, that I never seem to have had the opportunity for a good screenshot of her speaking alone. That’s her on the right, up there. You do get to learn a bit more of her characterization from reading her private messages, though. She’s the most experienced in the realm of WUV<3 and gives advice to her fellow students on working out their relationships. She also seems to be a lot more comfortable online than she is speaking in person.
I think the one thing you’d use to know everything there is to know about Nolan is that he is the kind of person who will say “WTF” out loud. He’s defined by how he relates to whoever he’s currently dating. Almost everything he does in the game is in relation to a romantic partner, and you rarely get to see anything from him independently. Which is alright, it’s a love story after all, but it would have been nice to see something from him independently. With all his characterization relying on how others are handled, he comes off as a not-quite-fully developed character on his own.
And the final member of our class, Akira seems to be buddies with almost everyone. He’s bright and cheery and somewhat insecure, but that’s pretty normal for high school. Everyone likes Akira. Except for Taylor. But Taylor sucks anyways. He tends to be at least somewhat involved in most of the episode’s plots, so you’ll be seeing a lot of him over the course of the game.
First thing you’ll notice about the game is that the presentation is a lot nicer than it was in Digital. Seem’s like Ms. Love actually had a team working on the game this time, and it shows. The anime inspired character designs are sharp and wouldn’t feel out of place in a professional product. There aren’t a lot of backgrounds, but the few that are there are fully detailed and vibrant. The music is serviceable, and is solid enough to set the mood. The interface is pretty smooth, and everything you need to do is mostly easy to navigate. Obviously, there’s going to be advances now that the game isn’t replicating a 1980’s stone-based computer, but this game really looks and feels like a lot of care went into it.
Christine Love is excellent at writing strong, believable dialog. These talents weren’t really shown off in Digital, but in b,pjisydita having an actual character for the main character really lets them shine through. Nearly everyone was understandable, their issues felt very human, and the interplay between them was great. Plot development was created entirely through dialog, and almost every bit of it felt very natural.
Characterization was mostly strong. You get a good solid idea of what everyone’s like very quickly, and they stay true to that impression throughout. Character development feels very naturally paced, and arises out of proper circumstances rather than just happening because the author says so. Special mention goes to your character, John Rook. He is very flawed, as revealed over the course of the game. It’s handled with a gentle touch, however, subtly showing how his flaws affects himself and others rather than going THIS IS HOW HE SUCKS I HATE HIM AND YOU DO TOO! He acts very different than you would in similar situations and often finds himself flustered with the hard questions but it all feels very true to who he is. This isn’t perfect across the board, however. Taylor, in particular, seems a bit weakly written. You never see much of anything from her, other than her being an asshole to everyone. Her big explanation about it is just more of her being an asshole and applying asshole logic to everything. It really would have been nice to be able to see more from her point of view from a neutral standpoint. Nolan, as mentioned above gets barely any development independent of a romance partner, so it’s really hard to get much of an understanding of him alone. And the story has a weird thing where most of the heterosexual characters just disappear after their arc is done with. Thing is, this visual novel was created for NaNoReNo, meaning that it was completed in a month. Given that short timespan, I can understand why some characters were not quite fully developed. Given the skill in writing the others, I’d imagine that we’d see more complete characterization, were the game given more time to be developed.
You’ve probably noticed so far that I’ve barely touched on the plot. And I know there’s a request that’s just burning within your heart, something you just have to know. You’re really interested in how I would describe the plot using an ocean liner as a metaphor. I know, I get that a lot. The plot of aklantekjn’. is just like the voyage of the Titanic. It’s beautiful to start with, elegant in its journey, and ends in horrible disaster. The game is divided up into episodes, with each episode mostly dealing with a single relationship or issue. I’m not wanting to spoil any more than I already have, but the plot is solid. It develops at a very deliberate pace, touches on its themes with care, and gives you the time to really feel for the characters involved. Each episode has a bit of a repetitive arc to it, but it really works in the narrative’s favor. For the first two hours or so, it’s a really great experience.
Then comes the final episode and… man, it’s just falls apart. The build up to it was phenomenal. A couple of the character’s relationships were becoming fully realized, a big multi-episode plotline was hitting its apex, and the theme of internet privacy was just beautifully questioned by giving you, the player, the choice of whether or not to search out out-of-game knowledge to seriously invade a student’s privacy for your own sick jollies. Then the final episode comes along and the relationships are done advancing, the plotline that had been building up for several episodes just deflates likes a popped balloon, and an aesop about internet privacy is delivered in a lecture by someone just straight talking down to you. Essentially, the game is like meeting a really great girl, taking her out, getting to know her, and finding you really like her. Then you take her home for some good romance, but as soon as you open the door you have a heart attack and die. Seriously, it may be because of the limited time available through NaNoReNo, but the final episode is seriously weak.
Other than that it was a really great experience. I’d heartily recommend don’t take it personally babe, it just ain’t your story to anyone who has the slightest interest in romantic visual novels. It’s quick, free, accessible, and very solidly written. Just be prepared for a disappointment at the end. That does drop it down somewhat, but I can still award this game 42 out of 5 points.