It’s always a little odd, experiencing a story that connects with something in your personal life. Whether it’s about a subject that relates to your job, speaks to something you do as a hobby, or includes something you’ve been through in the past, it’s like you’re experiencing it on a level somewhat different than the average viewer. You’re seeing the same things, but absorbing something completely different. I had that feeling recently when I made my way through the freeware visual novel Re: Alistair++. There were three things that called out to stuff I’ve been going through in real life, in fact. First, it’s about video games, which anyone who reads this blog knows I’m well immersed in. Second, a large part of it is about exploring how relationships between people online transfer into the real world, again, a subject I have experience in. Third, it really calls back to that one time I was a high school girl in some vague setting and had to go get all the boys. In fact, that’s probably the strongest connection I have with this game. Re: Alistair++ gives me the freedom to relive those days, to linger in the memory of having the wind blowing in my hair, of the constant sleepovers and pillowfights, of the eternal fight to spend as much time as possible shopping, or whatever high school girls are supposed to be into. I don’t know, I wasn’t in that state very long.
Re: Alistair++ is a freeware visual novel put together by sakevisual. You can download it here! It’s an otome, a game targeted towards the interests of young Japanese ladies, which I’m sure you’ll all agree fits me perfectly. In this game, you play as Merui Lucas, a short-tempered but otherwise average high school student with a deep passion for the MMORPG Rivenwell Online. And it is during one session of the game that our adventure starts. Merui and her online partner in crime have been taking on a boss above their level, hoping to get the precious Blessed Stone it drops. After a grueling fight, they’ve got it ready to fall when some total knobhead, known as Alistair, killsteals it out from under them, landing the final blow and taking the Blessed Stone for himself.
Of course, Merui’s not one to let things go, and an argument follows. It’s cut short, however, as Merui’s school, where she’s playing the game over lunch, is struck with a network outage. As Merui finds when she’s able to log back on, Alistair was affected by that outage, too, meaning she knows he goes to her school. Further investigation reveals that only three other people were logged onto the school network at the time of the outage. Merui’s got quite the lead onto who he could be. In response, Alistair lays down a bet. If Merui can figure out who he is in real life within one month, she gets her Blessed Stone. If not, he gets all the gold she makes in that month. Merui, not one to turn down a challenge, begins the investigation.
In game, RuiOfTheSword may be a mighty knight who answers to no one but herself, but in meatspace, Merui is a high school girl, with all the responsibilities that entails. You’ve got your investigation ahead of you, sure, but you also have to work on homework, maintain your social life, go shopping (see! I told you!), and, if you’re lucky, get yourself a boyfriend. It’s only by managing all of those that you’ll be able to find success in your endeavors.
The three boys who may possibly be Alistair are also your eligible bachelors, and naturally, you’ll be getting closer to each of them as you investigate who Alistair may possibly be. It’s already hard forging bonds, knowing that any one of them may be a rampant dicknostril in disguise, but to make matters worse, all three of your potential suitors/future punching bags play Rivenwell Online but are somewhat cagey about it, for various reasons. However, as the game progresses, the search for Alistair takes more and more of a backseat, and your goal becomes more about growing close to these potential mates.
So who are we dealing with, here in the world of Re:Alistair? And what’s Merui all about, and how can we help her find the man of her dreams? Well, glad you asked. Re: Alistair has a very small cast, only yourself and the three boys, although everyone does have an online alter-ego, which goes a small way to help make the gameworld feel less empty. The people involved are:
A sixteen year old spitfire, Merui is our viewpoint character this game. She’s easily worked up and has a really hard time not taking the most direct path, but is an otherwise kind person. She likes videogames, and currently works at school providing clerical work for fundraising. We really don’t get a whole lot of background for her. At one point she mentions arguing with her parents occasionally, but no more than the average teenager, and she seems to appreciate more simple clothing. She’s pretty much an everyman, one of those characters where little detail is given to allow the viewer to more easily imprint themselves on them.
The president of the computer games club, Travis is a frequent fixture in the school’s computer lab. Also, a video games club? Why couldn’t I go to school in vague AmeriJapania? He’s pretty standoffish at first, but cracks in his emotional armor start rapidly showing the more you spend time with him. He’s strongly driven by responsibility, having left his fancy private school to save money and spend more time taking care of his family when his mother got ill, spending his own time to take care of the school’s computers and… other things that would be more spoilerific were I to write them here. If you’ve played the game, you know what I’m talking about.
Derek is a dick. Oh, he grows out of it if you pursue him as your romantic interest, but most other times? Such a dick. He’s the showboating star of the basketball team and Vice President of the student council. He seems to do well at both, but his parents take issue with him not being absolutely top level on either. He, in turn, takes his troubles with them out on other people. He’s got quite the reputation for just using women, dating and dumping them quite swiftly. He quickly folds when confronted by other men, however.
Shiro’s your partner on the project you’re doing for class. He’s really quiet and shy, but has a dark reputation around him; those who’ve bullied him in the past have been found transferring schools under mysterious circumstances. Shiro’s constantly home alone, both his parents lead demanding white collar jobs that keep them out long hours, and even when they are home, Shiro seems to have some difficulty connecting with them. He’s really easy to embarrass, too. It’s fun! In fact, that can become it’s own game as you’re playing through this.
If it seems there’s not a lot of characterization above, well, there’s a reason for that. You may have noticed that I’ve been using the words ‘play’ and ‘game’ a lot, where I sometimes try to avoid those when discussing other visual novels. Re: Alistair definitely leans more towards the ‘game’ side of thing on those “is this interactive electronic experience really a ‘video game’” discussions you’ll sometimes see people wasting time with on various boards. It’s relatively light on plot, filling the space instead with it’s stat management system. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, and it certainly does make the game go by quickly, but if you’re looking for a deep, characterizing experience, you’re going to end up differently here.
So what does the ‘game’ side of things comprise of? Each of the three boys require certain things to attract them. You need to have a certain level of relationship and just the right stats to be able to call them yours at the end of the story. There are a couple of ways to raise the relationship levels. The easiest and most common is just to spend time with them over lunch. Every day, you’ll have the option to either go watch Derek play basketball, spend some time with Shiro in the classroom, or scarf down your food and spend time playing games in Travis’s presence in the computer lab. Raise your relationship enough, and you may chance upon larger events with them after school. You can also use the money from your after-school job to buy certain items at the mall, which will raise their affection. And finally, it seems that spending the right amount of time working on your homework with Shiro will raise affection as well.
As for stats, well, you’ve got three things to worry about here: your network reputation, your social reputation, and your intelligence. For each suitor, you’ll need to have at least 51 points in one, 36 points in another, and 17 in a third. At the end of every day, you’ll have the option to spend some time studying, for intelligence, hanging out online, for your network reputation, or watching tv, which gives you stuff to talk about at school and boosts your social rep. Buying items also changes around your stats, although that’s less predictable.
And… there you have it. Not exactly an involved system, but it gives you something to do, and with as short as this visual novel is, it’ll be over and done with before you have the time to get bored with this.
It’s obvious a lot went into Re:Alistair’s presentation. The art and graphics may not be quite on the level you’d expect from a professional game, but for a freeware project like this? They’re really impressive. In fact, they’re a lot better than plenty of paid indie games out there. The music is pretty inobtrusive, but does generally fit the tone quite well. The story is peppered with some well-drawn CG screens, drawing special attention to those special moments that aren’t well served by text alone. Character graphics are solid enough in general situations, but unfortunately everyone has a really bad case of sameface and don’t really visually show emotion well. This is a problem in a lot of visual novels, so it’s not surprising it crops up here, but still, it’s worth noting. There will be plenty of times when a character will be quite worked up and showing it through text, but the graphic will be staring out of the screen at you with the same generic gaze as always.
And, that’s about it to Re:Alistair. It’s never a particularly deep experience. The characters don’t have a whole lot of roundness to them beyond what I’ve mentioned above, the amount of content is pretty limited, although smoothly stretched out by the simple stat growth-based gameplay, even the mystery of Alistair’s identity is quite basic. The only curve it might throw you is that the answer seems too obvious, you might think the writers are throwing a red herring to you. You could probably guess who Alistair is just by the bios I gave you above. However, for what it is, a light, casual visual novel that doesn’t ask a lot of time or involvement, it’s a very well put-together experience, one that’s fairly enjoyable for its short duration.