You can buy Japanese School Life from the Steam store for ten dollars- but quite likely, the purchase will spur a significantly larger expense. Whether you make an annual journey to Japan, or have always longed to experience the country that showers our world with indulging dividends like delectable food, captivating anime and manga, and enthralling games, chances are code:jp’s visual novel will have you looking up prices of flights and lodging. Sure, Japanese School Life works as a traditional read, but shrewdly it’s also one of the best interactive travel brochures around- cataloging the countries’ holidays, traditions, and treasures.
Narratively, the six-hour journey hinges on a gaunt premise. Brian, the novel’s unseen American Nihonphile is given the opportunity to study in Japan for a year as an exchange student. Upon arrival to his new school’s homeroom, he soon makes the acquaintance of Chiyoko Honda, the class president, as well as Arisa Suzuki, her perpetually energetic friend. Both are delightfully congenial, and offer to show the newcomer around Tokyo.
What follows is a journey that’s a bit light on character development. We find that Chiyoko is perpetually graceful and tidy, a dedicated academic achiever and dedicates her free time to a confidential hobby. Meanwhile, Arisa is a modern gyaru, doing her best to balance schoolwork, extra-curricular activities with looking perpetually kawaii. While both girls reveal morsels of information about themselves, Japanese School Life larger focus is on expressing cultural and custom, in a wholly innocuous way.
The year-long span is filled with visits to obligatory sights around Tokyo. Naturally, Brian begs to see Akihabara and the novel does a respectable job at encapsulating the excitement of visiting the mecca of otaku offerings. Beyond at attempt at referencing Lawson’s convenience store, School Life forgoes many of the details, so there’s no visual recreation of Super Potato’s three floors of retro gaming goodness or Yodobashi Camera’s sprawling stronghold of technology. Instead, readers receive an indistinct image of Chuo Dori- Akiba’s main strip, forcing us to live vicariously through the exposition.
From visiting Comiket, an trip to the beach, a Summer festival, Christmas, Halloween, Valentine’s Day, and even a trip aboard the Skinkansen to Kyoto, the novel does a respectable recreation of covering the essential experiences, while still leaving plenty of room for a potential sequel. But most importantly, School Life offers essential context and imparts rules for would-be travelers- all in a manner that shirks being preachy. For readers who have visited Japan, the novel is bound to re-ignite the embers of nostalgia. Although I was familiar with many of the novel’s teaching and places, School Life still supplied a multitude of new insights, explaining the traditions behind Shichi-Go-San or Hatsumōde. Notably, the story even concedes the country’s rare blemishes, explaining train behavior or the atypical missing umbrella.
Fundamentally, the sights, sounds, and stories help to distract from School Life’s plotholes. For one, Brian is a fluent Japanese speaker, effortlessly communicating with Chiyoko and Arisa, but curiously is oblivious of elementary customs. But between PICPICGRAM’s delightful character design and fluid animation and a range of expressions courtesy of E-mote middleware, Japanese School Life’s aesthetics are consistently eye-pleasing. Sonically, the game’s voice work is equally as adept with Risa Taneda and Hatsumi Takada offering first-rate performances. Specifically, the game’s telephone conversations are especially endearing, as the friendship between Brian and the girls grow. On the downside, the novel’s selection of nine music tracks feels undersized.
A handful of decisions and two endings ensure that School Life isn’t a completely linear experience. But as your relationship with each girl receives only a trace amount of exhibition, don’t expect your year in Japan to be filled with romance. And regardless of your choices, the pair of conclusions don’t feel especially distinct which is surprising given the girls distinct personalities.
Although visual novels like Go! Go! Nippon! – My First Trip to Japan and Tokyo School Life offer similar treks, Japanese School Life edges out its peers. It’s a virtual trip that captures a multitude of Japan’s multitude of charms that sidesteps jingoism. Regardless if you’re a frequently flier or just aspire to visit the Land of the Rising Sun, School Life is a must-read experience- capable of goading its audience onto the next outbound ANA flight.
Japanese School Life was played on PC with review code provided by the publisher.
Publisher: Sekai Project
Release date: November 22nd, 2016
Price: $9.99 via Steam