Simulate what it’s like being a protagonist in an anime visual novel by playing as the protagonist in an anime visual novel! ….Wait.
Main Character Simulator Review
Platforms: PC (Reviewed), Mac, Linux
Main Character Simulator is a game that was openly inspired by a comment seen on a stream a couple years ago that, for some reason, a sizable group of people felt strongly enough about to warrant bringing this idea to life in the form of a brief comedic visual novel, and easily one of the stranger visual novels I have come across, which is saying something. More specifically, the story follows typical visual novel protagonist Shinji was his humdrum high school days take a turn for the extraordinary once him and his female friends Izumi and Kiyoko find a strange gemstone that fell from an alien spaceship, and quickly become the targets of a gaggle of incompetent space-age goons. Absurdity, fan-service, and an Americanized rendition of anime-style shenanigans ensue as the story gleefully marches down a path of exaggerated tropes and self-referential humor.
Overall, the script left me chuckling from beginning to end at how well it played off this outlandish premise without going full cornball with it, and the characters manage to leave a far greater impression than one would assume given how firmly they are based in established archetypes. However, the story and script are both heavily encroached in a specific subset of nerd culture that, unless somebody is well versed in anime, familiar with the associated culture, and have a fondness for a lot of 2000s-era internet humor, they probably won’t quite get or even enjoy what it on display here.
Yet as somebody within this demographic, Main Character Simulator makes for a rousing time that begins strongly and maintains it until, things jump to space near the climax and begin to dawdle about before reaching a conclusion that lacks an appropriately bombastic climax. Instead, the final stretch of the story relies heavily on sex scenes to cement characterization and provide the player with a sense of satisfaction. While I have nothing really against sex scenes, Main Character Simulator is ultimately a tame, silly, and lighthearted affair that seems like it would draw the line at tongue-in-cheek fanservice, so the decision to indulge in these explicit 2-round sexual encounters. It all feels bizarrely forced for such a freeform title, with even the CGs having a strange stilted sterile quality to them that I can’t quite pinpoint.
A quality that thankfully does not apply to the character sprites. While I don’t quite understand the choice to go with a more western art style, as this game bears such strong tied to what could generously be described as weeb culture, they do boast detailed and appealing designs that help bring these characters to life. Something that is further aided with the implementation of voice acting, a move that genuinely caught me off guard given the supposed budget of this game. However, said voice acting is only partially present throughout this 4 hour long visual novel, popping in for long stretches of the story before going way for an equally long snippet, and alternating until its four conclusions, where the development team sprang to voice all endings, including the sex scenes.
As for the voice acting’s quality, the audio leveling, mic quality, and general performance reminded me of higher quality late 2000s Newgrounds flash animations. An ambitious effort from a group of individuals who have some degree of unhoned and unfocused talent that may very well be forged into something on a professional level as time goes on. But for now, they put a lot of heart and effort into this project, and that’s what I want most out of any vocal performance.
Meanwhile, the backgrounds border on the plainer side of things, and go to highlight how bizarre this game’s attempt at creating a typical setting is, with most of the classrooms and offices depicting a distinctly western looking school, while making the outside world look like none other than jolly old Nippon Land. I want to say that this combined with the intersection cultural reference points and sporadically inserted Japanese phrases go to further this game’s aforementioned aesthetic, but I think it’s more likely the result of a low budget and poor planning. Just like the lack of animations used during that game of Horse. I know it’s outlandish to want every Ren’py visual novel to bob around their character sprites like popsicle stick paper puppets when something crazy happens or somebody tumbles to the floor, but if Student Transfer can do it, why can’t you?
When delving into the niche underbelly of the turbulent and arguably excessively bloated gaming industry in search of promising titles that may have been lost in the scuffle, I have noticed a trend of encountering titles that manage to beautifully execute certain concepts, yet falter with other things, primarily due to the limited resources seen in most small scale projects. This is certainly true for Main Character Simulator, a title that, at the end of the day, is solid comedy visual novel, but lacks the polish and detail to make it something more than a cute and fun little novelty.