How Can My Tax Accountant Possibly Be This Cute?
As a tax accountant by day and visual novel enthusiast in my spare time, I felt as if I had to cover Tax Heaven 3000. The latest ‘merch drop’ from the art collective MSCHF that aims to combine tax preparation software with a
dating sim romance visual novel. While also serving as a piece of commentary against corporate tax filing services, namely TurboTax, and the predatory ways they overcomplicate the filing process for individuals.
It sounds like a joke premise, but the team at MSCHF played it completely straight, and the end result is… pretty much what you would expect. The player takes the role of a self-insert protagonist who recently moved to a new town, where they meet Iris. A curious girl with a fixation on harvesting people’s information who immediately falls in love with the protagonist. With the relationship established, the game then progresses through five date sequences where the two meet up and chat a little before Iris prompts the player for their personal and tax information.
Besides these dates, the player can investigate the game’s four locations, sifting for events that help the player learn more about Iris. Where she came from, why she is so fixated on taxes, and so forth. It is a straightforward story with no real surprises beyond the obvious twist, but there’s also nothing wrong with it. It knows what it wants to be, and does that with just enough flair and flashes of personality to keep things engaging.
As a visual novel, I would say it’s fine, but nothing too remarkable. And as a piece of tax software… its applications are so limited that I am tempted to say it is almost useless as a tax preparation tool. The game makes it clear from the outset that it is only for Federal returns and single-filers, which I understand. Implementing state tax returns would be a nightmare, and as a romance VN, the fact that you are single or role-playing as single is kind of implied. However, I was pretty shocked by just how few income forms this game supports. W-2 from employers. 1099-G for unemployment compensation. 1099-SSA for social security (for the elderly and disabled). And 1099-INT.
There is no support for any sort of dividends, any capital gains, and no way to report other income (like a promotional bonus for opening a new bank account). But most confusingly, there is no way to report Schedule C income, which includes contractor income, self-employment income, and most other forms of income reported on a 1099-NEC.
With the recent gig economy boom and the rise in online-based self-employment, this type of income has become incredibly common. It is so pervasive that I would say that the majority of this game’s target audience (people in their 20s and 30s) would probably have income reportable on a Schedule C. Meaning that if they are honest to Iris about their income, then she’ll reject them for being too “complicated.”
Now, I understand why this was omitted, as Schedule C calculations are… complicated. You have gross receipts, COGS, dozens of expenses, depreciation, standard versus actual auto expenses, business use of home, QBI deductions, and… a whole lot more. Making that work within the framework of Ren’py would be challenging. But I would say that you cannot really say that something “does your Federal taxes” when it cannot do something as fundamental as… this.
However, even if you only have “simple W-2 income,” the game’s tax calculator in the upper left corner can be deceptive. It determines the player’s tax liability before taking the standard deduction into account which is… not how Form 1040 is supposed to work. The standard/itemized deduction is taken into account before taxable income is calculated, and by doing it this way, the game can overstate the player’s tax liability by over $6,000 for a few minutes. Which… would definitely inspire some fear, uncertainty, and doubt in me if I weren’t a tax accountant.
Speaking of calculations, let’s talk about the game on a more technical level. I have no doubt that some significant retooling was done in Ren’py to support all the menus and inputs this game features, but certain choices are… questionable. There is no ability to manage multiple save slots, which I do not approve of in a game with multiple endings. There is no dialogue backlog. To advance text the player needs to hit a tiny arrow in the bottom center-right of the screen, or press the right arrow key. Because that is way easier than clicking anywhere or pressing space. The screenshot key was disabled. And I always find it weird when Ren’py games disable accessibility tools, especially when they’re using such tiny text.
Technical fiddliness aside, the game thoroughly commits itself to the look and feel of a stereotypical girly romance visual novel. Its intro and ending sequences are surprisingly elaborate. Its custom title screen looks better than many commercial OELVNs I have covered. Iris’s design and overall sprite work are adorable. Minor characters are given fully detailed and unique sprites, which is more than I would expect. Backgrounds are lavishly detailed and cozy looking locales that spark with personality, even when that personality is a drab office. The music is bubbly and supports the cute atmosphere the game is going for. The UI sure feels like ‘the nightcore of tax software’ with its pink menus and sticker-filled interactive notebook. Hell, the website is a wonderful parody of sites like MangaGamer.com, and there is even a custom voicemail you can call by using an in-game phone number. Like it’s 1989!
In conclusion, I give Tax Heaven 3000 an A for effort and presentation, but not much else. It is a wonderful idea, but its story is a bit too light to be engrossing, and its tax preparation technology is greatly limited. I would love to see it get updated and become a sort of freeware gamified version of doing one’s taxes, but… there’s a reason nobody’s written comprehensive tax return software in Ren’py. It’s a fun little novelty, but not much more than that. And if you want to do your taxes, you really should check out the IRS free file program instead. Or, if you want a tax accountant to handle things, email me and I’ll do your return for cheap. …I won’t get it done before April 18th, but that’s what extensions are for!