Date cute schoolgirls while scheduling daily teenage-appropriate activities designed to boost your personal attributes in several key areas? Now then, where have we seen that before?
Of course Konami can hardly be faulted for taking their inspiration from Konami, and in many ways Love Plus+ (yep, Love Plus Plus), an expanded version of what was at the time the hugely popular Love Plus, is Tokimeki Memorial reimagined for a more modern DS-owning audience.
And the format really does matter here (hence the use of photos in this article), the portability and physicality of the game as much a part of it as any dialogue box or beautiful multi-screen illustration. Love Plus+ is designed to be taken with you as you go about your day and held like a book when you interact with it, all common inputs handled by a stylus. This mandatory portrait mode combined with nigh-frictionless physical connection gives every conversation an up close and personal feel, your focus always entirely on your chosen date.
You’ll need to win her heart first though, and that’s what the opening portion of the game’s for. This places you in a season broadly matching the current real-world time of year, with the aim being to get to know each of Love Plus+’s three available girls a little, fall in love with one of them, and then do enough to make sure she feels the same way before this first segment’s very generous time limit (enough to have multiple girls blushing at your every word) runs out.
- There’s Manaka, the high-achieving perfectionist I didn’t actually interact with all that much because she had an extreme “default girlfriend” air about her.
- Nene’s a year older than your high school avatar, and works as a waitress in a busy restaurant. She’s a cheerful soul who enjoys watching horror movies.
- Rinko starts off quiet and prickly. She’s got a lot going on right now, and none of it’s your business. To my mind she’s also the sole member of this trio to behave more like a person rather than pre-packed girlfriend material (more on that issue later).
The true Love Plus+ experience only really begins at the point most dating sims finish: after you and your favoured girl have finally confessed their blossoming love for each other and the credits have rolled. From this point on you are entirely focused on your new girlfriend to the exclusion of everyone else. The other two girls disappear into the ether forever, even though you all go to the same school and visit the same places in your daily lives.
This move into the “real” Love Plus+ also unlocks Real Time mode, which uses the actual time of the day and current date to set… everything. If it’s 10pm on the 17th of March for you then it’s 10pm on the 17th of March for your girlfriend too. It sounds like a straightforward enough concept, although I didn’t really grasp just how closely the game tied itself to reality until I tried to organise my first date. The calendar came up, and I picked the first available free day… December 26th. The real December 26th. OK so that’s not great, but I can probably make this work. I’m sure I’ll have a little time to myself in the morning so… let’s set the date for 7am.
Rinko made it very clear that this would be a terrible time to go to a karaoke bar, and if we were going to go on a date I’d need to pick something more suitable. So… 4pm, maybe? That was fine. A date, even. I shut my DS.
And I already knew this wasn’t going to work.
I can’t be trusted to take care of a Tamagotchi for longer than 48 hours, so the thought of remembering a date with someone who doesn’t exist that’s not going to happen for a few days filled me with dread, rather than excitement. I don’t want to do badly at a game because I was busy on a Tuesday afternoon.
Thankfully Love Plus+’s team had already thought of this, and included Skip mode for people like me.
This plays a much like the opening segment, the game matching the general season and giving you a week’s worth of unnumbered days to work through, completely divorced from the DS’ clock. Playing this way does mean missing out on Real Time’s numerous exclusive events, some of which cleverly revel in the slow pace of a real-time afternoon out, and points based interaction system (you have to use a limited supply of points to use throughout the day—spend too much early on and you may not have enough to participate fully in a planned date or unexpected meet-up later), although Love Plus+’s team thought of that too. Switching back and forth between Real Time and Skip modes is as easy as tapping an icon—and can even be done without a save/quit trip back to the title screen too. The game encourages you to switch between them as it suits you, and thanks to this it’s possible to play in odd bits as you’ve got the time or inclination, while still showing up for major national holidays or other significant events (your own birthday, for example).
Operating outside all of this is Love Plus mode, a sort of enclosed virtual space you can drop into at any time and see what your chosen girl’s doing at that time of day—maybe she’ll be eating a meal, studying, or reading the messages on her phone. Here you can have voice-directed conversations with her via the DS’ mic, with either of you initiating the chat. She might ask you what’s on TV, or if you remember what her favourite animal is. It’s even possible to set an alarm or timer, close the DS (without exiting Love Plus mode), and then have the DS make an alarm sound at the appropriate time, which is your cue to open your DS and be greeted by an appropriate reaction from your girlfriend. I used this function as a morning alarm one day, and it did feel quite nice to start the day off with a little real help from my virtual girlfriend.
Unfortunately you have to leave this cosy nowhere behind if you want to unlock new places to date in, spend some more structured time with your sweetheart, and raise those all important personal stats.
The number of numbers you need to keep track of has been greatly reduced from the TokiMemo days to just four: athleticism, knowledge, [emotional] sensitivity, and charm. As you’d expect, practising sports makes you fit, studying makes you smart, art turns you into a sensitive soul, and so on, each one having common-sense impacts on each other in various positive and negative ways (spending all of your time on the tennis court isn’t going to help you pass an academic exam, after all). As in those pre-DS dating sim days you don’t actually do any of these tasks yourself, you just select the focus for that time slot at the beginning of the day and see what happens afterwards. Hopefully you’ll do well though, because when your stats are really high (indicated by hearts above each stat gauge) and your girlfriend’s in a good mood you’ll be able to immediately follow up your planned date with another one decided while you’re already out together—the cinema, maybe? Perhaps the park? It’s entirely up to you.
Naturally all of this is exhausting work, and as such your current energy/expertise levels are greatly depleted by these romantic adventures, creating a natural cycle of raising stats to use them up to raise them again.
As dating sim veterans may expect, all date-related tasks and general chit-chat are handled via phone. Organising these events is pretty straightforward: ask, pick a place, pick a time, and assuming that’s all good then the date’s sorted, all that’s left is to enjoy the cute “You hang up” “No, you hang up” bit at the end.
It’s also possible to send and receive more general messages just to be nice as well, with the choice of topics expanding as your relationship deepens. To save you the hassle of thinking up something new every day, or from set messages becoming stale, the options available to you are framed more as generic responses than actual lines of dialogue, allowing you to set the topic and/or tone while still allowing your imagination to fill in the blanks. Brilliantly your girlfriend isn’t a passive participant in these conversations, and may send you a good morning mail while you’re still browsing the in-game internet for local events, or choose to send a post phone call message letting you know how nice it was to talk to you.
Much of what happens when you do meet up depends as much on the season and the time of day as it does how much your date currently likes you. She’ll dress for the weather (and she may even be wearing something you gifted her a day or maybe even weeks earlier, if you took the time to go out and buy something she likes), rub her hands together when it’s cold, and put on her best outfit for the Christmas party. The motion captured animation used for every wave, walk cycle, and curious head tilt is beautifully fluid, and in no way diminished by the game’s resolution or reserved polygon count. Every reaction is bursting with character, filled with small details and easily missed little gestures that really do make them feel more alive.
Outside of official planned dates your partner may appear early in the morning and walk to school with you, show up to celebrate/commiserate after a lesson, or bump into you while you’re walking around town. Every event is another chance to do something together, saving you the worry of having to choose between the right thing and the thing that lets you spend some more time with your teenage love.
This familiarity naturally leads to more overtly physical demonstrations (and I really want to be clear here—resolutely SFW) of teenage romance. Perhaps trying to hold hands (which she may decline if she’s feeling overly conscious of the all people around you at the time), or touch her hair. These opportunities can only occur under specific circumstances (you can’t call her up for a, ahem, quick poke with a stylus), with this “physical” contact tastefully limited to the hair, arms, hands, ears, body (not those parts of the body) and shoulders.
I can see why they put it in—it makes sense to want to touch your blushing girlfriend’s cheek or arm—but I don’t think it works. Compared to how carefully planned and gentle the rest of the game is, these segments feel shallow and uncomfortably game-y. It’s Touching Sequence time, the not-person you’ve perhaps spent literal months of your life with suddenly reduced to a handful of animations and lines of spoken dialogue. Do the thing to get the reward, like a Project Rub (AKA: Feel the Magic XX/XY) minigame without the style. I’ve never known anyone feel all loved up because I poked their ear after prodding their hip, and in my experience the heart pounding lead up to a tender kiss doesn’t involve rapidly switching between stroking someone’s hair and chin while keeping one eye on the colour of my stylus strokes, a cooler trail indicating I should move on to a different area.
The end result of a successful swishing session is a kiss, the girl asking and then waiting for you to move in. This kiss (multiple kisses if you were especially good at the whole face-touching business) can be anywhere on her face, with varying responses depending on location and length of time, little love hearts popping out as she shuts her eyes and you apply the stylus to the appropriate location. The whole sequence feels deeply awkward, as like the touching it’s very artificial and stands apart from the rest of the game. It turns what is otherwise a rather sweet virtual relationship and very intimate moment into something that can only be described as transactional—and it’s not even between you and her, but you and the game.
Sadly, this is a recurring problem with Love Plus+.
The game has no end, and this lack of any finality or focal point keeps your fictional relationship in a strange holding pattern. Of course there’s always something new to do: a new place to go, a new special event to see, but it always has to loop back around to school and stats and the two of us, so even though in an individual moment it feels far more natural and personal and lovely than TokiMemo’s minor daily interactions ever did, there’s always a dark cloud of obligation hanging over these interactions that wasn’t present in Konami’s earlier works. Here you always get the girl, you always get the girl you wanted to get, and from that point on she’s yours for good. There are no clever meta-questions about whether you actually liked her or you were pursuing her because she was conveniently available, no rivals for her affection, no friends for either of you to meet during group school events (as far as the past real month’s worth of Love Plus+ I’ve played through went, anyway—obviously it’s not practical to spend the next literal year checking everything).
It tarnishes every interaction you have with your supposed “love”. She’s not a character, she’s a Girlfriend Experience Service, whether either of us like it or not. So when she asks “Do you like my hair/clothes/this new pet name I’ve thought up for you?” while out on a date or in a phone message it’s not a cute question, a nervous young girl seeking her boyfriend’s opinion, it’s character customisation. Your response is the sole deciding factor as to whether she goes through with the new look, name, etc. or doesn’t. You shape how she dresses, speaks, and the sort of attitude she has (one of three personality types!). She never gets to talk to anyone else in the hall, there’s no “Your boyfriend’s crazy, that hairstyle looks great on you!” friends to balance out your frankly unhealthy godlike moulding of this young woman, no real demonstration she does anything other than exist for you bar a few gossipy conversations—with you—on the way home from school about the sliver of her life beyond your reach. There is no serious chance your opinions won’t be to her liking, or that she’ll dump you and you’ll have to meaningfully deal with the consequences of not putting in enough effort to woo the girl of your dreams, no real concern everything won’t eventually go your way.
Without the very real “fear” of a TokiMemo style fail state, or at least the chance for things to permanently not go exactly the way I want them to, this virtual romance means so much less. My Love Plus+ girlfriend isn’t here because she chose to be with me, she’s here because it’s my game and I said she has to play along until I’m done with her.
The trouble is, Konami’s game has done a great job of making me care enough about Rinko to not want her to date someone who’s OK with that.
- Tokimeki Memorial (Saturn)
- Tokimeki Memorial 2 (PlayStation)
- Tokimeki Memorial 4 (PSP)
- Tokimeki Memorial Drama Series Vol.3: Tabidachi no Uta (PlayStation)
- Tokimeki Memorial Girl’s Side Premium 3rd Story (PSP)
- Love Plus+ (DS)
5 thoughts on “Love Plus+: Together we sail out to the sea of love… LOVEPLUS”
Wow, you were right, there’s a lot to go over with this one, you did a great job! Your closing paragraphs do help to highlight the problem with the otherwise interesting premise- a dating sim that continues after most end- but I’m surprised at the inclusion of options that keep the real-world in mind like the skip mode. Makes sense but some games aren’t even that nice about that kind of thing. Thanks for going the extra mile with the photos too!
I was so relieved to see skip mode in there, I wouldn’t have lasted five minutes without it! XD
I’m glad the photos were OK too – I know they’re not perfect, but when a game tries this hard to fit the hardware it only seemed fair to show it off :)
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Oh sure, you don’t see portrait-style DS presentation too often so that’s a nice way to demonstrate how it appears in your hand~
But I absolutely agree with you. Love Plus could have been such an interesting logical extension to TokiMemo, going beyond the game part and into the relationship simulation. So I, too, was a bit let down that it turns itself basically into a girlfriend tamagotchi. Just instead of doing the daily feed, play, poop, you are doing your daily school, talk, schedule date routine. And also agreed to the part that the girls didn’t really feel like girls, that the relationship simulation is really hollow, since they pander too much to the omnipotent otaku wanting a waifu exactly of their dreams with all real decissions ultimately having to be greenlit by the player. They felt not like girls but like idols, artifically created beings exactly modeled to my liking.
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