Bear School

Jan. 3rd, 2016 01:33 pm
[identity profile] posting in [community profile] playingstory
Name: Bear School
Status: Demo
Rating: Teen (Full game will be adult?)
Pairing: M/M

I think the immediate thought of most VN players who come accross Bear School is going to be "What hath Hatoful Boyfriend wraught?" As far as I know this game doubles the the number of titles offered in the "Dating sim at the school for [animal]s" genre, but it's giving Bear School short shrift to just dismiss it as a mindless immitator. Apart from that general premise, the two games aren't all that much alike.

For example, Hatoful Boyfriend is het, while Bear School is a BL romance. It also changes up the usual plot by setting the game in the last year of school, where relationships have already been established with most of the characters, and gets rid of the typical scene by scene introduction. There is no stat management, and no real choosing classes like or anything like that. The pathing feels different, and although both games are tongue in cheek at times, Hatoful pulls a lot more from Japanese VN tropes, where Bear School has a more Western sensibility

This game is also only a demo. So when I started playing I figured I'd get an hour's worth at most, but for a demo the game is actually quite long, and I ended up making about 20 choices by the end of it. The choices weren't dense either. There's enough that I feel it's appropriate to give it a review beyond first impressions. So let's get into it.

You're Arthur, the only human in a school for bears. It's your senior year, and soon you and your bear friends will be parting ways to do whatever people do after high school in this universe. The other characters are almost all a part of your group of friends, so they're interacting with each other as much as they interact with you, which is nice to see. You've got:

Pang - Happy go lucky, kid brother panda of the group that's got every other bear wrapped around his finger.

Blain - The caring warm papa figure black bear with good grades.

Mr. Sienna - Red Panda teacher, timid and innocent seeming.

Kerry - The other caring and warm bear, with a more mother figure vibe.

Greg - The bro grizzly with a sensitive side.

Plus a few side characters that may or may not play a bigger part later.

The setup is pretty standard high school VN stuff. You go to class, you get ready for a school festival, and you hang out with friends a little after school. There's a conceit about filming things to remember for later but it appears t be forgotten an hour or so into it and the PC even notes that it was forgotten later on. Brief mention of a secret in the school is made, but isn't elaborated on in the demo. As far as an overarching plot, there doesn't seem to be one, which isn't uncommon with school games. There's a good density of choice, and most of them feel meaningful, but typically scenes are on a set path. The game decides what you're doing and you get to react to it.

My biggest gripe out of the whole game was how disjointed the narrative feels at times. First you're in a school scene with one bear, and then you're immediately in a night scene with another. It makes the game feel choppy the whole way through. Sometimes the pacing is off too. With most of the bears there isn't any need for developing a friendship because it's established at the begining of the game, but one bear you meet and interact with three times in total and suddenly you're their primary confidant.

There also doesn't seem to be any push to lead a player down a certain path, which isn't a bad thing per se. You only have to choose one bear over another a few times, and since the game decides who you're spending time with most of the time you can kind of advance the paths for all of them at once. In other words, Arthur is kind of a slut. I ended up on the verge of getting dirty with two bears without effort, and I could have probably gone after more of them if I had picked the relevent options.

But in the end you don't get to lock into any of the paths, as the demo ends just as Arthur is making his decision about who he wants to pursue.

The art is all bears all the time. Unlike Hatoful boyfriend, which gives you pigeon vision and then typically provides the same character image regardless of context, the bears in Bear School have multiple poses, which are used to great effect. The UI leans heavily on the standard Ren'py format, which is no problem. It's a great simple layout and doesn't really require much tweaking to work.

Overall: A good demo, bigger than some complete hobby games I've played, with good humor and attractive bears that you can kansetsu kissu. The developer has released the full path for one of the bears since I started this review, and I think it's worth checking out.


Reviewing games with an emphasis on story or chara

July 2016


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