Commemorating the 25th anniversary of the launch of the original game in Japan, we review what Tokimeki Memorial gave, Konami's "date sim" series.
During the 90s Konami was one of the prolific companies in the Japanese video game landscape, ranging from classic shoot'em up with different versions and themes such as the Parodius series, to action games like Metal Gear Solid, sports titles like Track & Field or ISS in addition to many other varied proposals that marked a before and after, such as titles like Castlevania: Symphony of the Night or Silent Hill.
However, among the games that came out at that time, the Tokimeki Memorial series that would revitalize, in the long run, the genre of dating games, known in Japan as Ren'ai Game or Bishôjo Game, is especially striking It would become one of the most important franchises that the company would have in the coming years in the Japanese market. Today, 25 years after the launch of the original game on PC Engine, we will review its history and the games that this franchise has given itself.
TOKIMEKI MEMORIAL (1994)
The first game in the series sees the light on the NEC PC Engine platform, better known in the west as Turbo Duo, in Japan on May 27, 1994, using in this case the Super CD Rom² disc format of the console. The title would include high quality audio tracks, especially the vocal themes of the game, and animations made with the game engine for the introduction sequence. In later years the game would be adapted to other platforms such as PlayStation, the most popular version of the game, and Sega Saturn, both improving graphic and sound quality as well as including an anime style sequence as opening of the game. For its part, the game was also adapted for Super Nintendo, a somewhat lower version than the CD format but that included additional extras to compensate for its deficiencies. Finally, the game would also see the light in Windows in 1997 and later adapted to portable consoles like Game Boy Color, which would have two different versions among which the original cast girls were distributed plus some exclusive for the occasion and new content, and later PlayStation Portable, which achieved a fairly faithful conversion of the desktop version of the Sony console, in addition to appearing for mobile phones.
The action of the game is located in the Kirameki Institute, where the player takes the role of a student who has just entered and attends the opening ceremony of the school year. In class coincides with Shiori Fujisaki, childhood friend and platonic love of the boy, while Yoshio Saotome, with whom he manages to make friends instantly. In between, the legend of the Kirameki tree is told, which is located at the back of the school, which tells that if you receive a confession of love from the person you want in that place, both will achieve happiness forever.
The game takes place throughout the three-year period of high school where you not only have to keep in mind the studies, keys to get good grades and therefore get into a good university for the future, but also improve the skills of the main character in such a way that I managed to get the graduation day to get a love confession from one of the girls in the game.
At the beginning of the game you can configure both the name and surname and nickname of the character are configurable along with the date of birth and blood group, both aspects also eligible for Shiori which will lead to birthday events on the selected dates. On the other hand, the gameplay takes place between scenes with static illustrations of the characters with certain animation points, such as blinking, along with the selection of different activities on the desktop menu of the player's character. These activities allow different character parameters to be worked in such a way that it improves their aptitudes in different fields such as their ability to study, their physical strength or their personal appearance, as well as being able to perform other activities such as choosing after-school club, going out with friends, calling phone to get information through Yoshio or make appointments with the girls or rest, not forgetting that they also access the saving options.
When selecting one of these activities related to parameter improvements, a sequence takes place where the character is carrying out the selected action which would lead to the consequent improvement in the level of the corresponding stat, but in turn the decrease in other sections consequently. On the other hand, the realization of these activities did not ensure the total success of the activity, but that the character could fail the activity. As certain parameters improve, the encounter with one of the remaining 11 girls in the game can occur as possible love options during the game, something that also applies when choosing between the different activity clubs of the game.
Upon meeting a new girl you can get your information through Yoshio to receive your phone number and some interesting information, such as favorite places or personal tastes. This will serve to be able to contact the girl in question and make an appointment, for which a specific place and date will have to be decided. Depending on the selection it is possible for the girl to accept or instead apologize and decline the invitation. If you receive a confirmation, you will have to wait for the relevant date and then choose the appointment icon to start the event. At this point there is the possibility that various options are presented to choose an answer to the questions that are presented and on which the success of the appointment will depend, which will increase the affection.
Perhaps the most striking element of the game is the game's bomb mechanics. Depending on the actions it is possible that one of the girls, if the attention is too neglected, can begin to distance themselves from the character in a gradual way, which will result in that when consulting the affinity the icon of a bomb can appear, which translates in a complicated situation since this will spread to the rest of the girls who have met and end up triggering a situation that will lead to the game being a failure. It is clearly a mechanic that makes the game quite complex as more characters are known throughout the game.
As a Japanese game, and being faithful to the events that usually take place in academies, special events and festivities of the Japanese country are included such as the Golden Week, Christmas, summer vacations and even sports and cultural festivals, which may include a series of minigames of various kinds that will test the ability to press buttons.
There is no doubt that the game turned out to be a complete success for Konami getting sales of more than one million copies at the end of 1996 between the different platforms for which it had appeared, generating in turn a mass phenomenon that would result in various types of merchandising and the appearance of different spin off court titles in addition to others dedicated to specific characters of this delivery, which will be detailed later.
As a curiosity to finish this point, mention that Koji Igarashi, responsible for many of the outstanding titles of the Castlevania saga and the recent Bloodstained, was responsible for writing the scene of this game.
TOKIMEKI MEMORIAL 2 (1999)
Five years after the launch of the original game, the second installment of the series that would appear exclusively for the Sony PlayStation console would go on sale. It is striking that the one of the few titles, along with "Riven: The Sequel to Myst", which covered a total of 5 game CDs.
The game would include a graphic section following the line of its predecessor, but offering a different design for the characters, which are totally new for the occasion as well as the institute where the action takes place, this time Hibikino High School. On the other hand, the parameter improvement sequences are developed with 3D-style graphics instead of the 2D-style ones of the previous one, in addition to deepening much more in the development of the story and the different characters of the game. Finally there is the aspect that defined the game: the EVS system or Emotional Voice System.
This system allowed the player to have the opportunity to create pronunciation data in such a way that one of the two main heroines of the game, to choose between Hikari Hinomoto or Kasumi Asou, could say the name chosen by the player during the game, offering this way a greater identification of the player with the main character when starting to play. Subsequently, a series of additional albums were released that could be obtained free of charge and offered voice options for the rest of the heroines of the game, with a total of three included in each disc. Both the original game and the additional EVS data were put up for sale at the PSN Store in Japan on the tenth anniversary of the game's launch in 2009.
The story of the game begins in 1992 when the protagonist and Hikari live their childhood days between classes and leisure time, with occasional encounters with Kasumi who acts as an older sister for both. However, the family of the protagonist has to move to another city and Hikari cries inconsolably the departure of his best friend. 7 years later, at the inaugural ceremony of the Hibikino Institute school year, the protagonist meets Hikari in addition to some of the girls he met in his childhood days with whom he will share different experiences during the three-year period of high school. On this occasion the element of legend within the game is the bell tower of the institute, called Tokimeki Bell Tower.
The playable section would maintain the outline of the original game, paying attention to the different parameters of the character to improve their skills and at the same time perform different activities with which to meet new females while making appointments and getting a love confession at the end of the game. The biggest difference is that on this occasion the game added different specific events for each female of the game, making each game need a different strategy to finish with a specific girl.
TOKIMEKI MEMORIAL 3 (2001)
We reached the turning point of the saga, giving rise to the game with less success of the series, the "black sheep" of it, since this was, by far, the game that had less impact among the Japanese public. On this occasion the platform chosen to receive the game was the PlayStation 2 and it was intended to offer a title that was technologically ahead of what would have been offered so far.
The game would use 3D modeling for the first time instead of the 2D illustrations characteristic of the series, while implementing a new character design in addition to refining game mechanics to make them more simplified, which resulted in instead of Selecting specific activities to raise parameters became a level rise to improve certain skills of the main character. Also, the Emotional Voice System returned so that in this case the data could work for any of the heroines of the game in addition to storing them much more comfortably compared to the previous game, which no longer depended on the blocks but on memory space . Denote that to finance the development of the game, Konami used a crowfunding campaign called Game Fund: Tokimeki Memorial to urge those interested in investing a minimum amount with which, in return, to receive some exclusive benefits, including receiving money at Reach a certain number of copies sold or get your name on the game credits.
On this occasion the development takes place in the Moegino Institute where the legend of two temples whose paths meet on a slope and which says that lovers who confess their love in the rain of cherry blossom petals will be happy to tell forever. The main heroine in this title, and first love interest, is Yukiko Makihara, who is childhood friend of the protagonist.
The reception of the game was quite lukewarm with a rather negative impact on the previous game, this delivery being considered a step back in many aspects, especially in terms of character design (which were not at the level of previous titles), graphic section and gameplay, in addition to offering one of the most sparse casts in women within the series, with just eight characters unlike the thirteen of the previous title.
Among the changes offered by the game was the rise of parameters, which in this case was carried out through levels that accumulated experience by selecting among the different possible activities, eliminating the intricate system of the previous titles. Likewise, when you met a girl you automatically obtained her phone number to be able to make appointments, but, on the other hand, on this occasion when going to an appointment the option of choosing the wardrobe and equipping accessories was added, which means an impact on the impressions of the girl in question. Finally, hobby activities were added for rest days and holidays that allowed to perform activities as curious as cooking different recipes, playing video games or knitting, which would also gain experience improving the abilities to perform them.
TOKIMEKI MEMORIAL 4 (2009)
After a period where the saga went on to explore the otome side with the games of the Girl's Side series, Konami decided to bring the series back to the date sim style through a new game that would serve to commemorate the 15th anniversary of the series In addition to taking her back to the Kirameki Institute, this time with a new cast of characters.
The graphic style of the game opted to return again to the characteristic 2D style of the series but giving it a more stylized touch and including Live 2D technology that allows creating animations of fixed illustrations to give movement and liveliness to the game's characters. The designs of the characters became much more sober and striking, unlike those of the previous game, in addition to offering a new design for the institute's uniform, although there is also room for the original design by some of the characters.
The game is 15 years after the events of the original game, with the start of the school year at the Kirameki Institute and the entrance ceremony to welcome new students. The protagonist of the game goes to the institute with his childhood friend, Miyako Okura, but they end up assigned to different classes. It is at this point that he meets Maki Hoshikawa, his classmate and who will be the main love interest in the game.
The game system would continue to maintain the usual tonic of the series, but in this case offering a system of access to the commands in a much simpler but effective way through a radial scheme to select the actions, accompanied by animated 2D designs of the character principal. Among the novelties was included a system of skills that were unlocked using points and that allowed to have certain advantages at the time of earning points for certain parameters, getting the attention of any of the females or avoiding a bad end during the game. The limitation of this system was to have a maximum of six skills that although they could be exchanged for better ones, but in turn they could only be equipped a maximum of twice a year for each of the three of which the development of the game.
Another striking aspect is the fact that, instead of requesting the data of the girls through one of the protagonist's companion boys, as it was in the first two games, in this installment access to that information lies with Miyako, the Childhood friend of the protagonist. Also, the cast of females offered a total of 12 possible, three of them being hidden within the progress of the game and including for the first time a character of yandere trend in addition to the occasional nod to the Silent Hill series.
Apart from the games in the main saga, the success of the series led to the appearance of different titles that would seek to offer different experiences by moving the series to other genres. Perhaps the most striking in the first instance are the games based on the first two installments through the Taisen Puzzle-Lady series, a series of puzzle games similar to Puyo Puyo appeared in arcade halls and that has had versions of different franchise games both from Konami as from anime series.
Also noteworthy were the three volumes of the Drama Series subsaga that told small stories located in a short and limited period of time in which the protagonism of the game focused on some of the girls in the game's cast, including Saki Nijino (Vol. 1), Ayako Katagiri (Vol.2) and Shiori Fujisaki together with Miharu Tatebayashi (Vol.3), offering a novel visual development with some mechanics of the original game, such as bombs, and including some mini-games to liven up, taking into account the last volume in turn the possibility of choosing between two possible routes. As a curiosity, Hideo Kojima, responsible for outstanding games such as the Metal Gear saga, Snatcher or Policenauts in addition to the future Death Stranding participated in the development of these games.
On the other hand there are the Substories games were similar to the Drama Series with the difference that the protagonism fell to the females of the second game of the series. As in the previous titles, the action focuses on a novel visual style with the difference that in each game three girls from the cast of the main game appear, except in the third volume in which four appear, and also including various mini-games somewhat curious, as the case, in the first one, of one with clear reminiscences to Dance Dance Revolution.
As a curiosity is the title Tokimeki Memorial Selection Fujisaki Shiori dedicated to the main hero of the first game. In this album, appeared for both Saturn and PSX, various game modes are included with content related to that character, from music videos based on the musical debut single, having a special date event, watching a collection of portraits and voice samples and finally be able to play Jan-Ken.
Finally, Tokimeki Memorial Online remains whose premise was a kind of social game where players could meet and perform various activities. The game editor allowed different types of customization in such a way that players could create the avatar to their liking. While the game had as an impediment having to create a Konami ID account in addition to buying an account key. Unfortunately the game had a short life, beginning its journey in March 2006 and ending its services with the closure of servers in July 2007.
Currently, Tokimeki Memorial's journey is focused on its otome side with the Girl's Side games, with three deliveries appeared to date and a fourth recently announced in development. Of the bishôjo style of play characteristic of its early years, there is little left, except for lukewarm attempts to try a revival such as Tokimeki Idol for smartphones, although the idea is far from the concept of the series as it is more a musical game than a dating one.
Luckily other series have tried to fill the gap with different proposals. Konami on the other hand contributed games like Mitsumete Knight, with a game style of heroic fantasy and touches of RPG, or LovePlus, this being the closest to a spiritual successor who has given the panorama, although today both franchises have fallen into The limbo of oblivion. On the other hand, it could be said that the games that the witness has taken have been those of the Enterbrain studio that with proposals such as "KimiKiss", "Amagami" or "Photo Kano" have tried to provide an alternative vision of the genre. Finally there are titles like "Reco Love" and the recent "LoveR", both developed as spiritual successors of "Photo Kano" and following some of its playable parameters.
At this point it is quite complicated that Konami decides to retake the series and offer a new installment of the series taking advantage of the technologies that exist today. However, with the rebirth of some forgotten franchises of the past and the return of others who shared the era, as is the case with Sakura Wars, which also had certain touches of date sim, the possibility opens, although very remote, that this Saga can have a second chance today.