After playing Cherry Tree High Comedy Club (which will for the rest of this review be shortened to CTHCC) I have decided that it is a game of misconceptions and misguided first impressions; not all of this is a bad thing. Prepare for a bit of a back story!
You see when I first heard about CTHCC I was pretty excited for it. It was still in development at that time but I loved the art direction, the story ideas and I was really into visual novels at the time. It certainly looked like something I wanted to play and it was cool that a non domestic dojin game would be getting translated and released for a larger audience by its own developers (773 pronounced “Nanami”) and a publication company (Nyu) that aims on bringing these games across the globe.
I waited for the coming release which was slated to come to the Capcom store, their own site, Gamestop and Steam (and a few others). It seemed like a long wait but it finally came out (though still not on Steam). It was initially released for $7.99 and I opted to wait for it to come to Steam (figuring it wouldn’t be long) before getting it. Well that took a long time and during that time a few first impression articles and reviews were released, and they weren’t good. For all the positives of the game there were some big negatives, it was apparently pretty easy, very short (only 4 hours) and had repetitive gameplay and music. So I again decided to wait longer still with hope that it would be good but waiting for it to drop a few dollars in price.
Well when it came to Steam it finally got that price drop during the Winter sale. So I downloaded it and was ready to give it a try trying to not hold it too high so I wouldn’t be disappointed; such as remembering that if I wanted to I could beat it in a day. After playing the entire game through I can say some of the complaints are valid but I will say I changed my mind about this game three or four times while playing it. Sometimes first impressions are not everything and sometimes not every game review will see the whole picture, these are things to always remember when it comes to any kind of artistic medium.
Visually the game looks great, if you are into the typical retro themed RPG stylings of many dojin/indie games; liking Anime probably helps too. But even with that the sprites are well detailed and the regular artwork is smooth and stylish; it is pleasing to look at. The backgrounds are well detailed too but unfortunately there are not a lot of areas in this game and the stuff going on in the background is mostly for show so be prepared to get tired of looking at it. The NPCs not involved in the story are repeated fairly often too and they don’t have any artwork when you talk to them. One odd thing though is the game is not optimized for full screen or wide screen and in fact can’t switch its resolution or window size at all; an odd thing to see in a PC game.
There are not many sounds to speak of in this game, no voice acting and no action to speak of so nothing for that. But the game does feature a soundtrack and some cut scenes. During conversations and cut scenes you’ll be treated to standard affair of video game and anime sound effects to emphasize shock, drama, or something similar; you’ll also get a few fanfare sounds when you complete a task. The real stuff worth talking about here is the soundtrack, which has some really catchy tunes in it. Honestly I could find myself listening to the soundtrack outside of the game; it reminds me of many other games that fall into CTHCC’s genres and presents bouncy, soothing or fun instrumental tunes. The unfortunate part though is you’ll be hearing the same tunes a lot, especially while you run around in town during the first half of the game and during weekends. The main theme is good but nothing is great for several hours running.
Now that the minor stuff if out of the way I can talk about the heart and soul of this game and it would be best to start with the story. See, in a game like CTHCC the story is pretty much the most important part since that is the meat of the experience. Everything else can fall a little short but if you are compelled to help the characters meet the end of their story you’ll probably want to continue and this is mostly true here. You play as Miley who is in her last year of high school and wants to start a comedy club, her dream is to become a comedian and she wants to start heading towards that goal with some of her friends in school. Unfortunately the school has rules about what it takes to form a new club and Miley soon finds out that her and her best friend/roommate Harriet are not enough to start one. So your goal in the game is to track down potential recruits to join/start the club before the trial period for new clubs end. In doing this Miley will meet new friends, rediscover old ones and experience new things in her town. The story unfolds as you meet the new people and converse with them daily and unravel a story unique to each character.
This aspect of CTHCC is what kept me going most of the time, I was curious what it would take to become closer to each new friend and what part of their story would be revealed as well as “mine” (aka Miley). The characters have a lot of personality surprisingly and though they may not be the most original cast of characters (An energetic goofball, a book worm, the shy one, the delinquent rocker, the quite one, etc); they are written well enough and each chapter of their story is interesting enough. It may not be the most memorable or compelling story but it works and keeps your interest and I wouldn’t be surprised if you get attached to a character or two.
There is also some good comedy (there should be right?) which makes everything interesting. You’ll also have a lot of references to pop culture things and other video games so you’ll have a few moments that might make you laugh out loud a little. I personally enjoyed the reference to the Konami code in a game that was c0-distributed by Capcom.
So I’m sure you’re wondering how you make the story unravel, what gameplay mechanics must happen to get to the ending. Well as I mentioned before CTHCC is kind of a visual novel, at least the story aspect really feels like one. You must make certain conversation choices with each character to progress the story to a particular ending. But at the core the game plays like a side-scrolling RPG of sorts.
As Miley you’ll run around different parts which are separated into one single scrolling area. Each will have different things to do and different people to talk to; who is there is dependent on what time of the day it is. Certain events only happen right then and others will pass time causing the game to reload to another part of the day; each day is broken up into 3 parts with the last one being night of which you can only do things in your room.
The RPG elements come from the different things you can do to interact with the world. Reading magazines or books and playing video games can raise your stats. These stats reflect how well you talk to each character about certain topics which can in turn reflect how close you come to them. Each NPC you’re trying to recruit has certain topics they are indifferent to, dislike and really like. You can also cause certain events to happen by visiting areas at the right time, interact with items you find on the ground and do work to make money. You will also have to do homework at two points in the game which will also cause time to pass and just like working for money provides a distraction from the main point of the game; homework does not add to your stats but I feel like it should. Most activities that cause time to pass will also add to your fatigue gauge which can only be brought down by sleeping or eating certain items; I never saw my game affected from fatigue as I never had it get that high.
Finding out what to do with each day and what each potential club recruit likes is where the game falls short. You’ll be spending a lot of time running around and since there are only 7 places to visit (which again are only one area/scrolling screen) you’ll get a little bored doing so. You can just talk to each person without passing time (only hanging out and discussing a particular subject passes time) and this option which is suppose to change daily gives you clues to their interests. The bad thing is while it really does change daily it can still repeat and telling me that you like pets 7 times doesn’t help much. This wouldn’t be much of a problem except you can only hang out and discuss each topic once with each character so it takes a lot of trial and error sometimes, which wastes time; remember you are on a time limit. Plus hearing the same topics all the time doesn’t make each day seem important and can drag the game making you want to just rush through each day eventually.
It took me about 4 hours to play through CTHCC just as I had previously read and I got the bad ending, a bit of a disappointment; this is where I get divided on my feelings on the game. So much of this game can be summed up as “This is cool but it can get very stale.”; and that at first had me feeling like I would never want to play it again. But I did enjoy the story and was not able to fully get the conclusion to every person’s individual story on my first play through; I doubt many can even if you get a good ending and this makes me want to play it again. So it does have replay value.
Though I am still honestly glad I did wait for it to drop in price, 4 hours of gameplay is not bad for $7.99 either so make your own decision there. CTHCC has good aspects and some bad ones, as a game it is good but not great and as a story it is cool but not all that memorable. If you’re a fan of dojin games like this you’ll probably have fun but if you’re not that well acquainted with them you are better off trying others first.