I Doll U
Aika’s brother, Manaka, is the leader of the new group Re;Rise. On the day of their debut, Manaka flees, begging Aika to be his substitute. Aika, disguised as Manaka, now has to hide her identity from everyone. That’s not all: the other members are all troublesome idols! Can Aika fix these problematic idols and keep her secret?
Otomate’s attempt to capture Uta no Prince-sama fans failed on me.
So the story in I Doll U is about Aika, a girl who secretly replaces her brother in a new boy band. Unfortunately, one member is afraid of girls, one can’t speak normal Japanese, another wants to quit being cat-boy, and then there’s a pair of S & M idols. Because some idiot thought that not only these guys should be idols, but that all the pain-in-the-butts would be a good idea to have in one place. Regardless, Aika takes it upon herself to make sure Re:Rise is a success so her brother will come back and join the group.
Firstly, there are only five romanceable guys. While this may seem obvious from the cover, it is not too unusual for otome games to have a secret route to add one more to the total. Small spoiler: the secret route isn’t a romance route, so five romances it is. It’s quite a fairly low number, so I guess to make up for it, the routes are fairly long. There are about seven chapters (tracks) per guy, but each track has multiple segments (easily five+).
Unfortunately, the story tends to drag. Characters tend to monologue often in an attempt to fill the time. The game wastes time with scenes that add absolutely nothing to the story: “We did this.” (scene change). “Then we did this.” (scene change). Seriously? You couldn’t just write, “We did this and this, and now we’re here” or “We’ve been working for the past week/month/xx days”? Some plot points are dropped while others continue on far too long. The routes also feel like a mish-mash at times. Like Uta no Prince-sama, I Doll U has fantasy elements, and some of the guys (especially Reo, Itsuki, and Tsubasa, who are all voiced by main guys in that series) feel like they’ve been plucked from the Uta-Pri universe.
It doesn’t help that Aika is almost too sensible for all the guys. She spends almost too much time thinking or saying, “What are you talking about?”, and this takes away from the time for romance. There are some cute scenes, but you have to wait quite a while between long blocks of dialogue. For me, much of the best scenes were when Re;Rise were interacting with each other. Ruka likes to pet Reo, Itsuki is sarcastic to Seiya, and Tsubasa thinks he’s king. It’s a little disappointing group scenes outdo the boy-girl scenes in an otome game.
In addition, not everything is wrapped up nicely in the Happy Endings, and a couple of the bad endings are almost at-odds with the whole route. Regardless of which ending you get, the biggest mystery of the game is not solved in each route. It seems like the big reveals are set for the secret route, and while it does explain some mysteries, the route just plain ends with no resolution. Here’s the big moment…The end! It seems like Otomate is leaving room for a potential fandisk.
Which brings us to the second issue: the gameplay. Granted, otome games are, at the core, nothing more than point-and-click “choose your own adventure” games, but there are very few choices in this game. I think before you are locked into a route in Chapter 4 there are a grand total of three choices. Three. Where’s the adventure? I know I read slowly since I’m far from proficient in Japanese, but you can literally go hours without having to do anything. In fact, there is so little adventuring in this game that I Doll U could easily have just been directly made into an anime. The idol route is already basically nothing but the biggest secrets of each guy in one short, non-romantic route. Although it was terrible, it has no choice junctions (plus the main route has so few decision-making moments anyway), so it would be easy to adapt the game into a “one guy per episode (with a song)” format like Uta-Pri.
So besides the usual forks in the game, I Doll U has two minigame: a music minigame and a kiss minigame. The music minigame involves touching the Vita’s front touchscreen when the hearts onscreen are at full size an overlap with a line. I’m not a touchscreen fan, but, on the bright side, my hands don’t get nearly as exhausted as when playing Uta no Prince-sama‘s music minigame. Stupidly, when you reach certain chain lengths (25, 50, etc.), a character will appear briefly onscreen. The sprites will block part of the screen and are super distracting. Get out of the way!
As for the kiss minigame, this is perhaps the most egregious example of story-game dissonance I have ever seen. Story: Aika trips and accidentally brushes her lips against a guy’s. Gameplay: The guy is half-naked on a bed while Aika makes out with him by kissing his lips, hair, face, etc. Oh, and the guy will make comments like, “Hurry up!”, “I’ve never done this before”, or “Mmm”. You, as the player, must touch the touchscreen to kiss the guy and fill up the love meter. How does this make sense? The story is saying one thing, the game is showing something completely different.
Annoyingly, there is no record or calendar allowing a player to start from a certain point or to view the different endings. This is just plain stupid. I really love systems like in Sweet Fuse where you can allocate love points and pick up from whatever chapter you want. Here, however, if you ever want to review a scene, you best have a save. There’s no excuse for this. I guess they made too many chapters and subchapters to bother with something as “unimportant” as replayability.
The character sprites are nicely done, drawn by former manga author Fujiwara Cocoa of Inu x Boku SS and Dear. I especially love Ruka’s shoujo sparkles shining in true shoujo prince fashion. I’ve read the CGs were drawn by four different artists, and it shows. Seiya, for instance, looks like he has a babyface in some illustrations. One still is basically an ugly version of Reo zoomed in, just standing. Uh, how about showing me something cute? Or dramatic? Or interesting? Anything besides just Reo standing there like he’s in a mug shot. Backgrounds are nice, but there’s something far more important to cover: the extra characters. Besides the main characters, I think there are two other character sprites. The rest are these creepy transparent heart-aliens: The color of these “people” change along with their base, but their creepy heart masks remain the same (although some include details like “Itsuki supporter” or “director”). Their faces don’t even always line up with the person’s body lines, making their eyes literally on the character’s neck or outside their face. They are just soooo creepy, especially when they start jumping around and shaking. They could have included a couple of default NPCs. Just have the directors all look the same. It shouldn’t matter if one sprite is a radio director in one route and cameraman in another. Even excluding the creepy factor, it just doesn’t look right to have these ugly things next to the main characters.
As this is a game set in the idol world, the sound is very important. The main theme “I Doll U” is very addicting, showcasing all of Re;Rise’s vocals…except Aika’s. While this make sense from a marketing perspective (since most otome game heroines are unvoiced, and players tend to support the idol market), it adds another layer of game dissonance. Even though Aika (as Manaka) is supposed to be singing, we never hear her (or his) voice. I guess they could have cast someone with a gender-neutral voice as Manaka and have him or her sing, especially since Aika is supposed to be imitating his voice anyway. Regardless, “I Doll U” is great, and its two remixes (especially the Tsubasa-Itsuki version) are good as well. The character songs are a bit more hit-or-miss, but I would say Ruka’s character song is the best. It’s a gorgeous ballad showing off KENN’s delightful vocals. Others like Reo’s and Seiya’s fit their personalities to a T, but they just do not have as much of an impact as some of the others. Either way, listeners are bound to find at least one song to really like. Otome gamers will likely be familiar with most (or all) of the main cast, so if you like them or not, this game will not change your mind, especially since the characters tend to play to the seiyuu’s strengths.
I’m not saying this game is terrible, but when you compare it to (the original) Uta no Prince-sama or even Otomate’s own catalogue, I Doll U is just a huge disappointment. With so few choices but an excellent voice cast, it may be better suited to be done as an anime.
While Idea Factory, Aksys, and other companies have released Otomate games in English, I suspect this game may be problematic due to licensing all the music. If you do want this game to see a release outside Japan, try contacting them on Facebook, Twitter, or their site forums.