When was the last time I played a galge that could be fully classified as a dating simulation? I think it was back in 2010 with Tokimeki Memorial 4, if I’m not mistaken. Even now, I still remember how much I liked the senpai there. Ever since then, I’ve mostly stuck with visual novels and RPGs with relationship values. These past few days I’ve decided to give the fairly recent Photo Kano a try, and came to the conclusion that perhaps I am better off playing RPGs with relationship values instead.
Photo Kano is, by all means, an orthodox dating sim in terms of characters and setting. Taking place in a plain ol’ Japanese high school with sailor uniforms, the highlight of the game is that it is entirely in 3D (and good 3D at that too), and the protagonist’s new found hobby of photography. Using the R button as the shutter and the analog nub to move around, the player gets to control the protagonist’s camera, and utilize the many opportunities to take photos of the heroines. There are no event still CGs to speak of in the traditional sense, as all the “CGs” are photographs of the 3D heroines and environments taken by the protagonist.
Event photos limit your camera movement and make you press the shutter within a given amount of time, but there are free photo sessions that let you set the heroine’s pose (more poses available as her affection rises) and allow you to take an infinite amount of time adjusting angles and distance. This was fun on the first playthrough, but not enough to bring me back for more than two character endings.
Photo Kano is not a stat-raising dating sim. Your photos get scored, and reaching a certain amount of total score lets you unlock things, but you don’t have stats in the traditional sense. Instead, you gain the heroines’ affection through conversations. Each day, you get four chances to move around the school via location selection. At each location, you have a random chance of encountering a random heroine (although there are some places that have logical limits, like how only first-year girls show up in the first year classroom), and you get the opportunity to start a conversation with her. At first your conversational topics will be limited, but leveling up unlocks more.
During the conversation stage, there will be a sinusoidal wave moving around in the corner of the screen, with orbs of different colors moving along the wave. You get to select from a variety of different-colored topics to have a conversation about, and for the conversation to become successful, you must match the topic with an orb of the same color that is on the top half of the sine wave. If there is more than one orb of that color, the first orb will be used. If the orb is on the bottom half of the sine wave, the conversation will be unsuccessful. Choosing the right topics at the right time will increase the heroine’s tension gauge, and if it reaches a certain level before time is up (5 conversation topics is the time limit), you can ask to take photos of her. These conversations are also crucial to increasing heroine affection.
The problem, for me at least, is that this is a pain in the ass. Especially on a second playthrough, and worsened by the fact that the game is quite slow and laggy when playing on the PSP. Load times are also long. Presumably these problems are fixed with the Vita version, which also has less jagged 3D models (not that they don’t look nice, even on PSP). These conversations usually aren’t very interesting, and the random encounter system doesn’t help. At least the game tells you where the heroine is when there is a story event with her. It is easy to fall into the temptation of save-scumming, which is exactly what I did.
The game is not very difficult, as affection is easy to raise, difficult to decrease, and Sunday dates can only happen once with each heroine when transitioning from level 5 to level 6 affection. As long as the Sunday dates for two heroines aren’t scheduled for the same day, there are no major affection-decreasing events (having one girl witnessing you walking home with another decreases very little, and doesn’t even happen that often). The duration of the game is two months, which is more than enough time to get a heroine’s affection to max. A very good feature of the system is that once you reach the ending requirements for a girl, you have the option of skipping straight to the day of the ending instead of trying to find ways to waste time.
Ultimately, despite the neat gimmicks here and there, I got bored after getting endings for two heroines because the setting, scenario, and characters were simply too plain for my liking. I don’t mind the school setting in itself, but the game takes place over two months so it hardly ever utilizes the actually fun school events. The scenario is formulaic from what I played and the heroines failed to really charm me, especially when I compare them to TokiMemo4’s colorful cast. The scenes intended to be emotional lacked impact, and while the heroines were cute, there wasn’t anything that hooked me back for more. The photography gimmick and full 3D graphics were neat for the first playthrough, but aren’t enough to make the mediocre story or dull characters interesting.
All in all, I guess more dynamic scenarios, or at least “crazier” heroines are more to my liking. If I had to describe the overall atmosphere of Photo Kano, I’d say that it is low-key in terms of characters and scenario. The character design is quite decent though, and even though I tend to prefer more colorful and outlandish designs, the heroines with normal clothes and ordinary hair colors do look quite nice here.
Okay, I lied. I really took a liking to the protagonist’s energetic idol-loving imouto, Kanon. But her route unlocks after you clear all the other heroines at least once, and I don’t feel like going back to the game. Not even for my adorable imouto. At least not now. Apparently the Vita version has her route unlocked after only one heroine. Curse my life choices.