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The PK Girl Reviews
Reviewed by Dan Shiovitz
I am not the target audience for this game. As far as I can tell, this is a text version of those Japanese relationship simulator games, and those make my brain twitch. It copies them to the extent of having female NPCs with big eyes and enormous amounts of strangely-coloured hair, and preteen crushes from nominally 18-year-old women. Also it seems to have one of those plots where everything could get sorted out if the characters just sat down and talked about it for a moment, but the game requires them to all run around at top speed being confused so that is what they do. But on the other hand, it's pretty well-done and well-programmed for what it is (and it has a scoreboard to let you can see how well you're doing with each of the women, which is more than you get in real life), so if you like that sort of thing, hey, go for it.
Reviewed by Duncan Bowsman
I said it elsewhere, I've never understood the appeal of this game. Personally, I think A Party to Murder, which came out in the same competition, was better. I say "I never understood the appeal" and not "this game sucks" because I know there are others out there who must have seen something in it-- thus its placing 6th in IFComp. And maybe I'm seeing it differently because the rifts of time blah blah blah and "you youngsters never appreciate" yadda yadda, but it seemed to me to be a slow-moving, misogynistic mess with a confused plot written (somewhat poorly) for middle schoolers. That said, I've also never finished it, but I didn't feel like I had a lot of incentive to do so.
Reviewed by David Whyld
The PK Girl, Hanadorobou's first game for Adrift, is a truly massive piece of interactive fiction. Weighing in at a hefty 1.5 MB including graphics and sound or around 270 KB without, it'd undoubtedly the biggest ever game written for Adrift. And, also undoubtedly, the best.
Most good games start impressively and The PK Girl is no exception. Though there
is no real introduction as such, the game itself is not so much about the player
(Garret) as it is about the events that occur shortly after his arrival at Majesty Mall. In such circumstances, a lack of background is entirely
forgivable. The opening locations set the feel for the game, being lengthy and immensely detailed: every static item you can think of is described and the
attention to the minor details that has gone into this game is impressive enough
in its own right. Even without a brilliant storyline to back things up, it would
be a decent enough game to just explore the set of locations at Majesty Mall.
Wander around the initial locations at Majesty Mall and you find a wide variety of things to do: buy (or steal in my case) some magazines, get an ice cream, browse through some software titles… None of these things make a decent game by themselves but it's refreshing playing a game that at least makes the effort to be realistic. Too often I've played games set partially in shopping malls and been unable to buy a single thing because it wasn't essential to the plot.
Once the game gets underway - with the kidnapping in the ice cream parlour - The PK Girl really opens up and you begin to appreciate just what a mammoth game it really is. The first set of locations (Majesty Mall) are in themselves quite a bit larger than most Adrift games but they're just a small part of a game which spans well over a hundred locations. Quite often in games that boast upwards of a hundred locations, the majority of the locations are fairly empty and lifeless and seem to be included in the game for no other reason than to give it size. Not so with The PK Girl. While not all the locations need to be visited, they add considerably to the depth and believability of the game and there are none of the "three word description" locations that often haunt such games.
As said before, the game includes graphics and sound. The graphics are Manga-style in appearance and amusing enough; the sound, alas, I found irritating more than anything else. Particularly in the opening locations, it distracts greatly from reading what's on the screen and after a while of vainly trying to ignoring it, I was forced to switch it off. Maybe if you enjoy listening to music at the time you play your games, you'll enjoy the music in
The PK Girl but for me it was the game's one failing.
Despite its vast size, The PK Girl is not a difficult game to complete. As in Heal Butcher's The Wheels Must Turn, a large part of the storyline seems to happen independent of the actions of the player. Often typing "wait" can progress the game and there are a fair number of puzzles that are solved by simply doing nothing. But while finishing the game may be easy enough in its own right, reaching one of the game's eight "special" endings (involving one of the eight female characters in the game) is another matter entirely. And even though I've played the game quite ruthlessly I've yet to reach even one of these endings. In a way, this seems to be a game more interested with developing your relationship with the female characters than about the storyline itself; as said before, the game itself is easy enough to finish and, provided you don't do anything too ridiculous and have several hours to spare, you should have little trouble finishing it in a single session; the complications arise when trying to boost your score and reach a special ending.
Interaction with the characters you meet is a joy as rarely have characters in interactive fiction been rendered with suck skill. The PK Girl, thankfully, uses a nice straightforward "talk to [character]" idea to handle the majority of the conversations although a fair number of these conversations are started with no input from the player and instead a set of dialogue options are displayed. Pick the correct one and you might get a score increase, pick the wrong one and your score plummets. There are eight separate sets of scores used here, one for each of the eight female characters, and depending on how well you handle the dialogue with them their score either increases or decreases. No doubt a high enough score leads to one of the special endings mentioned before although even with countless saving and loading it's often difficult to steer a conversation towards giving you the best score.
Replay is a major factor with The PK Girl as you strive to reach one of the eight special endings. Often how you handle your dialogue with one character affects your chances with another character, making the game a very difficult one at times.
All in all, this is a game I could not recommend more. Whether it wins the IFComp this year or not, it's certainly the best game that's been entered and the best text adventure I've played in a long, long time.
Logic: 9 out of 10
Things happen in a very logical manner and I doubt there's a single illogical moment anywhere to be found.
Problems: 8 out of 10 (10 = no problems)
I'm not too sure whether this is a problem or not or just me playing things through wrongly, but a couple of times when I arrived at Gammex Industrial, I was unable to enter. The doors would not open and I had to reload my last save and play things differently. This generally happened when I had spent time going to and from the mall trying to improve my score with Aileen.
Story: 9 out of 10
An enthralling story involving two sisters with psycho-kinetic powers (the PK Girl(s) of the game's title) that had me captured from the word go.
Characters: 10 out of 10
Fully believable characters who are light years away from the cardboard cut-outs that generally tend to populate such games. You actually find yourself caring about the characters and that, in a text adventure, is a rare thing indeed.
Writing: 9 out of 10
Excellent from start to finish.
Game: 10 out of 10
Undoubtedly the best game ever written for Adrift and perhaps one of the finest pieces of interactive fiction ever written, The PK Girl is just sheer brilliance from start to finish. If you play only game this year, make it this one.
Overall: 55 out of 60
Reviewed by Demian Katz
Wow, the second interesting Adrift game in a row. Note that I say "interesting," not "good." I hesitate to praise this too much, as it has some serious flaws, but it is at least interesting. The game is obviously anime/manga-inspired, as evidenced by its artwork and its rather obnoxious portrayal of women. What makes it interesting is that it supplements its fairly linear (and often buggy and awkwardly written) narrative with a sort of dating game (something fairly common in the world of anime/manga-inspired software). Depending on your actions, you score different numbers of points with the game's different female characters, and this apparently can cause special endings to occur. I find something inherently creepy in this whole scoring system, but at the same time I appreciate the way it makes the game a little more textured than it would otherwise have been. Of course, I don't know firsthand about these multiple endings; I didn't manage to finish the game once, let alone multiple times. Still, while this is by no means a great work, some of the ideas used in it could lead to great things if they were applied a bit differently to a less shallow story.
Reviewed by Jessica Knoch
The PK Girl is, so far, the most horrendously offensive game in the Comp to me. By far. But this illustrates the reason I use a ten-category system: at most, I can only grade this game down in two categories for being horrendously offensive, the General Idea and the Wildcard (unless it also ruins my feeling of involvement with the game, which would be a third category). So, the most horrendously offensive game can still get high scores in other categories, if it's well written and has good puzzles. However, the horrendously offensive parts will tend to color my review, so please bear that in mind.
The first, most basic problem was this: the game starts by asking me my name. Well, my name is Jessica, so I typed that. There should have been nothing at all shocking about that. It didn't ask for a character name, or what I wanted to be called, nor did it give any indication that the character to whom the name would be applied had any defining characteristics already. For instance, that the character was male. So I was stuck playing a boy named Jessica. How distasteful. Does the author imagine that only males play text adventure games?
I thought at first that the male character problem wouldn't be that big of a problem. Until the plot became apparent: I and my motorcycle would come to the rescue of some young girls, and the scoring is based entirely on my relationships with these girls. Yechh.
So, the plot is apparent, I'm resigned to it, and I'm at one girl's house while the three of them are chatting. I wander the house, looking for something interesting to do. There's a fridge, with food inside. I could cook said food. But when I try, the game says that I'm bad at cooking and I should leaveit for "the women-folk." Grr. Fine. One of the girls cooks dinner later, and we all eat. I stand up from the table after eating and pick up my plate to take it to the kitchen. Uh, no, I don't: "There's no reason to pick up your dishes when there are girls around to clean up." Grrr... And, just to top it off, when I, curious teenage boy that I am, ask one of the intelligent, capable, and psychokinetically powerful characters why she needed my help, I get this: "You don't know very much about girls." As a matter of fact, I know an awful lot about girls. I've been one. Second, the implication is quite strong here that females need males to help them out of rough situations. There just isn't enough growling left in me.
Now, putting all that ... stuff aside. The game is pretty good, if a bit difficult and overlong. You are caught up in an ongoing struggle to control and research the psychokinetic power of a few young girls. Apparently the game is even bigger than I saw, since according to the scoring, there were three (out of the eight) main female characters whom I never even met. It's an odd way to score: you get points for each female individually, depending on how you interact with her. Then, if your score is high enough with any one of them, you get one of the "special" endings. I did not get a special ending. This is because the walkthrough that came with the game had only the worst solutions to score the least points. What these solutions are is mainly waiting for someone else to solve the problem, moving the story along. Sure, you look like a schmuck, but the story does keep moving along.
Unfortunately, looking like a schmuck does not make for a fun game. A walkthrough that only gives the worst solutions does nothing more than usher me roughly through the game and dump me out the back door at the end. What I want as a lost, forlorn game player (not to mention Comp Judge) is to be escorted politely, gently, and (ideally) with commentary, through the joy and the wonder that is your game. Authors, take note. Of course, you wouldn't need to worry about the walkthrough if you would just implement a gentle, helpful, and thoughtful hint system.
Anyway, I did figure out a few things on my own, which was nice. And the story was forgiving in that you had plenty of time to figure certain things out. Even though it may seem like you're in the middle of an intense chase, you're not. There's not a lot that feels very intense about this game, after you realize your actions don't impact the story nearly as much as they seem to. Between that feeling of detachment and having to play the game as a teenage boy named Jessica, my level of involvement in the story is quite low.
Story: 7. Pretty original; probably could have been interesting.
Writing: 6. Mostly bland, a few misspellings, and "with whom she's best friends with."
Puzzles: 4. Without the walkthrough, too many of the puzzles are guess-and-check or just a pain. With the walkthrough, many are left unsolved, and some didn't get clued well enough. The peddler scorned my $1.25 one day and happily took $1 the next.
Coding: 7. Missing synonyms, some verbs could have been added, but there are some nice bits (like assuming you want to sit on the motorcycle to ride it).
Parser: 8. As in A Party To Murder, I had no trouble with the ADRIFT parser. Not many extras though.
Humor/Enjoyment: 3. Just about the only thing I enjoyed was taking all the stuff
out of the fridge and leaving it on the floor to spoil.
Participation: 1. The characters kept calling me Jessica and giggling. Gross.
Lack of Annoyance: 2. Besides everything mentioned above, there were times when I couldn't do what I wanted when I wanted; the score system was annoying; the conversation system was annoying.
General Idea: 1. "Rescuing" super-powered young women who should be just fine without my help, and being forced to play a boy named Jessica, are repulsive game ideas.
Composite score: 4.1 (Comp score: 4)
Reviewed by Mike Russo
This anime-inspired game takes a story-driven IF and mixes in a dating sim and whole mess of world interactivity. The amount of depth here is impressive; there's something like half a dozen girls you can woo, a bunch of nonessential locations that evolve as the game goes by, and a truly amazing number of objects you can find and play with.
The central plot is nothing to write home about -- cute girls with psychic powers stalked by a mysterious conspiracy -- and dating sims in general strike me as somewhere between creepy and pathetic, but where PK Girl really shines is in the incredible amount of stuff you can do. I wound up picking up an ice-cube tray early in the game; later on, I managed to fill it with water, stick it in a freezer, pop out the finished cubes, and started to make a frozen dessert with it. There was no obvious puzzle associated with it, although I'm sure there was a use for it, perhaps in currying favor with one of the girls. That level of interactivity is present throughout the game; you can help a character cook dinner, for example, or help comb another's hair. The sheer wealth of different objects to play and experiment with, some useful to the plot, some not, really makes the game feel more interactive and engaging than much story-driven IF, to say nothing of the average dating sim, which typically relies on simplistic multiple-choice gameplay.
I'm not a particular fan of this genre, which hurt its appeal a bit, but for a player with different sensibilities, PK Girl could well be the most enjoyable game in the comp, with enough replayability and depth to have a long lifetime beyond the judging deadline.
Reviewed by Quintin Stone
Is it a science-fiction suspense thriller or a dating simulator? Somewhere in between, I'm afraid. The game opens outside of a mall. When I saw this and read that your relationships with various girls would have an impact on the game's ending, I started to really question whether I wanted to play the "The PK Girl". (And I have to admit, the cryptic title had me thinking "Player Killer" from my time on Ultima Online.) However, without too much pause the action starts and from there the game moves along pretty well.
The good news is that you can focus on rescuing the girl and defeating the bad guys without giving a second thought to the "dating simulator" aspect of the game. Although it was an interesting addition, and is sure to promote replayability for some people, it simply didn't appeal to me. I tried going back and wooing Monika, but found that the ending didn't change any. Was it because I couldn't find her stupid hair dryer? I don't know. I also tried getting into Aileen's pan... err, affections, but couldn't quite manage to succeed. I didn't even want to think about the chore of courting all the other girls in the game.
The quality of the work had its good points and bad. I thought that the anime artwork was top notch, so good, in fact, I started to wonder if it was actually original or if it was borrowed from elsewhere. The dialog also seemed very anime, which I don't really mean as a compliment. More precisely, a lot of anime tends toward unrealistically melodramatic conversation and relationships that eventually start to give me a headache. Even as a guy I found some of the conversation to be a bit stereotypical. When I asked why the girls even needed me, the answer I received was, "You don't know much about girls, do you?" The truth is that your presence throughout the entire game is basically pointless. The girls, with their psychokinetic powers, can tackle all the serious trouble without your aid. All you're good for is pushing them on when they start crying.
Still, "The PK Girl" was one of the better games in the competition. With some characters that weren't one-dimensional cardboard cut outs, and a plot that the character can feel they have a bit more control over, I feel this could have scored even higher.
Reviewed by Paul Kostock
You play a thoroughly unremarkable man named Garrett (the default name, but you are given the option to input "Paul" or "Dave" or "Grand Dragon Imperial Poopiehead" or whatever suits you at the start of a new game) whose trip to the local mall to eat ice cream and not speak to attractive young women is interrupted by a kidnapping. Garrett quickly rushes to the rescue, and manages to embroil himself in a tale of telepathic powers, government conspiracies, and more completely helpless and dependant women than you can shake your copy of the SCUM Manifesto at.
At this point, it would be apropos to pause for a moment and discuss the whole sexism issue. Paul O'Brian, in his review, remarked "...the game reminded me distinctly of another branch of animation, the Disney feature film: technically impressive and proficient while remaining on the political level utterly, utterly reactionary." Of course, Paul O'Brian is also the one who thoroughly trashed Chix Dig Jerks as a disgusting piece of misogynistic filth, but this time he's rather underestimating the issue. Or, more likely, rather overestimating the conservatism of Disney films.
What's odd about the game, is not so much it's attitude towards the fairer sex, nor it's willingness to be blatant about said attitude, but rather its seemingly blissful ignorance about the fact that not everyone would agree with it. The game doesn't preach or argue, it simply treats the subject of the subservient role of women the way another game might offhandedly mention that dogs make good pets. At one point, Garrett, upon discovering that one of his (female) companions is a high-powered telekinetic, wonders aloud quite reasonably why she would need a thoroughly ordinary specimen of humanity like himself along. She simply laughs at him and remarks that he "doesn't know much about women". At first, I figured this attitude was just another side-effect of the game's cultural emulation of Japan, but now I figure it's more likely a Mormon thing. I know both assumptions are rather ethnocentric, but I am pretty sure that no member of mainstream American culture thinks this way, at least not aloud.
On the other hand, I found the whole thing so low key that I was rather more amused than offended by its backwardness, and it didn't hurt my enjoyment of the game. Women who skew to the sensitive/politically minded side of things, however, should probably stay away. Ditto, men who think getting worked up in defence of feminism is a good way to get laid.
Otherwise, the writing is pretty pretty good. Strangely awkward in places, but perfectly serviceable, and free of visible errors. If the characters are all completely one-dimensional, they're colourful enough to make up for it. If the plot is a bit hackneyed, it's well-paced, fairly involving, and just plain fun. None of this would qualify as high art, and it would likely be a stretch even for a summer movie, of course, but fun. I thoroughly despise using the phrase "good by computer game standards", but really there you go.
One thing the game does remarkably well (for a turn-based text adventure where it is impossible to die) is action. Early on, you'll be chased by guards inside a mysterious office complex, then face off in fisticuffs against three goons in black suits. Although you're in no real danger, the combination of music and a frantic pacing of events were enough to find me typing responses in really quickly, as if it would have an effect on my ability to elude my pursuers. When you get to the fight scene, you actually will have to make the correct decisions in the space of a turn or so, or lose the fight. In a model used to good effect throughout the game, losing simply means you have to rely on someone else (usually one of the women) to step in and rescue your sorry ass rather than getting to play the hero yourself. So there's motivation, but none of the frustration of dying over and over again before you hit on the solution.
As to the puzzles themselves, there's nothing likely to give you too many headaches. Simply beating the game generally requires very little other than doing the obvious and waiting for events to sort themselves. The actual challenge comes in getting the "special endings".
Basically, there are somewhere in the vicinity of exactly eight female characters in the game, all of whom are at least a little attracted to our hero. Depending on how you react to situations and whether or not you bother with the game's many optional puzzles, you can cause them to be more attracted to him. This is all reflected in the game's "score" function, which has lead more than one smarmy reviewer trying to be funny to reflect on the fact that you are "scoring" with the women. Actually, only one review I read actually made that joke, I'm just still pissed about the absence of tentacles and venting. In any event, getting a high enough score will qualify you for a special ending where Garrett and the girl in question fall madly in love and live happily ever after. Also, you get a letter of the alphabet. Apparently, these letters spell out the code word to unlock the game's source code. So, there's your replayability right there. I played through the game twice and managed to get two of the eight endings. It's doubtful I'll ever go back to figure out the other six, but I'm sure someone will.
One other thing that rather surprised me about the game is the fact that, although made in ADRIFT, the game's parser does not, in fact, have it's mouth wrapped around the phallus of a donkey. Mr. Goodwin seems to have rebuilt the parser from the ground up into something you can use without that rising urge to kill that usually goes hand in hand with trying to guess the syntax for an ADRIFT puzzle. There were a couple moments of frustration, such as having to download a whole new version of the runner to play a game made on a .1 upgrade and learning that at least some of the 3.9 and early games don't work right on 4.0, so now I have to have 2 versions of Adrift on my computer. Also, disambiguation can be a pain when you have two unnamed characters of the same gender in the room. Suppose there's a fat and hairy girl talking to a gaunt, acne-ridden girl, and you wish to interact with the former. Typing "fat girl" or "hairy girl" will not work. You have to type "fat and hairy girl", which is rather annoying, especially before you figure out the trick to it. Also, restarting the game without exiting and then reloading the Runner doesn't work right. At all. Otherwise, the only reason you'd know this was an ADRIFT game is the incredibly useful automap and aforementioned pretty pictures (hint: set your Runner's layout to the way Rob suggests at the start of the game, it makes things go much smoother).
So, that covers everything, except for the part that rather disturbed me. No, not the sexism thing. The Japanese thing. Anyone who has watched a moderate amount of anime or even played a lot of Squaresoft games will likely realize that the Japanese emulation goes beyond drawing style or casual indifference to age of consent laws. Anyone who knows Japanese imports well enough to recognize the whole "points to get women to fall in love with you" gimmick from Seasons of Sakura will not only be thoroughly ashamed of themselves in a few years if they aren't already, but also recognize a lot of what goes on in these games as being distinctly "in genre".
There's this weird thing in anime where an overly loud and friendly character treats strangers like they are his best friends and makes really weird requests without bothering to explain themselves. There's one of those in here. Remember how I mentioned the writing was a bit awkward? Well, it reads most like it was written by someone who was well educated, but for whom English wasn't their first language, or who was otherwise translate something foreign. There's an unfriendly girl with a mysterious past who carries around a katana for no adequately explained reason. All the characters (including the evil villain who is the head of a government agency) are of some indeterminate age between their teenage years and early adulthood where they don't have to hold down jobs, often make special stops for ice cream, and still deal with things like rich bullies, and yet they all live alone and can spend three nights at the house of someone they just met without anyone being the least bit concerned about their whereabouts. In fact, the very idea of "a bunch of women with various incredible talents and abilities who nonetheless have to rely on the world's most uninteresting and mediocre male to get *anything* done, and, oh yeah, they're all secretly in love with him" is right out of the anime plotbook.
Had this game actually come out of Japan, all these things would be easily explained away by the cultural gap. Coming from an American Mormon, it comes off almost like one of those movies like L.A. Confidential that tries to emulate the techniques of a specific time and place, where even the inexplicable bits are left in in order to be true to the source material. Except that the time and place are so contemporary that I can't imaging it was intentional. Rather, I'd venture to guess this simply comes from viewing a lot of anime to the exclusion of other media, rather like a sci-fi author who grew up on Star Trek instinctively including a bunch of forehead aliens. It then occurred to me that, domestically, there has been exactly nothing to fill the geek obsession void since Babylon 5 ended it's original run. LotR, Enterprise, the new Star Wars Trilogy, it's all just rehashing of stuff older geeks liked when they were kids.
And not to be unnecessarily jingoistic, but it saddens me to realize that right now hundreds of thousands of young men and women are hitting their teen years and coming to the abrupt dual realization that they are interested in the opposite (or whatever) gender, and that the opposite (or, again, whatever) gender feels for them some emotion ranging from "friendly disinterest" to "outright disgust", and they will have no outlet for their escapist fantasies other than high-priced imported DVDs and the fiftieth consecutive run of Dragon Ball Z on the Cartoon Network. This saddens me in a way that simple chauvinism never will.
As to the game itself, do I recommend it? Yeah, actually, I find I like it quite a bit. With the exception of Jonsey's work, the majority of IF tends to either be avante-guarde artistic stuff (Photopia), pure farce (SMtUC), or poorly coded crap (Bobby's Really Cool Space Adventure!, Episode 1). Playing through a fun, competently designed action-adventure escapist piece was a refreshing change of pace, in spite of my reservations. Don't ever let it be said that the Mormons never did anything for me.
Recommended for anyone who doesn't actively dislike anime and can look past the game's chauvinistic undertones.
Simple Rating 8.5 / 10
Sure, I had my minor qualms, but this game is obviously a labor of love and a lot of fun to play. Would have been a 9.0, except for the absence of tentacles.
Story 8.5 / 10
The plot's quite the escapist romp, and the pacing keeps you from noticing it's occasionally glaring weak points until after the fact.
Writing 8 / 10
The second paragraph of the game contains the line "This is that time when friends are want to meet together and pursue wholesome recreation in and around the grounds of the mall." This type of inexplicable stiltedness abounds, but there are no technical errors and you always know what is being said.
Playability 7 / 10
I'd deduct more for the simple fact that you can only play ADRIFT games in Windows, but, unlike most of my contemporaries, I have absolutely no qualms about being Bill Gates's bitch.
Puzzle Quality 9 / 10
Anyone can beat the game no problem on the one hand, on the other after two and a half playthroughs, I still haven't nearly solved everything.
Parser Responsiveness 8.5 / 10
A couple weird quirks, but an absolute dream by ADRIFT standards.
Reviews should be considered copyrighted by their respective authors.
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