Visual novel review: Club Life
Written by SuicidePanda, edited by Otaku Apologist
Club Life is a visual novel that takes you on the journey of an introvert as he is forced to join clubs and socialize with people. As an introvert myself, I too feel forced when I have socialize with people. I work from home and spend my free time studying Japanese and trying to program my own hentai games, so I may be getting a little rusty at social stuff. When I began Club Life, I really started to believe that fate was mocking me. Had I been less of a dick, maybe I could have ended up hunting down sea monsters with a cute girl in real life. Yeah… this game got weird.
Dharker Studio has released what seems like 1,000 games…. this year. So what kind of game does a developer with a conveyor belt for releases and veteran-level experience create? A well-polished visual novel with a riveting story? An absolute masterwork of expert craftsmanship?! No. It’d be more accurate to categorize it as a product made on a fast-moving assembly line. It pains me to say this, because Club Life has an excellent foundation; however, it feels like no one spent the time and effort needed to shape it into its full potential.
The main story is about getting to know Melissa, Kylie, and Janet; or as I refer to them, the mega bitch, the crazy girl, and the schizophrenic. You meet them by joining their respective clubs. The clubs you pick will dramatically alter the storyline. Branching stories are a staple in visual novels and Club Life handles this part fairly well. Cross-character story events make you feel like you’re involved in a living world. Your choices directly impact this and make you wanna have multiple play-throughs, to unlock everything.
Kylie is the most level-headed and straight-forward girl in the game. Despite the main character complaining about how weird she is, he contradictingly has the easiest time understanding her. Melissa is not only a stuck-up rich bitch, but also someone who had apparently ruined the MC’s life when he was younger. The story tells us that Melissa truly cares for people and isn’t so selfish, while her actions prove the opposite.
That leaves Janet. She is an intelligent, sporty, religious, innocent, and level-headed girl. Well, at least according to the story. In reality, she makes rash decisions, skips her club meetings, and has sweeping personality changes from day to day. In an attempt to give her character depth, they ended up making her a psychotic quagmire.
This is one of the biggest problems in the game: Telling instead of showing. Rather than truly developing the characters over time, there are just a few key moments where the girls will suddenly act like a different person. There are even some characters who, despite having a huge impact on the story, never even make an appearance. We just hear a lot about them. Character development isn’t the only thing that suffers from this. Major events are often described with nothing more than text. Did I have coffee with that girl? Was it fun? We found something in the hidden room, you say?
Ecchi moments are often described in detail while having zero visuals to go along with them. I read about plush breasts rubbing up against the MC as he tried to hide his boner and frilly panties that were mistakenly left out for his viewing pleasure. You must accept this as fact, because the game shows you NOTHING!
During my playthroughs, I enjoyed Kylie’s story the most by far. It’s unfortunate that her storyline seems to have received the sharp end of an axe at the editing table. Joining her in the newspaper club allows you to learn secrets of the school and investigate local urban legends. With Kylie by your side, you will explore the forbidden areas of your school, uncover the mystery of room 117, and hunt the illusive sea monster Wessie, who happens to roam the woods nowhere near a sea. As fun as they are, I have a huge issue with how these subplots are handled. The amount of detail they lack is tremendous, and they end with rather unsatisfactory conclusions. Leaving something open to the imagination is great, but this game has so many unanswered questions, you have to wonder if even the writer knows the truth.
As I’ve mentioned repeatedly, Club Life’s biggest flaw is that it feels bare bones and like it’s missing content. When the characters speak about events in detail and show you nothing more than a staircase the entire time, it really makes you wonder. If you still don’t believe they clearly cut things out of the game, I have to mention the options menu. There is a volume slider for voices, yet voice overs are entirely absent. Since Dharker Studio has released two more games since this one, and have several more in development, I wouldn’t hold my breath for any updates. They did, however, release the game’s soundtrack for purchase. The music is serviceable, but it isn’t anything special.
More on the lack of polish; there are no scene transitions. When switching scenes, the music abruptly cuts out and you are launched into the next scene. Also, if you scroll back through the story, it won’t just show you a transcript of dialogue, it jumps back to the previous scene with the same jarring music skip. This is a minor detail, but it’s very telling about the amount of care this game was given.
Club Life has a rather unique artstyle. The backgrounds are gorgeously drawn, and highly detailed. They are in stark contrast to the character portraits. The characters have a much softer, simpler style to them, and unlike the pristine backgrounds, they sometimes appear amateurish and anatomically incorrect. Style differences are not uncommon in VNs, but some of the character art is so contrasting that it seems entirely out of place.
If you can overlook the minor grammatical errors, sometimes awkward dialogue, lack of voice acting, and the sections of plot that are practically paved over in cement, Club Life’s story can be pretty damn exciting! If you came here to fap, don’t bother. Lewd scenes in this game are not the dessert to the dish, but more like parsley on your plate. This game is a burger– go elsewhere if you want a sundae. With so many other games out there, and the fact that you can get 100% completion in this game in ~8 hours, I can’t really recommend this title. On a deeply discounted sale, you may want to grab it and check it out for the story alone.