I expected this game to be a total joke-- which isn't really a bad thing-- and to be fair it had its share of ridiculous antics and stupid humor, but... I was surprised by the amount of emotional depth and realism present in a game set in the land of Pastry and Pottery Gods. This is probably the first dating sim I've played with interactions between characters that really felt alive. It's probably greatly helped by what others have already pointed out: Ginger is a fully fleshed out, unique person. The rest of this review contains SPOILERS so anyone stumbling through the comments before playing should really just stop now and enjoy being caught off guard by what this game has to offer!
- Did you enjoy it overall?
Absolutely! This game had me tearing up at some points/really thinking about my actions, and laughing like an idiot at others. It's so strange to think that a game can have Benjamin crying over old pages of your diary, telling you he never wants to see you again, since it's clear you've only been using him since the start... and also have Carver dressing up as an old woman and stealing your shoes. I knew it was him! Wait why did he do that though? Like sure, yeah, crossdress for discounts... but why did he steal Ginger's shoes!? The mysteries of Carver are unrivaled.
The complexity Ginger shows in each route is incredible. Coming to terms with her jealousy and feelings of inadequacy in Carver's, realizing that she wouldn't have helped Benjamin if he had come to her two months earlier and feeling that shame that only a previously ignorant and self-absorbed person can feel, knowing inside that using Radley was wrong even when he tells her he knows and he's alright with it, and trying to cope with the guilt of it however she can. I also love how she literally forgets the festival in every freaking route.
And the boys are just as human-- er, elven... and charming to boot! Benjamin's trust issues, his attempts to cut himself off from his emotions, and his ability to decide someone's character and tell them off or thank them accordingly, paired with his strange interests and his lack of understanding of basic social customs as he interacts with an unfamiliar culture, makes for a very endearing character. I love how his sheep went from a funny joke to something serious, too. His only friends from back home, and an incredible comfort to both Ginger and Carver in the pink midget's route. Releasing them in Radley's route was genuinely painful. Benjamin is also just... really sincere. To quote (or rather paraphrase) him, "I'd rather say what I think then not and regret it later."
Likewise, Radley's quirks and traits won me over quite thoroughly. I usually love best friend types, but Radley's first prank annoyed the heck out of me right off the bat. His pranks aren't funny. Like, at all. But he makes up for that somehow, and that just makes me like the good in him even more. His feelings for Ginger (and how he deals with them) provide a good insight into who he is as a person. He likes Ginger because she's bold and takes things into her own hands, unlike him with his indirect approach to life, and wants her to make a move. His jealousy in other routes is both very interesting and heartbreaking. He supports her, but feels incredibly dissatisfied-- and everyone in town can sense it but Ginger herself, the fool. Ginger's line, "What would Radley know about the pain of unrequited love?" really hit hard. What would you know about it, Ginger? Man, when he said, "No one could hate you, Ginger," something in my heart died a little. I love that he sings. It's such a small detail, but really brings him to life. I think my favorite thing about Radley is that he's the first "best friend" I've seen in a dating sim that, you know, is actually present in the protagonist's life in the way best friends are. I saved his route for last, but got plenty of Radley content in the other two routes and had already grown fond of him by the time I got to actually dating him. Him being a germaphobe is also very unique and distinct to Radley. Makes him memorable.
And Carver... oh Carver, I will speak about later. Just you wait.
- What was your favorite part?
God, it's really hard to say.
Maybe when you choose to tell Radley you really like Carver, and he smiles at you to hide his pain and says, "Oh. I'm not sure I can help you with that."
Perhaps when Carver's jealousy has him putting up his walls again, and you get so ticked off at what seems like a regression in your progress that you start that huge argument in which you both use each other's insecurities against each other until it ends in a flaming declaration of, "Everyone hates you! I hate you!" and a subdued, "I was stupid to think this could ever work."
Or could it be when Benjamin tells you that your lack of sympathy to his refusal to date you only proves that agreeing would be a bad move on his part?
Nah, it's definitely when you try to flaunt your legs and fall in a puddle of mud and Benjamin's like, "Dude, you gotta leave." Or when you practice pickup lines with Radley to prepare to woo Carver.
- What parts could be improved upon?
I changed Ginger's name, admittedly, to Saffron. Saffy for short. At some points she would still be referred to as Ginger or Ging or even Ginger-ewe. I also found that when you rush to help Radley when he slips in the mud, the bad ending doesn't happen. It mistakenly redirects you into asking him to shower at your place. I also thought the point system for getting a good ending was a little unclear. Other than these technicalities, I was very happy with everything.
- Who was your favorite character?
Oh, Carver, my dear sweet Carver. I can't tell you how much I adore him. I immediately knew that I would. When Ginger stood before her town and said that he's lovely and not annoying and she would cook anyone who said otherwise (who wasn't her) into her next baked good... yeah that's about how I feel about Carver. Lowkey when the grandma and the mayor gave him busywork to get rid of him in Radley's route I was filled with some genuine rage and sadness. Courting Carver was a real journey of an experience. He was the first I went for, and I don't regret it. Everything about that route was so good!! His definite flight reaction to Ginger's "weird behavior" was adorable omg. The food fight was my jam. When he came over early after Ginger had been dying waiting all day, it was so akin to the feeling of real life relief when someone's been missing you too. The argument, as I've mentioned, really made me take the game seriously. His haunted expression will stick with me for life. It was like everything just stopped in place as Ginger dropped her bowl. I loved his relationship with Benjamin. I loved how when it comes to telling him about Heartbaked, there was no avoiding it, was no better choice than the truth. How he took it, man. I felt so terrible. Oh my god-- him confessing to pinning a crime on Radley was beautiful,, I love how each route makes a case for the other boys. I wanted to pursue all of them by the end of Carver's route, which is a great feat. Carver's ending. "You have a long time to make me love you." Ugh. I love this boy.
- Any other comments?
This has definitely gotten me into a creative mood, and I'll be drawing up fan art and writing stories with these characters for sure. I really want to explore the relationships between all the boys and maybe go for a big messy poly relationship in a fanfic lol. I just hate when I can't make everyone happy together, especially when I feel like it could work! Thank you for this piece of art. I'll be checking out your other games.