heartthrob 101 [image-heavy]
It's been awhile since I talked about tokimeki memorial. When last we left off...
It looks like I'm going to confess my love to Mio, the studious bookworm whose idea of a perfect date is reading a book and ignoring you while you sit silently together in the library.
Well, that didn't work out. I got over-confident, and underestimated how susceptible I would be to the "bomb" mechanic in the last year of the game.
Here's a very brief description of the game for anyone unfamiliar: you start out at the beginning of high school friends with Shiori Fujisaki, the game's "canonical" target of the protagonist's affection. You grew up next door to her, so you're childhood friends and you start off friendly with her, albeit with no romantic undertones. To the extent the protagonist expresses any explicit goal, his goal is to date Shiroi. The game telegraphs that she's the most popular girl in school, and thus the most desirable.
You, the protagonist, are not desirable. You're just some random shmuck, and your proximity-based familiarity with Shiori is a complete accident. When you start out, Shiori is the only girl in your phone book. You can also call Yoshio, your one male friend in the game, who I can only describe as the class creep. He keeps a notebook with vital information about every girl you meet in the game, including their likes, what club they're in, their phone numbers, and their... ugh...
measurements 😒. You can ask him what the girls think of you, which is presented with a cute range of smiley faces:
Any of these might also have a bomb icon next to it, which is how you know if a girl is about to "bomb" you. More on that later. Besides this, you can also ask Yoshio about date spots, but that's a waste of an action, because you can also get that information from the quarterly culture magazine for free.
For some bizarre reason, you can also call Rei, the school's notorious rich asshole. Every interaction you have with him involves him bragging about how much money he has, and concern trolling about how difficult things must be for the lower classes. I have no idea why you would ever call him, and I've never even considered wasting my one phone call a week (more on that later) to see what it does. At some point, I'm going to have to play a game specifically to try to either befriend Rei or get revenge on him. There has to be some reason he's in your phone book.
Anyway, at the beginning of the game, you can call Shiori, Yoshio, or Rei. Other than holidays, you can make exactly one phone call per week, on Sunday, and this is by far the most important choice you make. If you call to ask a girl out on a date and she says no, that's it, you've used your phone call and you have to wait for the next Sunday or Holiday to make another call.
Before I get into that, let's talk about...
the planning phase
Here's the action menu:
Every Sunday evening, the game asks "What do you want to focus on this week?" You can pick from any of the top 8 items. What you pick determines which of your statistics you work on every day that week.
It's not 1:1 which action increases which stat, but in general, any of the study options can increase your culture, insight, logic and art stats. Studying art provides more of a boost to the appropriate stat, and studying science provides more of a boost to logic. (These two terms might be interchangeable in Japanese; the game doesn't give explicit names to any of the menu options, so those are the best labels I can give them.)
The clubs option means you'll focus on club activities for the week, and what effect that has depends on which club you join. The socialize option increases your insight. Fitness does what it sounds like, and also provides the biggest boost to your spirit. I don't know exactly what effect spirit and insight have, but I feel like they function sort of like "luck", like good things are more likely to happen if they're higher. However, I've completely ignored fitness for both of my playthroughs so far and it doesn't seem like I've been punished for it, so 🤷♀️
The looks action increases that stat, naturally. This includes hygiene, so it has to be at some bare minimum level or your date will run away in horror because you smell so bad. At higher levels, it determines whether you're able to get into Rei's yearly Christmas party (i.e. if you're dressed well enough not to be turned away by the bouncer.) There's also another student you can date if your looks stat is high enough, but I haven't focused on it enough to meet her yet.
Every action has a die roll behind the scenes determining whether you "succeed" or "fail". For example, if it's Sunday evening and the game asks me what I want to do, and I pick fitness, assuming there are no holidays, it'll do six fitness rolls, one for every school day that week,1 play a little animation of the protagonist running for each roll, and either give you a chime and show him making the victory sign, or give you a buzzer sound and show him falling on his face:
Failure doesn't necessarily mean the stat doesn't go up, but it might not go up as much, and it might mean you take more of a hit to your health and stress stats.
If you get a good roll every day, at the end of the week it'll say "this week went perfectly!" I don't know what this does, but probably something good. If you get a bad roll every day, something bad might happen. For the fitness action, this could mean injuring yourself. For other actions, it could mean some sort of social conflict or getting sick. I've been pretty careful about my health, so I haven't seen many of the misfortunes.
Speaking of health, every action you take decreases your health and increases your stress. The worse these stats are, the worse everything is going to go for you. You make these stats better by resting. There's no die roll for this action, you just chill under a tree for a week and watch your health go up while your stress, insight and looks stats all go down:
A blue number means the stat just went up, a pink number means it just went down. This is probably pretty colorblind-unfriendly.
There is a die roll to determine how much the stat increases or decreases by, but it's not a huge range, maybe 0-2? Each day goes by in a blur, so it's hard to get a sense of the exact numbers.
Even though you're only making one of these choices a week and watching it play out, I still found it very interesting. It's a delicate balancing act, you can't just make these decisions willy-nilly, and these choices can have really important consequences down the road.
The other menu options come into play during the...
Sunday mornings (and the morning of any holiday) you get to pick an action. If you want, you can pick any of the 8 options you pick during the planning phase. This results in a guaranteed successful roll, and a slightly higher boost compared with a normal day.
However, the action phase is the only time you can make a phone call, check the magazine, and go on dates. You should always check the magazine, even if you know it's not going to change, just to refresh your memory about the available dating options. It's a free action, so there's no reason not to.
Then, if you have a date scheduled, you should pick the date option... unless you want to blow it off. Why would you do this? Well, if you feel like one of the girls likes you a little too much, you can make them angry/upset disappointed in you by scheduling a date and then not showing up. I never did this.
If you don't have a date scheduled, you should either schedule one or call Yoshio to see what everyone thinks about you. At first, you can only schedule dates with Shiori, but as you increase your stats (and as time passes) you'll meet other students you can date. You have to call Yoshio first to get their phone numbers.
Who you meet when depends on what stats you focus on. In the aforementioned playthrough, I met Mio almost immediately because I wanted to focus on book-learnin'. Since I was able to date her right away, it wasn't long before my status with her was super-happy-blushing-smiley face level, so I thought "oh, I got this, Mio and me are definitely gonna end up together."
Well, there's a wrinkle. You can't just date one girl and ignore everyone else, because then you run the risk of being "bombed".
If the other girls feel like you're ignoring them, they're likely to "bomb" you. This is the only mechanic I feel is genuinely a little shitty and sexist. When a girl bombs you, she spreads rumors about you, to get back at you for hurting her feelings. If you know there's a bomb coming up, you can call her to try to defuse it, but unless you stop ignoring her, it's just delaying the inevitable. When a bomb goes off, your rating goes down with every girl, regardless of how you've been treating them otherwise.
In the playthrough where I thought I was going to end up with Mio, I was hanging out with everyone I met, and everyone was pretty happy with me, except Shiori.
I would occasionally bump into her after school and ask if she wanted to walk home together, and every time she would say "no, I'd be embarrassed if anyone saw us." Every time I tried to ask her out on a date, she would say "no, I'm busy that day." Well, I got the hint. It was clear she wasn't interested in me at all, so I stopped engaging. I stopped trying to go out with her, and I stopped asking if she wanted to walk home.
Every time I called Yoshio, she had a big frowny face next to her name, the other girls were lukewarm to slightly positive, and Mio had the happy blushing face, so I figured Mio and I were in good shape, relationship-wise. I was sad that Shiori didn't like me, but I didn't know what to do about it.
Well, eventually Shiori bombed me. And it made everyone else like me less, even Mio. Mio was still positive, but the other girls ranged from sad to angry. And it wasn't long before they started bombing me, too.
You only get one phone call per week, except for the occasional holiday, so once the bombs start piling up, you're done. You can't possibly defuse all of them. By the end, everyone hated me, especially Mio, and I got the bad ending where you end up sad and alone.
My second playthrough wasn't too dissimilar from the first, but this time, I mixed up my dating strategy. You have the option to schedule a date up to 4 weeks in advance, but I would always ask girls out for the following week, to keep things simple. This was a mistake. Girls are less likely to say "no, I'm busy that day" if you ask them out more than one week in advance (which seems obvious now.) Also, the game wants you to have multiple dates scheduled. It rewards you for remembering who you said you were going to go out with when. For example, say I ask Shiori out to see a concert, Mio out to the art gallery, Yumi to see a wrestling match with me, and Yuina out to see a movie. These dates are scheduled for four consecutive weeks.
The first week, it'll remind me I have a date with Shiori. I choose the date action, and it says "Where was my date with Shiori again?" Then, it asks pick either the movie theater, the concert hall, or the art gallery. I pick the concert hall, and I go to meet her there.
When I arrive, I don't see Shiori anywhere. My character thinks, "am I sure this is where I was supposed to meet Shiori?" and I can choose either "yes, I'm sure" or "no, it was somewhere else". I choose "yes", and eventually Shiori shows up and we have our date.
Like... this is so far removed from anything I've ever done in real life that it wasn't immediately intuitive, but it makes sense for a dating simulator. It would be a very boring game if you could just make friends with one girl, date her all 3 years, and end up with her at the end.
I would find it gross to play a game that rewards me for "playing the field" like this, but everything about the game is cute and innocent and completely unsexualized. The "dates" are just hanging out with a friend and getting to know each other better. It's not implied at any point that the protagonist's goal is to "hook up" with anyone. You never even have the option to make any kind of physical advance on the girls. It's more innocent than the social links in Persona 4; there are scenes where time advances and you can imagine whatever you want there, but it's never implied in-text that you so much as hold hands with any of the girls.
Ultimately, that's what made me fall in love with the game. There are a couple of gross objectifying elements—I'm not thrilled that the game tells you about their measurements, and there's one day each year that you have the option to try to peek at a girl in the shower. I never did, and I'm sure the game rewarded me for it, but I kinda wish the option wasn't even there.
Other than those quibbles, it's really a game about getting to know the girls as people and trying to understand them. Every datable character is great. They each have their own personality quirks, but none of them is a bad person, and every ending (other than the one where you end up alone) is good.
In my second playthrough, I successfully hung out with everyone I met, no one was mad at me, and in the end, Yumi confessed her love to me under the tree of destiny.
The game ends in April of 1999, so this was effectively my final rating.
Yumi is Yoshio's little sister. She's a year younger than you, so although you sometimes speak to her when you call Yoshio and she picks up, you don't meet her in person until you start your second year of high school and she starts her first. She's anxious that you'll find her too immature, but she likes wrestling and video games and pop music and is cheerful and energetic and awesome. On New Years Day 1999, heading into the last couple months of high school, I fully expected to go do the usual routine, go to the shrine with Shiori, get our fortunes for the year, make a wish, etc. But Yumi came over with the Heartthrob card game I got her for her birthday, saying she's been dying to finally play it, and heck, I couldn't tell her no. We spent all day playing it, and I had no regrets.
Despite my initial hesitation, I'm sure I'll end up replaying Tokimeki Memorial a dozen or more times. I want to learn about everyone. I want to see what all the clubs are like. I want to find out what happens if I try to call Rei. I want to see all the weird random events. It has so much.
If you plan to play it and don't want any surprises spoiled, stop here. If you still need convincing, Here's a handful of out-of-context screenshots, just a few examples of what's hidden just below the surface:
Yes, I named the protagonist Roast Beef. Don't judge. You would too, if you were me 🦝
In Japan, the school week is Monday-Saturday. They have way more holidays off than students in the US get, and because the game calls attention to them it's easy to get jealous ("Children's Day? Culture Day? Respect For The Aged Day?!") but when you factor in all the School Saturdays, Japan definitely gets the raw end of that deal.↩