More often than not, this is a site that revolves around nostalgia. I’m always going on about the good old days, and writing about games that I would have played as a teenager or in my early twenties. These are games that I look back on fondly, and I occasionally look back fondly on the times, despite everything. Living in a broken home, attending a shitty high school, working a soul-draining job, awful times that I had to spend a lot of effort to try and find some good in. That being said, I would never in a million years want to re-live those days. Even if I had the perfect upbringing and nothing bad ever happened to me in the outside world, I would never want to be a teenager again. Are you kidding me? That painful, awkward part of your life, where hormones and emotions are out of control? Dealing with acne, growing pains, public education, no real independence, homework? Yeah, no, fuck that.
Konami, however, does not feel the same way I do. Their once long-running Tokimeki Memorial series asks one question: how would you do your high school years all over again? Would you study harder? Would you be better at sports? Would you pursue your dreams of becoming an artist? Would you get together with the girl of your dreams, and live the rest of your lives together? Tokimeki Memorial, for those who don’t know, is a series of dating sims where you play as a teenage boy, living your teenage life, hoping to get together with a teenage girl by the time you graduate. Then at some point, there was a trio of spin-offs made where the roles were reversed, where you were a girl looking for a boy. Up until 2010, those games were exclusive to the Nintendo DS, but the third game did get an enhanced port of the PSP in 2012.
3rd Story is mechanically no different than any other Tokimemo game. A bulk of your time is spent building individual stats; studying makes you smarter, working out makes you more physically fit, sketching makes you better at art, and so on. Naturally, the various boys you can date are tied to these stats, so you’ll end up building your character for the boy you like the most (a sentence that sounds incredibly dire now that I’ve written it out). Of course, having a higher intelligence means that you won’t be failing school exams, and being in good shape makes it easier to win the school field day mini-games, so everything ties together, and you don’t want to neglect a stat. Sort of a condensed way of looking at the high school experience. The rest of the game is making sure you say the right thing when a boy comes along. Sometimes, anyway. There are times where you have to play hard to get, times when you have to tease the boys instead of say what they want to hear. Sometimes, you have to neg the boy you want to date.
And what a collection of boys we have in this game. Konami could have easily played it safe and stuck with the dating sim cliches that they created with the original Tokimeki Memorial, but they made a wise decision to change things up at least a little bit. There is the mandatory “childhood friend,” only now there are two of them, both brothers who are juvenile delinquents that get into fights, ride motorcycles, and are squatting in an abandoned diner due to being homeless and implied runaways. The “artist” is an obscenely wealthy guy who looks down on most of the students around him, and takes a limo to school. There is a boy one year younger than you who is a complete pervert that tries to woo you with pick-up artist techniques. You can date the president of the student council, and question the entire time if he actually loves you, or if his personality of helping everyone around him at his own expense is the reason he’s sticking with you. A good collection of messy boys that I appreciate, much more in-depth than “the one who is smart” or “the one who is good at sports” or “the one who likes fashion.”
I feel like I need to point something out, as the concept of a game where the main conceit is dating a high school student is going to raise a few eyebrows, even if the protagonist is herself a teenager as well. Tokimeki Memorial was a big departure from other dating sims of its era, in that it is extremely not horny. Not even a remote glimmer of any sexual desire in a single character. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining about this, but I feel like this is a time where it seems like people are more than willing to throw the P-word at a Japanese developer for the slightest reasons, so I had to put that disclaimer in this piece. This is not a sex game, this is a game about nostalgia.
As I said earlier, the original DS version of this game was released in 2010, with the PSP port coming two years later. 2010, a time when the iPhone had wormed its way into becoming the de facto communication tool for the entire world. The firm establishment of Facebook and Twitter as the new way to receive news and information. We were only five years away from the phrase “pivot to video.” The world in 2010, socially and technologically, was a far different place than it was half a decade prior, if not even less than that. Yet, 3rd Story is not a depiction of modern high school life. There is a scene where Shitara, the rich kid piano virtuoso, needs your help sending an email through his flip phone. You can visit an in-game internet to get news, schedules for events, and an advice column. These pages are a couple animated gifs of construction workers away from looking like someone’s Geocities page. 3rd Story is nostalgia for twenty something millenials, the same way the original game would have been nostalgia for Koji Igarashi’s generation (yes, the first game was written by that Koji Igarashi, the one who would subsequently change the world with Symphony of the Night). This is a game all about the good times: a school with no bullying, full of conventionally attractive boys who will fall in love with you with only a mild amount of effort on your part, you make platonic friends immediately, most of the part-time jobs you can work are incredibly simple and do not produce conflict or issues for you (unless you pick the game tester job, in which case say goodbye to your entire social life). As much as I never want to relive my teen years, there is something about this game’s idealized youth that I enjoy.
Now, I love this game. I really do. And I’m still sticking by my statement about the game not being horny. However, there are some things that are pretty fucking gross that I cannot ignore. There is a great cast of characters for you to romance. However, there are two hidden routes that leave a bad taste in my mouth. You see, I’ve been using the term “boy” to describe all of your romantic partners. But there are also two men that you can end up with. One is a romance author of unknown age, but absolutely an adult who will outright reject your advances at first, but will fall for you the more you pursue him. That’s disgusting. The other route is with your homeroom teacher, who you are specifically told is 24 years old at the start of the game, meaning that he is 28 by the end of your high school days. That’s probably worse. Granted, they don’t have any romantic feelings for you until you turn 18, don’t even date you until after you’ve graduated, and the methods you need to get with them are the kind of obtuse you need a walkthrough for and can completely fail at the first mistake, but that doesn’t really make it any better. It seem wholly unnecessary. Like, why not just add more students to date instead? Why not your best friend, who is very obviously gay? Throw a bone to the queer gamers? Seems a lot better than literal adults with a power differential over you. The PSP version does add a new student to date, but these two are still there. The fact that these routes exist in a game without any sexual content makes it seem even worse somehow. It sucks, and it’s a black eye on the rest of the game, which is great.
Despite that last paragraph, I still suggest you check out 3rd Story. The PSP was loaded with dating sims, some of which even got official English localizations, and this is among the best of the bunch. It has charm, it has humor, it has personality, and it is well-written enough to stick with you through multiple playthroughs.