Arcade Spirits: The New Challengers (Demo) | First Impressions

Sweet & Spicy are pleased to announce that we’ve partnered with PQube for their upcoming title, ‘Arcade Spirits: The New Challengers’, as part of Steam Next Fest: October 2021! The full game is scheduled for release in early 2022, but if you want to try it out before then, a free demo is available to download on Steam.

‘Arcade Spirits: The New Challengers’ is a colourful visual novel about friendship and romance in the world of e-sports and arcades. The protagonist is highly customisable, with a variety of options for pronouns, skin colour, hair, and more, but the best part is that your pronouns have no affect on who you can pursue.

If you’re looking for an inclusive game that goes above and beyond with its representation, then I recommend trying out ‘Arcade Spirits: The New Challengers’. Be who you want and love who you want – even your own, custom-made rival…

Game Name:
Arcade Spirits: The New Challengers
Producer(s): PQube, Fiction Factory Games
Platform: PC (Steam)
Available for download: here!
Price: Free Demo

Disclaimer: The opinions presented here are our own and in no way influenced by our partnership with PQube. This is a review, not an advertisement, commissioned post, or sponsorship.

What is Steam Next Fest?Steam Next Fest is an event organised by Steam that showcases free demos for upcoming video games. Players can test out demos for participating games and watch livestreams hosted by game devs and partnered content creators.

“Steam Next Fest is a multi-day celebration where fans can try out demos, chat with developers, watch livestreams, and learn about upcoming games on Steam. For developers, Steam Next Fest is an opportunity to get early feedback from players and build an audience for a future launch on Steam.”

Steam Next Fest

What is ‘Arcade Spirits: The New Challengers’? – PQube is participating in the current Steam Next Fest with a free demo of their upcoming visual novel, ‘Arcade Spirits: The New Challengers’, which is scheduled for release in early 2022. This is a follow up to their 2019 game, ‘Arcade Spirits‘, which was also developed by Fiction Factory Games and published by PQube.

While ‘Arcade Spirits: The New Challengers’ is described as a ‘follow up’ to the 2019 game, it doesn’t seem to be a sequel, as I didn’t feel like I missed out on anything by not having played the original ‘Arcade Spirits’. The description on Steam explains that you can import your player decisions from the original game, but it’s not necessary to have played it in order to enjoy ‘The New Challengers’.

Note: If you’re curious about the 2019 game, you can download a free demo or purchase the full game on Steam.

Story

“In the distant future year 20XX, an alternate timeline where arcades never went away… you’re an aspiring gamer searching for esports glory on the Fist of Discomfort 2 Pro Tour. Seeking a partner to play with, you join a team of players who hang out at Good Clean Fun, a combination pizzeria / laundromat / arcade.”

– Official Game Description (via Steam)

The free demo acts as a sort of tutorial or prologue to the full game, so it’s difficult to provide much of an opinion on the plot at this stage. However, if this glimpse at the story is anything to go by, it seems we can expect plenty of witty dialogue, sarcastic humour, and maybe even a little bit of education on inclusivity in the gaming industry while we’re at it.

Premise: Essentially, the protagonist is an aspiring pro-gamer looking to join an e-sports team so they can realize their dreams of winning a ‘Fist of Discomfort 2’ tournament. You apprehensively join a rag-tag team of eccentric (but skilled) gamers, only to discover that this may just be your dream team after all…

Inclusivity is definitely a big theme, and there were plenty of moments where rude and discriminatory characters got their comeuppance. The character designs are nuanced, interesting, and clearly defined, as their interactions felt consistent without being 1-dimensional.

With the retro-yet-also-kinda-futuristic setting, relatable gamer premise, and colourful, diverse cast of characters, I’m confident that this is going to be a game that a lot of visual novel fans will find appealing, and I’m excited to see how the rest of the plot pans out in the full game.

Endings: There aren’t any endings (that I found) in the demo, and I’m not certain as to exactly how many will be available in the full game. The game description suggests there will be both romantic and friendship options, but I don’t know if this is for all of the characters or just some of them, or whether or not there are any bad endings.

Personally, I’m here for the romance and I don’t particularly like friendship routes, but I’m sure there are visual novel fans out there who disagree, so having a variety of options available makes the game more accessible to a wider audience.

I got the distinct impression when playing this demo that ‘Arcade Spirits: The New Challengers’ is a game designed for all visual novel gamers. Instead of relying on traditional, gendered protagonists with heterosexual love interests, Arcade Spirits allows any player to craft a unique, personalised experience that they can immerse themselves in, regardless of identity or background.

Characters

Character design is perhaps the most essential element of any romance or relationship-oriented game, and the characters in Arcade Spirits have left a very good first impression. From the badass Jynx to the sweetheart Grace, there’s a wide variety of love interests to choose from, and your choices aren’t impacted by your pronouns, so you can feel free to create whatever protagonist you want to play and pursue whichever character you want to love.

MC / The Protagonist

One of the major points of appeal for Arcade Spirits, in my opinion, is the customisable main character (MC). You have a wide range of options to choose from, including not just your name, but also your gamer handle, pronouns, avatar icon, skin colour, hairstyle and colour, body type, accessories, and more…

It’s worth noting that most of the time you will be referred to by your gamer handle, not your name, so make sure you pick something you’re going to be happy to read repeatedly. I went with ‘Princess’ and, honestly, having Rhapsody call me ‘Princess’ made the choice absolutely worth it.

After the initial character customisation, you’ll be prompted to make choices that shape your protagonist’s personality. I really enjoyed this aspect of Arcade Spirits, as it made each player decision feel like it had a significant impact on the story I got to experience. Each time you make a choice, you gain points towards a particular personality type, which then determines the options you can select later in the game.

I’m excited to try this properly in the full game to see exactly how much of an impact personality makes, especially on things like who you can pursue and what endings you can get. I want to know if romanceable characters will respond differently to certain personality types, as I got the distinct impression that Jynx wasn’t vibing with my ‘quirky’ personality, but perhaps she would be more interested if I had gone with ‘cooler’ options…

Your Rival

You receive the same character customisation options for your rival

I’ve played romantic games that have some form of MC customisation before, but I can safely say that I’ve never played one that allowed me to make my own rival. This is just one of the many nods to the classic Pokemon series that I noticed, instead this time you’re not just choosing the name of your rival, but also their pronouns and appearance.

From the game description, it seems like the rival is also a romanceable character, so I’m interested to see what it’s like to pursue a character I made myself. I particularly loved that you can choose whether your rivalry is friendly or hostile, and I’m excited to play out my best ‘enemies to lovers’ dreams when the full game releases.

Love Interests

Other than your rival, there are six love interests: Zapper, Rhapsody, Domino, Jynx, Locksley, and Grace. They each have a different specialty when it comes to video games, and they cover a variety of archetypes and appearances. The demo gives you a chance to get to know each of them, so it’s a good opportunity to get a feel for the characters and figure out your fave(s).

These characters all have voice actors (in English!), although not all of their lines were fully-voiced. The opening scenes were, but once I got into the parts where I had to choose who to go and talk to, there would just be one word or phrase that was voiced, rather than the entire line.

Faves: Locksley was the one I got the most points for in my first playthrough, and I love the ‘robin hood but for arcade games’ concept. I also really liked the interactions with Jynx, and I’m curious about Rhapsody, even though I couldn’t keep up with them once they got going about game strategy…

Gameplay

Overall, the gameplay demonstrated so far doesn’t seem to be too complicated. I generally prefer games that focus on story – mostly because I play video games to relax and anything involving too much strategy can make playing the game feel like too much effort – but a little bit of gameplay can add an extra layer to a visual novel, making it more distinct and creative.

If the gameplay detracts from the story, then it can interrupt the flow and ruin the immersion, however I didn’t find that to be the case in Arcade Spirits. Instead, the gameplay is directly incorporated into the story, and makes sense in the context of the scene. It feels like it was included to enhance the experience, not just as a way to force players to grind or add extra gameplay hours for the sake of it – I only hope it doesn’t get too complicated or difficult later in the game (or if it does, that there are at least guides or adjustable difficulty levels).

The arcade minigame was simple and the round I played in the demo was mercifully easy. It felt like the tutorial level, so I imagine they’ll get harder as you go along, but it also gave plenty of hints to help with strategy before it got started. I liked being able to choose who to team up with, as this further incorporates the relationship aspect of the game, which is often the main reason why people play romance-based games in the first place.

In short, the gameplay so far is engaging enough that it adds some in-context flavour to the scene, without being so complicated that it disrupts the flow of the story. It also incorporates the character building and relationship aspects, showing that it’s a visual novel with gameplay features, not an arcade game with some romance sprinkled in.

The RPG-style character customisation and personality building mechanics are great for players who like to self-insert, and it gives the impression of a highly personalised story. My only concern is that a lot of otome and visual novel fans like to collect endings, and having so many options does make it seem like it might be an overwhelming task to try and complete the game.

It’s difficult to tell how easy it will be to re-play at this stage, but there several ‘skip’ options and plenty of save files, so hopefully it won’t be too difficult to clear all of the potential endings. That being said, if you’d rather just do one playthrough where you create your own character and feel like that was the one, ‘true’ route for you, then I definitely think Arcade Spirits will shine in this style of gameplay.

Final Thoughts

As the otome game and visual novel community continues to grow, so does its diversity. Many otome games we’ve played up until now have featured a traditional, female protagonist with traditional, male love interests, and very little option for customisation. ‘Arcade Spirits: The New Challengers’ provides players with a more personalised experience, allowing gamers of all identities and persuasions to create a protagonist (and rival) who appeals to them.

I loved the retro arcade game aesthetic, especially when combined with the futuristic AI, (it actually reminded me a lot of ‘Dates & Wires‘ by Mary Safro and Io Black) and I loved that Locksley is considered just as much a part of the pro-gamer group, despite his specialty being claw machines – something that ‘hardcore’ gamers would ordinarily look down on.

I also loved that Jynx had custom arcade controls so she could enjoy her favourite game without injuring herself – and honestly just the fact that there’s a love interest with a disability at all. I’m pretty sure this is the first time I’ve played a romance-based game with a love interest who uses the pronouns ‘they/them’ (Rhapsody), so that was also super exciting, and I’m looking forward to pursuing them in the full release!

Self-insert otome games are my favourite and I know there are plenty of otome fans who have been looking for something that allows them to express themselves more truthfully – something that they can identify with and feel represented by. I’m excited to explore this aspect of the game further, especially in regards to the rival and personality point systems.

I’d also like to say thank you to PQube for partnering with us for Steam Next Fest. I had a blast playing ‘Arcade Spirits: The New Challengers’, and I look forward to playing the full game once it’s released!

Visual Novel vs. Otome Game

On definitions: I didn’t find any tags or mentions of the words ‘otome game’ in reference to ‘Arcade Spirits’ – instead it’s described as a visual novel with options for friendship and romance. However, we decided to review this game anyway, as it fits our definition for what classifies as an otome game: a story-based game in the romance genre that features a female/customisable MC and isn’t solely designed to appeal to the ‘male gaze’.

While we haven’t labelled it as an otome game (it feels a bit rude to do so when the developers didn’t choose that label themselves), we’ve still approached our review from this perspective, as that’s our background when it comes to video games. This is why we made references the otome game genre in this review – but this doesn’t mean we’re calling ‘Arcade Spirits’ an otome game, just that we’re explaining how it might appeal to otome game fans, including ourselves!

Game Info

Game Name:
Arcade Spirits: The New Challengers
Producer(s): PQube, Fiction Factory Games
Platform: PC (Steam)
Available for download: here!

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One comment

  • Being able to choose body type is a big step up for me when it comes to customization! I’m a fat woman with curves so trying to self-insert onto a skinny person was hard for me and probably the biggest part of why I haven’t made it that far in the original. I’m not a self-inserter for most visual novels anymore but getting the chance to make an MC that’s similar to me is nice.

    Liked by 1 person

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