Arcade Spirits: The New Challengers | Game Review

In the distant future year of 20XX, in an alternate world where arcades never went away, grind hard to achieve your championship dreams in the e-sports scene of ‘Fist of Discomfort 2’…

The sweet rush of success beckons you, but no matter how good it feels to wipe the floor with your opponents, just remember that the real victory is the fr– nevermind, the game couldn’t bring itself to go there, so neither will I.

Find fame, fortune, friendship, and maybe even romance, in Fiction Factory’s latest visual novel of love and pixels, Arcade Spirits: The New Challengers.

Game Name: Arcade Spirits: The New Challengers
Developer: Fiction Factory Games
Publisher: PQube
Platform: Steam, itch.io, Nintendo Switch, PS4, PS5
Age Rating: Teen (see here for detailed content warnings)
More information: here!

Note: While this is technically the second instalment of the ‘Arcade Spirits’ series, it’s not necessary to have played the original ‘Arcade Spirits‘ to enjoy ‘Arcade Spirits: The New Challengers’.

Ratings

Not quite a fairy-tale romance, but the ‘found family’ feels are incredibly sweet, and the overall tone is kind and compassionate.
The steamiest AS:TNC gets is flirting, innuendo, and a kiss. This is a game you play for the plot and the wholesome type of lovin’, not to get your rocks off.
The cast of AS:TNC is distinctly human – breaking free from oversaturated archetypes – and diverse, so there’s someone to love for everyone!
I was blown away by the writers’ phenomenal storytelling skills. Structure, tone, and comedic timing are all spot-on, so no complaints here.

Disclaimer: A copy of the game was provided to us by the publishers. Thank you PQube!

Premise

“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.

It’s up to you to rally the team, learning more about who they are and how best to support their dreams along the way. Defeat rivals, conquer tournaments, build relationships, and uncover a strange arcade conspiracy as your team walks the road to victory!

– Arcade Spirits (Website)

Have you ever wondered what the hyper-commercialised, hyper-competitive e-sports scene would be like if arcades were the dominant platform for gaming? Well, now’s your chance to find out! I loved how the writers incorporated witty (and poignant) social commentary on the modern e-sports industry into an endearing tale of imperfect weirdos finding their place in an imperfect world.

I’ve been craving wholesome ‘found family’ stories lately, and ‘Arcade Spirits: The New Challengers’ gave me exactly what I was looking for. This doesn’t surprise me, as Aenne Schumann – one of the writers for this game – also worked on ‘First Bite‘, an 18+ visual novel that also featured similar themes of belonging and acceptance, particularly among social outcasts.

The setting and cast of both games are different, but whether it’s achieving your masochistic dreams of joining a coven of sexy-scary vampires, or becoming an arcade e-sports champion with your rag-tag team of misfit gamers, Aenne Schumann has your back.

What’s also notable is the similar tone of care and compassion throughout the story, regardless of the topic being discussed. Heavy themes are handled delicately–and it’s clear that the writers kept the mental health of their readers in mind while writing these difficult scenes.

Furthermore, the writers excel at comedy, particularly jokes that are designed to appeal to the game’s target audience. Those who are already familiar with classic titles in the video game industry will appreciate the loving homages to icons of our sub-cultural history, which adds a dash of genuine passion to an indie game already packed full of heart and soul.

Game Trailer

Characters

As this website specialises in otome game reviews, I’ll quickly clarify that ‘Arcade Spirits: The New Challengers’ doesn’t advertise itself to be an otome game. It’s a rom-com visual novel with a highly-customizable protagonist, which allows for optional romance with characters who are similarly diverse in appearance, gender, and personality.

Still, for those of us otome fans who like a little variety in our love stories, there’s an abundance of choice in this game: from my favourite sadboy, Domino, to the fiery ‘n’ flirty Zapper, there’s someone here for everyone–no matter your preferences and persuasions.

Recommended play order: Follow your heart! ❤
In my opinion, the game works best when you go with your gut and see what happens. After that, go back and change your choices based on whatever (or whoever) peaks your curiosity.

I’ve completed one full playthrough so far, in which I cleared Domino’s romance ending. You’ll have plenty of opportunities throughout the story to change course, and you’ll still get a chance to learn more about the other characters and overarching plot lines, no matter who you pursue.

I loved that the game didn’t lock me in to a route too early, so I could test the waters and get to know the whole cast before choosing my favourite love interest. This made the relationship development with each character feel real and organic, facilitating true self-insert immersion into the story.

For example, I initially thought I’d be going for Locksley, but Domino’s “sadboy hours” proved too tempting for my inner emo, so I switched focus halfway through. This was incredibly easy to achieve without feeling like I’d betrayed anyone, and even late in the game I was still given several chances to change my mind before embarking on the ending.

Based on the extensive variety of choices, characters, and even your protagonist’s personality build, AS:TNC is fantastic for players who prefer to self-insert into their visual novels, crafting an MC and story that feels tailor-made to suit your tastes.

You’ll have an abundance of opportunities to make the playthrough feel truly yours, so I whole-heartedly recommend setting aside your desires to min-max your achievement-gets and route completions, and instead fully immerse yourself in the game, and just see where the story takes you…

Main Character (MC)

Name: Customizable (including your in-game gamer tag!)
Pronouns: Customizable
Appearance: Customizable
Voice Actor: N/A – not voiced

I won’t spend too long discussing the protagonist, as your experience will change depending on the choices you make in-game. However, I wanted to say how impressed I was that the writers managed to pull off a compelling character growth arc for MC, despite the large variety of potential personalities that can be built throughout the game.

While the protagonist is essentially a blank slate suited to self-insert players, there’s still a plot just for them, so players can still be the centre of the story, without pre-determined characteristics and plot points breaking that appealing sense of immersion.

No romantic visual novel out there has a perfect array of customization options, but considering how frequently the protagonist appears on screen, ‘Arcade Spirits: The New Challengers’ features an impressive set of pronouns, body types, skin colours, and other appearance options to choose from.

Rival

Name: Customizable (including their in-game gamer tag!)
Pronouns: Customizable
Potential Relationships: Hostile, Friendly, Romantic ❤
Voice Actor: N/A – not voiced

I panicked a bit when I designed my rival and made her look too much like my protagonist, but I do love that we can design our own rival/potential love interest. I wasn’t sure how much they’d show up in the story, but it turns out they’re actually a key character, so I recommend taking the time to design someone you’ll enjoy interacting with.

I didn’t pursue my rival in this playthrough – so I can’t comment on the romance elements – but even without specifically courting her, there were plenty of scenes that had me hot and bothered, so I’ll definitely be taking a more active interest in future playthroughs, to further explore this element of the game.

As I mentioned earlier, there are always opportunities throughout the game to change the nature of your relationship with any given character, so don’t feel like you have to choose the ‘friendly’ rivalry to unlock the romance options later. I’m particularly keen to choose the ‘hostile’ relationship setting at the beginning and enjoy a custom-made ‘enemies-to-lovers’ romance with my rival… the possibilities are endless! (okay maybe not endless, but there are certainly a lot of them).

Domino

Gamer Tag: Domino
Pronouns: He/Him
Voice Actor: SungWon Cho

If you love existential crises and angsty sad boys, then you’ll love the sardonic, sarcastic Domino. Fair warning, some of his scenes get a bit heavy in the depression/anxiety department, so please remember to take a break if it gets to be too much. That being said, if you can support him at his lowest points, you’ll be rewarded with some heart-warming scenes of Domino at his best later on.

His sharp wit cut straight to my heart, and I found his “off-putting” sense of humour to be oddly endearing, so I was glad I switched my focus to him and finished my playthrough with his romantic ending. I don’t know if he’ll appeal to everyone, but I adored the gentle vulnerability of his sweeter moments and his uncanny ability to read MC like a book.

Locksley

Gamer Tag: Locksley
Pronouns: He/Him
Voice Actor: Ryan Laughton

Locksley’s character got far more convoluted than I was expecting, and I’m dying to play my second run of the game and go for his romantic ending next. If you’re curious about the conspiratorial elements of the plot, I recommend getting a high enough relationship with him that you can dive head first into the more mysterious parts of the story.

I haven’t properly explored each character yet, but Locksley felt like a more plot-heavy option than Domino, so if you plan to romance the whole cast, it might be worth leaving Locksley towards the end of your list if you want to save the bigger plot reveals for the end.

I liked that his ‘King’s English’ style of speech eased off as the story progressed, to prevent it becoming stale or off-putting. It fell away gradually, as he and MC got closer, which felt naturally indicative of the growing intimacy of their relationship.

Again, he may not be everyone’s type, but one of the things I love about this game is how distinct the characters are from each other. Even if you don’t love all of them, there’s bound to be someone who speaks to you, so don’t be afraid to play the field a little bit in the beginning, as you may be surprised by who you ultimately fall for.

Jynx

Gamer Tag: Jynx
Pronouns: She/Her
Voice Actor: Risa Mei

I didn’t think I’d be able to score very well with Jynx, based on her intimidating aura (which I totally dig, by the way), but I was pleasantly surprised. She’s cool, with an understated way of speaking, and absolutely badass… but she also has a softer, sensitive side that’s left me wanting to get to know her character better in a future playthrough.

I also liked the way the writers incorporated her disability into her character design and story. It wasn’t just there to check an inclusivity box, and it wasn’t dismissed or treated as unimportant… but it also wasn’t overly-indulged in to the point of being her only character trait.

She’s also just incredibly cool – and she definitely had me sweating as I tried to nervously flirt with someone way out of my league (it’s the fishnets and leather jacket, how do I compete with that level of style?!).

Rhapsody

Gamer Tag: Rhapsody
Pronouns: They/Them
Voice Actor: Alex A.K.

I didn’t spend so much time in the game with Rhapsody, Grace, and Zapper as I did the others, but there were some pretty cute moments with Rhapsody that will appeal to players who like an intelligent, sincere love interest who also gets a lil’ blush-y when you compliment them.

Grace

Gamer Tag: Grace
Pronouns: She/Her
Voice Actor: Simply Undrea

Grace is a bubbly, shy genius with a contagious enthusiasm for all things RPG and retro. She’s sweet – if a little anxious – and her heart is big enough for the whole team. I loved her friendship with Jynx, and how everyone recognised that she’s a sweet cinnamon roll who must be protected. If Grace was ever in trouble, you can bet that the entire cast would unanimously agree to support her in whichever way possible.

Zapper

Gamer Tag: Zapper
Pronouns: She/Her
Voice Actor: Fryda Wolff

When IRIS did a scan to determine my compatibility with each of the characters, she told me that Zapper was my polar opposite… It’s not that I wasn’t interested in Zapper (her flirting had me all blush-y from the get-go), but I couldn’t gun for everyone, and her choices kept conflicting with characters I was trying to pursue.

Still, her passionate attitude and zest for life added some vibrant flair to the team… I just think she’s a bit high-energy for this particular shy gamer gal whose ideal date is napping together under soft, cosy blankets.

Story

I started playing what I thought was a nerdy, quirky, feel-good rom-com (with optional ‘rom’), only to discover a multi-layered plot that spanned from international conspiracies to the philosophies of A.I. technology. The story evolves over the course of each chapter (or ‘level’, as they’re called in this game), not only growing in scope, but also depth, as you get to know the cast more intimately.

The themes and plot events do get a little heavier the further you get into the game, so be emotionally prepared for some difficult scenes. As I mentioned before, the writers treat this heaviness with care, but if you’re worried about anything in particular and you want to check some detailed content warnings, you can do so: here.

What I found particularly interesting, however, is how these themes tie into the customization options and personality mechanics. For example, there was a scene where one of the characters opened up to MC about some of their personal struggles, and I responded in a way that I thought would be helpful based on what I personally find helpful in those sorts of situations. However, this character is apparently different from me, and the response I gave them wasn’t actually what they needed in that moment.

That being said, I was glad the game didn’t treat me like a monster for not being able to accurately read the situation. Even if you make a mistake or social blunder, the characters will move on and you’ll still have a chance to make it up to them later.

If you try to cheer someone up but it falls flat, they won’t hate you forever, and the ‘failed’ social interaction won’t be used as an excuse for drama. Instead, each interaction is handled realistically – after all, in the real world, people don’t decide you’re irredeemable just because you said something awkward once, so they don’t in this game, either.

Story Structure

In ‘Arcade Spirits: The New Challengers’, all characters are available from the beginning, with options for both friendships and romance, depending on your preferences. Even once you’ve chosen who to pursue, the game will still prompt you at several points to confirm that you’re happy with the romantic route you’re on, just in case you’ve changed your mind.

This meant that, after gunning for Locksley in the beginning, I was able to still progress my relationships with the other characters organically, which ultimately led to me pursuing Domino instead. If I’d been locked in to one route from the get-go, I would have had to go back and re-select my choices, or wait for a second playthrough. Instead, I could just follow my whims and see who I ended up with.

This style of relationship-building allows for a romance that feels more organic, and more realistic. Furthermore, it’s often difficult to tell who your fave will be before you’ve gotten to know their stories, so I loved being able to wait until closer to the end of the game to settle on an ending.

Sorry Locksley… next time! I promise!

Gameplay

‘Arcade Spirits: The New Challengers’ features all the visual novel basics, as well as RPG-style mechanics for building your protagonist’s personality, and an optional ‘rock-paper-scissors’ minigame that acts as a stand in for actually playing ‘Fist of Discomfort 2’ within the story.

I’ve played other otome games and visual novels that incorporate similar RPG mechanics, and I personally enjoy this added aspect of the game. It adds more meaning to the player choices, especially when the personality you build changes the choices you have available later in the game.

Player choices will determine your personality.

By default, there will be an icon next to each player option that tells you which personality trait it corresponds with. You can switch this off in the settings (and the game will ask you towards the beginning if you’d rather play with or without them), and I recommend having them switched off for your first playthrough.

Obviously, if you’d rather mould your protagonist into a specific type of person, you may wish to leave these hints on. However, if you’d prefer to play based on what you believe you would do in that moment, and see where the story takes you, it’s a lot of fun to just pick whatever you feel like and see how this shapes your in-game persona.

There’s an in-game tutorial, so don’t stress if it seems a little complicated at first. It won’t take long to get the hang of things!

The ‘Fist of Discomfort 2’ minigame isn’t too difficult to pick up, and there’s an in-game tutorial that explains everything you need to know. Furthermore, you can save before making each move, so even if you make a mistake, you can just re-load your save and try again.

That being said, if you really don’t want to play the minigame, you can choose to skip them and decide whether you win or lose. For my playthrough, I originally started skipping the minigame, but then felt a little hollow when I just saw the ‘victory’ message at the end without contributing to said victory, so I started playing them out myself, instead.

Again, if you really don’t want to play them, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with opting out. However, in my experience, playing the minigame made me feel more included in the resulting success or loss, which heightened the emotional impact of any scenes following the match.

On the whole, there’s nothing too complicated to distract from the story, and I appreciate that there are several levels of customization to include players with different gameplay preferences. It just goes to show that the inclusivity of ‘Arcade Spirits: The New Challengers’ goes beyond token gestures, as the thoughtfulness for the player can be seen in every aspect of the game, not just character design.

Final Thoughts

This game hit me in all the feels. All of them. Mental health and personal struggles are a core theme, but they’re framed in a compassionate manner, with emphasis on empathy, understanding, and healing. Even if things get a little heavy, you can still feel the writers’ care for their audience through the way these struggles are written.

I’ve only played one run of the game so far (clocking in at ~10 hours playtime), and it’s clear that there’s an abundance of alternate scenes, routes, and endings that I haven’t even begun to explore. I’m curious to play again and work my way through the rest of the game, although I have to say I’m glad I decided to go in completely blind – without a guide or walkthrough – and just follow my gut reactions for each choice. 

This is definitely the way I recommend playing, as it allows you to fully immerse yourself in the game. If you’re worried about ‘locking-in’ too soon, or feeling like you’re missing out if you change your mind about who to pursue, then I assure you, there are plenty of opportunities to change course if someone else peaks your interest.

Even if you misspeak with the character you’re trying to woo, you’ll still have plenty of chances to make up for those lost points. There are multiple interactions that offer bonuses in each personality trait, too, so it’s incredibly easy to tailor the gameplay to your personal preferences, even if these preferences change along the way. 

IRIS can help you become an e-sports star, find the perfect snack (pizza bagels!), and even fall in love ❤

You can also change your protagonist’s name, pronouns, and appearance at each ‘level up’ (a.k.a. the break between each chapter), so players who want to fully customize and insert themselves into the protagonist’s shoes will have a field day with the plethora of options.

In terms of storytelling, the writers are adept at crafting entertaining and relatable interactions between the characters. As I said previously, I’ve been loving feel-good ‘found family’ stories lately, so I was ecstatic to experience this theme through the interactive, visual-novel format, where I could feel a part of said ‘found-family’. If you’ve ever been a lonely misfit looking for your own gaggle of weirdos, you’ll be able to identify with the protagonist, and hopefully find the same sense of acceptance and belonging through this loveable band of outcasts.

Arcade Spirits is a fantastic visual novel that will appeal to gamers of all personalities and persuasions. It’s about the joy of gaming, the healing benefits of camaraderie, and the pitfalls of excessive ambition… and maybe even finding love along the way. It’s weird, it’s wonderful, and I can’t wait to play again!

You’ll like Arcade Spirits: The New Challengers if you like: inclusive, self-insert visual novels; arcade and retro games; wholesome found-family stories; visual novels with (optional) gameplay elements; and falling in love with a cast of colourful characters who actually feel like real people.

Screenshots

Game Info

Game Name: Arcade Spirits: The New Challengers
Developer: Fiction Factory Games
Publisher: PQube
Platform: Steam, itch.io, Nintendo Switch, PS4, PS5
Age Rating: Teen (see here for detailed content warnings)
More information: here!

~ Thank you PQube for providing a review copy of Arcade Spirits: The New Challengers! ~

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