If you happen to frequently read my reviews, you may realize that there are certain genres that I either rarely touch or avoid entirely. One of these is the visual novel. Previous experience has had me burnt out by the end but the health issues of a fellow TiCGN writer led to me filling the void here. Though…Given how long Gaokao.Love.100Days took me before I was able to get this review out, it feels like it wouldn’t have made a difference in hindsight.

Funnily, I still hadn’t sunk as many hours into it as Car Quest.

Gameplay

Typically, I would detail a game’s story first if there is a substantial one. But when it comes to visual novels, the story supersedes just about everything else. I didn’t even include a “Gameplay” category in my Muv-Luv review because the most involved part of it is selecting an option every once in a long while! Does Gaokao.Love.100Days have more to it then? Well, sort of. Choices pop up slightly more often in the form of a virtual planner.

You can decide how your character wants to pass the time, and he has stats that you could take into account to make the decision. It’s nothing to write home about. As long as you keep appeasing the numbers, you’d be able to make it through the game without a hitch. There are multiple endings and pathways supposedly included, yet even with one playthrough, it’s hard to really get invested with the story as is for reasons I’ll get to further into the review.

Graphics

As to be expected, there isn’t much to look at on the screen. The dialogue box is at the bottom, and one of the main characters would show up when he or she is speaking. I suppose the presentation is par for the course when it comes to visual novels. The production values are fairly stellar, and the backgrounds look nice. What bothers me, however, is how scenes tend to be conveyed. Only one character is onscreen at a time, and there aren’t a lot of different locations Gaokao.Love.100Days in this story. It gets rather repetitive watching portraits blip in and out of existence in front of the same few backgrounds throughout the entire shebang.

Audio

Although your character has no audible voice, the other main characters are fully voiced (albeit not dubbed to English). I guess I can’t be too surprised; Muv-Luv did the same thing. The soundtrack is usually on the calm side of things though there are times where it would play a strangely eerie track during a serious predicament. You’d think someone may have died in the game when hearing that particular bit of music. Other than that, I feel like there should have been multiple background tracks for one location. After all, repetition was already a graphics issue.

Story

I may not be a wiz with visual novels but I believe they typically have you try to win the heart of a schoolgirl. In Gaokao.Love.100Days, you already start out with a girlfriend in high school. And oh boy does this game LOVE to remind you that you’re in a relationship with this girl.

So if trying to win her heart isn’t the premise, then what is? Well, Gaokao is the name of a super-important exam Chinese students take to determine their future in education. With a hundred days left before people have to take it, your character deals with trying to balance his academics with his relationship. It isn’t a bad concept on paper and it is a problem we can all relate to as people that have been or are currently in school. The problem, unfortunately, is that the way it’s done is a total bore.

Everyone aside from your character and Muxin (the girlfriend) is incredibly one-note. You have the teacher’s pet, the independent girl, the supposed evil teacher, and the overly “masculine” dude. That last one is labeled under and goes by perhaps the worst running gags I’ve seen in a story-driven game. Not only do you get this ridiculous trait below but nothing he ever says feels like a human being would say it. I mean, given the poor translations, everyone has that in spades – but he throws realism completely out the window in comparison.

I did have a few laughs but only at rare instances when there’s a line of dialogue so absurd it ends up being unintentionally funny. I don’t know how this game is written in its original language, but this translation kills any hope it has in interesting the player. You could be more invested in counting all of the grammatical errors and inconsistencies than in the actual plot. What there is of it is painfully bland and dull.

Things just happen in Gaokao.Love.100Days. There is no real rhyme or reason to it. What could happen one day is more than likely to never be brought back up again. I’ve hardly ever gotten to know any of the characters aside from Muxin. Even then, the game itself plays up the idea that your character doesn’t know enough about her. The only significant thing that happens is that your character gets increasingly pressured by his parents. This gets to the point where he very suddenly lashes out at Muxin and becomes a massively unlikable asshole for a portion of the game. After that portion, though? The game sort of rushes to the end for most of the last 30 days, as those days would end up being reduced to mere monologues.

Verdict

You know what I remember of Muv-Luv? I remember the weird flirty rich girl that tries to fit in with the rest of society. I remember the characters working off of each other in believable fashions. I remember the teachers being just as quirky as the students when it came to the hijinks that would occur. I remember that one scene where everyone but the protagonist was absolutely drunk at a spa. I remember the rich girl buying off the entire neighborhood to give the protagonist and a love interest some privacy. I remember the bombshell that was the shift to a sci-fi universe.

Despite only having played the game once, I distinctly remember things about it because they resonated with me. They were memorable moments that shaped the narrative into something much more than just a glorified series of throwaway paragraphs. Gaokao.Love.100Days offers me nothing of that scale. Any moments that should feel grander are tainted by a weak payoff. Anything in between consists of interactions that are only there for the sake of having words on the screen rather than a real development.

Review copy provided by Navila Software Japan