Thursday, September 9, 2010

How to Win a Woman's Heart in 7 Easy Steps

To answer a question posed a few posts back, it turns out that your cousin is one of several women you can engage in relations with in Welcome to Pia Carrot. I'm well aware that marrying cousins is considered acceptable in many parts of the world, but since I'm from the good ol' USA, I find the idea pretty disturbing. Anyway, because we are neck deep in adventure games, I thought I'd take a closer look at Pia Carrot, since it has the distinction of being one of the very few console dating sims playable in English. It's also one of only two PC-FX game to have been translated into English.

Women inept at cooking seems to be a recurring gag in these games.

If you've never heard of the PC-FX... I don't blame you. Released in 1994, the PC-FX was NEC's 32-bit successor to the now outdated PC-Engine. The system never really took off; only a few dozen games were released, mostly by NEC themselves. Other publishers such as Hudson, Koei, Microcabin, etc, released a handful of games, but most big-name 3rd party publishers never signed on. The game library is heavy on RPGs, Dating Sims and bishoujo games, and a few adult titles show up among these. So you get a lot of games with names like First Kiss Monogatari and Power Dolls FX.

A weird in-game parody of detective adventure games.

One of the adult titles, is is course, Welcome to Pia Carrot, from Cocktail Soft. Pia Carrot is a traditional dating sim, in the style of Tokimeki Memorial, meaning you'll need to plan your days correctly in order to build up your character's stats appropriately. Compare this to later, visual novel style dating sims, where the gameplay mostly consists of hitting the enter button over and over while reading walls of text. You can only find true love with one girl per playthrough, and this generally requires ignoring all the other girls. Thus, Pia Carrot heavily encourages multiple playthroughs; presumably many attempts will be necessary in order discover the correct choices for every girl. This is made possible by the fact that the game is reasonably short.

I'll give a little explanation how Pia Carrot works. For those of you who have played Persona 3 or 4: you sorta already know how to play this game. Every day you wake up in your room a few hours before you need to go to work at the Pia Carrot restaurant. You can spend those hours resting (to increase energy), studying (to increase Academics), calling one of the other characters, or visiting another location (park, train station, school, etc.) Visiting locations is best done if you know a particular character is going to be there, otherwise, you'll just waste valuable time. Later in the day, you report to work, and you will see two brief animations of your character working, then a particular stat will increase. Different sorts of tasks at work will increase different stats. At various points, other characters may show up for a short conversation, usually with a dialog choice or two. After work you can choose to say goodbye to one character. Then you go home, and repeat the next day. Special events, such as a vacation and a festival, are scheduled for certain days. The game takes place over one month, as compared to Persona's school year.

Your accursed stats! Everything you do seems to make Energy go down.

And that's Pia Carrot in a nutshell. To win a girl's heart (and complete her storyline) you must build up certain stats to the appropriate levels by performing specific duties at work. Also, you'll need to go to certain locations in the morning, and make phone calls on certain days. For example to win over Shiho, the sexy "older" manager of the restaurant (she gives her age as 24, which means she's ancient in the world of Japanese video games,) you'll need to go the Pia Carrot every morning, and call her on Tuesdays. In addition to this you'll need to make correct dialog choices whenever you talk to her.* How do you know how well you're doing with a lady? The only in-game indication you get is her general attitude towards you, and that you'll be rewarded with a sex scene near the game's end. As far as I know, the sex scenes are pretty tame, though I doubt it's possible for anything involving nude, saucer-eyed, balloon-chested anime girls to be called "tasteful."

You'll be treated to the "work" animations twice a day, six days a week.

I was intrigued by Pia Carrot primarily because of the translation project. Not too many console dating sims have been translated into English, and the translator even links to a review which calls it "the best hentai game of all time." Of course, being is best hentai game is somewhat akin to being the most high-performance Yugo. Despite taking place in the real world, the scenario is completely absurd - you get a job at a restaurant staffed almost entirely by young, attractive women who begin flirting with you almost immediately. The females are all stock characters: the moody loner, the sensitive intellectual, the tomboy, the cutesy immature girl. The last of which is your oldest childhood friend, which is weird. Doesn't the Westermarck Effect exist in Japan? To get the good endings on most characters requires a lot of just plain trial and error, and the game gives you very little feedback. And the fact that the game involves making the same actions day after day, results in a very repetitive, somewhat tedious experience.

Comiket, the semiannual gathering of every nerd in Japan.

There are a few oddities in Pia Carrot that might hold your interest for a moment. One potential paramour is a cosplayer you meet at Comiket! One of the items you can obtain in essentially a video advertising another Cocktail Soft title, Can Can Bunny. There is also a brief adventure game parody involving an incompetent female detective. And should you fail to get a girl and receive the bad ending, which involves taking your sister out shopping for video games, the accompanying illustration prominently features a Sega Saturn! My favorite scene is when the protagonist's father decides to get a bunch of under-the-legal-drinking-age characters roaring drunk, including his own daughter.

Hopefully, he isn't planning some sort of reverse "Lot and his Daughters."

At times, Carrot can be rather charming. But is it worth playing? Are you the type who can get emotionally involved in the clichéd sufferings of moist-eyed, two-dimensional girls who bear no resemblance to any female you'll actually meet in real life? Do you have a tolerance for women who are presumably in their late teens but who talk in high-pitched voices more appropriate for ten-year olds? Do you like the idea of accidentally walking in on women while they are changing their clothes (this happens a few times in Pia Carrot), including your own sister?** Then you sound like the ideal audience for this game.

*In addition to many other things that you either must or cannot do to get her "good" ending. There's little to no room for error.

**Thankfully, you cannot romance your sister in Pia Carrot. "Sex with a younger sister" is virtually an entire subgenre of H-games, and sometimes these have become quite mainstream.


qaylIS aka Nicolas Deußer said...

Though I kinda sound like the ideal audience for this game, I don't believe I can play hentai games any more. I tried my luck with some poker games (which usually have extreme luck on great cards, I once had an enemy AI with 3 Flushs in a row) and an adventure game (Discipline). The thing that freaked me out about that game: It has an Option TO PLAY ITSELF. You just sit tight and wait...till you need to choose an dialog option. Then the scenes are again rushing by like hell...and you ask yourself what the fuck you are doing.

And FYI, the legal drinking age in Japan is 20 (, are you sure the protagonists were under age?

Doctor Sparkle said...

I noticed when preparing for this episode that Visual Novel games tend to have options to fast forward through the dialog. I can only assume this is to make a second playthroughs quicker, if your just trying to get to parts you haven't seen before.

As for the character's age: The protagonist mentions he's too young to drink at one point in the game when he goes to a bar. Also, the his father claims the booze is "juice" - so he's getting kids drunk without their consent!

qaylIS aka Nicolas Deußer said...

This is one of the days, I realize: japanese are weird.

John said...

Sounds like an interesting game to me - then again I've always had a love for Japanese Bishoujo games.

Kathless_Goa, have you tried Season of the Sakura, Snow Sakura, or Crescendo? These are three great Bishoujo game titles that tend to be nowhere near as extreme as Discipline. Ever17 is also a great choice.

Turrican4D said...

No sex with your cute 14yro little sister and no sex between father and his employees? I am dis appointed.

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