Highschool Romance is an ecchi, slice-of-life visual novel by British developer AJTilley. Take on the life of Shoji, a new student at an all-girls college, trying to find his way through the next school year. Nothing is ever as simple as that however, as Shoji has a bit of a surprise waiting for him.
AJTilley is quite well known for their visual novels. It’s certainly a speciality of theirs, releasing highly cited titles like Beach Bounce that garnered a fair amount of attention. AJTilley produces titles as well as develop, and they have a small selection available on their website. More recently, AJTilley has seen games find their way to Steam, which has opened up new avenues for them. There are, of course, still adult versions available on MangaGamer, but an additional market is good for any developer. Their latest release, Highschool Romance, is what we’ll be taking a look at today, so let’s get down to business.
Disclaimer: Anime is not real.
Highschool Romance follows the story of a young transfer student, Shoji. As the game’s narrator and protagonist, everything occurs from his perspective, so it’s up to you to steer him on the right path. The game opens with a short introduction, with Shoji giving us some backstory on himself and his life. Shoji’s parents work for the government, which, unfortunately for him, means he has never really had somewhere to call ‘home’. This year is different though, as Shoji has been accepted to a prestigious boarding school, finally giving him somewhere he can settle in for longer than a few weeks. Initially filled with excitement, his smile and optimism are soon gone after he discovers something – the school is for girls only.
This news isn’t well received by him, as it turns out Shoji’s mother didn’t pay much attention to the enrollment form. With his gender listed as female, Shoji now faces the prospect of another year on the road. Luckily for him, the school’s busty principal, Lea, has a bright idea. Seeing as Shoji is already quite effeminate, she suggests he simply assume the role of a girl. It takes quite a bit of coaxing, but the idea that he may miss out on a year of studies before university is enough to sway him. Promising to help him settle in, Lea accepts Shoji due to his high academic aptitude. Lea then instructs Selina, a senior at the school, to show Shoji to his (or her) new dorm. From here, the story unfolds and Shoji is on his way.
Shoji is an expert at hiding his junk.
The game takes place primarily in the school, with a few different locations outside of it. As a visual novel, the bulk of entertainment is in the reading. There’s a fair amount of dialogue to get through, and the player will be given a choice on how to proceed every so often. This will be very familiar to fans of visual novels, with your decisions shaping the way the story unfolds. Different choice combinations will obviously lead to different outcomes, new locations and so on, so there’s definitely some replay value to be had.
There are only a small number of paths through Highschool Romance, however, so there isn’t an awful lot to choose from. Highschool Romance presents the player with two main love interests; Selina and Hoshi. The two are quite opposite to one another, so it’s up to you as to which girl you try to pursue. Selina is far more outgoing and overly confident in her personality, while Hoshi is more reserved and studious. There might even be another lady to woo, but I’ll let you discover that one on your own.
Other than the choices you’ll make, there isn’t really much else to do. This is a visual novel though, so it’s not very fair at all to judge it on gameplay. It certainly reads more like a semi-interactive story than anything else, but for people who just want to enjoy some romance, it’s well suited. The main appeal here is likely to be the ambiguous gender of Shoji, who spends the majority of the game trying to hide his true self. For fans of traps and femboys, there’s a little something there, but overall the game is quite tame.
Seriously, where is he keeping that thing?
This brings us onto the design aesthetic. Personally, I liked the artwork for Highschool Romance: It has an anime style with a Western touch, which some people will undoubtedly dislike, but the images here should provide you with a decent impression. The game is comprised of still images, the majority being a simple background with characters overlaid on them. There are breaks at certain points in whichever path you chose, that show more of what’s going on in CG form. Some of the CGs are cute, while some are just downright raunchy. I certainly would have been fine with more of the raunchy, but what was available did appeal.
AJTilley has also provided a nice, big, convenient camera button on the start screen, which lets you take a look at all the artwork from the game. Seeing as this is a Steam release, there isn’t anything too promiscuous going on as I mentioned, but there’s certainly some ecchi scenes. Boys in lacy underwear, busty girls in that very same underwear and some make-out sessions are your lot for this one. Shoji definitely looks better as a girl, so thankfully there are some nice scenes that explore this aspect of the game as well. If you saw screenshots from our prior article about Highschool Romance and thought “they look cute,” then you will get some mild satisfaction. You may also be a little disappointed, but more on that one later.
There isn’t much to say about the sound. There are a few sound effects that take place, and the game has a full score to go along with it. I felt a lot of the music didn’t really fit the tone of the scene it was playing over, and I actually turned it off after a while. It was quite repetitive and didn’t really add much to the overall experience. Others may feel differently, but I personally didn’t really like it. Now, sound can make or break games as I’ve said before, but seeing as this game is primarily a literary affair, it’s not a huge problem. There’s only so much you can do with a visual novel.
And then I came.
The writing was on par, I felt it did well to give each character a distinct personality. Anyone unable to suspend their disbelief might struggle a little bit, as some things are a bit outlandish, but remember: anime isn’t real (or is it?). Of course it’s no Shakespeare, but there wasn’t a lot to complain about either. The time between characters didn’t feel wooden or forced, though if there was one gripe I had, it would be this: there isn’t really any obvious differentiation between Shoji’s inner monologue and his dialogue. It took a little getting used to, and perhaps it’s my own problem, but there were times I had to remember that they were thoughts and not actual speech. Shoji’s thoughts are italicized to make the reader aware of the situation, but the bold, outlined text doesn’t do it any favors. Again, this may be personal, but a different color or even quotation marks would’ve been better.
The saucier side of the writing was OK. Highschool Romance is just that: a romance. I wasn’t entirely sure just how much adult material there would be, but the raunchy side of things certainly didn’t come to the forefront. The times that did call for saucier writing were fine, but I felt like this VN would be improved with more of it. I also felt Shoji was written to be a little too reserved; I would have liked him to embrace things a little more but that’s a personal opinion. Of course, there are paths that do allow him to embrace his feminine side more, but in a game where that’s the focus, it didn’t feel like it was enough. That’s likely my own taste sneaking in before I played, and it’s probably going to be different for everyone.
Would you say no?
Overall, I felt Highschool Romance was a fair VN. I felt the length was quite short, as my initial run through the game ended quite abruptly with little to show for it. I made sure to get every ending prior to this writing, so I’ve experienced pretty much all the title has to offer. It took me around 90 minutes to complete my first path, so you could theoretically get maybe 6 hours out of it. That’s assuming, of course, you don’t skip anything for the whole game. As I mentioned earlier, I felt there could’ve been more to the title in general. I did like the artwork, and as such, I would have liked more CGs. I’m a big fan of girly boys, so I think I was expecting more when I decided to review this. There are some endings that somewhat satisfied a portion of that, and I certainly did enjoy it, but I also came away a little disappointed.
Highschool Romance is currently available on Steam for $7.99 (currently on sale) and on MangaGamer for $9.95. I have the Steam version, but seeing as this game isn’t adult 18+, there likely isn’t a large difference. Having said that, an adult version would be welcome, and if that happens in the future, I’ll take another look. The game will be on sale until November 25th, so if you’re interested, it would be worth picking up before the sale’s end. All in all, I would tentatively recommend it if you like the genre. To people who aren’t big into the material, it probably won’t win you over, but fans of traps and schoolgirls will get a little something out of the experience. Now, if they make an adult one where Shoji liked guys…