Review by Neo_Sarevok
In its pursuit of new ideas, Artificial Academy is a step back for Illusion.
Artificial Academy (Jinkou Gakuen) is unlike any adult Japanese high-school visual novel you've experienced. Contrary to many games, you are not locked into a specific cast of characters. Finally, you create the students! Devise their personalities and physical characteristics, then participate in your school's antics through a created male or female protagonist. Experience the joys of love, academics, mood swings, and various high-school stereotypical behavior. Artificial Academy boasts a unique concept and a promising foundation for games to come, but its current implementation is unrefined.
Developer Illusion has garnered a reputation for its ambitious, but simple, 3-D Japanese PC games. They are most renowned to American audiences for their controversial Rapelay game. Unlike Rapelay, however, Artificial Academy's sex is consensual. The game encourages acts performed in private both to maintain relationships and the reputation of the engaged students, but less virtuous students may elect for public indecencies, if both parties agree. The lack of forced rape, blackmail, and other malicious acts is a departure from some of their past games. While it is less controversial, its exclusion feels disjointed from the game's simulated environment promising creative freedom.
The simulation is the game's focus, and the wealth of options provide strong impressions you are in control. First, you create a character's physical traits. Females get a variety of options, while men have hardly any (go figure). Then you pick what sport they participate in and their athletic and academic levels. These are all useful qualities some characters find attractive, but are largely irrelevant. Next, you pick their virtue - a measure of their public indecency. Finally, you pick behavioral traits to direct their A.I. decision-making. Every anime stereotype is depicted, including shy, evil, manly, quiet, ditzy, obscene, and more. These personalities are exuded within the character's voice actors, non-verbal, and daily decisions. For example, the quiet one avoids conversations. The obscene one is not afraid to discuss sex. The most interesting is the evil character, who murders ex-lovers and hated students, at the expense of being arrested! Alternatively, pick the random option to auto-generate an unknown character, but be warned, that shy girl could be an evil murderer!
The character A.I. is decent, but far from ideal. Favored characters will ask you to follow them into a room. If agreed, they'll lead you, then proceed to stand there at their destination. One female character led my male into a room sanctioned only for women, then proceeded to chastise me for entering the room! When you're popular, characters will compete for your attention, but this borders on agitating as characters frequently interrupt your conversations. These interruptions culminate into monotonous lines, such as, "What are you doing?" Replied with, "Nothing." Thankfully, you can disable character interruption in the F3 menu. Many A.I. behaviors are still a mystery, such as why some characters think your protagonist is upset. Overall, the A.I. works, but you'll need to take a sympathetic approach to it and temper your expectations.
Despite the A.I., most of the voice actors are exceptional. Every personality has a distinct voice actor, compromising 26 total. Every stereotypical anime personality seems accounted for. You drive the personalities through a selection of narrative choice boxes where you can talk, grope, have sex, discuss other classmates, study together, and more. Beginners will feel confused, as each narrative box doesn't offer mouse roll-over states explaining its functionality. Instead, you must study a narrative chart with the ESC key menu. Unfortunately, conversations amount to one sentence exchanges. In only the first few hours, lines will quickly grow repetitive. You'll hear more sex grunts and groans than you will constructive sentences!
The sex scenes are, justifiably, the game's biggest feature and compromises the basis of the simulation. Some of Illusion's earliest games are bogged with frustrating control schemes. For better or worse, Artificial Academy's controls are simple; however, this comes at a price - lack of interactivity. You cannot select what body elements to separately interact with. Instead, the game offers various preset animation positions. Select a sex position genre, then click buttons until finding a pose that incites maximum in-game arousal. To climax, hit the climax button. The game doesn't support simultaneous orgasm animations, so characters take turns unloading. Group participation of three or more is forbidden. Overall, it's sex in its most basic of forms, and is a huge step back from Illusion's past titles. In their effort to find an easier control scheme, they over-extended and distanced themselves from the interactive potential of their iconic 3-D graphics.
The graphics are hit-or-miss. Character models lack quality of some predecessors, like the Sexy Beach series. This may be a result of Artificial Academy's character creation engine, or the plethora of on-screen students. When roaming the school, students have a defined cell-shaded look. During sex and dialogue, the graphics are significantly improved, but fail to match some past titles. The school's non-interactive backgrounds look spectacular, but this eye-candy also has a price - you cannot create or edit the school; only the students in it. The exception is picking the school's trivial name.
The game uses a unique approach to audio. The audio provides environmental clues on interactive success rates. If the music sounds somber, suspect disapproval from fellow students. When the music is upbeat, it may be time to finally pop the question to your sweetheart. Unfortunately, this design decision, again, has a price - the music tracks frequently change to instill unpredictability and a fabricated sense of challenge. This results in disjointed audio. One moment, the music is upbeat, while the next it's sad without reason. What's worse, the music itself is awful. It gets repetitive quickly, and accentuates itself with the swapping music. Thankfully, the music selection is resolved through modding.
Illusion's games are favored for their modded capabilities, and Artificial Academy is no exception. With a little research and tinkering, it's easy to share characters, edited resources, and import custom music to dramatically extend replay value. Numerous character editors are available and highly recommended to best simulate your ideal school experience. The important thing is playing the game how you desire.
Similar to a sand-box, your enjoyment will depend on your level of labor and an active imagination. Once you peel back the game's mysteries, you'll discover a simple simulation with minimal challenge. This revelation drains the game's excitement, and it's up to you to generate more by adding new classmates (the evil trait helps), instilling various mischief, and creating and installing mods. You must take an aggressive approach to this game if you wish to maximize its playability.
Overall, Artificial Academy offers various new concepts while introducing various inherent flaws. If Illusion's history is any indication, we will see sequels and expansions, but that's no excuse for delivering a less than polished product to paying customers. Artificial Academy is a fun adventure into the unique realm of high-school simulation, and while it initially delivers stellar moments, the simulation quickly becomes monotonous and cumbersome. In its pursuit of new ideas, Artificial Academy is a step back for Illusion. The good news is they now have mistakes to learn from.
Average Score: 5.2 (rounded to 5)
Rating: 2.5 - Playable
Product Release: Jinkou Gakuen (JP, 06/10/11)
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