Jake’s Love Story

Jake’s Love Story (vndb) is a 2017 Ren’py Engine Visual Novel created by Mikołaj Spychał. It follows the titular Jake on his quest to date two girls and also get into some shenanigans along the way.


The Art

Unlike a lot of the Steam reviewers of this visual novel, I was a fan of the art. It is far from the best art I’ve seen in a VN of its price point, but it gets the job done well. I like how each of the characters have several outfits, as even many massive budget VNs do not include this. It does pull the classic inexperienced artist hiding hands trick in every single one of the sprites, though.

However, the downside is the characters do not have many expressions, and because of this many scenes suffer. For example, there is a strange scene in one of the bad endings where you are hated by all 3 of the other characters for lying/being manipulative and yet they are still smiling in the CG you get because there are no angry sprites for any of the three of them.

The face of three people who despise you.

There is also a bizarre feature that I have seen in many low budget VNs where when someone speaks to you they move closer to the “camera”, and it never fails to feel like they’re seconds away from triggering a Five Night at Freddy’s style jumpscare to me in this particular implementation. (Unfortunately, this never happens. That would have been incredibly funny.)

The backgrounds are generally the best part of this game, and I believe that they might be stock. Regardless, they convey their respective locations well and the moving clouds are a very nice touch. I wish more visual novels did simple animations in their backgrounds similar to this.

Some of the CGs look incredibly rushed or just have kind of appalling editing, and the use of the backgrounds in these seem to concur with my guess that the backgrounds are from some kind of stock Visual Novel resource.

Mike…… your sleeve……..,,,,

The Music

It’s stock, and it does the job. It fits each scene pretty well. I don’t have much else to say beyond that. The music that plays in the scene where Emma asks you what you think of anime still occasionally gets stuck in my head.


The Plot And Characters

Since this game is sort of a parody of VN tropes, it has a very expected story. Going to high school and meeting some new friends, you meet some people of the opposite gender, one upbeat and another moody and mysterious. There is a sort of wingman character, who helps you date them. And to cause drama, there are random school scenarios like having to tutor another character and going on a field trip.

The ending of the story is determined by which girl you pursued. You can invite either girl to prom, and optionally help the supporting character Mike date the other girl. You can be rejected if you ask out a girl who you didn’t pursue, or you can get in trouble for successfully asking both out and ruining prom.


Jake

Typical Anime Protagonist-esque figure. This is even brought up by the plot. Imagine Kirito from Sword Art Online or something. That level of generic, doesn’t have much depth or anything redeemable/interesting about him.

His expression in the side image never changes regardless of the content of the scene is is partaking in which is a tad disappointing.

Alice

Alice is a typical moody vaguely-tsundere girl. She has a secret that you find out on her route. That secret being that she has to wear glasses and plays guitar, both of which she hides from others and you discover by accident. I got all of her endings and even in those there isn’t much more to her. She’s basically a trope and nothing else.

Her most interesting quality is that you can convince her to publicly wear her glasses, which will be reflected for the rest of the game. Why getting contacts is off the table is never explained.

Emma

Emma is the upbeat character mentioned above, and she provides a lot of the game’s fourth wall breaking jokes. She loves Anime and Visual Novels, and references tropes from both constantly. She is aware, to some capacity, that she is in a visual novel, and even makes jabs at the developer as well.

At a certain point in the game, you are given the option to either have her cut her hair or not cut it depending on the route, and this change is correctly represented in all of the remaining scenes and CGs. This happens regardless of route and you have an option to leave it up to chance which she picks.

Emma was clearly the developer’s favorite of the two girls. She has about double the unique sprite assets as Alice. Yes, I did datamine the game to confirm this. I wanted to also check how many lines she had in comparison to Alice, but the developer obscured the source Ren’py script files blocking these efforts, which is fair enough. From my informal estimates Emma talks about twice as much as Alice regardless of the route. Did I mention that she’s also the game’s taskbar icon on Windows?

The strange art imbalance. Alternate shading versions of assets excluded. (Emma still has more even if you count those.)

Mike

That Avengers: Endgame reference is now over a year out of date but honestly I’m just gonna leave it.

Now this is the point where I reveal the entire review up to now was just a lead in to this point. We’re truly in the Avengers: Endgame of Visual Novel reviews or whatever they say these days.

Mike is the archetype of dating sim character that Monika from the widely popular Doki Doki Literature Club! deconstructed just a month before the release of Jake’s Love Story. Mike is a non-dateable character who exists mostly to move the plot along when it would be strange for the girls who can be dated to do so. He is also prone to being used as a jumping off point for Emma’s fourth wall breaking jokes, as Alice usually refuses to partake in them.

However, that isn’t really what’s interesting to me about Mike. Mike is shown in the VN’s trailer on almost an equal footing to the girls, has his own page in the gallery but the gallery is mostly empty, and he has a scene which is pretty unambiguously as an aborted love confession. 

This would be the part where I move on and get over it, leaving you to wonder what I mean if I was less invested in deconstructing the weirdness of this entire VN.

It occurs where Mike sets up the ability for the player to have him date the girl they did not choose for more ending branches. Here is an exact transcript of the scene:

Jake: “So, what do you want to talk about?”

Mike: “You see.. That prom thing.”

Jake: “What about it?”

Mike: “Could you…Maybe…If you decline, it’s alright… I was just thinking that…”

*literal record scratch sound effect that’s double the volume of the rest of the game audio*

Jake: “Whoa! Wait, wait, wait! I didn’t know you were… You are not going to say you want to go with me, right?”

Mike: “WHAT? NO WAY! It was just stupid that I felt embarrassed, that’s all.”

(Omitted several line breaks that would have made this take up like 900% more space)

Mike then goes onto claim that he was actually asking you to ask one of the girls to go to prom with him, which reads like one of the most boldface lies I’ve heard in my entire life. It sounds like something I would say if I was backing out of asking out my crush if he said what Jake did. Jake’s reaction to this event isn’t a great look, and muddles the intent of the scene even further.

The developer actually responded to my initial Steam review of this VN where I pointed this scene out as well, saying the following:

– maybe joke in that one scene was one too far and it’s not suitable in current times (this type of jokes had a place in old movies)

mikolajspy, Creator of Jake’s Love Story
Mike’s asset sheet.

I’m willing to take his word on the fact that he didn’t mean it this way, but it is still a very strange and out of place for the tone of the rest of the game.

The reason I attempted to datamine the game in the first place was to see if there were any suggestions of Mike being a cut suitor, because it really seems that way in game and the marketing. I was even under the impression that it was a VN with two girl routes and one boy route when purchasing it.

He has his own page in the CG gallery despite the fact that he isn’t a character that you can date, and has a weirdly low amount of them to the point of making his page look empty.

Mike’s page in the CG gallery

Finally and most weirdly, the ending CGs follow a pattern of the person you got with being on the right side, and the two remaining characters being together on the left. In ending 9, this is the case and Mike is on the right, but it’s actually a bad ending where both girls hate you for deceiving them.

The developer denied this was the case in response to my original Steam review as well:

Mike is also main character, but was never intended as romance option. He’s acting more like a plot device, like you mentioned.

mikolajspy, Creator of Jake’s Love Story

I don’t think Mikołaj is a dishonest guy, so its pretty likely I’m just going crazy. I mean, it wouldn’t be the first time I desperately tried to inject queerness into otherwise aggressively heterosexual yet essentially benign works. But… the equivalence of Mike in the trailer tied with the game’s… strange reaction to the idea of there being a gay romance route left a lasting impression in me.

I am not sure what the developer was trying to say with everything about Mike, or if they meant to say anything at all. I really want to believe it was just a mistake/coincidence, because if it was on purpose it would be truly bizarre.

Irrelevant to the rest of this part of the review but I want to point out that Alice is always wearing glasses in this CG for some reason despite the fact that every other CG has variants for this. What is the deep lore behind this?

Conclusion

I’m kind of sad that the source scripts aren’t included, as I wanted to make a meme about a scene where Emma pops up from the bottom of the screen in front of Alice to use the Miss Monomi’s Practice Lesson music from Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair. It really fits that scene.

Overall I did enjoy Jake’s Love Story, but maybe not entirely for the intended reasons. It would have been pretty forgettable without the weirdness of Mike, the imbalance between Emma and Alice, and some of the general probably budget related issues… so in a weird way the flaws probably made it more appealing to me than it would have been otherwise.

Mikołaj has moved onto creating VNs that seem to be much higher quality, and I would like to try one of his more recent ones to see how he has improved. If you are in the market for a short dating sim and you can get this for its sale price of about $1, probably go for it. Personally, I think I want to do a VN with less unintentional(?) casual homophobia in it for the time being.


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