Every Wednesday, we highlight rarely-remembered but interesting games for our "Games Time Forgot" series.
It's always been a hobby of mine to visit videogame stores, without the intent of buying anything. I just go to browse through everything, and leave. It's a cheap form of entertainment, especially when you're a broke college student who has a fun enough time just getting out of the house.
Among the myriad of anime-style characters, sports figures and space marines, there was always one game cover in my local GameStop store that stood out the most to me. It depicted a line of strange looking 3D characters, with a smiling boy drawn in front of them. That little boy drew me in every single time, and what's more, the game never seemed to move from its place on the shelf. It was always facing outward to stare at me with those inky, beady eyes. It was cheap enough, but I never garnered the courage to take it home with me. Obviously, neither did any of the store's other patrons, and as far as I know, that copy of Chulip still sits in the GameStop I left behind when I moved to Arizona.
This week's Games Time Forgot tells the story of Chulip, a forgotten game that is just barely two years old. Why has this interesting looking game sat on the store shelves, untouched for so long? I've got some theories.
Story: The hero of Chulip is a young boy living in what looks to be World War II era Japan, who is desperately trying to make his dreams of kissing a dark haired girl come true. Unfortunately for him, this dream is pretty far out of his reach due to his social status. The game starts with you moving to a new town, where you almost immediately run into the same girl you saw in your dream. But when you try to make your move, she pushes you away because you are poor.
From then on, your mission is to gain a better standing so that someday, you can get your kiss.
Gameplay: Chulip is more than just a kissing simulator; it's got adventure game and RPG-ish qualities up the wazoo. A lot of it feels inspired by Harvest Moon games (Chulip is also by Natsume). The game runs on a clock, where certain things can be done and certain people can be interacted with only at certain times of the day. You will need to dig through trashcans for items, do quests for the villagers, and level up your heart meter.
The heart meter acts as your "health", in a clever metaphor for your emotional state. A strong heart will allow you to withstand a lot more rejection if you do something to upset someone, such as kissing them when the time isn't right. Leveling up is necessary to move your way up the kissability scale, as some people are much harder to plant one on than others. There are plenty of other things that can hurt you in this world, so having a high heart count also helps when you pull a harmful "Poopie" out of a trash can by chance.
There are two main types of people you can kiss: above-ground citizens, and underground citizens. Those who live above ground usually require a bit of bonding time through questing before they will let you get away with a smooch. Those who live underground are quite a bit trickier. Throughout the town, there are cracks in the ground that you can look through. These give you a glimpse at the underground residents, and offer clues to how you need to go about kissing them. Then you have to find out what time of day they are above ground (the times are listed in the manual, which is quite handy) and go after them.
Why you're probably not playing it: There are lots of reasons. Chulip is rated T, pushing away the younger audience, while the cutesy, simplistic graphics most likely pushed away the older audience. The game has long been labeled as a mere "kissing sim" with no substance other than the act of kissing, which brings to mind dating sim games, which have never prospered outside of their comfy niche in Japan. Not to mention that the game, when released in the States in 2007, literally five years after its Japanese release date, was made available only through GameStop stores. It came with no fanfare.
Those who picked up Chulip may have stopped playing it soon after due to the fact that some of the character design is downright frightening for such an otherwise sweet looking game. The above video, for example, shows one of the first townsfolk you interact with. Nearly every time you talk to her, she ends the conversation by turning her head to the camera in an unnatural way, with glowing eyes and accompanying horrific music. All of the dialogue is a gibberish language, but in a way, it almost sounds like distorted English (even though I'm 99% sure it's the Japanese voice acting).
Another unsettling aspect of the game is its setting, which kept giving me flashbacks to Grave of the Fireflies. All of these audio and visual design decisions gave me a feeling of uneasiness as I played, especially when keeping in mind that this was a game where the main object is to force your kisses on strangers.
Lastly, the game is pretty much a death trap, which can be a big deterrent. There are so many things that can hurt you, especially when rummaging around in the trash. The only way to completely refill your health is to sleep at home, which can often be a long trek from one end of the town to the other.
As I type all of this, I feel the urge to go back to Chulip and continue playing through it. Yes, I finally went back and picked up a copy, which was most likely on the store shelf here for the past two years just like the one back in Alabama. I keep getting offset by the game's strangeness and the slow pace of the gameplay, but it is an interesting experience, to say the least.
Even though it's not that old, its status as something forgotten about makes it feel like an antique, a secret that many others don't even know exist. If you see that lone copy of Chulip at your local Gamestop, do more than give it a glance. Take it home with you and kiss your way to the top.