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When Style Savvy was announced during Nintendo's E3 2009 presser, the Internet let out an emphatic groan. Oh boy. More pretty princess dress-me-up nonsense. Thanks for making our decision to not invite you to our next birthday even easier, Nintendo.
While the hardcore thumped their chests, I was genuinely interested. No, not because I'm a ten-year-old girl but because Style Savvy is the localized title of Wagamama Fashion: Girls Mode, the 19th best-selling game as well as the best-selling new IP of 2008 in Japan. It continued to chart well into 2009 and was last seen hovering above 800k units sold. This game came out of nowhere and struck a big chord with audiences.
Numbers aside, it's a Nintendo-published title and thus should be considered as part of the company's expanded-audience campaign. Software like Brain Age and Wii Sports demonstrate that Nintendo has knack for marrying accessibility and high quality unlike its me-too competitors. It would be unfair to lump it in the same group as Ubisoft's Imagine line without intense scrutiny.
But even if this game is successful in the West, it is directly marketed at teen and preteen females who love shopping, styling, and accessorizing. No self-conscious male gamer would ever come within spitting distance of it. Nonetheless, I'm surprised at how little attention this game is being paid anywhere. Style Savvy has been out for three weeks and there are still only two reviews on Metacritic.
Well, I went down to Target and plunked down my own cash for a copy with the aim of understanding its appeal. You probably think I'm fucking bonkers, but dammit! I feel compelled to convince you that a game can be good and not tailored to your specific interests by using the most radical example I can find! Think of it as a personal challenge.
DEVELOPED BY: syn Sophia
PUBLISHED BY: Nintendo
RELEASED ON: DS, 2009
I noticed two things before even popping in the game card. One, the manual reads like a fashion magazine with cover lines, eye-catching and off-center text blocks, and clothing recommendations sprinkled throughout. That's what I call presentation. I'd rank it right up there with the Japanese No More Heroes manual as the best current-generation examples of packaged material done right.
Two, I realized just how much of a penny-pinching bastard I am. I've worn the same T-shirts almost every day since my freshman college year, I prefer to do my shopping at outlet stores, and I think that any price above $20 for a pair of blue jeans is a God damn felony. Buying sweaters and pants that run in the hundred-dollar range should be grounds for an intervention. Then again, I'm a guy who knows dick about fashion. It's an expensive and foreign world to me.
I'd also like to draw to your attention the developer, syn Sophia. You would never guess from such a flowery name that it was formerly AKI Corporation, best known for its testosterone-fueled wrestling games. How the hell the company went from Wrestlemania and Def Jam to boutique management eludes me. Methinks a company-wide castration policy was instated after someone in upper management lost a drinking bet.
You begin the game in your apartment, awoken by a call from your manager Grace who reminds you not to be late for your first day at Strata. Next, you enter your name and birth date on your application to be processed. This concerns me deeply. You've been employed without submitting a proper application? Did you forget your W4 as well? Shame on you for your negligence and shame on the ass-backwards hiring procedure that allowed this.
Curiously, you don't create an avatar on much later. I lament that you can't change your gender, though. I had envisioned a suave metro who woos the ladies with his Latin charm and impeccable hair, but I'm guessing that the implications of such a scenario would not sit well with parents. Some folks are just so regressive.
Anyway, your time as a sales rep serves as an extended tutorial. The entire game is touch-based and entirely menu-driven, so faulty controls are never a concern. While the game boasts over 10,000 garments, your starting inventory is quite small and manageable. The first customers will spell out their orders, met easily by manually browsing your stockroom or using the search function to narrow down selections by clothing type, brand, color, pattern, price range, or other variables. Grace and your coworker Renée will gradually introduce new functions such as the in-game magazine viewer which clues you in on monthly fashion trends.
On the topic of Renée, here is a textbook slacker who blows company time daydreaming and shoving unwanted customers onto you. She will intentionally suggest a clashing garment to a shopper, beg you to fix her mistake, then patronize you by remarking how much keener your sense of style is than hers. God, what a bitch.
At the end of your first day, Dominic, the millionaire store owner and shameless teen romance fantasy, will swing by and offer you a management position at your very own branch. Here is our next lesson in Bonehead Business 101. You arrived at work totally unprepared and launched to the top of the retail ladder that very afternoon? Looks like Dominic is using his power and influence to score some fringe benefits, know what I'm sayin'? Then again, compared to Renée's ineptitude, anyone would look like a captain of industry.
You pick a name for your store as well as the interior design, ranging from Upper East Side to Hot Topic knockoff. How you decorate influences the featured clothing brands as well as your clientele. If your store channels Gymboree, your customers will most likely want fun styles with bright colors and flowers and polka dots and shit. Regardless, it's important to keep up with all styles and brands for the more selective customers. You can always change your store interior at any time should you want to attract different demographics.
From here on out, the game is in your hands. You manage your store, improving its rank by successfully assisting customers. As you amass funds, you can restock and expand your inventory, choosing to focus on specific styles or trying to acquire every article of clothing available. The game runs in real-time, so how much enjoyment you glean depends entirely on your willingness to make the necessary investment. Since I am clearly more than willing, let's continue.
You stock up on merch by visiting the town shopping center. Here, representatives from each of the game's fictional brands will help you browse and purchase items in bulk. Different brands will be available during different days, so you should check your calendar to see who will be showing up and when. There are even special events like the preseason sales on Sunday which allow you to stock up on fashions that will be popular in the upcoming months. Unfortunately, instead of receiving the items immediately on these days as is typical, you have to wait for in-store delivery during the next business day. That means if you are running low on supply on a Sunday, you are shit outta luck until Monday.
Something that really churns my gastric juices is how the game provides a firsthand look at the practice of retailer markup. For example, a V-neck T-shirt can be purchased from the center for $5. In store, you sell it for $30. That's a 500% increase! Jesus! I know this is common business, but seeing it play out before my eyes is absolutely profound! You can't help but feel like you've been getting scammed all your life! Welcome to the retail world, indeed.
Back in the store, you can choose which customers to help and which to ignore. The challenge comes in assessing their current outfit and trying to satisfy their tastes as well as their budget. Sometimes it's as simple as picking their favorite color or brand while other times you may find yourself shooting in the dark. To help out, you have the option of asking the customer their opinion on a selected piece. Sometimes she will take a liking to a piece that is completely out of character. You can ask the customer to take a look three times before she will demand to try on your next pick. If she still expresses displeasure, you try to convince her to take a chance on faith. I always get a grim satisfaction tricking a customer into buy something she never wanted in the first place. I'm a bad girl.... BOY. Bad boy.
The most frustrating requests are for full ensembles. Here is where your creative spark shines. You will have to mix and match styles in order to create something that suits her sensibilities, but often you'll find your inventory lacking. While shopping the center, you must keep in mind how a particular garment will match with other items in your supply. It's easy to get caught in the thrill of buying up anything and everything, but don't make blind purchases. It's a small but crucial element of strategy that prevents the game from being too straightforward.
Every time you achieve a new store rank, you are allowed to enter a fashion contest. Winning is a simple matter of strictly adhering to the assigned theme. The other contestants will make wild deviations, so you are guaranteed to win as long as you don't try to spice things up. When you win, you'll earn special contest-only garments that can be sold for a very high price. In addition, you attract the attention of a reporter who will feature your store in the fashion magazine Nuances, resulting in increased foot traffic to your store. You can suggest items in your stock to be featured as well, so this is a great opportunity to move some slow-selling pieces.
Perhaps the most fun feature of the game is avatar customization. In your apartment, you can don any clothing you've purchased from the center whether or not you still have any left in the storeroom. You can visit a beauty salon or cosmetics shop to change your hairstyle or buy new makeup using your personal profits. Some changes are drastic while others are extremely subtle. You can spend hours making yourself look as hot or as frumpy as you want. If I can't have a smooth Latin lover, I can at least have a cute Boricua with cropped hair and an affinity for denim skirts.
I was unable to check out the game's local multiplayer because... well... I'm sure you can understand. However, I did check out the online features. You can download clothing designed by actual fashion designers or you can visit shopping cities where other Style Savvy players have opened up shops and purchase complete outfits from them. You can open up your own store in the city, advertise by mailing out flyers, and collect the earnings from your sales for use in the main game. Though you can only sell what you possess in your stock, online sales don't decrease your supply. The clothes you purchase can only be worn by your avatar and outfits can only be worn as a complete set, not split apart.
I do question a few of the game's design choices. The game features a shoujo manga art style, which means that every person in this game looks like a fifteen-year-old girl, regardless of age or occupation. It's also clear that only a single motion capture artist was used for every character. Everyone has the same excessively spunky mannerisms and it gets annoying really quickly. It doesn't help that because of the hardware limitations character's hands are always flat and open, never closed. Very creepy and robotic.
On top of that, everyone is waaaay too skinny. From the computer nerds to the nature painters to the athletic types, each of these girls could pass as a supermodel. Coincidentally, some of your customers are supermodels. I can only imagine what an impressionable young gamer would conclude when they notice that the builds of the models and the regular girls are identical. I'm not necessarily asking for plus-size gals, but some with average physiques would have been welcome.
I also take issue with the window shoppers who swing by just to shoot the breeze. I'm trying to run a successful business and these bitches are making small talk. I really don't care about your personal lives. I just want your money. And why is Renée now working under me? I don't want her. As you help customers, you'll notice that others are no longer around. I'm assuming that Renée helped them out, but her sales don't count towards your store total. That can only mean that she's pocketing the cash or she's driving away business. I don't need her dead weight. Where's the "fire her ass" button?
Your store funds deplete at a surprisingly swift rate and it's a tedious process to earn enough money to return to the center for more supply, especially when most of your garments sell in the sub-$100 range. You are really fucked when you enter a sales rut but don't have enough funds to restock the storeroom. Perhaps I am just loose with my cash, but these frequent occurrences can discourage players from purchasing the more high-end items from the center. You can try storewide sales to encourage impulse buys, but that can only help so much.
You do have a bailout option of sorts when your stock and funds dip below a certain threshold, activated by visiting Dominic's mansion once you've met the criteria. While there, you can also increase your storeroom capacity, open up new interior designs, or unlock new music to play in your store. These become available after you've sold certain amounts of clothing or when you've purchased enough cosmetics. It's a bit of a chore to have to visit the mansion and select each of these options to specifically unlock them. Why couldn't they be unlocked immediately once you've met the requirements? Why the extra step?
Anyway, I guess I consider myself a bit of a fashionista now. At least, I think so. It's hard to tell. Some of the girls look like they dress themselves blindfolded. I have suggested some of the most horribly matching pieces and they drink 'em in like manna from heaven. They like the shit I give them? Is that what fashion is all about? I suppose it's meant to encourage the girls who should be playing this game without penalizing them needlessly. They can express themselves without feeling too restricted, and I admire that. I also admire how well hooker boots go with just about everything.
I wish I could compare this to similar girl games like the Imagine series, to gauge just how much content overlaps and what one does better than the other, but I can't. For all I know, this game could play just like Imagine: Fashion Designer, but I like to think that Style Savvy is a little bit classier than that. I've actually found enjoyment in this title, and if I can then I'm sure it'll be a fine fit for any young girl.
Style Savvy offers robust customization options and introduces simple business management concepts, making it more than just a basic dress-me-up. I don't expect any of you to rush out and grab this for your personal collection, but at least consider it when suggesting quality titles for a niece or younger sister. The game may be pandering but there is just enough depth for it to warrant a little bit of respect from the jaded and cynical among us.
I feel pretty.