Tokimeki Check-in! Review

Contributed by J. Sarunski aka Unicorn

Tokimeki Check-in!

This game is a storytelling multipath adventure with a slight touch of roleplaying.

The player takes the role of Yamano Takayuki, new master of the ryokan (traditional japanese inn) of his parents. He got into this position because of two reasons:
a) His parents opened a new resort and moved there in order to manage it.
b) He was (very much to his own annoyance) not capable to get another job.

So he was stuck there, supported by the tomboyish (and sometimes even violent) cook Jinnai Makoto, the maid (and friend since early childhood) Shimizu Ayumi and the long-time employee of the inn, Sugida Umekichi, called Ume-san (who knows best about the business at the inn and is therefore a great help to train Takayuki on the job for his future assignment as real master of the inn).

The story tells the events of 3 days at the inn out of Takayukis perspective. At these days, there are several guests who arrive and stay at the inn. Every guest has his own history and it is up to Takayuki (or the player) to decide, which guest seems to be most interesting / amusing / attractive / whatever and try to come closer to them. Well, of cause, this most interesting / amusing / attractive / whatever person may also not be a guest at all.

The story has 17 possible endings: two of them bad, one "normal" and all other either good or best endings. So if you regard a story as one sequence of events leading to a certain ending, it may be considered that depending on the players selections, the game tells 17 different stories. Well this is not quite that simple, because:
a) There are optional events, that do not effect the endings, but may be watched or not, so there are more than one sequence of events, leading to the same ending.
b) For 5 girls, there exist a "good" and a "best" ending that result out of the same sequence of events, but different decisions that at first look seem to have no impact at the story at all.
c) The "normal ending" may result out of quite a number of different told stories, that all have in common, that the player at one point strayed from the way, that would have lead him through all the necessary events for a good/best/bad ending.
d) Two completely different paths lead to the same bad ending.

Most of the time, the game behaves like a visual novel with a main storyline that always , but at some critical points, the player has to make a decision, that may activate or deactivate "conditional" branches of the main storyline. ... or conditional branches within conditional branches from the main storyline (... you get the point, right?). In addition to it, the points of making a decision are not all parts of the main storyline, but some (most?) of then take place in conditional branches.

With default options, the soundtrack to this game is one of the best MIDI-Soundtracks, I have ever heard. The composer did his best to capture 13 different moods in themes of a length between 2 and 6 minutes, that are used within the story according to the current situation. In addition to these 13 themes, there are 2 themes used only in the endings and the opening-theme, so a lot candy for the ears. Also the (original japanese) voice-acting is terrific and gives an additional good impression on the different characters.

And at last, if the game has been full-installed (or a second CD-ROM-drive exists), the second included CD may be inserted and the music-options may be switched from "MIDI" to "CD-DA". After doing this, all previously already praised themes are played directly from the second CD, which contains the themes in genuine CD-quality and the opening-theme and the closing-theme contain even vocal (also japanese, but who cares) parts. This option gives "Tokimeki CheckIn!" one of the best currently available soundtracks in an english translated bishoujo-game.

The in-game-graphics, that visualize the events of the story, have a very good quality that perhaps sets the current state of the art of bishoujou in-game-graphics. They fall into two categories:
a) Illustrations of certain key events
b) backgrouds, into that graphics of the currently present characters are pasted. The backgrounds change with the time of the day and for each charaters there are different graphics (representing the current clothing and mood of the character).

(Only the changing expression/clothing of a character in a b)-type-in-game-graphic during a conversation may be considered an animation, but I added this topic originally for movie-like animations within games, as in "Desire", "Eve burst Error" or "Viper V16".)

User Interface:
The graphics fill the screen copletely (or at least the applications window, this depends on the selected configuration options). On top of this graphic is a transparent window that contains either the displayed text of the story or the choices for the decision currently at hand. This window is the central element of the game/user-interaction. In order to see the whole graphic, the window may be hidden by a right-click and redisplayed by right-clicking again (Aaaaargh, this goes naturally only for right-handed mouses. On a left-handed mouse, these are left-clicks (never forget minorities...).

Back to the topic: When a decision is to be made, the available options are displayed within the transparent window and one of the options has to be selected via the mouse or the up/down-keys and confirmed via a mouse-click or the return-button. At every point of the game, the current position may be saved and a saved position may be loaded via the according buttons in the title of the text-window. For saving, there are 10 positions available. The config-dialog may also be called up from the text-window, making it possible, to switch to CD-Music while already playing.

One last very useful function of the text-window is the switch for the "Skip"-mode, meaning that all the stops for reading within the text would be skipped from the current position until the next decision is to be made. Since the main storyline would not be affected by the players decision at all, the passages of the main storylines get a bit repetitive while trying to find all possible endings. Particularly the internal quarrels of the terrible trio are always the same and would lose most of their entertaining value, if the player would be forced to read (or at least confirm) these legthy passages all in order to try out another possible path through the story.

The last button in the title of the window, is the one I almost never used ("Repeat"). If the currently displayed text contains a spoken passage, then by clicking this button (evaded the right-/left-handed trap again), this passage would be played again.

From the main menu screen, there are the Viewing-room and the Memory-room acessible. These rooms are filled while playing through the story with the graphics, already seen (Viewing room) and with entries that lead directly to the H-Scenes (Memory room). Also, all themes can be selected directly as background-music for the Viewing-room. Some further features become available at the Viewing room after all possible endings have been seen.

My Personal Opinion:
This game is a jewel among jewels within my personal collection of bishoujo-games.

The story, has an unchangeable main plot that extends at many points according to the players decisions. The characters are all very appealing designed and anyone of them expresses itself in a very lifelike manner. Of cause, they have not such depth, as the characters in "Eve burst error" (there went the crown for the best developed storyline), but it is fun to follow their special events during the 3 days of the story.

The game itself has a good replay-value with the challenge to get all 17 possible endings. By using the "Skip"-function, it is possible to jump over the unchangeable parts and the player can keep the focus on the new parts (or just the decisions). Even after reaching all endings, I like sometimes to re-play some of them (well, of cause not the bad ones), so this adds to my personal replay value. The user-interface, that features full-screen-graphics instead of the usual split-screen with the text displayed in an semi-transparent-window "floating above the graphic" gives a feeling, as reading a manga and an art-book at the same time. Only differences to mangas are: Mangas don't have original voices and the speech-bubbles are replaced by a window that may even be hidden (that is the switch to the artbook-mode).

Last but not least point of my summary are the equally awesome 2 versions of the backgroud music, MIDI and CD-DA. My special favourite of the in-game-themes is #16 (PING-PONG). I think, it captures very well the tension that comes up, if a game is played fair and square but also with the serious intention to win. The only thing that could have been better, are environmental sounds (like sliding doors, cutting and sizzling sounds in the kitchen, sound of flowing water in the current at the fishing-scene, singing birds in the mountains and so on). Not that I really missed them, but makers of other games containig that features might object, so I have to mention this after giving the crown (my personal, at least) for the best soundtrack to this game.

Also, the game itself plays alway fair. If the player thinks just a little bit about the choices, he makes, he will figure before choosing, what consequences would be triggered by each choice. (Well at least the general direction, the details of the events are naturally rather unpredictable.) This fairness is especially visible regarding the bad endings: The player let Takayuki act consequently in a wrong manner and gets it's punishment by these endings (you will reap, what you sow).

Final word to it:
This game has conquered a special place in my bishoujo-gaming heart that will not be claimed by any new upcoming title easily. I like many (well, maybe in fact all, I can get my hands on) bishoujo-games, but this one is very special to me.