In last week’s Indie Wonderland: Costume Quest 2, I alluded to another game I’d been eyeballing for review at the time. Do you remember? I dismissively wrote about a ‘weird visual novel game about flower shops’, before segueing into Costume Quest 2 proper. You might have figured, at the time, I was being facetious for the sake of review opening comedy.
I wasn’t. Flower Shop: Summer in Fairbrook (by developer Winter Wolves is a real game, it’s about the complexities of balancing dating life with honest farm work while spending summer in a small agrarian town, it features a main character unironically called Steve, and I genuinely want to play this game a lot.
So what I’m saying is, I hope you guys are psyched for a summer in Fairbrook. Because I sure as hell am.
(Spoiler levels: Narrative, high. Mechanical, more or less absolute.)
I know, going in, that Flower Shop: Summer In Fairbrook (here-on-out: ‘Flower Shop’) is a kind of dating sim. There is going to be dating. And the main character is going to be a guy called Steve.
I’m curious as to how progressive Flower Shop is going to be with this formula. Will there be men and women for Steve to date? Straight characters, gay characters, bisexual characters? Will there be white people, black people, other people of colour? Healthy people, sick people, disabled people? Conventionally attractive people, ugly people, so-so people, thin people, fat people, short people, tall people, people who climb on rocks?
I wonder about each of these things as I launch Flower Shop for the first time.
I briefly hold out hope that the menu’s ‘Preferences’ will allow me to set, like, romantic and sexual preferences. But no, it’s just an Options screen by any other name. Not a very great one, either: it’s limited in scope, it doesn’t really explain the choices I’m making in any detail, and the Sound Volume and Music Volume buttons return the overwhelming sound of nothing every time I press them.
Beyond all that, there’s nothing in Flower Shop’s menu really worth mentioning. And the way visual novels usually tend to work, I’m not foreseeing any difficulty settings or highly involved character customization either. Which means that this segment is getting cut a bit short, I guess: time to jump right in, and see what the Fairbrook hub-bub is all about.
So yeah, I’m jumping right in.
Looking at the cartoon-drawn background of a city that I’m guessing didn’t win any perspective prizes, I’m introduced to Steve. To explain why the name Steve is so hilarious to me would involve delving a little deeper into the weirdery of my psyche than I’m entirely comfortable doing in a video game column — and also, I just have no idea why — so for now, just accept that having a main character called Steve directly pokes the joy centers of my brain.
Also, Steve looks like this:
Steve is a student! Steve just finished the last final of whatever school year he’s in! Steve is happy about this! Steve is meeting with his girlfriend, Jill, whose face defied conventional physics in several incredibly upsetting ways.
When I say ‘all of that happens’, of course, what I mean is that I’m clicking pages forward. I’m assuming you all understand the basic concept of what a visual novel is? It’s that. So far, all I’ve done is click the left mouse button a bunch of times, and read the intervening text.
Experimentally, I press the right mouse button. In some visual novels, this removes the text box — yes, this does tend to be more of a factor in those visual novels where you would want an uninterrupted view of the image on-screen, and yes, I am talking about porn. But as Flower Shop isn’t porn — as far as I know — the right mouse button summons a save-‘n-load menu screen instead.
I attempt to save my game. This does not go well.
Okay, maybe I’m just not far enough into Flower Shop yet to allow for saving. Let’s carry on with my Adventures Of Steve.
Steve and Jill are talking. Well, ‘talking’: arguing. Steve is a lazy layabout in class, and he’s partially failing because of it. Jill is very ambitious, and she doesn’t like seeing Steve be so lackadaisical about this. I bite back a joke about the interesting and unique nature of this character dynamic, and continue playing.
Steve and Jill are still talking. Jill mentions Steve’s dad just ‘wants the best for him’. Here, I suddenly get a choice! Finally, a chance to make generic-Steve into my Steve. Do I concede that Jill may have a point, or do I press the issue that ‘she doesn’t know my dad like I do’?
I pick the second option, because screw you, dad. I’ve never met the guy, personally, but the Steve that is me doesn’t seem to like him much. And if I can’t trust Steve’s opinion on the subject, what chance does this remote-control relationship really have of succeeding?
Jill is not amused by this.
I’m getting the sense that Flower Shop is trying to tell me something, re: Steve and Jill.
Jill talks about her new job. I get another choice of comments, three this time. I decide to congratulate her on her new job. This backfires. The bar drops even further.
Finally, we end up at a romantic park, a place full of history and connotations for us. Jill even forgets her past anger, allowing herself to be swept up with memories of yesteryear ever-so-briefly.
Steve picks this exact moment to ogle random chicks.
So yeah, Jill breaks up with Steve. With me. With Steve. Sorry, I’m still experiencing some character-player disconnect, here. I mean Jesus Christ, Steve. You’re seriously talking about your ‘needs’ to a girl that has already expressed hesitance about your mutual compatibility, after ogling other girls in front of her. How did you even get into this relationship in the first place?
Steve is upset. Steve is at home, rationalizing things to himself. Steve is wondering whether or not he should immediately call her. Don’t do it, Steve! Don’t be that guy. Give her some space. It’s tough on her too.
Steve’s dad comes in. He’s either a very well-dressed handsome man, or a robot impersonating a very well-dressed handsome man.
Anyway, long story short: Steve’s dad is sending Steve-me away from City-Where-We-Are, to spend the summer in Fairbrook, on Uncle Max’s farm. Wha-wha-whaaa? This would probably be a bigger twist if it wasn’t, you know, the game’s core conceit.
We get in the car. I ask questions about Uncle Max, about his farm, about Fairbrook. Then, we arrive.
At this point, I start getting a bit antsy. I know visual novel-style games tend to have a high ratio of dialogue and text to choices and interaction, but… is this game going to feature anything more involved than clicking buttons. Because, no diss if it doesn’t, but I don’t know if there’ll be much to write a review about. Talking about the story may only get me so far… particularly if I don’t want to spoil every aspect of it, for interested readers.
But lo and behold, Flower Shop comes to the rescue. Rescue, in the form of a farming gameplay element.
Sure, right now it’s ‘clear the weeds’. But after clearing the weeds, I can plant seeds there! And water them! And sell them on the farmer’s market, for cold hard cash. Suddenly, my summer is looking up.
Alright, this looks like a good place to cut the ‘first look’ section of this review. Let me just save my game, which I’m pretty sure I should have earned the right to do by now, and…
Er… crap. I guess it wasn’t saving privilege restrictions after all, then.
Flower Shop had some difficulties loading when I launched it the first time, so… it may be that? Lemme see if restarting does anything for it. If not…
If not, then the second page of this review is going to get somewhat awkward.