Steam allows for a variety of games to be released, no matter the size of the project, and I’m glad Anime Studio Simulator was given the green light for Visualnoveler’s first publication on the platform. The writing is on point, the comedic banter is funny, and the twists and turns of the development process kept me hooked. Did I make a bad mistake or did I alleviate a future outcome? That’s what spurred on my continuous playthroughs over a few days.
Funnily enough, Anime Studio Simulator took me back to last year when I was the Vice President of a game development club. Like the main character, Yukari, I had to get out of my comfort zone, make new friends and focus on teamwork, while also maintaining contacts with the industry. You really feel that in the writing for this game. Despite a lack of animations and voice acting within this visual novel, the words portray the emotions from each character well.
And I know this is kind of odd, but I felt awful when I made a terrible decision. The studio you choose to collaborate with and how much time you spend on certain projects that are brought up really affect the storyline, which gives this a lot of replayability. Your choice of genre at the beginning (harem, mystery, or action) changes what scenes you get in the story and your actions will incur up to six different endings. But back to the awful part. Whenever there is a failure, the writer of the visual novel really lays it on thick and because of the characters working so well with each other, you feel so bad for them. Despite that, I wish there were more parts in the story that truly have the team fighting with each other.
At many points, the team seems way too forgiving for your mistakes, and they are always happy-go-lucky despite working throughout the summer for free; what if they never have an end product and work with nothing to show for it? On the other hand, I see this game as a fun diversion, a trip to Japan that can cheer you up after a hard day’s work. Is it impactful? No. But it’s entertaining with its funny dialogue, likable characters, and upbeat attitude. And that is exactly what I wanted from this visual novel.
However, this is not baby’s first simulator. Anime Studio Simulator is surprisingly difficult. You have to manage your team of two artists, a writer, a musician, the director, and most importantly the studio’s expenses. You see, the game makes it very difficult to get sufficient funds to pay for training or outsourcing work like art or sound. If the director of the studio tries to receive funds for the production, it is a minuscule amount that only keeps you afloat for one week and put on top of that, the events within the story that force you to spend money on things like marketing and choosing a studio to work with for production. It gets frustrating because the director can’t focus on other things like helping with storyboards or marketing the product.
The game, in addition, has trouble explaining exactly what is happening with the anime’s progression. There are star charts, but you don’t exactly know how the overall production is going until the very end. It would be great, if like in Game Dev Tycoon, to get feedback on what should be focused on instead of hoping your team is doing enough. Even a line in the star chart, which explains what is acceptable for each aspect of the production would be a great idea. For a visual novel, this is surprisingly complicated, but if you are willing to trial and error for multiple playthroughs, you may get the hang of it. Despite all of the criticisms I’ve given it in terms of its game systems, it’s still fun to control aspects of an anime show, choose what genre it will be, what it’s name is, and what should be focused on. After all, I did play this for 2-3 hours straight after a 7-8 hour shift one night.
There is also a ludo-narrative dissonance (always wanted to use that) within the game as it allows you to outsource work, such as voice acting, before the proper stage of development begins in the story; it’s a bit odd.
Another aspect of the game that feels odd are the sections of the game that have no music accompanying the scene. Something definitely feels missing when this occurs and it takes you out of the moment as you think, “Should something be playing right now?” When the music is playing, the soundtrack accurately fits each scene and doesn’t become repetitive as you read through. A nice touch that the game has is that it even plays some music to pick for the anime.
If you are into anime, this is something you’ll very likely appreciate. It references the ever ongoing sub vs dub debate, makes note of popular anime shows, and is teaching you the ins and outs of the anime industry in the perspective of a new studio…at least in a broad stroke way.
There are multiple endings in the game, and while I initially received the bad version (which is probably what you should expect as the game is difficult on its first run) the writer still is able to round it off on a positive note.
I was surprised by how much I got into Anime Studio Simulator. The story overall is a pleasant journey with jokes that make you grin as well and it features likable characters. Creating a new anime and seeing the characters getting excited about it kept me playing through. However, some of the gameplay systems can be explained in further detail to prevent confusion. It is too difficult to get funding and sometimes the game doesn’t match up with how the story is progressing.
A PC Review Code for Anime Studio Simulator was provided by Visualnoveler for the purpose of this review.