Publisher: Ratalaika Games SL
Genre: Visual Novel, Slice-of-Life, Mystery
Platform: PlayStation 4 (Also available on Switch, Steam, PC download, and Xbox)
Age Rating: PEGI 12
Release Date: 29/7/2020
A code was provided for review purposes.
Choose Your Adventure
Sometimes, I like to ignore problems until they go away. In Nicole, a slice-of-life mystery visual novel from WinterWolves, you can do just that!
Arriving at college full of optimism and energy, Nicole is ready to make the most of her new life. However, she’s soon caught up in a series of kidnappings, and perhaps more concerning, the world of dating.
Or nothing happens, if you prefer.
You see, Nicole has an interesting structure where you can choose to simply ignore the mystery altogether. If you don’t look for clues, then none of the mystery takes place.
The same goes for dating. You can choose not to pursue any of the romances, or fail at them like me on my first playthrough.
Live, Laugh, Love
Similar to Vera Blanc (check our review here), you can opt to play Nicole as just a visual novel, or with gameplay mechanics. In this particular game, that means choosing activities in your daily life to raise specific statistics. Your romantic prospects each have a preferred stat, and there’s also Clues if you want to investigate the kidnappings.
Along with those, you also need to keep up morale and energy, as well as managing your finances. As the game goes on, you’ll gain access to part-time jobs, and can spend cash on meals, movies, or online shopping.
In terms of story, Nicole is fairly direct. As I mentioned earlier, you’re starting at a new college, and over the course of the in-game months, you are introduced one-by-one to potential romantic prospects. In this regard, I feel the game starts off well – the characters mostly hit a good mix of insufferable and amusing.
Your choices and stat-raising eventually direct you towards dating one of them, though the first time I played I bungled this spectacularly. Later in the game, a tip advised me that I needed to be aware that my choices this month could lock in a romance. Instead, as I was so far behind, nothing romantic at all happened.
The other half of the story regards the mysterious kidnappings that have happened in recent years. If you choose to look for Clues while you play (which is just a matter of picking Clue-related activities), you’ll eventually start unlocking scenes where Nicole looks into the mystery. This adds a nice bit of tension, if you feel things are perhaps a bit too peaceful.
Lost the Plot
Speaking about story leads into my main complaint regarding Nicole, which is pacing. The first couple of months play out similarly to what you’d expect from Persona 5 (find our review here), steadily introducing mechanics and characters.
Then the game abruptly notifies you that you need to finish off your romance. Not long after that, it says the game’s going to end in just a few weeks. It’s even worse if you’re behind on stats, meaning the last couple of months play out with barely any story.
The mystery also gets very little time to breathe. If you follow the game’s own advice and wait a bit before searching for Clues, then you’ll likely only start looking into the mystery towards the end of the game. This suddenly shifts the game’s focus, only really covering the start of the mystery before the ending sequence resolves it.
My complaint largely stems from the fact that I was enjoying the characters and story, but felt I missed out on the main pay-offs. Some of them briefly interact with each other, but since Nicole insists on keeping everything secret, the dating and mystery stories largely remain disconnected.
Additionally, even though the game is called Nicole, our protagonist has very little agency in resolving the mystery. The tips even tell you outright that you’ll need a romantic partner if you don’t want the bad ending.
As a random side complaint, there were two points later in the game where Nicole suddenly introduced major characters as though we’d never seen them before. I don’t know if these two sections were artefacts from early development, but it was fairly jarring.
In terms of the general gameplay, I’m not a huge fan of slice-of-life stat-raising systems like here or in Persona (controversial!). They usually feel fairly arbitrary to begin with, eating up time between character interactions and story choices. Then, if you don’t meet your targets, they oblige you to replay vast amounts of content just to fix busywork.
Perhaps I’m just getting old, but memorising where to raise each stat felt fiddly in Nicole. This is especially slow as you have to pop in and out of several menus just to see what you’re getting from each activity. I ended up noting them all down on paper, and soon after had them memorised.
It’s also not that long a game for the price tag. You’re looking at maybe 3-5 hours for one playthrough, and much faster once you understand how to “beat” the game. The changes also only really kick in towards the end of the story, so you’ll probably end up skipping the early stuff.
In summary, Nicole is a fun visual novel that starts slow and hurries to an ending. I think it’s neat that you can just pursue a romantic happy ending if you want, ignoring the mystery entirely. It’s a bit of a missed opportunity that it doesn’t work in reverse, though (unless you enjoy bad endings).
Nicole’s interactions with her various infuriating love interests are usually a lot of fun. The kidnapping plot adds tension if you feel like adding spice to proceedings. Still, with a more solid final act, and maybe more of a bridge between the start and end, Nicole could have been so much more.
Rapid Reviews Rating
You can purchase Nicole for PlayStation 4 from the following link: PlayStation Store (UK)