Tokimeki Memorial (ときめきメモリアル) - PC Engine Super CD, Super Famicom, PlayStation, Saturn, Game Boy Color, Windows, mobile phones, PSP, PSN (1994)
Usually when it comes to wacky Japanese games that never get translated, I'm all for rallying behind them, if just out of principle. And yet, one genre that never really left Japan was the dating sim. While some occasional games with romance elements make it out over here - the PSOne RPGs Azure Dreams and Thousand Arms spring to mind and Tecmo's Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball actually has a lot in common with these types of games - otherwise, the only thing we remotely see in English are those terrible hentai PC games. This here is Konami's Tokimeki Memorial, one of the first of the genre and thus one of the most well respected. I'm not going go insane proclaiming how Western world is missing out with the lack of this game, but I will say it's one of the most innovative ideas out there.
Abbreviated as "Tokimemo", you get tossed into your high school days and have three years to fully get the girl you want ("tokimeki" means "heartbeat", in case you actually needed to know.) The entire game is menu-based, with a set of statistics at the top of the screen. Like an RPG, these show how proficient you are in studies, science, and athletics amongst other things. Every turn, you choose what activity you'll do that week - you want to hang out the gym and get buff or stay at home studying for that upcoming test? You can also join clubs to suit your interest, which also modify your stats. You see all of these take place in silly little animations of you combing your hair or conducting science experiments or whatever. Naturally, if you focus too much on one aspect, other areas will suffer. And for some cryptic reason, sometimes you can actually FAIL at the activity you've chosen and randomly lose points - it's amusing to see you get electrocuted by your computer or get injured playing tennis, but it all seems stupidly arbitrary. All of the girls have various likes and dislikes - some of them like athletic guys, so you're going to want to join the tennis team and spend a lot of time working out. Then there are the quiet, shy ones who like mushy movies and elevator music. Thusly, the main object of the game is to balance these numbers so you can get your target girl(s) to like you. In keeping all of these levels in check, there's actually quite a bit in common with that ubiquitous time waster, The Sims, even though Tokimeki Memorial predates it by several years.
Once you meet girls - either through bumping into them in hallways or meeting them in clubs or getting introduced to them by your best buddy, you can walk them home and take them out on dates. This is quite important in determining how much a girl likes you, as you have to know their tastes in choosing where to take a girl. And no date is complete without interrogations - you'll often have to answer a question or two from them, which can positively or negatively affect their opinion of you. Every once in awhile, there are special events you get to participate in, like school festivals, holidays (including Valentine's Day, of course), and even double-dates. While these break up the monotony of the game, they're spread fairly thin and there aren't nearly frequent enough.
Some dating sims are notable for their deep and emotionally involving stories - Tokimeki Memorial is not one of those. The game is all about wooing girls and hoping one of them will confess to you at the end. Other games of the genre promise nudity and rampant deviant sex as a payoff for sifting through all of this, but Tokimeki Memorial is almost entirely chaste - the closest you get is an occasional scene to peep through a window. Still others have extremely well done artwork - Tokimemo was created in the mid-90s and the anime schoolgirl designs exist on a level of astounding genericness. It doesn't help that the actual ingame artwork is fairly underwhelming as well. So the only REAL thing you do in the game is find a target girl, know her likes and dislikes, and treat her accordingly. In depth and exciting, this game is not. Below is the full cast of the game - click on their pictures for a fuller shot.
Shiori Fujisaki (藤崎 詩織)
She plays the tired old role of the childhood buddy who regards you as little more than "unfuckable" - so the biggest challenge is to convince her otherwise and really show her your stuff.
Yumi Saotome (早乙女 優美)
Yumi is your best bud's little sister - he keeps trying to get you and her to hook up for some freakish reason. She's an underclassman tomboy who adores you as her senpai.
Ayako Katagirl (片桐 彩子)
I guess she's an artist or something. She also seems to be rather popular, as there was a separate game made starring her.
Mio Kisagari (如月 未緒)
The quiet, frail one who spends all of her time in the library. She's the kind of girl you'd want to show a porno to just to see her bug out and start crying.
Megumi Mikihara (美樹原 愛)
Another shy one, she's accompanied by her immensely furry dog quite often, which just highlights how ridiculous her haircut is.
Mira Kagami (鏡 魅羅)
Not only does she have the whole shoulder-baring Flashdance thing going on, but she also looks to be the kind of girl whom you can "win" their "love" with a $10 bill. All right, that was cruel. Maybe $20.
Yuina Himoo (紐緒 結奈)
Yuina, a former Iron Maiden groupie, is really a timetraveller who fell into the present day from the 80s. It's up to YOU to get her back to her original time before the universe implodes in upon itself. You know, dating sims would be a lot more bearable if they were really like that.
Yūko Asahina (朝日奈 夕子)
Yūko is a slacker's dream girl - you always run into her between classes. Unfortunately, talking to her isn't worth the time it takes to load the voice data from the CD-ROM.
Yukari Koshiki (古式 ゆかり)
I guess there's a difference between her and the other two redheads in this game, but damned if I can figure out what. I think she's supposed to be a rich girl. According to her profile, she likes "knitting" and "adventure", two activities not usually known to go hand-in-hand. But you never know.
Saki Nijino (虹野 沙希)
You have no idea how much I hate this girl. When I played through the game for getting screenshots, she NEVER STOPPED BOTHERING ME. Despite the fact that all I did was sleep and play on the computer (mimicking my own high school career), she kept showing up at my doorstep and wanted to play in the fucking park. Apparently she likes sports, cooking, and goddamned losers, and also got one of her own games to star in.
Nozomi Kiyokawa (清川 望)
The school jockstress. If you always wanted the hot track star from your high school but she never looked your way because she was too busy sampling the sperm of the football team...well, here's your chance.
Rei Ijuin (伊集院 レイ)
Rei struts through the game, acting like the cock of the walk, earning the affections and pussies of all of the girls in the school (except for the main ones featured above, because they only exist to fawn over you.) The mad secret is that Rei is actually a chick - call her a ton of times and, by some bizarre stalker logic, she will fall for you. So I suppose going after a girl that acts like a guy is a way to be gay without actually being gay. Maybe? Listen, YOU try to figure THIS one out. Crap knows I can't.
Miharu Tatebayashi (館林 見晴)
This is the mystery girl Miharu, whom you only hear on the phone. You end up with her if you can't get any other girls. She's surprisingly good looking, considering she's the consolation prize. I mean, the game could've been cruel and just given you a porno and a box of tissues at the Game Over screen. Miharu hangs around with the demented koala thing, who seems to be the mascot of Tokimemo.
Naturally, this is one of those games you're going to want to know some Japanese for. While you can struggle through most of the game with the help of translation guides, you're pretty much screwed if you go out on a date and you need to answer questions. Most of the lines are voiced, which helps in figuring out some of the kanji, but if you're not at least vaguely proficient in the language, you're going to be floundering hopelessly.
Now, see, I can't actually like this game purely on principle. I spend a lot of my time playing video games so I can get away from whatever real-life romantic hellholes I tend to dig for myself - I certainly don't want the two worlds to mix. A game based on dating is like emulating one of the most painful processes in human existence - Konami may have well made a game where you stick your limbs into a meat grinder, or get slammed in the crotch with a football over and over and I think it'd be about as much fun as this. But there is something oddly compelling about living in complete fantasy world, attempting to woo chicks while being caught in all of the cliches of a shoujo manga or mid-afternoon drama. So Tokimeki Memorial almost gets points for at least being original. But despite the interesting concept, it really is long and tedious, as getting a girl to like you takes quite a bit of effort. And there's not much satisfaction or great payoff anywhere, unless you REALLY want to see your favorite girls dressed in different outfits. But then again, I'm not sure if a concept like this could be executed well to begin with - but overall, it's a pretty underwhelming experience.
While Tokimeki Memorial was originally released for the PC Engine Super CD, it eventually found its way onto the PlayStation (most of the screenshots are from this one) and Saturn - all of them being fully voiced, with the latter two having much better graphics and an anime intro. The subtitle of this version is "Forever With You". A scaled down, crappy port was also made for the Super Famicom, which looks like garbage in comparison and naturally lacks voices. The text also looks pretty screwy in an emulator, as you can see. This port is called "Underneath the Tree of Legend".
There was also a pocket version for the Game Boy Color released in 1999, just in case you're at a party full of real girls and need to mack it vicariously through a little electronic device. There's both a "Sports" and "Culture" version, although I'm not exactly sure what that means.
Still, if there's anything worthwhile about Tokimeki Memorial, it's the mini-games.
At certain times throughout the year, your school holds various events to celebrate whatever it is you rotten teenagers do all day. They're all track-and-field type events and they're all nauseously terrible, but they character graphics are vaguely amusing.
There are far more interesting minigames, thankfully. Every once in awhile, you'll get attacked - sometimes on a date, sometimes on a field trip - where you'll do battle Final Fantasy-style. Here, you get attacked by a fish-wielding bear on a trip to Hokkaido. Sometimes the girl you're with will help out too. Even cooler - if you spend enough time with the computer club, you'll get to play the Twinbee Time Attack your second year.
You get to play four short stages from Pop'n Twinbee, facing a boss at the end of each stage, challenging to get the best time. This isn't the only Konami cameo - mentions of games like Suikoden and Parodius pop up in the newspaper, and one of the selectable cursors is Maria from Dracula X (see if you can find these in the screenshots above in the review.)
Konami also plunked the Tokimeki Memorial characters in their own puzzle game, creating Tokimeki Memorial Puzzle Taisen!, which is a game pretty similar to Puyo Puyo. It would've been nice as a mini-game inside of the real game, but they actually make you pay money for this one. There are tons more spinoffs, but I'm not going to bother going into them.
As for sequels, Tokimeki Memorial 2 was a multi-CD PSone epic brought out in 1999. A few years later, Tokimeki Memorial 3 hit the PS2. A special, girls-only version called Tokimeki Memorial 3: Boy's Side, used the same game mechanics but instead put you in the shoes of a schoolgirl trying to slut it up with guys. These sequels aren't even counting the thousands of side-story games that Konami crapped out to capitalize on the name brand. And there's still the anime OVA, the innumerable amount of drama CDs and a sickening amount of random merchandise.
But if you're up to learning more about Tokimemo, here's the usual links. On a side note, if you're an anime fan, episode 5 of Excel Saga features a hilarious parody of Tokimeki Memorial, right up to the music being almost exactly the same.
Additional PlayStation Screenshots