DHSGiT: Minigames

I said before that we’d take a closer look at what Dangerous High School Girls in Trouble uses in place of combat, so let’s do that now. This is a game made chiefly of mini-games. You have up to four girls in your team, including one leader or “queen”. When you choose to interact with a NPC, you also select one girl to do the interacting, using an action that varies with the girl and the situation. Sometimes a girl’s action will be “accept” or “ignore” or “parley”, and sometimes it will be a game.

In keeping with the old-timey style, the only icons and symbols the game uses are things that could plausibly be found in a vintage board or card game. NPCs are represented on the board by silvery tokens of the sort you might find in an old Monopoly set, and the four character stats are represented by the four suits of a standard deck of playing cards: hearts for popularity, spades for rebelliousness, diamonds for glamor, and clubs for savvy. It takes a while to get used to this mapping, but you get exposed to it a lot as you play.

There are four main mini-games that represent different ways of dealing with NPCs: taunt, expose, fib, and gambit. They all use the “suit” symbols in some way, and each game focuses on a single stat — but not exclusively. One of the nicer things about the design is the way that any stat can help in any game, and that overspecialization in just one stat can lead to failure even in the game you’re specializing in. (Besides, it doesn’t pay to specialize too much because you have no control over which games are available to which girls in any given context.) A fifth game, flirt, is basically only useful for acquiring boyfriends, and has no particular stat focus.

Taunting is the classic Monkey Island-style insult fighting, where you take turns tossing barbs. Popularity, as I mentioned before, functions as hit points here, and is displayed on either side of the play area as a row of heart icons. Other stats seem to determine the strength of attacks, or perhaps just determine which insults a girl can access. Every insult has a comeback that turns it back at the attacker. Success in this game is largely a matter of building up a large repertoire of insults and responses, which can only be done by playing the taunting game a lot and losing. A high popularity can shield you from the effects of your experiments to some extent, but it only goes so far. Losing at this or any other game can cause the girl to sit out for a period of time, and this is the one game that I ever play with the expectation that this will happen and that I will be happy with it.

Exposing secrets is a little word puzzle. You’re given a sequence of club, diamond, and heart symbols, each of which stands in place of a word in a short sequence of sentences. You get to select symbols to turn into words, but your stats impose a limit on how often you can do this — for example, if your popularity is 3, you can flip only three hearts into words. Spades are wild; you can use your rebelliousness to turn over anything. But once you’re out of spades, you have to guess the remaining words from context, picking them from a list of possibilities. I find this game to be by far the easiest, because it’s the least random, and because failing it just makes the next attempt a whole lot easier. For a given character in a given situation, the words don’t change at all, so a lot of the time you can just keep on exposing words with different girls until you know them all. But even that isn’t necessary most of the time, because once you have some context, you can get most of the guesses right. This is also the one game that’s most directly connected to the plot: the sentences you uncover are all about character backstories and the like. For these reasons, I usually go for the “expose” option when it’s available.

Fibbing is done through an escalating bluffing game based loosely on poker. You and your opponent each have five randomly-chosen tokens, which can display any of the suits or be blank, with probabilities that I believe are determined by your stats. You get one free “flip” or draw for each point of glamor. And you and your opponent take turns making claims about what’s on your tokens, with each bid exceeding the last: if you say you have two pair, your opponent has to either claim at least a full house or call your bluff. (Understand that we’re still dealing with just suits, not values; a “pair” would mean two tokens with the same suit.) Being able to put together a good hand is obviously desirable, but not entirely necessary, as long as you can judge exactly how high you can bid without being called. But obviously there’s a luck factor regardless.

The above games are easier to grasp by observation than to describe in words. Gambit, less so. The game sensibly leaves it out until the end of the first chapter, and lets you practice it as much as you want when it does. It’s sort of a more complicated rock-paper-scissors. There are three slots, called Brazen, Smooth, and Devious. You have two numbers — one is your savvy, the other is some other randomly-selected stat — and you have to put them into two of these slots. Your opponent does likewise, often in a way that fits their character. Then all choices are revealed and evaluated, in slot order, and the person with the highest tally wins. If you put anything under Brazen, you score that many points and cancel the effects of your opponent’s Smooth. If you put anything under Smooth, and it hasn’t been canceled by your opponent’s Brazen, you get that many points and cancel the effects of your opponent’s Devious. And if you put anything under Devious (and it hasn’t been canceled by an uncanceled Smooth), you get to steal any points that your opponent got from Brazen. (The number of points you put under Devious has no effect; all that matters is whether you put anything at all there.) The UI goes to some length to make it clear what’s going on after the reveal, putting a big X on canceled stuff and animating the Devious marker sweeping the Brazen from one side to the other, but you still have to already understand how it works in order to make sensible choices. This is the one game that can end in a tie, which generally seems to count like a win at the story level, but you don’t get XP from it. If all the numbers are equal, Brazen-Devious beats Brazen-Smooth, which beats Smooth-Devious, which beats Brazen-Devious. But of course it’s seldom the case that all the numbers are equal, and high stats can still overwhelm low stats. But if you can predict what the opponent is going to pick, you can usually beat them even from a disadvantage (particularly if you can take advantage of Devious). There’s an item you can obtain that’s an enormous help: it lets you know in advance one of the slots your opponent is going to pick.

Flirting is a matter of figuring out correct responses to a randomly-chosen sequence of stimuli by trial and error. The boy might show you a diamond, for example, and expect you to reply with a heart — in this context each suit has a description like “laugh” or “bat eyelashes”, but I don’t remember the details. The correct responses are consistent within each boy, and if you guess wrong, you get to try again. But the number of times you can use a particular move is limited by your stats: a savvy of 3 means you can only use the “clubs” response 3 times, for example. Flirtations vary quite a lot in difficulty. In the more difficult ones, the moves (both his and yours) consist of two or even three picks in a row, which can make it mathematically impossible from the get-go if your girl’s stat total isn’t high enough. But even for the easy ones, having any stat too low is a liability. Boys successfully flirted with become boyfriends, which are more like accessories than characters, providing stat bonuses and a certain amount of protection from failure: when a girl would normally leave for a number of hours, the boyfriend leaves instead. But as far as I can tell, flirting is always completely optional.

My memories of the beta/demo I played years back are now dim, but I know that some of the games were different then. The “fib” mini-game was completely replaced — originally it was some sort of shell game. But also, if my impressions are at all accurate, the role of stats outside of their specialty games has been expanded somewhat. Or, if not expanded, at least clarified.

No Comments

Leave a reply