Recently, I sat down with School Days HQ, a Japanese-made visual novel famous for the juxtaposition of its high school love triangle and shocking, ultra-violent endings. However, upon my completion of the game, I found my ending to be rather mundane -- a happy ending like those found in many similar stories.
My first time through the game, I had the male character choose a girl early on and -- despite the game's constant attempts to turn me from that choice -- made him stay true to her for the entirety of the game. Unsatisfied with the ending, I played the game the other way, this time choosing the other girl and staying true to her for the rest of the story. The result was again a rather predictable -- and therefore unsatisfying -- normal ending.
I was more than a little annoyed. Where was the shocking ending I had been promised? Hadn't I done everything right? Hadn't I kept the bafflingly annoying main character on the correct and moral path despite his natural inclinations to do something stupid?
I went to the net in search of how to get the shocking endings I had somehow missed and found that they were all the "bad" endings to the game -- the endings I would never normally see as I was playing the game as I play all games: to win.
So while I had felt the game was constantly trying to force me to make stupid choices, it was in fact trying to guide me to the best parts of the game -- the parts that only come from being an indecisive, two-timing idiot.
And truth be told, it never even occurred to me to switch girls mid-game. I have long been programmed by games like Mass Effect, Fallout 3, and Bioshock to pick a side and stick with it. After all, there are bonuses to gameplay should you be full "good" or "evil"; but players who make neutral characters are just handicapping themselves.
School Days is the first game I have ever played that is largely ruined by this mentality -- in this case choosing just one girl or the other. It makes me wonder how much we have limited ourselves -- both game designers and players -- by sticking to these black and white choice systems and leaving the expansive middle area between unexplored.
So while I did not really enjoy my time with School Days, I do not for a moment regret playing it. It has opened my eyes to a rut that gaming has been long stuck in and the possibilities we have been denying ourselves by choosing to stay in it. Gaming can have more than two choices.
School Days HQ was released on June 27, 2012, for PC and Mac. It can be purchased online at the official website.