NB. In case you haven't guessed, the content below addresses some rather adult themes that may well prove NSFW.
Developers: No Reply Games
Publishers: No Reply Games
The fact that we probably wouldn't be covering this game had Valve not caused something of a stir when they kicked it out of Steam Greenlight says something about the nature and perception of erotic games in the West. It's a genre that's something less than an afterthought, a barely existent super-niche that lurks in the shadows of the internet in the form of barely interactive adventure titles or playground MMOs designed to let your avatar bump uglies with other avatars.
Developers Miriam Bellard and Andrejs Skuja are out to try and change that, with a game that attempts to deal with eroticism in a mature fashion.
Seduce Me sets the scene in simple fashion: you are a suitably virile young man with far too much time on his hands who, upon a chance meeting with promiscuous socialite Pietra, is invited to the latter's Grecian beach-side palace for sun, sea, sand, and sex. You arrive at the enormous villa, rendered in pristine fashion by the Unity engine, to find a number of attractive women waltzing about the place - Pietra is the hot-tempered celebrity host with the most; Cecilia, a near-permanently sloshed, maneater of a blonde divorcee, on the prowl for a moneyed husband; there's Lilia, Cece's rather moody and inexperienced daughter; and Esper, a kinky maid with a laughable work ethic. There are others who can help you boost your general popularity around the mansion, but it's the four above whom the game challenges you to seduce, fulfilling them both emotionally and passionately.
What this actually entails, however, is something of a numbers game. Each of the four girls you have a shot with have a progression bar for intimacy, and one for physical attraction, the general idea being to flirt with a woman to raise the latter, and have a deep-and-meaningful to boost the former. It's not that different from your run-of-the-mill dating games in this respect, and thankfully there are no fetch quests to speak of. However, there are also no real conversation trees, with all of the key exchanges between the player character and the women floating about the house taking place through the medium of card games.
Although we can perhaps envisage an adultery sim based on 'Cheat', the nuances of the card games aren't particularly obvious at first. The tutorials are relatively unhelpful, but to be honest there's no easy way around simply having the patience to really learn the rules inside-out. Thankfully, things are easy to pick up after a few rounds of each type, and better yet most of the games are variations on existing types such as Rummy, Shithead, and Hearts. Moreover, the more you play and the less you keep having to refer back to the rule sheets, the more you begin to appreciate the metaphor of card-based interactions for conversation.
Instead of "winning" by amassing high scores, the conversational chat types - small talk, flirtation - task you with remaining within a certain number of points as your opponent, metaphorically thrusting and parrying - knowing when to speak, as it were, and when to listen. Conversely, confrontations have you trying to best the player, take control, and then get rid of all of cards as quickly as possible and win the argument.
Sadly, though, it appears as though Lady Luck often has a rather large hand in the proceedings, and no matter how well you know the games, sometimes the cards just don't fall your way. It's something that makes the early game an exercise in frustration, although if you quit and restart before the end of a card match you can take it from the top when you relaunch.
Winning the games means Popularity points for you, which are handy because they often govern the types of card matches in which you can engage, not to mention your time in the house - if your Popularity drops to zero, you get booted off of the premises. Depending upon the option you chose upon encountering a character, the outcome of a game will also yield up points (or take them away) for the relevant woman's Attraction and Intimacy progress bars. Hit the 2-4 mark and you'll unlock a few little secrets about those characters, 5-6 will yield deeper, dark personal anecdotes and perhaps a spot of foreplay, with 7+ delivering the erotic fireworks. Max both bars out to 10 and you win the game, complete with a couple of epilogue screens that reveal 'what happens next...' following your escapades at Pietra's house.
The character art is nicely done for the most part (barring a few instances where characters' faces seem to change rather significantly), and the soundtrack has a smooth sheen to it that fits the genre perfectly. In concept and (partially) in form, at least, Seduce Me works, even if its brevity and lack of depth prevents it from being a game in which you'll invest significant amounts of time. But in function it seems a little bit confused in places.
Though it's difficult to give an objective overview of a game's 'erotic potential', Seduce Me seems unable to provide neither a particularly deep, character-driven erotic experience, nor an entertaining romp with an interactive explicit payoff. You'll have seen the majority of the character revelations after a couple of hours, with depth artificially stretched out by the seemingly random nature of card allocation during 'conversations'. Because you, as a character, have little input apart from providing a fleshy fun stick, there's none of the emotional payoff that a Mass Effect romance might deliver. On the flip side, the sexual scenes are rather tame - offering up stills of a single scene, punctuated with suitably filthy text.
Moreover, it seems a little bit odd to be attempting a relatively highbrow erotic game and only pitching to a male audience. One of the first questions that my other half asked when I told her I'd be reviewing this game was "Does it have multiplayer?" and "Can you play as a woman and reverse the whole thing?" To both questions I had to answer in the negative. With only two people working on the game, it's easy to see how time and resources might be better spent on a more tightly-focused experience, but even so, Seduce Me offers up a rather frustratingly shallow experience. It needs more expansive writing, and deeper characterisation - in spite of a few anecdotes, there's still little to really hook onto. We need to like the characters we supposedly want to have sex with, or at least find them attractive and that's difficult if they have abhorrent personalities (cough*Cecelia*cough), or appear to visually morph slightly every time we see them. One minute Esper is a hot, twenty-something with a button nose, the next she looks about 40 in profile, and has had her nose job reversed. It's jarring and breaks what little immersion there is.
That being said, Seduce Me is something of a success by mere virtue of the fact that it exists. Compared to the free Flash titles that adorn virus-ridden fap sites around the internet, it's significantly more worthy. But it also costs more, quite a lot more in fact. The core game has an RRP of 13 Euros (around £10.79), not as much as eroge (which Google tells me goes for around $30), but enough to make a curious party pause. In the end it's that, more so than any controversy, that might deter buyers.
- The art style makes a difference from anime strumpets
- The card games make sense, and can be slightly engaging, but there need to be more of them
- The characters are slightly more fleshed out than regular porn...
- ...but even so the game could do with vastly expanded writing
- The payoffs will satisfy neither those looking for fap fodder, nor romantic erotica connoisseurs
- Too pricey for what it currently is
The Short Version: No Reply Games succeeded in their goal - they created a 'legitimate' erotic game for Western audiences and, to be honest, planting any sort of flag in this empty genre would have been worthy of note. But it doesn't excuse inconsistent immersion, and a lack of depth and context that serves to undermine the game's potential for titillating fantasy - be it arousing and sexual, or romantically intimate.