I’ve got a simple test that will help determine whether or not a hopefully healthy number of you will be interested in playing Cherry Tree High Comedy Club, a title which has been available for some time now but which recently saw a Steam release. Ready? Here we go.
If you enjoyed the Persona series’ third and fourth installments but found yourself wishing that they 1) were four hours long instead of 80 and 2) didn’t have all that pesky fighting in them, then Cherry Tree High Comedy Club is a game you will enjoy very much.
For those who have never indulged in the distinctive delights of the Persona series, though — perhaps because of their extreme length — some further explanation is probably required as to what Cherry Tree High Comedy Club is all about and why, perhaps, you should give it a look.
Cherry Tree High Comedy Club casts you in the role of Miley Verisse, a crazy-haired (“it’s not bedhead!”) teenage girl in her last year at high school. Miley loves comedy, and wants nothing more than to get started on her dream of doing it for a living by forming a comedy club at school. School rules dictate that any new club must have at least five members to get started, however, and as the game opens Miley only has her friend Harriet signed up and ready to rock. Miley’s former friend Octavia, the Queen Bitch head of the student council, issues Miley with an ultimatum — if she doesn’t assemble the required number of people by the end of April, her club is dead in the water.
Thus begins a rather low-key but immensely endearing adventure, where you, in the role of Miley, have about a month of in-game time to make some friends and convince them to join your club. Get at least three new recruits by the end of April and Miley’s club gets off to a rocky start, but a start nonetheless. Recruit all of the six available candidates before time’s up and you’ll get the best ending. Simple, right?
The Persona connection is immediately apparent in the way the game plays. Each day is split into three distinct time periods: morning, afternoon and evening on days off; lunchtime, after school and evening on school days. In each period, Miley has time to wander around as many of the in-game locations as she likes, but only has time to either hang out with one person or do one activity that builds up her repertoire of conversational topics. Each of the six candidates have their own likes and dislikes so far as conversational topics go, and the biggest friendship gains come when Miley talks to them about their favorite topic and has spent some time building up her own knowledge of the subject. This process gets progressively easier with each subsequent playthrough, as Miley gets to carry across her knowledge from game to game — as such, in your first playthrough, you’ll pretty much have to prioritize your favorite characters and focus exclusively on them, while in subsequent runthroughs, you’ll be much more likely to be able to make everyone happy.
“Charming” is a word that often gets bandied about in reference to games with deliberately mundane settings and concepts, and it’s very much applicable here. Miley herself is a likeable, endearing character rather than a “blank slate” protagonist, and each one of the game’s six candidates has their own little story to work through as Miley builds up her friendship level with each of them. This helps the process of building relationships feel less like a “grind” than it can do in some other “life sims,” and makes all of the characters feel much more human, particularly as most of these stories revolve around the candidate getting to know themselves just as much as Miley is learning about them. There’s no Persona-level melodrama here, it should probably be said; most of the stories are more “heartwarming” than overly-emotional, but they’re still effective at helping you to get to know the game’s small cast.
A big part of Cherry Tree High Comedy Club’s charm factor comes from its excellent translation by Tezuka Productions, the team who helped bring the Ace Attorney series to Western audiences. Much like the Ace Attorney games, Cherry Tree High Comedy Club has undergone a genuine localization rather than a word-for-word translation. This means that the setting of the game has been shifted from Japan to America (and, by extension, character names have been changed); the “foreign” characters are now Swedish rather than Canadian; and any humorous cultural references have been replaced with those that would be recognizable to a Western audience — references to celebrities, memes and being a bad enough dude to rescue the president abound.
The quality localization job does not stop the game possessing that strange fusion of American and Japanese culture that the Ace Attorney series has, however — though the game does at least make an effort to explain what on Earth a traditional Japanese shrine (complete with shrine maiden) is doing in the middle of an American city. It works within the context of the story and helps to create a believable, small and endearingly mundane game world, and fans of the Ace Attorney series will recognize Tezuka Productions’ distinctive brand of humor and relevant cultural references. Only a few occasional typos and grammatical errors mar the experience slightly, and they’re certainly nothing more serious than enthusiasts of other Japanese games will have seen before.
So should you play Cherry Tree High Comedy Club? Well, yes, but there’s a few caveats: it’s short; it’s simple; it’s quite easy to “beat” once; and it demands at least two playthroughs to see everything it has to offer. Its excellent localization, charming characters and entertaining, mundane but heartfelt story make it well worth your time and attention, though, particularly if you’re a fan of “slice of life” anime and/or just want a break from the endless torrent of games that require you to kill everything.
Find out more about Cherry Tree High Comedy Club — including where to buy it — on the official site. The copy played for this review was purchased at the reviewer’s expense.