Fantastic Poor is the first game from ACG Visual Novels. After losing her wallet her first day of college, our main character gets pulled into a whirlwind of shenanigans and hijinks, all centered around an infamous group of well-known students known simply as the “F4.”
A review was requested for this game through the VN Game Den review request form, and a review copy was provided.
One of the more interesting approaches this game takes is in its choice to use 3D models while still sticking to a more traditional sprite-on-background style in its scenic arrangement. The use of models rendered to 2D allowed them to easily create a lot of different full-body expressions for their characters. Combined with the amount of physical movement of the sprites across the scene, it makes for something very visually kinetic and dynamic.
For the backgrounds, they took a pretty common approach for small-team games and jams, namely starting from photographic backgrounds and altering them with photo manipulation and filter effects. In this particular instance, while they didn’t do anything spectacular with this methodology, you can tell a lot of attention was paid to getting the sprites and backgrounds to feel aesthetically cohesive, even if a few of the individual assets are slightly off-style. I get the feeling of a limitation in regards to asset creation and an earnest attempt to overcome that as cleverly as they could. In a lot of cases, this attention to overall consistency would have done a lot to cover any minor mechanical and artistic flaws.
The problem is that this game just doesn’t quite do a good enough job overall in creating something pleasant to look at. The colors are garish and jarring. The mechanical rendering of the sprites themselves is lossy and artifacted. Most of the backgrounds just feel like a mash of colors with very little definition or details to latch on to. The whole visual experience ends up being this cacophonous mess. A lot of these things could have been bold design decisions if they had just been more artistically implemented and made sense with the tone of the story, such as it is.
That’s the other huge stumbling block with this game. It’s not well-written. It’s a slice-of-life, so there’s a certain expectation that the plot might be a little looser. Even after getting through a route, though, I really struggle to understand exactly what actually happened beyond a few basic plot points. It’s not engaging, very few of the characters or setting pieces are introduced organically, and there’s no interpersonal chemistry to speak of. They provide a lot of choices, which gives the feeling of high interactivity. When you don’t understand what’s happening, though, or you’ve lost the thread of the story, those choices lack any and all weight. Overall, I would describe it as spastic. It lacks direction and feels like a flight of ideas and notions from one moment to the next with nothing to connect them.
I think the primary emotion I’m left with from Fantastic Poor is one of disappointment and improperly utilized talent. With the eye of someone who’s worked in visual novel development, I can see a lot of places where there’s some really solid structural work. There’s some FX work that’s well-done. There’s evidence of a keen eye for cinematic framing in the CGs. They execute their design fundamentals competently, and they play around a little bit with the nature of the choices in a way that could have been really interesting. There’s also just an incredible amount of raw work in play in regard to the mere quantity of assets. There’s a lot of ambition evident to me, which I can appreciate for its own value. All the pieces for this particular game are just not well-executed, however, making for a play experience that’s not particularly fun or enjoyable.
Fantastic Poor is available for purchase on itch.io with a free demo available.