I’m a love interest in my childhood friend’s reverse harem!!! from Australian developer WitPOP brings us a fun comedy with a premise straight from a 90s teen romantic comedy. After overhearing two boys turning their affections for his best friend Emily (who he calls MC) into a competition, Geum is determined to keep her from getting heartbroken by their less-than-admirable motivations…through some deception of his own. His idea? Steal some hearts himself! Hong Yang and Ao won’t ask Emily out if they’ve fallen for him instead, right? He just has to figure out how.
A review was requested for this game through the VN Game Den review request form, and a free download key was provided.
As the long, light novel–styled title suggests, this is not a game that takes itself seriously. Except when it does. With a combination of passing meta humor and general high school shenanigans, the story is generally light and fluffy, clipping through day-to-day schoolwork with goofy teachers and geometry quizzes. While it’s a very sweet story, fairly devoid of any major drama outside the central conflict, it never becomes cloyingly saccharine. Then, when the story does take on a little more emotional weight, the slight change in tone feels genuine and has a greater emotional impact in comparison. It’s a very well-paced, gentle wave of silly and serious that, occasionally, carries you all the way to spicy (if you play your cards right). And despite the overall lighthearted tone, things don’t always end in candy and roses. Depending on the route, there’s genuine heartbreak. It’s treated with a soft touch and the promise that everyone can remain friends, but it still feels like the right kind of punch in the gut.
This is because you really do very much care about the characters. Even when they’re being a little horrible, they’re charming and sympathetic. Geum, the player link and ostensible protagonist, is an interesting character in and of himself. While he’s convinced himself his motivation is arguably pure, when you really examine his actions (in certain “bad endings” in particular) the wholesomeness of his ethics become a little more suspect. He’s not a 100% good guy. He’s a little selfish. A little short-sighted. And he doesn’t really take into consideration the long-term effects of his shenanigans. In some cases he recognizes what he’s doing and realizes the position he’s made for himself, but it’s difficult to say he got a “redemption arc” so to speak, because he’s rarely called out for it. In some route permutations, he ends up being downright antagonistic to his “love interest.” While this character type isn’t a new one to be explored in media, him as the player avatar creates a level of personalization to his actions that make you change how you’re thinking about your own place in the story. You have to stop for a moment and go “oh no, I’m being the jerk.”
Ultimately, he’s still likable, though, because his human imperfection fits so well with the other characters. For a game that’s making a concerted effort to not fall to deep into its own dramedy, the teenage characters are painfully relatable and a more subtle rendition of the teen experience. They’re very very stupid sometimes, but they also have their moments of clarity and wisdom and warmth. And while some of the conversations reveal a little more emotional intelligence than I think we usually expect from teenage characters, it’s so beautifully balanced by sheer awkwardness that you just want to pat them on the head and tell them they’re doing a good job.
The game crafts itself around a very interesting gameplay loop that has shades of a stat building game without actually showing any stats. It brings the game a very rigid structure that lets you know how close you are to the “end date” when everything is going to resolve. It works to mixed effect. Cell phone interactions in the “evening” sections provide some semi-metatextual indicators of where you stand with the love interests, but you have to really rely on those clues to get a feel for how the relationship is unfolding. There’s a little more guesswork than one expects from a game where the central premise is that you’re trying to attract the affection of a character. In the absence of a walkthrough, there’re a few of the promised ten endings I’m still a little uncertain how to achieve both practically and theoretically.
The inclusion of some small minigames is an interesting choice. And while they thematically fit where they appear in the story, the games themselves are little lackluster. They’re not bad, they’re competently constructed, and they’re short and easy enough to keep the pace from shuddering to a halt, but they’re just sort of there.
This is part of the one big flaw to the game. There’s a sort of unquantifiable incompleteness to it. There are places where you expect a CG and there isn’t. There’s an occasional tonal shift that feels a little quicker than it probably should be. Some of the additional art isn’t as consistent as the sprite art. I would liken it to slightly underproved bread. Something in the middle of the process was a little underdeveloped, and baking it longer wouldn’t have helped. But it’s still really tasty, so you don’t mind it so much.
Overall, I’m a love interest is plain fun, pure and simple. It’s an enjoyable, engaging experience with lovable, charming characters. It’s got an excellent sense of humor and is earnest in its attempts to tell a story that makes you question how you perceive your own life, the lives of those around you, and how you all fit together.