Review: Roommates

VN Game Den was provided with a Switch review code for Roommates.

Roommates is a hybrid visual novel and dating sim recently brought to consoles that follows a college freshman living in campus housing with five other students as they get to know each other and try to survive the school year. You can choose to play as one of two characters: Anne, a shy young woman hoping to come out of her shell; or Max, an up-and-coming rock star trying to hit it big with his band. Whichever character you don’t play as remains in the story as one of the major characters and romance options.

The visual novel segments of Roommates largely come in the form of optional events. On certain days, you’ll be presented with the lead-in to a story scene and then choose whether to play it out to interact with the characters involved or skip it to gain a little energy. Due to the way the game is structured, you’ll probably want to make your decisions based on whether or not you’re trying to romance one of the characters involved in the event, although accepting an event only occasionally blocks another event from happening.

Structurally, Roommates is a dating sim. You aren’t solely reading through a story and making choices to determine a romance, but instead raising stats. The game is divided into weeks, and you plan out each week’s schedule by picking activities for each day’s three time slots. While it’s a little overwhelming at first since the game doesn’t explain the scheduling screen, it’s easy to get used to. In fact, you probably won’t spend much time actually managing your schedule at all.

Each potential love interest requires two stats that need to be raised in addition to his or her own interest in you. The stats screen lists the requirements under each character. Since there’s no need to raise any other stats, I found myself filling my schedule with the activities that raised the stats I needed at the start and then only making minor adjustments if I found myself running low on energy. The requirements are somewhat high, so unless you’re playing on Easy, making choices based on the activities that would interest you probably won’t work. You need to pick a character to pursue and focus your efforts on their requirements.

Depending on which of the two playable characters you choose, four of the other five main cast members will be available as romance options. Max and rule-abiding Dominic are only options for Anne, Anne and nature-loving Sally are only options for Max, and art-obsessed Rakesh and flirtatious Isabella are options for either. Unfortunately, none of these characters felt particularly real to me. Anne and Max have the most depth, probably due to being playable, while the others feel like they have one or two traits that define them. Even the professors feel like exaggerated caricatures, so it was obviously an intentional choice, but it didn’t quite work for me.

On the other hand, there are a number of cute and funny situations throughout the game as you interact with these characters. The game tells you immediately if your action raised or lowered your current relationship value with a character, although oddly, this also extends to the ones you can’t romance, such as raising Sally’s relationship value while playing as Anne. If you raise a character’s relationship and the required stats for their romance enough, you’ll get a unique romance scene with that character over spring break. After that, you’ll need to raise the necessary values even higher before the end of the year if you want to get the best ending where you remain a couple.

It’s easy to fall short of the relationship values you need, however, so once again the game all but requires you to know who you want to pursue from the start and focus on them. Your first playthrough should take a few hours, while subsequent playthroughs will probably be shorter since you can skip text you’ve already read. (Although since the choice to view an event or not doesn’t show you the context, you’ll need to pay enough attention to know what you’re agreeing to.) The choice to play as Anne or Max also adds additional replay value, because while they have several scenes in common, others play out differently. For example, romancing Isabella as Max is not identical to romancing her as Anne.

The two main characters have their own personal stories that play out as well, and there are some school-related events that take place outside of the romance routes, but it’s all fairly simple, slice-of-life stuff. Roommates isn’t where you should look for an exciting, compelling story, but instead for simpler stories and humorous moments related to college life.

Overall, Roommates felt a little bland to me. The dating sim aspect has such a rigid focus on raising specific stats for your desired romance option that it feels less like management and more like tedium. It would have been more enjoyable if it was just a visual novel, although once again, the story is casual and lighthearted. It’s not for everyone, but if you’re nostalgic for college days, it at least has some entertaining moments.

You can purchase Roommates from the Nintendo eShop, the PlayStation Store, the Microsoft Store, Steam, or itch.io, or download it for free on iOS with in-app purchases from the App Store.