Cherry Tree High Comedy Club Review

Title: Cherry Tree High Comedy Club
Original title: まんけん!
Alias: Manken!
Release date: 2010-06-21
English release date: 2012-04-27 (2014-11-20 de-Westernized edition)
Developer: atelier773
English publisher: Nyu Media

"Cherry Tree High Comedy Club", or CTHCC for short, is a little skit of a game which can be finished in about 4 hours. It's not particularly interesting or particularly funny, but it might just lift your mood for a few hours.

It's interesting to note that CTHCC was initially released heavily localized. All the character names and places were Americanized - for example the protagonist's name was changed to Miley. I have no idea why such a decision was made, especially for a game set in Japan. I mean, how the fuck were they explaining the presence of a Shinto shrine in the setting, and other purely "Japanese" things? This overlocalization was the main reason why I haven't picked the game until now. Finally in 2014, the English publisher released a new de-localized version with properly transliterated character names. This version is now canon, as the sequel has been properly translated, rather than localized. Sadly this new improved version is only available on Steam - all the other outlets still carry the old one. I consider it very unprofessional of the company to favour one outlet, while abandoning all the others.
Mythbusters pretty much busted that myth.
Anyway, CTHCC is a mix of a visual novel and a dating sim... without dating. In other words, gameplay mechanics usually seen in dating sims are employed here for a different purpose. The plot goes something like this: our protagonist Mairu Hibisu is a huge fan of comedy and idolizes Rakutarou Manyutei - a stand-up comedian, who is from the same town as her. Mairu's dream is to eventually become a comedian herself, but her more immediate goal is to start a Comedy Club at her high school. There is just one problem - there are only two members currently in the club, Mairu and her roommate Hoemi; and to be an officially recognized club it needs to have at least five. You have a bit more than a month in game time to recruit at least three more members from six available choices, though your perfect goal is all six of them. Nevertheless, you probably won't be able to manage the perfect recruitment during the first playthrough, as it takes quite a lot of time to raise your conversation skill repertoire to manageable levels.
Meeting your idol...
Not all of the recruitable characters appear immediately in the game. It takes some time for some of them to become available, and a few of them require special conditions to be fulfilled before that. All of the characters like different topics of conversations, and the higher your level at that particular topic, the more benefits it will give you. Chatting with characters will increase their friendship with you, and once they reach friendship level 5, they will sign up to your club. You see, why I called the game a "dating sim", only instead of romancing the characters you try to make them sign a club admission form.

The game day is split into Morning, Afternoon and Evening. During morning and afternoon you can hang out with any character, watch movies or visit an art gallery. During the afternoon you can also work at a Shrine for money, and evenings allow you to improve your skills, do your homework and call your friends. Unfortunately, many other gameplay mechanics are unexplained or poorly explained in the manual or tutorials. For example, even after finishing the game I have no idea what is the purpose of various dolls you can acquire. Moreover, while the like/dislike topics of the characters are sort of explained, there is no mention what benefits are obtained from phone conversations or topicless school conversations. Also, it's not immediately clear that your conversation skills increase by invisible increments that are not seen within your menu.
You learn something new every day.
Despite the immediate confusion about some aspects of the gameplay, it can be surprisingly fun, especially because the game is pretty short and doesn't overstay its welcome. The same cannot be said about plot and characters. There is basically no plot, except for meaningless slice-of-life scenes which comprise the character interaction. The characters themselves are a shallow bunch characterized by their likes and dislikes alone and have very little personality. The little shop owner Amane is probably the most realized personage of them all, as her scenes are the only ones that contain any amount of actual plot peppered with drama.

Additionally, this is supposed to be a comedy game. I mean, this is in the fucking title, however CTHCC is underwhelmingly unfunny. I don't know if that is a translation issue or the comedy is so flat in the original too, but I didn't encounter a single scene which would make me crack a smallest smile. Yes, underwhelming is a proper description here.
Good advise that...
Graphically CTHCC is good looking, especially taking its "RPG Maker" game status into account. It's heavily customized with nicely drawn characters and backgrounds, though the design of a few characters is goofy and not in a good sense, e.g. Mairu's hair looks simply ridiculous instead of adorable (as I imagine it was supposed to be). It must also be mentioned that character sprites appear correctly only on the right side of the screen. They are simply mirror-flipped for their appearance on the left side of the screen and any writing on their clothes comes out backwards. That's just sloppy design.

"Cherry Tree High Comedy Club" is a short game, which might appeal to you if you like very simple stat based gameplay, but it has little substance. It's short enough that you will finish it in one evening, but you might just have better things to do with your life.
P.S. The lack of Japanese honorifics is also grating, especially when Mairu and others start throwing honorific Ms. around.

Links of Interest

Visual Novel Database
Offical Japanese site
Official English site
Official English site No. 2
Buy the de-localized edition from Steam (DRM-free with an option to play the localized version)
Buy the original edition only at Desura, GamersGate or BMT Micro.

Final Verdict: 58%


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