72 Reviews liked by mooptea

Unlike more recent entries in the Megami Tensei mega-franchise that use the occult as largely aesthetic backdrops--a sort of calling card that "This Is An MT Game" that serves little other purpose--you can almost believe Shin Megami Tensei is cursed. There is still a sense of danger to this one thirty years later, a sense that it was developed by people genuinely deeply immersed in the spiritual and occult.
And that makes sense! The creators of SMT all but certainly grew up within Japan's occult boom of the 70s which also happened to experience a second life around the time of the game's release. Shows on spirit photography, magazines about urban legends and UFOs, the reemergence of yokai as pop culture staples...it wasn't exactly a challenge to be swallowed up by it all.
Which is what it feels like playing this game--being swallowed up. From moment one it is obtuse and strange; you press start and immediately know: something is wrong. The moon hangs over the world map; obscure net boards share occult programs; serial murders lock the streets down with no answers and dreams seem to seep into reality. It presents a Tokyo of ley lines and crimes, where this monumental metropolis we have constructed is a suffocating, diseased machine we choose to rot in. Playing SMT is, I imagine, what it feels like to genuinely believe in conspiracies and spirits.
And then the twist happens. I won't say what it is on the off-chance you haven't been spoiled, but it is a stunningly bold move that hasn't lost a single ounce of its power and which completely flips the entire game on its head. Suddenly history and politics and reality come crashing headfirst into the spiritual and the skin is peeled off. It is no longer a seedy world of mysteries. It is a nightmare made real. It is, for my money, one of THE great moments in games.
Sure, as the series has gone on the gameplay of this original has been bested, as have the graphics and the music and even the story. But there's nothing else out there quite like this, a masterpiece of video game feeling.

In 1997, a game called Fallout spilled out into the world. Under the guidance of a nerd named Tim Cain, it was initially a hobby project until more and more people latched onto it, adding their talents and thoughts to the potluck that would eventually spawn the most annoying group of cryptofascists this side of Warhammer 40,000.
Drawing on their love of pulp fiction, retrofuturism, XCOM, sci-fi movies and a tabletop system they liked (GURPS, which is absent from history for a very good reason), this vast pool of influences eventually calcified and become Fallout 1.
This story had already played out several times across modern culture by the time Fallout came into existence. It is the basis of Star Wars, modern western comics as a medium, Gundam, Warhammer... Really, you can pick any longrunning and influential franchise to find the same story of one passionate person and their team of equally passionate collaborators drawing on a huge pool of influences to make something unique.
Fallout 1 is a great game. If I ever made a list of games you should play before you die, it'd definitely be up there. Rather uniquely for the post-apocalyptic genre, it's more focused on humanity pulling itself out of the ruins of a long gone civilization than it is on the long gone civilization itself. Compared to what came after, it's a far more somber and reserved experience where the potential of combat occurring is more like a sword of damocles than a regular occurrence. Sure, it has every trope you likely expect from the genre (mutants, bandits, factions mimicking old world stuff like cowboys), but those tropes are more of a deconstruction than anything; they're portrayed as kind of pathetic for having an obsession on old iconography, because there is a now in front of you and it needs help to be built and maintained. There's a reason the BoS are assholes in this one.
Sadly, much like every example I gave two paragraphs ago, Fallout has succumbed to what I nowadays refer to as the Lucas Horizon. George Lucas combined his love of westerns, samurai, Kurosawa movies, WW2, Flash Gordon and sci-fi to make Star Wars.
The people making Star Wars after him are using their love of Star Wars to make more Star Wars.
Despite calling it the Lucas Horizon, however, I feel Fallout embodies it more than any other franchise. Even starting with Fallout 2, the series began to develop an obsession with itself. Rather than letting the influences and references form a foundation to build a work upon, they became the central part of the work. Now, Fallout 2 isn't as bad about this as every game that came after it, and indeed it at least bothers to expand on Fallout 1's themes, but at the end of the day it's ultimately more about pop culture and Fallout stuff than anything else.
Fallout 3 is where the series begins to veer off into the Lucas Horizon for good. After two games that were about the gradual rebuilding of civilization and the ways in which people built a new life from the wreckage of American civlization, 3 did a massive 180 and focused specifically on the wreckage, setting itself in a wasteland literally called The Capital Wasteland, with all of the progress from 1 and 2 seemingly undone.
The game opens with a hollow recreation of Fallout 1's intro, once again narrated by Ron Perlman and featuring shots of a ruined world set to a dissonant song by the Ink Spots as the first game did, before revealing yet another person in power armor. The difference, though, is that while Fallout 1 used it as a prelude to the story, Fallout 3 uses it to signal just how much it adores the wreckage and the retrofuturism and the distinct Fallout iconography that Bethesda yoinked at a garden sale. Fallout 3 rolls out its new power armor model to make you go "wow, cool!" while Fallout 1's intro prominently displays the T-51 being worn by American soldiers extrajudicially murdering prisoners of war.
If you've spent any amount of time in gaming circles, either directly or indirectly, you've likely heard the phrase:
"It's a good game, but a bad [franchise] game".
Personally, I hold this phrase in contempt as it's almost often deployed as a means to avoid any indepth examination of what it means to be a [franchise] game, and is often code for "it's not like the games I love".
Fallout 4 is my one exception. It is a good game, but an atrocious Fallout game. We'll be talking about the latter part exclusively, you can infer my thoughts on 4's gameplay from the Starfield review I did.
Why is it an atrocious Fallout game?
Because it's not about the rebuilding of society. It's not about the struggles faced by those seeking to carve new life out of the bones of the old. It's not even about kitschy pop culture references or the ways in which veneration of the past drives one straight into the past's sins.
It's about Fallout. It's about Vaults, Vault Suits, power armor, the Brotherhood, retrofuturist shit, dandy boy apples, whatever comes to mind when you think "Fallout", that's the core of Fallout 4.
Now, don't get me wrong, there are some themes present in Fallout 4, but they're superficial at best. Any talk of 'rebuilding' is just a pretext to shove the settlement mechanic on you, and this game treats a question as intense as "If artificial life possesses humanity, is that natural humanity or is it as artificial as its host?" with all the seriousness of The Room tackling breast cancer.
Discourse surrounding this game points to the voiced protagonist as the source for many of its woes, but I'd argue that the protagonist being a pre-war survivor does more harm than anything else. Intrinsically binding the player to the old world means everything encountered is filtered through the lens of that world. For all its faults, Fallout 2 having the player be an insulated tribal whose confusion at the world around them stemmed from their post-war experience was a much better angle than simply having the protagonist be a 200 year old.
In the non-Bethesda titles, the pre-war period is explicitly associated with the concept of rot and decay. The Brotherhood donning the armor and imagery of pre-war America led them to become just as paranoid, isolated and self-righteous as pre-war Americans did. Ghouls, ancient pre-war survivors, were rotting zombies in the most literal sense of the word. Shady Sands becoming the NCR was explicitly portrayed as a bad thing, because its citizens assumed a mantle of relative safety in exchange for shouldering the foolishness that led to the state of the world as it is now - to the point of recreating American jingoism and oil barons in the new world.
Most obviously, the Enclave were the last bastion of the US government and their very existence is seen as a virus purely because they wish for some inane ideological and biological purity. Fallout 3, despite having more flaws than I can count, at least got it right by involving a literal virus in the Enclave's plans just to make it obvious.
In New Vegas, the Enclave's power armor has been forgotten by almost everyone. Those that are aware of it consider it to be either a hate symbol or a bitter memory of a failed state. You have to go through a long and messy quest to get it, and it's given as a 'reward' once you're told that the Enclave was a dream doomed to die from the start. The game rubs your face in how pathetic its remnants are; sad old people who struggle to deal with the cognitive dissonance resulting from them missing the Enclave yet being fully aware it was just another death cult. Should you convince one of your party members to don it in support of the """best ending""", he's immediately identified as a war criminal and given a life sentence.
In Fallout 4, it starts spawning at level 28.
But really, it's the Brotherhood who embody this complaint more than anyone.
In part because they've become the Enclave, complete with vertibirds and racism.
In a better work, this would be remarked upon. Someone would point out that there's a bitter, harrowing irony to be found in the Enclave's biggest enemy stumbling into their ideology, or that a group that was once positioned to be the country's heroic saviours were now out enforcing curfews and killing people without trial. That something once considered a reassuring symbol to the wastes had now become something people dread.
Fallout 4 instead trips over its own feet, because it's more concerned with making you - the viewer - think the Brotherhood are cool. They debut in an epic, memorable cutscene where a fucking blimp flies into the map alongside a vertibird swarm and a dramatic announcement, potentially accompanied by Nick Valentine quoting a passage from The Raven in dismay. Your personal introduction is given an equal amount of weight, featuring a cool vertibird sequence up to the Prydwen which caps off with a rousing speech from a guy deliberately designed to look like modern neo nazis. Progress the story, and they bust out Liberty Prime - Fallout 3's giant death robot who rants about communists in a hammy voice and literally can't be killed.
Being a queer person who has several other characteristics that make me a target for fascists, I'm very sensitive and hypercritical of how they're portrayed. One of my most strongly held beliefs regarding the creative arts is that, much like suicide, a creative should be very considerate of how they depict fascism as I feel it can have very very very lasting real world harm.
See, the other thing Fallout has in common with those other IPs I listed up above is that all of them have had their iconography co-opted by fascists, because all of those IPs eventually doubled down and made their in-universe fascists seem cool to the average viewer. Star Wars doubled down on the Empire's cool visuals, Gundam gave tons of screentime to Zeon, Marvel keeps bringing back The Punisher uncritically, and Warhammer 40k continues to glorify the Imperium even as queer people are made to feel unsafe and ostracized within the community.
I'm only speaking from personal experience here, but the Fallout fanbase is rife with nazis. For a time, Enclave iconography and visuals were pretty much synonymous with the more rightwing elements of the fanbase. Despite New Vegas being popular among queers, the series as a whole doesn't get much discussion because said discussion is mostly driven by rightwingers. The reactions to The Frontier mod contain a lot of the word "degenerate", which I think speaks for itself.
For Bethesda to try so hard to make the openly and textually fascist Brotherhood seem cool and admirable feels irresponsible given the franchise's history. There is a very good reason most other videogames do not give you a "bad guys campaign" when they're approaching anything political, after all. Even Skyrim, this game's immediate predecessor, handled the subject with infinitely more grace.
Such problems are the natural consequence of Bethesda equating "good writing" with "there is a Fallout Thing present". The moral, social and political implications of The Institute being a 200 year old ancient conspiracy who rule an entire region from the shadows are glossed over in favour of "Look! Synths and pre-war aesthetics!". Almost nothing touches on the messy politics of the Railroad and their written goal, which is altruistic on paper but in practice has accidentally become a supremacy movement that carries out 'justified' violence for the sake of the violence itself. The Vaults are no longer horrific dungeons of suffering that represent the sheer moral decay, disregard for life and ruthless exploitation that occurred under Fallout's late stage capitalism, they're a thing you can build if you buy a DLC.
This game's intro, while not as egregious as Fallout 3's, is still a sign of what's to come. Slapped into a pre-war house filled with the worst of Bethesda's fixation on that god awful retrofuturism aesthetic they've concocted, you waddle around interacting with things for a few moments before you get to see the bomb drops in person, run past the military (clad in power armor, naturally) and get admitted to a Vault.
It's all very... theme park. "Look, you can SEE the bombs drop!" doesn't really work when the core of Fallout isn't specifically that the bombs dropped, but what caused them to drop. The erasure of context in favour of simple imagery is a rare moment of honestly from Bethesda, though perhaps an unintended one.
It is not, however, anywhere as honest as Nuka World, a DLC which turns the Fallout world into a more theme park by being set in a literal god damn theme park. Most people have already said it, but the DLC forces you to side with deeply evil raiders to even experience it which is a bad start. Not as bad as the rest of the content, though. Peeling off their mask to reveal their intent, Nuka World shoves you through a series of dungeons utterly caked in Fallout's iconography and original stuff, so much so that it feels like a self-parody from Bethesda at times.
The ultimate tragedy of Fallout as an IP, and specifically the Vault Boy, is that both were very heavily rooted in criticisms of the uniquely insidious ways in which capitalism will weaponize things for its own goals. The peppy and cutesy marketing in-universe was meant to cover up a deeply rotted hyperfascist surveilance state which was willing to annex its neighbours due to deeply rooted Sinophobia. The Vault Boy in particular is a goofy, cutesy cartoon mascot meant to encourage people to sign up for sickening, amoral experiments headed by a company so detached from humanity that it saw a nuclear war as an opportunity.
Bethesda sadly now own Fallout, so the Vault Boy is merchandise, used to entice people to sign up for sickening, amoral experiments headed by a company so detached from reality that they thought Starfield could stand on its own merits.

Though I never spent a summer there, I was viscerally reminded of the town my mother grew up in while playing Boku No Natsuyasumi 2. Like Tonomi, it was an oceanside town with an elderly population, forested hills with trails and wildlife, bridges, beaches, an old man who was involved in World War 2, and a nearby highway that put the ferry out of business. Most eerily, my mother's parents had styled their house for their nine children as a sort of bed and breakfast with themed rooms for the "guests", with it built into a hill such that the ground floor towards the back opened up to elevated balconies facing the water. I imagine it's easy for anyone to get buried in their own memories playing a Boku No Natsuyasumi game, though for me it felt auspicious that the game that was translated to English first was the one most resembling a place from my own life.
When I was five years old, my mother's father passed away. I have a handful of fuzzy memories of him that all feel pale compared to the day of his funeral. My family and I stood outside a church on a hill, the sun hotter and brighter than I had ever known it to get at that age. All my older cousins were there, between four and twenty years older than me; my mother was the youngest of nine, and I was her youngest child. My relationship with that side of the family has always been somewhat distant by extension, shaped by childhood experiences of looking up at tall goofy people who mentioned they last saw me when I was only this big and had inside jokes I was on the outside of. Granddad looked waxy and unnatural in the coffin.
For the rest of my adolescence, my mother and her siblings would spend weekends with her mother in that town. My siblings and I were brought along, often requiring my brother and I to take claritin all weekend to counteract the old family cat's shedding. We'd play around the house and the backyard, pick up rocks and shells along the beach, drop sticks in the estuary and see which one passed under the bridge first. My oldest sister got lost in the woods once. Grandma's sight and hearing weakened gradually, and often only left the house for church. She'd join any card games though.
In "The Promise: The Making of Darkness on the Edge of Town" we see archival footage of the Holmdel, New Jersey house where Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band rehearsed in the mid 70s, as well as the Haddonfield home of Frank Stefanko where the album cover photoshoot was taken. I always subconsciously associated the floral wallpaper of the album cover with my mother's hometown and the surrounding area, and the documentary revealed they were similarly quiet and isolated houses. It can be simultaneously invigorating and unsettling to see a place in art that you so strongly connect to a place from your life, only to find the reality that inspired the art was truly similar and not imagined. Boku 2 struck a similar nerve.
Yet a place and its wallpaper only matters so much. Boku 2 is not a story about the grief experienced by a child, rather a child's perception of grief in others. It is not about disconnect from relatives but becoming closer to them. It is not about a place you visit for a weekend and see in different seasons, it is about a full month of experiences strung together artfully through a specific month of a specific year in history. Yasuko is about as old as my mother was in 1975, though I didn't know my mother then. In turn, Tonomi is what you make of it: the moments you find and the moments you miss, alike in their passing you by. Already passed and already past.
I played through the game one in-game day per one in-reality day. Looking back from the end of my November 2023/August 1975, I'm glad I did. Encouraged to play honestly and see how I got by on my own instincts, I found myself roleplaying a child who wakes up excited to do something and forgetting what they had wanted to do tomorrow yesterday. I got a lot of the collectibles but not all of any category. A few plot threads lay untied at the end (like what was up with the cat shack), while others seemingly could have gone a bit differently, and more felt fully explored but left deliberately ambiguous in their details. Though it was not particularly sentimental nor tragic, the ending eked out a few tears.
Like the song goes, "It's easy to get buried in the past / When you try to make a good thing last." And like the youtube comment goes, we need more games like this.

A victim of the anti-Japanese wave of the 7th gen

I hate comparing games this way but it's sort of like Boku no Natsuyasumi with photographic (or filmed ig) backgrounds and a fewer things to do. That doesn't mean it's lesser though, there's really not much else out there like this and I really liked that it was real locations. Good practice for those learning conversational Japanese too, everythings in kana or very common kanji.
If for whatever reason I ever end up anywhere near the area, I'd love to visit the town this was set in.

i fucking hate 7th gen xenophobia so much
it's a huge shame that this got immediately factored out en masse as a "gears of war clone" when the similarities are fundamental and superficial at best. initially it feels like a tongue-in-cheek parody of gears - right down to having some fodder, wannabe COG-like nobodies following you around - the whole identity shifts as soon as filena, syd's main partner, comes into the picture
as a tag team, the two of them do more damage with their arms and legs than their actual weapons. couple that with the ability to toss filena at enemies to stun 'em and you have a game that is very much an action hybrid of a shooter. similar to titles like vanquish and resident evil 6, if you're actively taking cover, you're playing the game wrong (especially considering syd can sprint, roll and melee while reloading.) if you're roadie-running, then you goddamn better be following it up with a haymaker
that's not to say the weapons themselves aren't kickass - in fact, some of them rank up with my favorites among all shooters. the rapid-fire grenade launcher, stun-locking plasma caster and wall-bouncing energy rifle immediately come to mind, but there's nothing that really feels like a peashooter. even the base rifle is a pretty reliable mainstay
also, i'd be remiss not to mention that this game often decides it wants to be a platformer. despite some jank in getting the hang of those mechanics (it can be unclear what you can/can't do at first) that generally works very well. certainly makes the set pieces feel a hell of a lot more organic than any dime a dozen tps with a helicopter turret sequence or whatever other nondistinctive gimmick the 7th gen found itself obsessed with
level design is pretty solid all around. more so than anything in the actual stages, my critiques aim at a few checkpoint placements. in particular, i have a personal message directed at the person who designed a certain lategame enemy gauntlet: what the fuck is wrong with you?
anyway, another thing that surprised me - more so than that gauntlet - was how gripping the narrative actually ended up being. cool backstory aside, syd and filena's chemistry is spot-on and the dub is fuckin' great. shoutout to steve blum especially for voicing syd's (keith ferguson, btw) main rival. i'll spare additional details and just say that the finale gets hype as fuck
if you've got a 7th gen system or a computer that can emulate it reliably enough, play this fucking game - preferably on hard mode - that way you'll be forced to utilize the combo mechanics instead of hiding behind cover constantly

Beyond their obvious visual splendor, what really struck me about Boku Natsu 2’s fixed camera angles was how they create a unique relationship with time. In similar Japanese adventure games about mundane day-to-day life – your Shenmues or your Chulips – the clock is always running independent of you and this often creates situations where you simply have nothing to do but twiddle your thumbs while you wait for the next scheduled event to happen. As top Backloggd scholars have pointed out, this can be oddly immersive in a way, as you scroll through your real-life phone or do something else around the house while you wait for the time to pass in-game. I’m not fully sold on these kinds of “time-wasting” systems but there’s certainly a lot of charm in how they represent boredom and alienation felt within the hustle and bustle of the city.
Boku No Natsuyasumi 2 is set in the rural countryside though, and as such its understanding of time is quite different from those games about city slickers. While there’s still a day/night cycle and a finite number of days before the game ends, time only advances when you move from one pre-rendered background to the next. Constructing the game this way, you still feel the pressure to spend your time wisely and traverse the world as efficiently as you can, but each screen is also its own pocket dimension where you can linger as long as you’d like. This is the real difference here: In Chulip, passive play is something forced onto you and an excuse for the player to stop paying attention to the game for a couple minutes. Sometimes you just miss a train and have nothing better to do but sit around waiting for the next one. In Boku Natsu 2 however, passive play is turned into an active choice. A conscious decision, as significant as any other, to do absolutely fucking nothing but drink in the sunset until that fireball finally goes out for good. At one point a character playing the guitar remarks that she feels like she’s been sitting in the same spot strumming the same song for 1000 years. And maybe she has been. These beautiful, fleeting moments can last forever if you’d like them to.
Like most of my favorite game narratives, Boku Natsu 2 is quite thin on actual plot and is instead a game about talking to loads of different people and slowly forming an understanding of character relationships and the world around you. And there’s a satisfyingly predictable rhythm to how it all unfolds; each character will have exactly two new things to say to you each time you see them, the many subplots of this game being fed to you a couple breadcrumbs at a time. Through it all, there’s an understanding that seeing and doing everything is completely infeasible. Minigames are too time-consuming and characters are spaced too far apart for you to realistically see half of what this game has to offer on a first playthrough. So despite the game’s large number of collectibles and sidequests, play rarely becomes something stressful or compulsive. As the in-game month of August wore on and subplots continued to pile up, I did start to feel less like a child on summer vacation and more like an errand boy for all the grown-ups around me. Though the game smartly chooses to wrap up its major character arcs a few days before the ending, which gives you a chance to decompress and play aimlessly for just a little bit longer.
Boku Natsu 2 is an unrelentingly pleasant game about nature, romance, and new life, but it never becomes too saccharine as there’s always the specter of industry, divorce, and death creeping in around the edges. The writing itself is wonderfully terse, full of frequently beautiful reflections on life and the world that feel achingly true to conversations between children and adults. Even when the story suddenly escalates during the final third and the player starts piecing together a larger picture that our 9 year old main character has no ability to process, Boku Natsu 2 always puts that 9 year old’s perspective front and center. Because at the end of the day, that perspective and innocence is why he’s able to mend the hearts and soothe the souls of everyone around him.
“Listen, doesn’t sitting on the swing make you feel like you can be a poet?”

Weightiness a reward, a Red Dead Redemptionesque heft to the grappling.

Playing Tokimemo 2 felt like witnessing the end of an era, the death of an entire genre. What other game could even attempt to reach the heights Tokimemo 2 achieved, let alone exceed it? Utterly ambitious and filled with personality, this game manages to properly simulate a living, breathing world. Despite understanding how numbers dictate everything, I still managed to feel immersed within this hand-crafted world as I revel in the joys of seeing the heroines as they rejoice whenever I succeed an activity, react happily whenever I call them with their first name, cheer for me as I attempt to try my best during Sports Day, wear different outfits depending on their affection for me, and invite me to fast food restaurants after a date. I fell in love with each and every one of them. This wouldn't work if the girls aren't cute, but luckily, they all are. From a cute cockroach to a bratty ojousama, Tokimemo 2 provides a wide cast that all manages to make me care for them.
Every single date matters as it's time spent with the girl I'm interested in while I attempt to know and understand her. Events act as unique experiences that you get to enjoy with the heroine in question; we are trying to make personal bonds with them. This is where Tokimemo 2 differs strongly from its previous entry. While Tokimemo 1 allows one to get a confession should the stat requirements are fulfilled, Tokimemo 2 requires us to spend effort into getting to know each character. While stats do matter, is there anything more hollow than love formed through mere numbers? As such, every playthrough is a unique life, and every girl in each playthrough is a unique individual, one with different experiences from other playthroughs in the world. Our bond with Mei or Yae is special to us; nobody else knows the same Mei or Yae we met and fell in love with. The existence of EVS further cements this idea, limiting our save files to simulate how lives can't be repeated, how our time continues to flow as we go to school together. Our lives together is ours truly, but even that eventually comes to an end as the bell tolls, marking graduation. Highschool is over. The burdens of adult life come to us as we part our ways. While we may hope that our character stays together with his loved one, we know clearly that it's not us, that this character we labeled with our own name is a different person from who we are. As a solemn reminder of the days of the past, we store our memories in an album, one that commemorates every single passing moment. We may look back with nostalgia and longing for what's gone, but we know that we must continue onward. Highschool is over. Life continues.
Tokimemo 2 is an achievement that feels like it shouldn't be possible for mankind, but the dedicated team managed to create such a product of love, ambition, and soul. Its meticulously dense system paves the path to a deep experience that nothing else could ever compare. I admit that I have not played many dating sims, but I fear that this gaping hole Tokimemo 2 left within my heart can never be filled once more. I highly recommend Tokimemo 2 if anyone is interested in dating sims, ADVs, SLGs, or just Japanese media in general. Its legendary status exists for a reason, and it still stands as a monumental title after all these years. It's unfortunate that dating sims have died as a genre as ADVs can't replicate the same emotions and feelings I felt with this game. However, I am happy that Tokimemo 2 exists, and I’d like to express my deepest gratitude to everyone who worked on this. Thank you!

God Damn.
The first Tokimemo game was an honest stroke of genius. While it certainly wasn't the first gal game, Konami used their experience in game development to make a social simulator that gamifies the high school experience in a way that combines the snappy, quick, replayable nature of arcade games with the narrative and stat growth systems of then-contemporary console and PC games. With the sequel, Konami set their sights to the goddamn moon. and they actually delivered.
The core gameplay remains unchanged between this game and its predecessor. There's still the fun balancing act of having to juggle academic stats, personal health stats, and relationship stats within your 2 actions per week. The iconic bomb system is here, albeit nerfed a tad (I don't think I had more than one bomb at once to worry about on my playthrough here, whereas tokimemo 1 might as well have been mfin bombergirl). They didn't bother reinventing the game mechanics, instead focusing on bolstering those mechanics with a world as dense and alive as the Playstation 1 could possibly provide.
The cast of characters in this game is much more vibrant and quirky here than in game 1, for better or for worse. It can make the game feel a bit more tropey than the more reserved and down to earth vibes that the first game provided, but it also has a bit more spice in it because of that. There's even a prologue section to establish childhood friend relationships/give the player a personality test that influences stat growth in the proper game, rather than just throwing you into high school with no proper context of your classmates. Despite each character usually having a central trope or gimmick, none of the characters are one-note and have a myriad of different events and situations to enjoy. Each of them live different lifestyles, and as such require completely different approaches. Even the dude side character has gone from the comedic relief sleazeball homie that hooks you up but isn't a threat in the first game to two rival characters that look for love of their own, even potentially competing with you. Hell, they even managed to make a GOOD Ijuuin character!!! Characters are what make or break a game like this, and this game has an extremely strong cast.
The world and overall interaction with it is done with such a bespoke attention to detail, it's crazy. Characters have a myriad of outfits they wear depending on the weather and their affection with you. You can choose which honorifics to use with each character, where calling characters differently at different stages in their relationship yields different results. There's a seasonal brochure you get every few in-game months that lists various timed events and happenings in the area, whether you care about them or not. You can even sacrifice an entire memory cards worth of data to create voice synthesis data for a girl of your choosing to pronounce your name in dialogue. To put the amount of content this game has in terms of detail into comparison here, this game uses a whopping five discs to contain all the different events, interactions, and variations of everything, yet completing a run still only takes 8-10 hours. The world density also makes the game incredibly personal; no two runs will ever be the same. I highly suggest finding someone else to play through the game alongside you to compare and contrast how each of your playthroughs and school lives are going.
Overall, yeah. They took the already incredibly solid base the first game had, and polished it to a wonderful, glistening sheen. The technical culmination of the genre. The gal game to end all gal games. The Gran Turismo 4 of dating sims. With how modern hardware is and game budgets/manpower ballooning to the point they are today, I doubt there could be another game to challenge this games relative scope for its time. It really does feel like konami gave the tokimemo team a blank check to make the best thing they possibly could, and they succeeded. I can't say something like that could ever happen again. Did I also mention that the OST and its many arrangements are absolute bangers?
I have a pretty big backlog to the point where a lot of games I play are one-and-dones, but I can safely say for certain this won't be the last time I play through this game. I've only got Miyuki's ending, there's still so much more to do! An absolute must-play.