- Acting all innocent;
- All in the name of love.
Over the last few years we got accustomed to the fact that the presence of the word "simulator" in a game title doesn't always mean a high level of realism, and that the term is often used ironically like in Goat Simulator or Surgeon Simulator. Few of those games, however, are as controversial as Yandere Simulator. At the same time, unlike most other games of the same origin, this project has a good chance to rack up some popularity, having some interesting mechanics and a significant fan community blossoming around it. The latter shouldn't come as a surprise, though; after all, controversy sells.
Before we proceed to discuss the game itself, there is one question that needs to be answered first...
What is "yandere"?
Yandere is a term derived from the Japanese culture, where it is used to describe a specific type of character appearing in animation, comics and games. The trope is associated mostly with girls, often young, and women (there are few male examples) who are deeply in love and very possessive, despite initially appearing as the epitome of gentleness and harmlessness. Sooner or later, however, the mask falls off when they feel that something is, in their opinion, threatening the relationship (even an imagined one) with the object of their affection. This leads to the reveal of their usually well-hidden obsessive, psychotic persona who will stop at nothing to remove everything that is standing in the way of their desires.
Specfic catalysts for this transformation may vary. Sometimes their feelings are rejected and their paranoia sets them against their rivals, at other times their twisted psyche seeks offenses where there are none. Whatever the reason, once triggered a yandere becomes violent and often attempts to kill or at least maim those who stand in the way of her obsession.
Killer chick simulator
Knowledge of the term is enough to instantly make you realize what Yandere Simulator is all about. We play as a Japanese high school student, Ayano Aishi, who – in order to win the heart of her crush (the game will at some point allow the player to choose their gender) – will have to resort to a variety of methods to eliminate her rivals, killing them or otherwise. But mostly the former.
While the idea is not new, its implementation has been well-thought-out and reforged into a creative, if somewhat morbid, stealth game, drawing heavily on the Hitman series and throwing in some elements of a school community simulation for good measure. The girl we control may not have any second thoughts about killing someone, but this alone doesn't mean that she's a trained killer capable of taking out anyone with a day-old sandwich. Some of her potential victims (especially the teachers) will be capable of self-defense or, when threatened, will try to seek help from others. If a murder is reported, the police will come to investigate, and if the evidence is pointing to us... game over. Such premise urges us, at least in theory, to remain cautious and resort to cunning and deception to accomplish our goals.
School drama sandbox
The action of Yandere Simulator will span across a period of ten weeks, during which we will have to eliminate ten opponents that also have a crush on Ayano's beloved. Every week a new rival will appear, and each of them will have a unique personality, distinctive features and a unique tactic for winning his attention, usually falling into one of character archetypes present in Japanese fiction. Our task will be simple – to neutralize them as they come. This objective will be achievable by a number of lethal and non-lethal options. Killing a rival (by drowning or poisoning for example) is as effective as kidnapping or ruining their reputation among other students. If we find ourselves shying away from getting our own hands dirty, we can lead to our rival's expulsion from school, arrange for an alternative romance option, which will make her lose interest in our crush, or even... befriend them and convince (i.e. by guilt-tripping them) to mind their own business (with an option to stab them in our house, but still). According to the game’s FAQ, the game is to feature multiple endings, depending on the prevailing method of eliminating our rivals and affecting our love interest’s attitude to women. For example, if the majority of rivals are framed for murder – our love interest will develop a fear that all women are murderers.
At the same time, covering our tracks will be essential. Ayano will have to keep up the appearances of being an innocent angel, preferably popular among her peers, because if her reputation is hurt, she will gradually lose her schoolmates' trust. And having her classmates suspecting her of bad deeds will in turn significantly hinder the implementation of her plans. Carelessness in this regard may even lead to Ayano’s deeds becoming known to her sweetheart, which will deprive her of any chance she may have to win their love.
It should be emphasized that direct interacton with the object of our affection is rare. Yandere Simulator is a game that focuses on sabotaging and manipulating relationships of others rather than developing our own. Ayano will confess her feelings only after all her rivals have been neutralized – reaching that state will end the game. Things that are happening at school (and to the rivals competing for his affection) will, however, affect our crush’s personality.
The main drive behind the gameplay will be a system that simulates the life of a school community. The student body is intended to be a living organism of sorts that realistically responds to each and every event taking place on the school grounds. For example, the death of several people will darken the atmosphere among the students, and many of them will begin to have a hard time coping with stress. The system will act for individual characters whose behavior will be controlled by advanced AI algorithms, responsible for their decisions and reactions to our every action. Even more complex AI is to be assigned to the rivals, which will be given separate daily schedules, as well as romantic events designed to make their elimination much more difficult than ordinary students.
Sometimes, other students will be essential to our plans. By helping and complimenting them we can gain good reputation and ask for favors in return or get other characters to follow us. Gossiping will damage a rival's reputation (but its effectiveness depends on our own reputation) and apologizing allows us to explain some of our suspicious actions – if we are seen holding a knife, for example, we can say that we've just found it and are going to hand it over to the teacher. What's more, a rival who has been neutralized in a non-lethal way (and remains at school) will join the ranks of NPCs at our disposal in the weeks to come. The aforementioned features combined will amount to a small-scale social sandbox in which every act has its consequences, the player will be given an almost infinite number of ways of achieving the objective, and each playthrough can become a scenario unlike any previous one.
A feast for the wicked
Aside from the unusual idea and the presence of a dynamic social sandbox, Yandere Simulator's asset is also the plethora of options at our disposal. As we hardly have the space to describe them all, we've cherry picked the most ”distinctive” things we can do in this game.
The simplest methods often prove to be the best, and apparently all's fair in love and war. The game will provide access to many different types of harmful tools. But murder will not be easy, especially if we want to avoid an arrest, since our targets often appear in the company of other students who, if necessary, will defend them or run to a teacher for help. Direct confrontations can be very risky and taking a stealthy approach is better in almost all cases – attack by surprise in a place where there's a small chance that someone will witness the crime is the safest option.
There will be numerous ways to commit a murder, and all of them are to be things a typical Japanese high school student could believably achieve. Thus, firearms are to be completely absent from the game in favor of methods such as attacking with a cutter knife, setting our victims ablaze or electrocuting them. And many of them can be made to look like tragic accidents.
Killings will often be messy, which will force us to clean up the crime scene in order to remove any direct and circumstantial evidence pointing at our character. This aspect will be crucial to the game, because if our deeds and true nature are ever discovered, the story of our affectionate killer will be instantly cut short by the police.
The player will be able to cut the bodies of their victims into little pieces. This will make it easier to relocate and hide the body, as well as allow for some creative usage of the severed body parts, as NPCs will react, mostly with horror, to the sight of a corpse, which in some cases can be very useful for controlling the students' behavior. By scattering the body parts, the effect can be achieved in several locations at the same time.
Driving to suicide
Murder will not be the only way to permanently dispose of someone – driving them to suicide will be equally effective. Yandere Simulator will make it possible to set the whole school against a rival, depending on our reputation. It will not be easy, but should we succeed, our target will become the object of school-wide hate, and, breaking down under the pressure, will eventually take her own life.
Staging a suicide
Not everyone can be driven to suicide, though. Still, making a death look like one is a clever idea. One method requires us to lure the victim to the roof, and then push her off. To make the whole incident seem more convincing, we will have to leave the victim’s shoes on the roof, because in Japan a person attempting such suicide will often take off their shoes.
To increase the chances for the plot to work even further, in one of the school clubs the heroine well be able to learn how to imitate somebody else's handwriting, which will allow her to leave a convincing suicide note.
Paying with panty shots
Ayano will encounter (or create) some allies in her quest. The most important among them is the shady, yet almost omnipotent, editor of the school newspaper, who, thanks to our actions, will have something to write about. She will also be something akin to a black market vendor, selling us weapons, gadgets, and valuable information. As for the currency... we pay with panty shots that we have to take ourselves by sneaking up on unsuspecting victims. These rather shady materials will also be used to buy favors from other characters. It wouldn’t be my first choice for the pillar of in-game economy and it's no wonder that this mechanic has caused the author a lot of trouble on YouTube, where the video showing the mechanics in action has been removed by the administrators.
And before some wiseguy asks – no, taking pictures of corpses won't cut it. Our customers may be perverts, but they are interested only in living "models".
Sometimes a living rival is worth more than a dead one. She can turn out to be an excellent scapegoat, which we can frame for one of our crimes. Thus we will kill two birds with one stone – get rid of a rival while removing the suspicion from our person. There are to be several ways to achieve this, such as leaving a murder weapon with student's fingerprints somewhere on the school grounds or hiding bloodstained clothing in their locker. We will also be able to frame the rival for other, less grave, offenses: theft, cheating, smoking, or even the abovementioned panty shots if we use their phone to take the photos, which may eventually lead to rival’s expulsion from school.
We can also tranquilize and kidnap students who happen to cross us. This will require us to first learn how to use a syringe, but it will also open up several new options. A tranquilized victim can be left in an instrument case at school (and if a murder is reported in the meantime, the police can find her and assume she was the one responsible, for example) or brought to Ayano's house where the student can be subjected to torture combined with brainwashing, after which she can be given a weapon and ordered to kill our rival for us (ending in kidnapped student’s suicide). The author also plans to eventually introduce the options to feed or starve the kidnapped victims to death but this feature is not a top priority.
Our heroine may have some serious issues, but she's not a complete psycho (yet). Each killing will take its toll on the characters's psyche. If her sanity decreases too much, one glance will be enough for any NPC to realize that she's lost her marbles, and if her crush sees her in this state, she might as well kiss her romance goodbye, leading to a game over.
What's more, her sanity level will also affect the way she kills. The more unstable our heroine becomes, the more violent, louder and more sloppy her crimes become. Consequently, killing numerous students within a few minutes will be virtually impossible if we want to remain hidden from the police. Each subsequent murder will take Ayano more time to commit, increasing the chances of detection or other characters intervening and calling the cops. Which means that a killing spree in this game is a one-time gig. Nevertheless, the game has assigned a separate key which we can tap for maniacal laughter. Perhaps we shouldn’t treat the game too seriously after all?
A few words of commentary
One important thing needs to be noted. Yandere Simulator is being created almost in front of the fans. As the title is a work in progress, and is currently completed in approximately 20%, many of the mechanics described above have yet to be fully implemented. For example, winning the game is impossible for the time being, and rival mechanics are currently being tested using placeholder characters. What's more, the developer remains in close touch with the community, regularly providing new test builds and publishing new videos as well as discussing implementation of new and modification of existing mechanics. Officially there's only one person working full-time on the project, with the help from some volunteers, and the game's release is scheduled (roughly) to 2019. Therefore, the final shape of the game has yet to reveal itself.
Interestingly, the creator is currently "hiding" under the pseudonym YandereDev. While he hardly remains completely anonymous, seeing how he posed for a picture with his fans during one of the cons, there is no denying that the developer avoids going high-profile. It may be something more than just a matter of shyness, though, because in the current climate of political correctness dominating the United States, openly exposing his person as the father of Yandere Simulator project would probably not be the best idea.
Still, to say that the theme of the game is not controversial would be a lie. Even compared to some titles that truly thrived on brutality and controversy, such as Postal or Manhunt, the game focusing on an obsessive high-schooler may shock, but perhaps more with its setting rather than mechanics. At the same time, it features some truly noteworthy Hitman-inspired ideas hidden under pools of blood and obscure references to Japanese culture, making it difficult to dismiss the whole thing as a sick joke. One thing is sure, though, it certainly won’t help in improving the already biased image of video gaming in mainstream media.
Adrian Werner | Gamepressure.com