Science Girls! - Retroview  

Stand Back, I'm Going to Try SCIENCE!
by Sam Wachter

Less than 20 Hours
+ Visual novel aspects are solid
+ Quirky dialog
- RPG part is badly executed
- Encounters are drawn out
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   Ada Lovelace, Marie Curie, and Rosalind Franklin — each performed amazing feats and accomplishments that made them integral to the science world. I wish I could say Science Girls! was about these women and their achievements, but alas, it is instead the tale of an all-girl science club that ends up on a whacky adventure. While the journey is made up of doughnut-loving monsters and a trip through a mysterious portal, Science Girls! is an admittedly mediocre on the whole.

   Players take on the role of an unnamed heroine who happens to be a part of her high school's science club. After the final school bell has rung for the day, it is during this group's meeting that a cadre of aliens descends upon the all-girl high school, looking to steal human hair. It's a bizarre premise, but one that has a surprising amount of humor to it. Each heroine devotes herself to a discipline of science, and it is up to the Science Girls! to save the day.

   Science Girls! is a visual novel/RPG hybrid and it takes a fairly balanced approach in regards to both genres. In many situations the player character will get to make decisions and converse with her fellow classmates. Although the decisions do not feel like they alter anything, it's a nice break from the more kinetic visual novel styles that are quite popular. A lot of the plot is driven by crazy and silly narrative devices that the player simply rolls with, and the game doesn't take itself too seriously, which helps in the long run. The dialog is cheeky, quirky, and surprisingly fun, though it doesn't exactly have any depth to it. If anything, it's harmless fluff that isn't memorable or detrimental to the overall experience.

   Combat in Science Girls! is a simple turn-based system. Each girl has a specific amount of HP and SP, but has no equipment to speak of. SP is drained by using any skill, be it basic, intermediate, or finisher, and can only be replenished either through items or by defending during battle. Sadly, neither option gives a lot of SP back, so many battles run into the rhythm of attack, defend, defend some more, and so forth. There's not a lot of strategy, and it makes for a dull turn-based system. Often the moves cost way more than the amount of SP one generates through defense or items, drawing even simple battles out to be longer than necessary.

Slime! Slime everywhere! Slime! Slime everywhere!

   Although there are six party members, only three are active at any given time. Thankfully, characters in the back row regenerate HP and SP, though it's a somewhat slow process. Thankfully, the player can swap the girls around at any given time, so if one is battered and bruised, another can take her place without the loss of a turn. This can be quite helpful during longer, tougher battles where swapping party members certainly becomes a necessity. Still, even with these quick swap options, the combat doesn't have enough going for it to stay fresh. Sure, using a finisher nets a character more experience points, but it takes a long time to make enough SP that the reward of extra experience never feels satisfying in the slightest. In fact, Science Girls! takes too simplistic of an approach in its combat, making battles not fun to engage in. Couple that with the high encounter rate, and it's quite the slog.

   Furthermore, Science Girls! suffers from exploration inconsistency. It's a very strange experience to go from having random encounters to having visible enemies on the screen. In a lot of ways, it just doesn't make a lot of sense in the long run, and considering how frequent encounters are, one wishes they had picked one method and stuck with it. Encounters already feel long and drawn out, so having a high frequency of them just feels like unnecessary padding. While the game clocks over ten hours, it could easily be completed in five if it weren't for the aggressive encounter rate. The added time comes from the fact that the game is not the best at guiding its players to their next plot point and with the high encounter rate, it makes exploration feel sluggish instead of rewarding. Science Girls! struggles in this department as it cannot seem to find a happy medium between the encounter rate and player exploration.

   The lack of equipment is also an odd choice in this game. When the girls level up they have skill points which they can spend, but by putting points into the girl's moves, the price for SP goes up quite significantly. For example, a move that requires 10 SP to perform, after being leveled up goes up to 15 SP. That's quite a huge jump, and considering how slow the SP regeneration process is, it seems really silly that the cost of a skill becomes higher. It means having to constantly conserve SP, but every single move costs SP so unless one is defending, it's a tough balancing act to follow. There needs to be a better way to iron this out and find equilibrium so that players don't have to feel like their experience is excessively long and drawn out.

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   Graphically, Science Girls! is an interesting mix. The visual novel side is really nicely done, as each girl is very expressive and cute to look at. There's a nice amount of detail as well to the visual novel parts, whereas the RPG part is a mixed bag. The enemies moving around the screen are not the most attractive and the dungeon layouts often feel claustrophobic. There's often too much going on in the background so it's easy to get stuck on objects. The movement of enemies is also stilted and clunky, so when they chase the player, they struggle to move around fluidly. However, during combat the chibi Science Girls! have a lot of detail in their sprites and in their animations, which almost makes up for how awkward other parts of the visuals are.

   In terms of sound the music is solid, and it's nice that the game offers a few different battle themes to cycle through. There's enough variety, and the Japanese voice over work is mostly limited to the sound effects, which are harmless. The game can be completed in under ten hours if you have good sense of direction and don't mind the high encounter rate, and the difficulty is adjustable, meaning players can gauge their own challenge level.

   While I love the idea behind Science Girls!, as it's a game that focuses on titular female scientists and girl power, the overall execution leaves a lot to be desired. A lot of the design choices within Science Girls! are somewhat questionable, but in the end it really boils down to one's patience level. If you don't mind a little moe and can stomach a high, frequent, padded encounter rate, you will find enjoyment in this game. If you're the type of person who lacks patience and needs more depth in their RPGs, then Science Girls! will fail to impress on all accounts.

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