As someone who runs in fandom circles, I’m incredibly familiar with fake dating-turned-real relationship plotlines. They’re usually funny and sweet, which makes them perfect for fanworks and visual novels alike. However, they don’t always work out that way. Sometimes, they lack the humor or the pre-established relationships to make it work. Childhood Friends is an example of a visual novel that doesn’t manage to use this plot (or any plot, really) well.
Childhood Friends is a visual novel told from the perspective of Yukihisa, a boy who has never had a relationship before. The story begins with him lamenting this fact with his childhood friend, Shiho, after a failed group dating experience. Despite the two of them being friends for many years, Yukihisa notes that they aren’t very close. However, he and Shiho agree to practice dating with each other so they would know what to do on a real date. From there, they go on many fake dates and start to develop feelings for each other along the way.
This game is admittedly hard to get through. It has a pretty lengthy runtime of about six hours, but the plot is so boring and the dialogue is so stale that it feels much longer. None of the characters seem to change much during the story, their relationships aren’t anything unique and most of them are incredibly forgettable. The plot repeats itself over and over: they meet for a date, they go to school, they meet at a house or a diner. Since the game doesn’t allow you to steer it through decision making, this gets old quickly. It feels like you take a backseat to the story instead of being immersed in it.
There was an attempt made to subvert the gender norms slightly in the game. Yukihisa is presented as a sensitive boy who is talented with housework and cooking, while Shiho is a girl who dresses plainly and tends to slack on her schoolwork in favor of playing games. However, these subversions don’t matter at all, because they’re always followed up with Yukihisa commenting on Shiho’s body or Shiho saying something slightly backwards about the roles of women and men.
In fact, there’s just a lot of uncomfortable dialogue in the game. The story is supposed to be a romantic comedy, but it gets muddled by constant discussions of virginity, or Yukihisa’s thoughts on Shiho’s body, or any number of thinly veiled innuendos. This isn’t unexpected, given the amount of fan service in the game (in the form of Shiho’s chest), but it’s still frustrating. Actually, it’s cringe inducing. The story is already pretty weak; adding “sexy” dialogue and gigantic boobs won’t make it better.
The graphics and music aren’t really worth mentioning. They’re standard for the genre. It’s also obvious where all the *ahem* visual focus went to from the moment Shiho appears, and it’s a major distraction. It’s hard to look at her, because she’s so disproportionate that it just makes you wince imagining the absolute backache she must constantly have.
For a fake dating to real relationship story, Childhood Friends sure does lack an appealing relationship to invest in. If there is one thing visual novels have to have, it’s a story that matters and keeps the player invested, and this game fails in that regard. It’s full of awkward and cringeworthy fan service, poor writing, and a frustrating lack of any kind of gameplay to help immerse you in the story. I can’t say I recommend this to anyone. You’ll find better childhood friends-to-fake lovers-to-real lovers plot on FanFiction.net.