What do you get when you mix a pretentious protagonist, a frustratingly airheaded mermaid, and gorgeous backgrounds? Well, you get My Girlfriend is a Mermaid!?, a visual novel following the story of Hiroto, a boy who returns to a little rural town after ten years of life in the big city. As he visits the creek where he used to spend his childhood days, he’s reunited with his friend Ion. But something is strange about her…she’s now a mermaid! After a long discussion, Hiroto takes Ion into town. They eventually meet two other girls: Petako, a younger mermaid with amnesia, and Rin, a priestess who harbors two distinctly different personalities
This is the type of visual novel that relies heavily on player choices to move the story along down a number of paths. There’s good and bad endings, as well as a true ending, to discover. If you ever make it to the point where you get to make decisions, that is.
The story of My Girlfriend is a Mermaid!? isn’t terrible. There’s actually a crumb of intrigue here and there as you learn about the circumstances that led to Ion becoming a mermaid and you come to understand Petako’s memory loss and Rin’s warring identities. The issue is that it feels like it isn’t called upon enough to make up for the weaker part of the story, which is the comedic romance.
The opening scene is hard to get through. It’s overly wordy, with Ion saying next to nothing while Hiroto shows himself to be incredibly pretentious and annoying (yet unintentionally hilarious.) It’s also where we’re introduced to two running gags we see throughout the game. The first is the tail slap; Ion is constantly slapping Hiroto (at one point, so hard he loses his memory) whenever she’s embarrassed. It gets old after the very first time, but we see it again and again, and it’s supposed to be funny, but it comes off as needlessly cruel and useless narratively.
The second are what I call “legal jokes”, which Hiroto makes whenever Ion takes off her skirt, or happens into his futon, or anything else of the like happens. It’s literally a “see, you were sexually harassing me, so you can’t sue!” Are you laughing? Because I wasn’t, either.
Needless to say, it’s a bit hard to swallow at first. Even as the story progresses, the love story between the leads feels shallow. Ion never really evolves past her tsundere sensibility, and most of her dialogue just isn’t very interesting when you’ve got fish fetishist Hiroto there talking about everything like he’s auditioning for season 13 of The Big Bang Theory.
The interesting thing, though, is that Hiroto’s pretentious dialogue is actually the most comedic thing in this game that tries to pass off assault and tasteless jokes as funny. Not only is this the character that said the phrase “big, beautiful fish bum” like it was entirely normal, but it was followed immediately by an in-depth explanation of the type of fish Ion resembles. And this happens constantly. It doesn’t feel like it was meant to be, but Hiroto’s nonstop talk about random theories and how his “lovely ladies” are “fluid mechanics and organic chemistry” while mixing in his horny energy comes off as hilariously lacking in self-awareness.
The animation for the characters can be a bit distracting. Ion’s uncomfortably large boobs are constantly jiggling as she breathes and moves, and it’s a little much. However, for the most part, the visuals are well done, particularly the natural scenes like the creek. The music is also nice, including the intro song added for this version. It’s a well-made game in terms of style. Mostly.
My Girlfriend is a Mermaid!? is your standard romantic comedy visual novel, one lacking in the romance and comedy. It overuses a lot of tired gags and uncomfortable jokes, which lose out to an unintentionally funny yet insufferable protagonist. Worse, it doesn’t focus enough on the actually interesting parts of the story to make up for the poor romance. It’s deceptively pretty in style, but make no mistake: something stinks here, and it just might be this fishy game.