Arcade Spirits: The New Challengers Review
Finally, my shot at the Esport scene!
Available on: Steam/Console
Genre: Visual Novel
Arcade Spirits: The New Challenger takes place a couple years after the first game takes place. If you haven’t checked out Arcade Spirits before, it takes place in an alternate timeline in the distant future year 20XX. While arcades are few and far between nowadays, here they never went away and are still massively popular. Though instead of putting you in a situation where you pick up a job working at an arcade, this focuses more on the Esports scene. And as you can guess, it revolves around an arcade game.
You play as a shut in who exclusively plays a game called Fist of Discomfort 2 (or FoD2). Nothing is really going on other than being really good at FoD2, wanting to be the very best at it, and having a friendly (or hostile) rivalry with a fellow FoD2 player. FoD2 is also huge in the Esports scene and with an upcoming Pro Tour starting where teams are recruiting new talent, you decide to finally go after your dream of not only making money through playing a video game but showing off your hard work by winning at the very tournament that will confirm you are the best of the best.
After making sure no one will be able to take you off from the top of the FoD2 leaderboard, you call up your rival to talk about the recent Pro Tour news and maybe look for a team together. Though, ever being your rival, they of course already signed up with an Esports team none other than the well known Play-2-Win (or P2W). Luckily, you don’t have to go looking by yourself, as your rival introduces you to the Iris app. Iris, returning from the first game and being all grown up, is now illegal but luckily you can still (illegally) download it and put her up on a pirate server. Iris ends up bringing you to a arcade-pizzeria-laundromat place called Good Clean Fun where you manage to convince those there to form an Esports team despite not really being serious about FoD2 before you arrived (and in fact none of them were playing it when you arrived). Though, with the caveat that you have to be the manager and not make them train nonstop.
These are your teammates, but you can go for a romance route with these guys if you choose to (as well as a romance route for your rival). There are six other members you meet and hang out with: Grace who you learn helped bring Iris to life, loves retro games, and is in the process of developing an ambitious game; Locksley who is weirdly good at crane games and is very much in the “steal from the rich” activist side (and is totally not banned from a bunch of places due to that); Rhapsody who used to be a part of P2W, but now is more into the coaching, studying other players, and shoutcasting side of things; Jynx who suffers from Syringomyelia but loves playing racing games; Domino prefers bullet hell shmups and is lowkey toxic as he pulls at your insecurities to bring you down while having a creepy expression on his face; and finally Zapper who specializes in unrealistic shooters, really gutsy, and curses every chance she gets. You’ll be with these guys on your highs and your lows…and when you go to sleep and wake up.
This is a sequel to the first game, but you don’t really need to play it. There are references to the first game, with some characters returning, and importing save data will make a small change which more or less amounting to the character you played showing up, helping you out, and referencing who you romanced (or romanced last if you did everyone’s route).
Anyway, just like previously, Iris keeps track of your relationships with your new teammates and your personality. Every dialogue choice has a chance to give you a point towards a character (which represents how well you two get along and paves the way to a romance option if you want to) as well as having an identity identifier. If you played Arcade Spirits, it’s the same as before: Quirky choices are mainly where you crack some jokes, Steady is being honest and logical, Kindly is being compassionate and gentle, Gutsy is where you’re being bold and gutsy, and Flexibility (which used to be Basically) is being neutral. Each character has their own personality in the line with these identifiers and will also play a part in romancing them as they like people who has certain personality traits too.
She also has another tracker where she’ll either turn out as a Chaotic Iris or an Orderly Iris depending on what you ask her to do. This is interesting, but I didn’t see any differences other than some dialogue change before the final confrontation. Granted, I could have missed something or comes more into play in the character interactions I didn’t see yet (which would fit Locksley’s if I had to guess).
There is also a minigame for FoD2 which is a pretty cool addition. To put it simply, this is a rock-paper-scissors kind of thing with the added addition of letting you do an unblockable Ultimate move. Each opponent has their own tactics, but you will have to guess what they have to do and bring out a move that will put you on top. Defend when you think they’ll attack, attack when you think they’ll use their special, and special when you think they’ll use defend. Your Ultimate is a one time use, and is a guaranteed way to get points, but if you’re able to guess when your opponent will use theirs, you will get extra points for countering it. Whoever has the most points at the end wins and you can choose to replay the match if you don’t want to lose. Or you can simply disable the minigame so you can skip it if you don’t like it (or on future runs when going for the other romance routes).
However, I do have my gripes on the game which made me not like The New Challengers as much as I expected to. Sadly, it mainly is with the characters, which I didn’t really like all too much here. Unlike the first game, I don’t have an urge to go for the other romance routes. This is more subjective than anything, as some players will like characters while others won’t, but these characters are ones that I would want to hang out with for prolonged periods of time (let alone live with them). I feel part of this is mainly due to how half of the reason the characters exist is to put in a monologue or rant about certain issues that feel really forced and preachy. These sections could have been done better (and it is in fact done better in some scenes) and this just ended up with me clicking through wanting to just get back to the story and wishing we got better interactions between the characters.
There’s also an early choice involving Jynx where you are forced to pick a wrong dialogue choice, which I both didn’t like and didn’t feel comfortable with. This only serves as a way for Jynx (and the writer) to put in a rant because of a dialog choice you had no actual choice in. I feel it would have been better to actually give you a choice, with a good choice, an okay/neutral choice, a bad choice, and maybe one where you lock up trying to find the right words or something. Plus Jynx can still react combative in this first interaction, considering you get the impression she usually does in future interactions with her. It also doesn’t help that while Jynx says she’s more than her disability, she mainly talks about it in most of the interactions you have with her.
This is more of a personal preference, as I prefer playing female characters and always make myself female in games with a character creator, but I do wish the character customization was better here. This carries over having your character look androgynous (though more masculine leaning here), but I was hoping I could make a more feminine character. Just adding more different face shapes and hairstyles (that would be more, dare I say, appealing for the face shape) would have been nice.
Also that cruel tease of heart glasses in the customization screen and not actually having it as an option =,).
But there were things that I did like and think was done well. I liked that Polybius made another appearance and how it played a role in the story (though I do wish it crept up more and you were given the option to tell your team). I liked how much it showed how pushing for success no matter the cost isn’t the right way to go and hurts your mental health. How someone can be swept in to being toxic to fit it or feel like they should be.
I also did like when characters weren’t just what they were meant to preach about, where they were having fun and hanging out, dealing with their insecurities and shortcomings, or genuinely opening up to you. I just ended up wishing the writing wasn’t as heavy handed as it is here, especially when there are interactions that weaves in subjects the writer(s) wanted to talk about pretty well.
I’d set Arcade Spirits: The New Challengers as a solid “Maybe” as there were aspects that I liked and didn’t like which weigh about the same for me. Like I didn’t like how heavy handed and preachy the writing gets in a lot of the interactions and don’t like the “No Good Answer” dialogue choice when first meeting Jynx, but I did like the overall story, the message it was trying to convey, and when the characters were being themselves and opening up to you. If you like or can look past the preachy moments, I will say that the story is worth playing through.
And while you can play The New Challengers without having played the first game, I really do recommend playing Arcade Spirits. Sorry, but I liked Arcade Spirits more.