In between crunching RPGs, I often like to unwind with various types of interactive fiction games. They're relatively short, and they're easier to fit into small pockets of time during the day compared to many other games. At the same time, they give me the satisfaction of reading a story, even if it's not always a great one. I've reviewed many of these types of games here at TouchArcade, but one of the more popular companies whose works I had yet to touch on was Voltage. You may not have heard of them, but they're basically the Harlequin Romance of the App Store. Their games are incredibly successful in Japan, their home market, but they've also found quite a bit of success worldwide. The closest we've come to covering their games was when I reviewed Queen's Gambit [Free], a product of their American branch, but I figured with Voltage launching their latest game and me needing something light to play, the time was ripe to finally cover one of their romance games.

Samurai Love Ballad: Party [Free] doesn't appear to be a particularly unusual game in their line-up, which mostly consists of various unusual premises for a woman to be in proximity of a bunch of hunky dudes. This time, the setting is in Sengoku-era Japan, and the hunky dudes in question are famous historical figures like Oda Nobunaga and Tokugawa Ieyasu. You play as a young woman who is forced to work in Oda's court to protect her family. There are lots of eligible guys, but for each story path, you'll be focusing on two in particular. I elected to try out the star-crossed couple that is Oda Nobunaga and Akechi Mitsuhide, because I'm not the type of person to settle for anything less than the most ruthless of daimyo.

Photo 2016-03-01, 21 36 48 Photo 2016-03-01, 21 34 58

It only took me a few minutes to realize that what I was playing was basically the romance visual novel version of a social RPG. The story is broken down into small snippets that each require a Love Pass to view. Love Passes refresh each day, but you can buy them in the game's shop using real money if you just can't wait to see what happens next. Occasionally, you'll hit a point in the story where you need to fulfill some other sort of qualification to move on. You might need to increase your cooking skill in the cooking mini-game, which consumes stamina that slowly comes back over time. You might straight-up have to spend some Pearls, which are another form of premium currency that allow you to move past these sections, refill your stamina bar (but not your Love Passes), or expand your inventory capacity. You can also use coins to move the story forward, and they're easier to come by, but in doing so, you'll get a lesser ending that doesn't reward you with a portrait.

Doing well at the cooking mini-game is largely dependent on your Item Power score, which in turn is determined by the clothes and accessories you have equipped to your heroine. You'll get those items as rewards for completing various tasks, but you can also earn them by playing a random lottery. That costs coins, which you'll also earn during the cooking mini-game and through various other means. You can also improve your odds by bringing along a friend, just as in social RPGs. If you use a friend, they'll earn coins and help you out, but you can drag in a stranger if you need to. You also have a castle room that you can decorate with various items. Your friends can visit your castle, and if they do, you might get some gifts or coins. You'll also earn cooking skill points, and some rice balls you can feed to your hunky samurai of choice to level him up.

Photo 2016-03-01, 21 36 22 Photo 2016-03-01, 21 37 05

If this all sounds awfully complicated for a game about trying to get a handsome young warlord to fall in love with you, well, you're right. I've played less complicated 4X strategy games than this. Given how many systems are intertwining here, it's a wonder it works as well as it does, but it's still an awful mess to untangle, particularly in the beginning. The biggest pinch comes from those Love Passes, however. You only restore five each day, and each one buys you a single story section. Alternatively, you can buy them for roughly $0.99 a pop. Episodes are broken down into five sections, and each one lasts around two minutes, depending on your reading speed. The game currently contains four potential partners, with several more planned to be added, and each of those partners has their own series of several episodes. Assuming you don't buy any Love Passes, it would take weeks to work your way through one path. With only a couple minutes of play per dollar spent, it's hard to recommend purchasing them.

I suppose the intention here is that you play through one episode each day, giving you about 10 minutes of story to enjoy during your coffee break or something. For a lot of people, that's probably enough for their needs, but if you're the sort that likes to tear through a story in one sitting, this is essentially lose-lose monetization. It's in no way worth it to spend the money given what you get in return, but the game's pace is positively glacial if you try to play it for free. It's too bad, because while my Love Passes were flowing, I was kind of enjoying Samurai Love Ballad. Its additional systems and mini-games give it appeal beyond simply making a few choices here and there, and I found the concept of casting the famous figures of the Sengoku era with guys who look like they wandered out of a boy band bizarrely intriguing. Although they look soft, their personalities aren't much different from how they're typically portrayed. So, for example, Nobunaga is quite merciless and every conversation with him feels like you're seconds away from losing your head. It's hard to get much narrative steam going when the episodes are as short as they are, but my problem with the game certainly wasn't that I didn't want to continue reading.

Photo 2016-03-01, 21 36 59 Photo 2016-03-01, 21 35 22

No, it all comes back around to how tight-fisted it is with doling out its story. Don't get me wrong, this is obviously a model that works well for Voltage. Their fans seem quite happy with it, so it's obviously working for someone. But given the way I like to enjoy my interactive fiction games, all the dress-up and cooking mini-games in the world can't make up for the fact that simply reading these short stories in a day or two would cost me a small fortune. For all the merits of Samurai Love Ballad: Party, it's that essential aspect, more than anything else, that makes it hard to recommend.

TouchArcade Rating

  • Jazzpha

    Mega bonus points for the title as usual, Shawn. Well played. And solid review, too, for that matter.

  • collider

    I have to admit, I speed read through the description section of your review, Shaun. I think I would hate playing this, admittedly this game was not targeted at my demographic.
    Curious if anyone ever added up how much real money it would take if you played straight through all the characters? You think if they just sold a 10 or 20 dollar option it would be more palatable? Or do they grab you for even more?

  • porsupah

    Sounds rather a pity, really - a title that could have been quite charming, even endearing, forced to run atop the harsh cobblestones of IAP.

    Ah well. I still have Hatoful Boyfriend to enjoy, even if not on iOS (yet?).

  • Lunicariave

    As someone who plays otome games, you are right, sinking money into IAP on these games usually aren't worth it. I usually pay on Voltage's games where you buy one entire route for a sum, and for their IAP games I go entirely free. It takes weeks to get through one character's route, but dedicated fans stick through it. It also helps that events give mini side stories, which are technically free.

  • gingler

    Yeah, i love otome games, and these free from voltaire i really hate them :/
    Because you do not only need to read them every day, you also need the clothes, and items, making it harder to get what you want

    I usually stick to those games that you can buy and reread as much as you want
    In case of freebies, theres some you only need to read everyday without those minigames

  • Naijaluv88

    Just read your review and completely agree with your statements. Despite how much i like the game, there is a very few chance in being completely satisfied in playing this game without putting money into it. Which Voltage knows, hence why the prices are really ridiculous. There is only 5 love passes, but compared to most of Voltage other games, the length of the story is so much shorter. Add in the need to read more, which means purchasing more love passes, more pearls to get the Love Ending (to get pictures for the album....which i hardly do anymore), Pearls to get outfits, Pearls to read certain exclusive stories, Pearls for this and that.... and its like you bought yourself a $60.00 or $70.00 brand new game. Pearls are the driving force of the app, and without it....its hard to really get prizes.

    That's why for me I only play this game while the semester is on during school so i have little to no time to spend my energy into the game, which means i won't force myself in trying to read on, which means buying more love passes. Like you said its a great game and it is entirely "free", but even like its paid games, what you getting for free is like an advertisement in pushing and encouraging the gamer in spending more and purchasing more. Nothing to complain as they're a business, but it shouldn't be labeled as free when in reality its anything but that.

    I wouldn't discourage you on Voltage, rather their party games because in the long run they are really expensive, just their regular app games....which tend to still be pricey but you won't feel half bad (wallet wise) if you bought a story.....averaging 13-16 chapters (16 more so in the older games) which costs about $4.00 dollars (though it changes if you live elsewhere....). Of course they're additional stories and they micromanage funds with special stories, POV, and other of the likes but its not bad in comparision to their party games.

Samurai Love Ballad: PARTY Reviewed by Shaun Musgrave on . Rating: 2.5