A return to the rural, retreat from the city setting is a proven formula for successful narrative in a plurality of mediums and, as shown by the success of Stardew Valley, video games are no exception. But does small town farm life translate well into the visual novel (VN) genre? Let’s see with an examination of Flower Shop: Summer In Fairbrook
Title: Flower Shop: Summer In Fairbrook
Publisher: Ratalaika Games
Developer: Winter Wolves Games
Platform: Nintendo Switch (Reviewed)
Release Date: April 15, 2022 (Switch)
You are Steve – an underachieving college student living in Los Angeles with an overbearing father and a soon to be ex-girlfriend that also tires of your lack of responsibility and propensity for a wandering eye. Believing a readjustment is needed, dear old dad volunteers you to assist your elderly uncle in running his farm for the summer in a fictional California rural town called Fairbrook.
During the course of the story, you have opportunity to interact with, and potentially romance, four females. First is the blonde haired, flower and nursery store merchant Susana. Second, Marian is a slightly older woman filling the cute, glasses wearing librarian archetype. Third, Clara is a redheaded jogger with a case of small town malcontent and dreams of fleeing to the city. Finally, you can attempt to amend the relationship with ex girlfriend Jill via telephone who remains in LA interning with the government.
The Gameplay is simple. First, at the start of every week a Monday to Saturday calendar is brought up. With it, you pick a single action (work, running, flower shop, library, stay home, relax) for each day that determines with whom you interact, if you work more, or simply get extra rest. These actions occur after a daily farming minigame. The choices made effect one of five “Steve’s Stats” that correlate directly romancing of specific characters. After brief dialogue with each character, it is quite obvious to whom each stat pertains.
The farming minigame is a simple field manager in which you perform various tasks such as weeding, planting seeds, and harvesting crops. The user interface on the minigame itself is a bit wonky. When played in handheld mode, interactivity was quite simple because the game features a touch interface (this game was reviewed on a Nintendo Switch console). However, far more action inputs are necessary when performing the gardening tasks with a conventional controller. This is especially frustrating because this farming minigame is a mandatory task performed every single day. It simply isn’t that much fun and ultimately serves as more as a speed bump in between the relationship building portions of the VN which, assuredly, are the main drive behind playing the game in the first place.
Frustrations with the minigame aside, all other command selection in the game is fine. During the narrative portions of the game with text prompts, it clearly displays actions such as back, skip and auto play. The game’s preferences menu allows great control for aspects like text speed whether to halt skipping after choices making it far less burdensome when attempting to get all endings with multiple playthroughs.
The visuals of the game are pleasing to the eye. The colors are warm in compliment to the title of the story establishing to setting that is calm and welcoming. The character art by M. Beatriz Garcia is drawn effectively to convey proper character emotion in specific circumstances, however, the actual girls being romanced seem a bit homogenous. While romantic interests do possess different personalities, they almost seem interchangeable.
The music is often comprised of piano and flute with bits of classical guitar play interwoven. The small track list of simple and soothing tracks provide a background loop that complements the mostly light-hearted interaction of the VN very well. However, dramatic events do occur from time to time and these moments is when the soundtrack is used most effectively to convey emotions. A heavy synthesizer dirge is utilized akin to what Angelo Badalamenti did on occasion in the television show Twin Peaks. Mixed with the accurately drawn emotions of characters, these are the moments utmost seriousness are when the game hits hardest.
In conclusion, Flower Shop: Summer In Fairbrook seems very much a title that those already in the VN genre can enjoy. It checks the box of interaction satisfaction when you improve a relationship as is required of dating simulators. The story isn’t particularly inventive, but player interest is maintained while wooing the four candidates. Ultimately though, the game is crippled by the repetitive farming minigame and could have benefitted greatly on the whole with a reduction in its presence.
Flower Shop: Summer In Fairbrook was reviewed on Nintendo Switch using a digital copy provided by Ratalaika Games. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here. Ghostwire: Tokyo is now available for Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S.