duel love

a review of Duel Love
a videogame developed by bandai-namco
and published by namco-bandai
for the nintendo DS
text by Brendan Lee

ZERO stars

Bottom line: Duel Love is “that time in Social Studies where the fat kid farted.”

I once had a lengthy conversation with Seiko Ito. I liked him.

He’s a real-life famous person here in Japan, no fooling . . . a genuine self-made Renaissance-type. He’s a comedian, and a social activist, and a hip-hop producer – – you name it, and he’s probably stuck his big toe in at some point. He was telling me how the great artistic innovations always come from Very Dark Places; these personal, cordoned-off storehouses of emotional pain. Somewhere, wedged between the hurt and the catharsis, there’s an opportunity to give birth, in a sense – – to craft something truly wonderful, relieve an audience of some small measure of their human difficulty, and gently inspire them towards something greater than themselves.

I asked him what projects he’d been working on. Ito told me that he was heading up the Japanese premiere of The Love Guru, and was in the midst of arranging a geisha-pulled rickshaw for some American VIPs*.

Come to think of it, the man did look awfully cheerful.

Rickshaws aside, I think Ito was onto something. Look at – – I don’t know – – look at In Cold Blood, and try and divorce the real-life murders from the visceral impact of that writing. You can’t – – and even if you tried, the book would still be able to wring a full dose of respect from you, if for no other reason than that people had to actually die to make that book exist. I rarely find myself in black hysterics over the printed page, but In Cold Blood nearly did me in. Uh, lit-style. Here: I’ll even work up a bullstuff equation: Personal Tragedy Plus Innovation Equals Real Genius.

It would follow, then, that the folks at Bandai-Namco must be the Happiest Goddamn Motherheckers on this planet.

Oh, they’ve got brains over there, don’t get me wrong. I think you’d be hard-pressed to name a game publisher with half as much sense about what people will actually buy – – or, at the very least, in the non-Madden category. Someone has to keep the lights on in their Shinagawa Seaside nerf-pyramid, and while that someone may not exactly be YOU, Bandai-Namco was never really aiming for YOU in the first place . . . what I think they aim for, by and large, is people who really love video games.

Again, I’m not talking about YOU exactly, here. Anyone with even the most passing of familiarity with the editorial COUGH direction of the A B . N hails at least indirectly from the Land of the Broken Toys, where children hurl their Teddy Ruxpins off cliffs for not moving their mouths in proper time to their Metallica cassettes. They hate that bear for saying that he is Real, and then for being only Almost Real. The opposite of love is indifference, anyway; anyone scrolling this far loves these video-games at least enough to make that love flip back around to hate again. Most people never drive love far enough to reach that point, though. Real Love driven past the point of reason is certainly blind; so too is it stupid. Love sees the chip of glass in the dirt and marvels at how close it came to being a diamond. Love cries during elementary-school performances of Guys and Dolls, and whispers to her husband that the orthodontics were really quite a good value for the money. (They weren’t.)

So. The creators of Duel Love must love games very very much, in the sense that they must start smiling broadly at the just the merest whisper of plastic against their fingers, but not actually enough to develop a critical eye. There are many, many of these people in the world; loving enough to emulate, but not enough to attempt improvement. These are people that bought the extending/telescoping stylus for the DS; these are people that waited until they got home before turning the plastic figure of Suzumiya Haruhi upside-down to “have a glance” because they wanted the moment to have a sense of occasion. These are not bad people, in the same way that the regulars at Cheers were not bad people. They’re just the regulars.

Okay, the game! Duel Love takes place at Keiyo High – – the kind of generic Japanese high school that they sell in five-gallon jars at Costco. You are the mysterious transfer student, and you’re immediately assigned a friend named Saki who immediately sets about coloring in the banal lines of the game’s glitter-and-elbow-macaroni premise:


Keiyo is MORE than a school – – it’s a GRIM CABAL of SECRETS. Deep within the musty confines of its crumbling old school building, a mysterious battle rages. The fighters? The students themselves! After school . . . their adventure . . . begins!!!

Actually, that would be kind of an okay premise (or at least what they call Good Enough) except that they don’t actually need you, the player, to do any of the fighting because You’re Just A Girl So Too Bad. No, what they need you to do is the rubbing. None of the dudes in this tournament possess particulary Grecian physiques (some of them are a bit Tysonesque, but far more Grocer’s Freezer than Mike), and none of them are capable of winning a match without getting a good number of superficial bruises that need to be gently tended by the gentle hands of the fairer sex. You can use the DS stylus, but anyone worth their Therapeutic Sponge will use whichever saliva-coated index finger smells less of Funyuns.

Rubbing these guys, icing them down, watching them shower, sponging them off – – it would all be as boring as hell, if the rest of the game weren’t actually moreso. From the squeak-toy voice acting to the gratingly self-referential non-story (they do the YOU’RE PLAYING AN EROTIC GAME ABOUT BOYS joke in the first 4 minutes), the game is orders of magnitude (NOTE TO SELF: “The Loyal Order of Magnitude” could be a legendary World of Warcraft guild! Or Icelandic dwarf-rock band!) worse than the kind of stuff you get on burned CDRs at the Comic Market. In comparison to the rest of the game, tending to these guyses’ physical failings is actually something of a joy. In comparison, mind you. It’s kind of like that time in Social Studies where the fat kid farted, and it was just so mind-bendingly hilarious that it actually warped time and space.


And then you . . . smelled . . . it. Look, I ain’t even gonna lie to you, here: this kind of bullstuff dating sim? It was exactly one hundred percent this kind of thing that made me move to this country. Touching the boys game, huh? Gots to get to Japan. To be honest, I very much like the idea of this sort of thing existing, and God knows that if you got rid of all of the DS games that aren’t based around the concept of gouging the screen to hell to heck the Star Wheel or whatever, you wouldn’t have all that big of a library left. I even tried to think of some kind of high-quality alternate version of Duel Love; a game that would satisfy all of the requirements of the checklist: soft-focus romance, touching boys with some legitimate excuse, innovative use of the DS hardware . . .

Maybe something with, like, Florence Nightingale! She could use the triage system to save as many of Our Boys as possible, help them stave off gangrene, and warm them with the gentle hand of comfort just before they slide off the mortal coil . . . the ones that survive could try and win her heart with thrilling acts of chivalry and valor, and she’d struggle to temper her feelings of matronly affection with the sense of duty she’d feel to her country and . . . you know, the war effort, and . . . and . . .

Heh. There I go, thinking of books again.

Or at least HBO.

Zero stars.

* “No, not Mike Myers – – he too big celebrity!”

–Brendan Lee


25 Responses to duel love

  1. See, this is a piece of honesty. This is good work. I don’t know what was going on in that Beast Rider review.

  2. I see Suzumiya Haruhi finally snuck her way into ABDN. I guess it’s only fair, given Light was already mentioned.

  3. CubaLibre it’s because you keep asking about your Fallout 3 review.

  4. Are you implying that the Beast Rider review is the result of my hilarious private running joke? If so it has gotten too real and I must cease immediately.

  5. It gets SOOOO heckING REAL on the internet, you would think that IT’S NOT A GAME AT ALL.

    Srsly though, this game could be good; just take away the adventure portions, and add some real design. Imagine it; randomly generated bruises, made dynamically by fighters fighting in ANOTHER game. So you would have two different games, each interacting with the other. Maybe one of the special moves in the beat-em-up game would be to disable the other guys healer for some set amount of time, until the healer could recover. Done properly it could be the most socially awkward game of all time! (Dude, just be my healing chick for this round, and I’ll let you fight next round!)

  6. Yes – – well, I will say that the bruises in Duel Love are at least *pseudo*-stochastic, though I’m not sure where they’re seeding the RANDOM function from. Maybe – – maybe your rate of breathing, as picked up by the DS mic!

    Your idea has real merit; certainly most of the “men” I know use games mainly to obfuscate/obscure what any high school guidance counselor could tell you are RAGING homosexual tendancies shrinkwrapped under the sheerest veneer of chest-pounding masculinity. You’d just be completing the circle.

  7. There really should be some online games that give players wildly different roles. Left 4 Dead lets you be the survivors or the zombies, but how about if you could be the guy who has to keep flying around picking the humans up off the roofs, or you could be a gang of club wielding crazy heckers who want to kill the sane humans? Every online game is just “These guys want to heck you up, so you need to heck them up first”.

    How about something for GTA4 where you like, drive taxis and ambulances for the other players? Or you could play as one of the random cops, and whenever someone steals a car or something, they appear on your radar as a criminal. heck, I dunno. Somebody should pay Tim to come up with this stuff, because I suck at it.

  8. Well, you’d think that there’d be a multiplayer Cops ‘n’ Robbers by now. Hm – – or how about a game of Donald Kaufman’s The Three? You could be the cop, the girl, or the killer . . .

    I also had an idea for a heavily stat-based sea adventure, modern-day pirates vs. the coast guard, something like that.

    Y’know, kind of an ARRRRR P G . . .

  9. The more open-ended (and better) MMOs, like UO and Star Wars Galaxies before they ruined it, have been doing role differentiation for a long time.

    There’s also RE Outbreak, where each character had a unique ability that completely changed how you could get to the end depending on who was in your party.

    It’s hard to draw the line between whatever that is and your typical class-based team shooter (e.g. TF2) though. I mean, there’s clearly different classes there with wildly different abilities. Maybe the difference is the goal – they’re all out to kill the other dudes, just in different ways. But even that isn’t strictly true – Scouts are more for running objectives than killing folks and some of the best Medics kill hardly anyone at all.

  10. My friend and I have actually devised a heavy stat based adventure with two sides: pirates and ninjas. Locations would be set off of the coast of an unnamed, feudal Asian country, or just simply Japan. Pirates start each match in a certain location from the coast, on either side of the village the ninjas protect. Ninjas would be limited to swords/shurukin unless they pick up guns, while the pirates have lower numbers but the better weaponry. That would be one mode, of course, while other modes would have different variations of pirate and ninja numbers, with other advantages/disadvantages. Of course, there’d be separate ninja/pirate classes. The game would have two versions for extra profit, the one where only pirates are playable and vice-versa. The pirate version would have trouble selling. Well, now I’m thinking too much.

  11. I think Alien vs. Predator kind of set the standard for completely different classes, while remaining balanced. Even more so than Team Fortress 2. Of course, in both those cases, we’re talking about combat roles. If you’re looking for non-combat roles, I have a theory about that.

    My theory: as females become gamers in increasing numbers, multi-player games will implement increasing amounts of non-combat roles. You can already see this trend in MMO’s. My personal experience with Everquest is that women make up a large percentage of the tradeskiller scene, while the PVP scene is male dominated. They also tend to choose classes from the healer and support tier (clerics, druids, shamans) over attack focused classes (warriors, rogues, berserkers). So in 10 years, I easily see Gilbert’s example of playing a paramedic in a GTA multiplayer round as not only possible, but likely.

  12. yeah solid wii snake, don’t be bringing up that stuff up ins. here at action button dot net, pirates and/or ninjas are a strict no-no, you should know by now. christ, man, do you expect the revolution to happen overnight or something?!

  13. How about Pirates vs. Good Honest Hard-Working Folk?

    (L1) Hide Women
    (L2) Hide Liquor
    (Triangle) Unused

  14. @brendan
    (Triangle) Hide Women, and Liquor!

    Casual appeal! Remember, when making money, think Kingdom Hearts 2!

    I think that looking at it like as a binary ‘either this or that’ is kinda silly. Think of it more as a spectrum. On one side we have more or less completely ‘symmetric’ games (Think chess) and on the other we have games with almost no symmetry, which don’t really exist right now! The closest game I can think of would probably have to be some kind of TCG like Magic, and even there you and your opponent are working from the same card pool…

    Maybe some kind of combat game where each player controlled in a fundamentally different way? Like, one dude could only move via his attacks, another would auto attack as a soon as he was in range, etc.

  15. An asymmetric multiplayer game that is an RTS for one player, versus a Crimsonland(/Smash TV/Robotron)-style top-down shooter for ~three others.

    The Evil Overlord has overwhelming numbers on his side, and the ability to construct buildings and harvest resources to build more. Your basic RTS, the twist being that your targets are few, tiny and highly mobile, and your forces tend toward big numbers and small IQs.

    The three Sentinels are badass combo-wielding Gun-Kata androids, with in-game support for small unit tactics (making stuff like covering fire and fighting back-to-back straightforward to perform) and all that cool stuff like critical hits and such. The big equalizer? Destroyed enemies sometimes leave weapons and powerups. Your basic arcade.

    Therefore a hecked up Overlord assault is worse than no assault at all – congratulations moron, you’ve just made them stronger. But the Overlord can’t leave the Sentinels alone because they know he’ll come for them, and they know where his factories are. If he doesn’t keep them busy they’ll level his infrastructure. He has to be in all places at once. But they’re still just three units, and all the bosses are on HIS side…

    Oh yeah, I didn’t make clear enough that the bad guys are human soldiers, and the good guys are alien robots. Indulge my cheap irony.

    This is the most asymmetric game I ever thought of.

  16. Also, what is it with the fetish sex stuff? Why couldn’t they just make a Massage Therapist Game? I recall a number of Lawyer and Surgeon games that were pretty good, so obviously Profession games work, for what it’s worth.

    So people come to you with problems, and you massage them until they feel better. A moderately arcade-y massage simulation. Storyline optional. Drop the fetish stuff, massage is not about sex. Especially if the romantic subplot is going to be as hecking stupid as they always make it.

  17. @KillahMate
    That is such a hecking good idea…but it’s not asymmetric enough! Both sides still have the same fundamental goal; kill each other. What if one side was simply trying to stall the other for time? Ie, the Human Defenders have to simply stall the Evil Overlord so as to let the last remaining humans escape. So one side is playing Space Invaders, the other side is playing Starcraft.

    Also, ANYTHING that involves touching is about sex to the sexually repressed! I should know…

  18. I always wanted to play something like an online FPS with an RTS attached, so you’ve got like a general calling the shots while a couple dozen soldiers shoot it out.

    Playing Left 4 Dead, I wish there was a mode that would let you play as The Director, the AI program that places medpacks, hordes, etc. The Director loses if the survivors all die, but he gets more points the more damage the survivors take on the way there.

  19. “I always wanted to play something like an online FPS with an RTS attached, so you’ve got like a general calling the shots while a couple dozen soldiers shoot it out.”

    This is Natural Selection, the Half-Life mod – on the human side. The alien side has a totally different playstructure. Probably the best asymmetrical game I’ve ever seen.

  20. “I always wanted to play something like an online FPS with an RTS attached, so you’ve got like a general calling the shots while a couple dozen soldiers shoot it out.”

    Also, the Savage game series is played like that, on both sides.

  21. The longer you go without a new review, the longer “Dual Love” will be the headlining game for your site.

  22. Item: It’s Duel Love.

    Item: What’s wrong with having a game about massaging teenage boys headline your site? If people have a problem with talking about a game where you massage teenage boys, then they probably wouldn’t like AB.N anyway.

    We’re all about the [i]massage[/i].

    God, that was a terrible, terrible thing to type.

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