Kowloon High-School Chronicle will have you solving puzzles and battling monstrous beasts in decaying catacombs as you seek lost treasures. It’ll also have you stumbling over what to say to your cute classmates at school. Using an emotion-based dialogue choice system, rather than letting you choose exactly what you want to say, this remake of the PS2 game Kowloon Youma Gakuen Ki does a fantastic job of capturing the feeling of being a clumsy, shy high schooler making friends and trying to talk to their potential crush.
When not shooting at colossal fire-breathing dogs or avoiding lethal traps in its dungeon-crawling segments, Kowloon High-School Chronicle plays more like a visual novel. It allows you to explore Kamiyoshi Academy, talking to friends and taking classes. While getting to know these new people, you’ll be presented with moments to say whatever you want to bubbly Yachino, the cold, yet captivating Shiraki, and many more charming characters.
Typically in many games and visual novels, this is done through a selection of dialogue choices where you choose the exact sentence you want to say. Here, we’re presented with a wheel called the Emotion Input Control. With it, you choose the tone of your response (similar to what Alpha Protocol did, but this game did in a more interesting way), picking from Joy, Amity, Cold, or Somber by pushing in the word’s direction on the wheel. If you hold the button in, you can choose a more extreme version of the emotion (Love, Hot, Anger, or Grief), which alters your answers and the receiver’s reactions. You can also choose to do nothing, which means you don’t give a response.
Not having direct control of what you’re saying makes conversations feel realistic in Kowloon High-School Chronicle. Nothing about most of the emotional choices feels like the “correct” thing to say to get a certain response from the other character. Instead, it’s a system that lets you just feel your way through conversations, reacting with your heart to what you’re talking about.
That said, the Emotion Input Control wheel can be difficult to parse at first. It has been designed to look like a lost artifact or device, with the emotional choices written in a stylized way. It’s honestly hard to make out what the words on the wheel say without really looking closely. It’s something you get used to over time as you learn the layout, but it has a wonderful side effect in the beginning of the game.
When you meet a lot of your classmates and teachers for the first time in Kowloon High-School Chronicle, the wheel will pop up, but the game doesn’t do much to prompt you to do anything with it. The stylized writing on the words can look like just a fancy, artistic design, which, for me, made me think it was just some symbol. I didn’t realize it was interactive, and when I accidentally did use it, I couldn’t make out the words. I chose things I didn’t understand and took tones I never meant to. I blundered through all of my initial conversations.
The game offers a solid explanation of how the system works if you go to its Help section, but in rushing ahead without reading that, I captured a real sense of what it was like to be the new kid in school again. I didn’t know what to say, babbling out responses. I’d blurt out the wrong thing to the girl I liked. Accidentally say something that made the class think I was weird. Went quiet when all eyes were on me. It made for a rough first day, but when the students were still kind to me (if a little guarded), I felt a genuine warmth from talking with them. I felt accepted despite myself.
Then, as you learn the Emotion Input System, your responses can become more what you want. You can choose to say what you mean without mistakes, which mimicked this sense of getting comfortable with friends and opening up to them. As I naturally learned the system and got more comfortable talking with it, it was like I was growing closer to these students. It really felt like I was getting comfortable with new friends as they grew more comfortable with me.
This made for a strangely touching beginning for a game about hunting treasures in dangerous places. Kowloon High-School Chronicle, though its thoughtfully-designed dialogue system, may have players fumbling with their first few conversations as they feel out the emotions of the moment. They’ll have to let their hearts guide them, rather than selecting dialogue choices. Not that you can’t find the right choices (a musical tone sounds when you impress who you’re talking to), but the system seems to encourage you to just feel your way through things.
In offering this system and presenting it in such a mysterious way (if you don’t think to look it up in advance), this captured that awkward feeling of starting at a new school. With that awkward feeling, though, came the ability to slowly learn the system and change how I talked to people. This shift from confusing my classmates to getting to know them made the emotional ties to these people feel that much stronger, creating a touching connection to the characters that few games match.
Kowloon High-School Chronicle is available now on the Nintendo Switch.