Video games based on anime and manga tend to be hit or miss affairs. Idea Factory’s Ouran Koukou Host-Bu DS, known to American fans as Ouran High School Host Club DS, is one of those hits. The game perfectly captures the humor and atmosphere of the series, and the full voice acting and simple controls make it an ideal otome visual novel for novices.
Ouran High School Host Club is a romantic comedy series surrounding Haruhi Fujioka, a scholarship student at Ouran. Haruhi goes to the school’s library one day to study, and goes into the music room in search of a quiet area. Instead, the Ouran High School Host Club, a club that is devoted to entertaining female students, is discovered.
The six members (Tamaki, Kyoya, Hikaru, Kaoru, Huni and Mori) mistake Haruhi for a male “client.” When attempting to escape their advances, Haruhi backs into an extremely expensive vase and breaks it. Tamaki, the club’s president and “king” dictates that Haruhi will work off the debt at the club.
Then the club members, one by one, discover that Haruhi is a girl.
She then continues to attend Ouran, dressed as a boy and working in the Host Club, garnering customer requests, in order to pay off the debt. Here’s where Ouran DS picks up. Haruhi’s a host, and she’s working in the club alongside the guys. Along the way, the club will encounter adventures with Haruhi’s childhood friend Sayuri, a outing in a water park, and a challenge by a rival high school host club chaired by Tamaki’s childhood friend Jean-Pierre Leo.
Ouran DS progresses in a manner similar to the manga and anime. While you’re going through a month and a half period of time, you’re also going through five “episodes.” Each one offers a mini-story filled with humor and drama.
It also isn’t totally a visual novel and otome game. While it’s true that you’re trying to ideally shoot for an ending with one of the six hosts, you’re also struggling to meet a certain request quota by the end of the game. This is accomplished by sitting with Host Club guests and entertaining them. When you sit down with a girl, or a girl and another host, six topic icons pop up. You then have to choose the one that makes the girl, or girl and host, happiest in order to successfully pass. So there’s a slight, extra strategic element added to the game.
If you enjoyed the Ouran anime, you’ll love the DS game. Scenes from the anime are liberally sprinkled throughout the game in appropriate situations, as flashbacks and such. In fact, the game’s opening is the anime’s opening. All of the voice actors, major and minor, return to reprise their roles as new characters.
Even better, the DS exclusive characters Sayuri and Jean-Pierre Leo fit perfectly into the storyline. You’d think that original characters would disrupt the natural chemistry between characters and stories, but Sayuri and Leo are perfect additions to the cast as Haruhi and Tamaki’s childhood friends. In one portion of the game, where Renge and Sayuri are acting as announcers at a series of event, Sayuri’s reserved nature perfectly balances out Renge’s exuberance.
There’s another area where Ouran DS excels – the voice acting. I’ve noticed in many DS games featuring substantial amounts of voice acting that the quality seems second rate. It can be muffled, quiet and even a tad warped. That isn’t the case with Ouran DS. The voice acting sounds absolutely perfect – you’d think you were listening to the PS2 version and not the DS one. A nice touch is that Idea Factory got Maaya Sakamoto to provide voice acting for Haruhi, the heroine.
As for extras, it is almost as though Idea Factory included six new extra stories or mini-episodes – one for each character. Each of these extra episodes uses a new choice option, where players make Haruhi nod yes or no to answer questions and advance the story, and two new CG scenes.
I would definitely recommend either this game, or one of the Tokimeki Memorial Girl’s Side DS games, to someone who’s always wanted to try an otome game but has been worried about the language barrier. Ouran DS is easy to play, enjoy and understand, even if your Japanese is only passable. It’s a delightful game and a wonderful port. Plus, it’s genuinely funny, and definitely one of the best otome games I’ve played this year.