Sometimes, a game feels like it has potential, but is incredibly awkward in actual practice. You like the ideas it has and the things it represents, but the execution needs some work. You look at it and think, “Man, this could really be great in a few patches.” That is how I feel about Best Friend Forever. I mean, it is essentially partially a visual novel with dating sim elements and also Princess Maker with puppies, but there are so many ways in which it feels like it isn’t ready yet.
Like Dream Daddy and a number of other visual novels that have since appeared, Best Friend Forever starts off with you moving to a new town for a fresh start. You choose from one of three character portraits, pick your pronouns, provide your blood type, and answer a personality quiz for Woofr. (Think of it as Tinder for dog owners.) When it’s all over, you’re presented with six matches, all of whom happen to be the possible love interests in Rainbow Bay.
Since Rainbow Bay is a town where pretty much everyone has at least one dog, the first thing you do after moving in is… attend an adoption event. You can pick Blocker the mutt, Cardigan the Staffordshire Terrier, Cheeseball the Shiba Inu, or Titan the Maltese as your first pet (names can be changed), go through Paws Academy and raise the pooch for fifteen in-game weeks, and hopefully get a high enough grade to pass.
Each week consists of one day with five MP that can be spent on interactions with humans or your pets, another filling five days with different activities that raise their fitness, manners, smarts, sociability, and smarts traits, and a day with some very light minigames to meet the animal’s needs. During any visual novel segment, your dog is also there pooping, trying to dig, attempting to get away, and possibly cowering, which means you must participate in the “dog event.”
On the Switch in Handheld Mode, this means tapping on the dog’s head to reassure them when they’re scared, pulling them back on-screen, or dragging the poop bag to a garbage can. In any other mode, since the whole game is played with a cursor and not traditional inputs, reacting to these moments can become far more trying. However, once you get to about level five in all stats, the critter’s well behaved enough for it to not be an issue. However, it’s awkward to play a Switch game where there is such a reliance on a possible touchscreen control scheme even in TV mode, and you constantly have to worry about whether or not a cursor is in the right place.
But the real issue is with how unfinished Best Friend Forever feels. There were so many problems during my playthrough. When I went to adopt my dog, Cardigan’s backstory was absent. Instead, Blocker’s was there. I was told the first time I visited the map that I would occasionally receive emails. Except my inbox constantly claimed I had mail, all the way until the fifteenth week, but only showed the three emails you start out with. (Good thing the ending I received didn’t seem to require any email input!) During one conversation, the “flag” for being in a relationship with Anders seemed to turn off and I received the generic dialogue. During a Big Event at a gallery, Felix’s character portrait didn’t appear at all when he was visiting.
It also seemed like the errors might have extended to the simulation segments too. My dog, Cheeseball, seemed to never have her stats really decrease. Her mood never left “ecstatic” after a week’s events. During the care sessions, I basically gave her a bone and cleaned her ears twice each time, and that always kept every gauge completely filled. I only pursued Anders, completed every dog event successfully, got four traits to level five and manners to level six, but at every class review only ever got bronze medals and was told I was “barely trying at all.” There was honestly nothing more I could have done to push her traits higher.
Unfortunately, there are also some narrative decisions that might leave fans of story-heavy games or dating sims left wanting. Things move at a rushed pace and, because there’s such a focus on your pet, there’s not as much character development as you might want or expect. Spoilers aside, Anders’ route kind of just throws out revelations about his background, but doesn’t really give a lot of follow-up. There are no CGs to earn as you play, so it isn’t like you’re building to a gallery you earn and can see later. The ending I saw with him was rather anticlimactic, even though it seemed like a “optimal” result. As for your character’s personal growth, there’s a lot of telling, but not a lot of growth or showing.
I think the problem is that Best Friend Forever is trying to do several things at once and isn’t really doing any of them well. It wants to be a pet simulation with a narrative element and dating, but the story of your adjusting to life in Rainbow Bay feels like an afterthought and the love interests could have used a little more, well, love. The simulation elements are interesting, and I liked that you had these dog events while going through the story, but you better be playing in Handheld mode on the Switch because it can be really awkward otherwise. Also, it frankly needs at least one patch to be ready for prime time. I loved the concept, but it’s rough around the edges.
Best Friend Forever is available for the Nintendo Switch and PC.