Nicole is a dating simulator with a mysterious twist from WinterWolves Games. You play as Nicole during her first semester at college, which has been the home for three mysterious kidnappings. Aside from that, there are four different boys for Nicole to get to know.
There’s a lot of mechanics to this game. It’s set up as a visual novel with a plethora of places to attend in and out of campus. You can go to the classrooms, the pharmacy, the park, the library, cafeteria, the movie theater, and many other places. You can do different activities in each area. For example, you can go jogging, relax with nature, or observe people at the park. Each activity will give you certain stat points.
Aside from trying to woo a specific character and solve a mystery, time management plays a huge role in this game, and your stats have a big hand in that.
Nicole has energy and morale that can go up and down based on how busy she is with her activities. You can always head back to her dorm and take a nap, though, which will replenish these stats a little bit. She also has zeal, amity, diligence, wit, and clues. It’s harder to boost these stats than you would think.
Stat-boosting is where time management comes in and makes the game a bit impossible to beat. The game begins on September 1st and ends on December 21st. Each day is broken up into six times, such as dawn, morning, afternoon, evening, dusk, and night. You can’t do anything during dawn as Nicole is just waking up. You can’t do anything at night either, since Nicole is sleeping and that’s when the day ends. So, you have four chances to do an activity. Of course, some activities such as your part-time job (when that unlocks) or going to class (which is automatic on some days) take up about 2-3 time slots. Essentially, you have little time to do anything.
The timing makes the gameplay unfair. While the game doesn’t explain this (I actually looked it up after my first playthrough), you need to max out a specific stat in addition to increasing your relationship level to 100% with a certain guy. If you want to solve the mystery at the same time, you also have to max out your clues stat.
By “max out”, I mean bringing those stats to 999 points when some activities only give you as little as 3-5 points sometimes.
Needless to say, the story was bland, mostly because I couldn’t solve the mystery myself and had a hard time getting the answer. Nicole could boost her clues stat but no information would be given, only points. The higher a certain stat, a new cutscene would unlock with one of the characters or something else to move the mystery forward but it only explained what was going on. There wasn’t much for you to figure out yourself.
There are ten different endings, and due to the stats, some seem impossible to get. I never did get the true ending after numerous playthroughs – at least, not on my own. Luckily, you can play the game in a visual novel mode where the stats don’t come into play. You can also choose which ending you want to go for in that mode.
The visual novel mode isn’t too bad, but the choices your character needs to make are few and far between. So, essentially, you’re reading and still not able to figure out the mystery yourself. My hunch about the culprit was correct, but only because the way the character acted made it obvious. I only found it out through the visual novel mode.
I enjoy visual novels, but this took away so much of the satisfaction of actually strategically boosting your stats and solving the mystery myself.
Also, I didn’t care about any of the characters. Nicole was whiney and annoying, and none of the guys had redeeming qualities. Most of them were sexist. But Nicole always laughed it off because the guys were cute. After playing through the game a few times, I grew bored of the story and trying to solve the mystery, and had the game on auto just so I could see a few of the different endings.
Nicole is a good looking game, though. I would say it’s saving grace is that the art style was beautiful. The characters looked great, and the backgrounds were lovely to look at. The music was well composed as well. However, most of the time, the music didn’t match the mood on screen. For example, the sweet, generic theme played for most scenes, even when a couple of the characters were fighting. During a suspenseful part, the music played sounded as though Nicole was heading into a boxing match to brawl. So, the music was good, but it threw me out of the game.
The controls were smooth, and the overall game played well. I did enjoy the time management mechanics mixed with a visual novel. It was a good idea, just not executed well.
There’s a lot of replay value here if you want to get all ten endings, but the same story gets boring after a while. It felt as though the game was forcing you to replay this one multiple times – more than ten times just to get the ten different endings.