High school is, as an adult, a way to reminisce about the naivety of youth. What we could have done better, if not what we could have done at all. A needlessly nerve-wracking time of life that’s bound to be filled with awkward encounters, lost loves, and regrets. Even still, it’s a hotbed of emotional turbulence that will inevitably determine your future, for better or worse. Raptor Boyfriend allows one the chance to go back in time to 1997 and determine the life of Stella, an awkward teen who has just moved to a new, yet familiar town. There she will meet three distinct characters that are slightly off the beaten path.
Intriguingly enough, the game title is slightly misleading—Raptor Boyfriend does indeed involve a potential raptor boyfriend, but that’s only one of three flavors. Also involving a fae and a bigfoot, the small town of Ladle has a supernatural touch. Yet all is not magic and whimsy; these teenagers have insecurities and traumas like any others, which become a prominent focus of the game. However, you will have to choose who among them will be your one and only. Such is the opportunity of youth.
Story – What a Long, Strange Trip It’s Been
Being a visual novel/dating sim, the story is nearly the entire worth of the game. If this were to fail, there would be no reason to recommend it whatsoever. There’s a lot of pressure by the writer(s) of these games to develop an engaging narrative that suits the atmosphere or vibe they’re intending with their work. Consisting of a three-person team, developer Rocket Adrift has all three members listed as a writer for this game. The cooperation they denote may end up sharpening the efficiency of various tones throughout the game… or hampering them.
In general, the characterization and progression of plot is fairly well done. Each potential love interest has a distinct persona to them, whether broody, nervous, or totally radical, bro. Though this is only surface-level flavor—getting to know these people ends up being rather rewarding. A relatable, if not slightly dramatic, conclusion of character complexity that is easy to sympathize/empathize with. Despite the outer surface of them being non-human, it’s integral to the story to treat them as anyone else, and they do so splendidly.
More than anything, though, the real treasure of Raptor Boyfriend is the atmosphere of the world they create. Simplistic as it is, they absolutely embody the timeframe they set out to re-create. 1997; small town; cassette tapes and camps; groovy fashion sense; exaggerative hangout spots; artistic expression; so much detail in instilling a mood that embraces the scale of the setting and characters. It’s, in short, beautiful. I gradually came to welcome all new scenery, every fun reference to media at the time (Samurai Pizza Cats!), and the gentleness of the dialogue whenever it should come to it. “Immersive” is the biggest and truest statement about the game as a whole.
If only it had the kind of time to truly develop all that it wishes to, or at least seems to scratch the surface of for extra emphasis. Much of this is shown through the side characters, which do not receive anywhere near the same development as the primary ones. Each love interest is tied to a certain side character, with their relationships kind of spotty. Robert (raptor)’s side character, Jessica, is the one I believe ends up the most memorable, while Ingrid and Brandon, tied to Day (fae) and Taylor (bigfoot) respectively, are fairly one-note. It ends up becoming a little less impactful when it’s seemingly wrapped up without a hitch by the end.
This becomes especially apparent on repeat playthroughs. Each character has an arc that roughly follows the same path. Introductory giddiness, close encounters of the romantic kind, an unexpected conflict, a depressive spell, and the falling action revolving around their side characters. It ends up making these characters seem more like plot fodder than actual people that exist independently. There are also slight hints at the fear of being judged for their outsider status in bits of story near the end, though it’s never totally capitalized on.
Part of this may be due to Raptor Boyfriend‘s overall length, which by visual novel standards is fairly short. Going through the game three times (while skipping quite a bit the second and third time), I have roughly six and a half hours playtime. The first took me just around three hours. That ends up not being too much time to dedicate to these characters in an overly detailed fashion; the developers likely had to work with what they had. Quality over quantity, I suppose.
Even still, it’s impressive just how much they managed to flesh out each character in one playthrough. One would expect with a dating sim that choosing to align oneself with a specific option would mean the other options disappear. However, this title does splendid work of ensuring that every character is as much of a friend as a partner-to-be. A togetherness that ends up rather wholesome by a certain point. Initially, my surefire choice was Robert, because he’s totally tubular. However, at some point I fluctuated, motivated by developing situations with other characters. That’s the sign of developed writing: when I want to not date the dinosaur.
Gameplay – Relics of ’97 (And Clicking)
Such expansive gameplay functions visual novels provide! You can click to your heart’s content, save and load and skip whenever, or even make choices! Sarcasm aside, visual novels aren’t the most involved gameplay-wise. Regardless, Raptor Boyfriend does treat the player to a few distinct differences within the genre.
Most notably, each “episode” of the story allows one the chance to get a keepsake from one of the romancible characters. Whether a poem, a cassette tape, or comic, they build up a personal story for each character that you can interact with once each episode. It better details the psyche of the character at the time and helps develop their inner insecurities. Receiving them requires you to memorize a specific thing they tell you on the phone (it’s bolded) and then interacting with them further down the road. Though this may depend on how committed you are to one person; occasionally I’d call someone and then not be able to interact with them in that specific episode.
Then there’s the matter of choices. Not all will provide a substantial difference to the story, though some achievements seem to be locked behind specific paths. Some are there to serve as flavor for Stella’s character—nervous and fidgety, where words don’t matter. Others end up being the difference between who you pursue and whether it earns you items. Most often, though, it’s but a slight deviation from a mostly kinetic path. Not a terrible tragedy, though some may find the “actual” lack of choice somewhat disheartening. It would be for me if the writing wasn’t humorous and cute overall.
A surprising lack of a Gallery option, though. Kind of shocked not to see what’s generally a basic thing for visual novel-type games here. Raptor Boyfriend doesn’t have too much in terms of “special artwork,” though there’s enough for me to think that they’d want to showcase the distinctiveness of their style. Maybe even a Sound Test, given music is a large factor in the story.
Graphics & Audio – Raptor? I Hardly Know ‘or!
In line with the gorgeous implementation of the game’s ’90s setting, the artwork is another strong feature. A certain boldness to character models, as well as an old-fashioned styling, allows for stronger immersion into the town of Ladle and otherwise. Character design itself also shows exactly what you need to know about the characters. How they dress, how they’re positioned, facial expressions; one can tell who these characters are just by looking at them. Even the side characters, which unfortunately aren’t as prevalent as maybe they should, give off a similarly visual splendor.
Backgrounds aren’t quite as strong, though some striking scenes do occur during intimate moments. Mostly, they cover a variety consisting of basic school hallways, muddy environments, and run-down houses. Significant to the identity of the area, though admittedly not eye-catching. Stella’s fantasies provide more of a riveting foray into the world of colors, which can be far and few between. Still, it’s an overall very pretty package.
I stated shortly prior that music was an important part to the story. Because of this, it becomes especially crucial for things to evoke the same emotions that the music hopes to convey throughout. The soundtrack to Raptor Boyfriend is very “soul-like,” (not to be confused with Souls-like); acoustic guitars, heavy distortion, and rather simple rhythmic cords. It goes for broke and dedicates everything to being able to sway the player with an emotional, almost “wave-y” sound.
And it works splendidly. Watching a trailer for this game, I was certainly fond of the art direction… yet after finishing it, the soundtrack ends up more impactful. Exemplifying the moodiness of the situations, as well as harnessing the energy of a confused, horny teenage mindset with ease. That makes the absence of a Sound Test more tragic, though it’s a personal nitpick. What’s also nice is that no track feels overbearingly sentimental or aggressive. It’s a feat of quality control that does all that it needs to do in each situation, without making it too distinct or obvious.
Raptor Boyfriend: A High School Romance was review on PC via Steam. A review key was provided by Rocket Adrift.