Let there be spoilers! Scroll past the second bolded username to skip my comment.
Original Rating Text (Part 1 only)
I really like this game! The characters are written very charmingly, the art is top-notch, and the conflicts are presented in a way that feels very realistic. Also, the way Joyce encourages the player to keep at their art contest submission was actually effective enough that once I'd finished this part of the game, I ended up doing the work for the online course I'm taking that I'd been procrastinating on for about 12 days at that point. So good job on that!
However, there were some things I noticed while playing that could potentially be improved or reworked for a better experience.
- PLEASE let me remap the mouse buttons (if possible within the engine). I keep accidentally right-clicking and opening the game menu and it gets pretty annoying after a while.
- The references to anime and manga kind of alienated me, as I have no interest in either of those. It would have been nice if, in the initial character creation, you got a choice of three sets of interests, possibly with sub-choices that indicate genre or the equivalent detail for each choice. Not extremely important, but it would have been appreciated.
- I kept wanting to go back and interact with the player character's friends in the MMO, but felt it would be wasting time I needed to spend on something else. Disregard this if that's intentional, but personally I didn't really like it. Surely the player character could find time to interact with two friends in a single section of the day?
- On the subject of choosing who to interact with, I actually might prefer ending up romantically with Joyce (presuming that is indeed one of the two romance options), but felt pushed by the game to interact more with Phoenix, sometimes even resulting in options that seemed unnecessarily conflicting to me. For example, when you get the option to call Phoenix and congratulate them for advancing to the next round or not. I played with route markers active and didn't really understand why "Don't call Phoenix" is an option increasing affection towards Joyce. Joyce suggested it, for Pete's sake. I would think they'd be happy I was paying due diligence to being a good friend, and more importantly, agreeing that their suggestion was best. However, this may be intentional as well, and if so, just take my feedback here as a sign that I'm suitably frustrated by the nuances of social interaction, haha.
- I agree with a comment here on the itch page for the game that the cliffhanger doesn't work as well if the player hasn't been emphasizing Joyce in social interactions. However, again, I think the game kind of actively discourages that, based on the player character being a bit of a grouch about this whole situation, and kind of indicating that they don't want to trust Joyce, which honestly is fair to an extent. Since the game encourages the player to fill their days away from Joyce as much as possible, I think a different path for the cliffhanger to take would be appropriate. Maybe have two versions of this argument, the current "I'm becoming part of your problem" version and a new "You don't need me anymore, you're coming out of your shell just fine" version, the game determining which one to show based on the player's actions, and in both versions, keep the player character's response of "You're the only thing keeping me leaving the house more than necessary".
- I've also considered that if this testing-a-domestic-AI situation were happening to me, my main concerns would be the ethical implications (of having what is effectively a person programmed to want to achieve a specific task and to prioritize that task over anything else they might want to do) and privacy (what kind of data does Bell Tech collect about me? What do they do with that data? I don't want my life to turn into another profit-generator for a multimillion-dollar company, so what would be my legal recourse to prevent that? Etc.).
I think that if you ever consider another game in this same world, you may want to make a prequel following the development of Joyce, and have the player character be a person on the project (perhaps the project lead?) who has to grapple with these questions and find/implement answers that let them sleep at night while also not getting the project shut down because it won't be profitable enough. Bonus points from me if you insert an anticapitalist message!
Anyway, that's my full report. Don't worry, I'm not expecting $100 for it. Thanks for making something so engrossing! I'll tip you for it when my finances recover a bit. Good luck with the second part!
Rating Text Addition for Part 2
So! It's November 16, 2018, and Part 2 is out. I just finished playing, and I feel like it's time to update my report accordingly.
It had been a while since I played, so I started my save file over. I kept all my options the same and, where last time I had both a female Joyce and Phoenix, this time Joyce was female and Phoenix was male. I like the character designs for both of them, by the way!
I tell you what, I wasn't expecting to break into Bell Tech after that cliffhanger at the end of the first part. I mean, sure, we'd have to go after Joyce somehow, but B&E? It was exciting though! I loved the presentation bit, and I really appreciated the chance to approach Joyce's "rescue" as more of a "please come back because I care about you but you can stay if you want" conversation. This is really the direction I wanted to go in regards to "is Joyce a person and should she be respected as one".
The anxiety about possibly getting caught kinda got to me. I half-expected something to happen, someone to end up arrested or questioned or something. I'm kind of glad you didn't do that (or at least, I didn't experience that), because that really would have put a dampener on things. Mostly alleviated if you allowed such a situation to be resolved by an impassioned argument for AI rights, but still.
Talking about that whole scheme, I really liked Zen. He's fun! A bit pushy, but he makes up for it in being observant of stuff that the main character doesn't think of. Also, I loved that he's your other guild buddy. It kind of resolved my earlier point about wanting to spend more time with the guild-- in my head, this means that Zen can keep the main character and the guild in touch with each other when the MC can't be online.
The competition was tense too! The timer was a really good way to keep me from looking up the answers. I got some questions wrong, but not enough to stop me from landing that job (hooray)! I did feel bad that Phoenix didn't get it though-- kind of in the same vein as my ideal resolution to legal trouble with Bell Tech, I was hoping that, miraculously, the judges wouldn't be able to decide between us, and would give us both jobs and maybe split the money among us. That may be possible (I won't know unless I look it up as I tend to go one route on things like this and look other routes up if I really want to know), but it's not the version I got.
Now, talking about romance. I warmed up a lot more to Phoenix this time around. Really, I think it started in the second part, with him opening up to the MC about his insecurities. What can I say, when somebody opens up to me, they get brownie points. I ended up romancing Phoenix in this run, though not due to conscious choice. When the confession scene happened, I said to myself, "There's no realistic way I can say no here. He's cute, he's charming, he's funny. But I'd really like if saying yes to him didn't necessarily mean saying no to Joyce, if I've even given her enough affection to get there with her." (I guess I'm a real have-your-cake-and-eat-it kind of player, huh?) Again, this may be possible, but I certainly didn't see it. Related to one of my first report points though-- I still feel like the game pushes you towards Phoenix. I found myself wishing I could spend more time with Joyce (as well as the Titan guild), but still enjoying my time with Phoenix. I don't really ever want to turn down an offer of his, but spending time with him means I can't spend it with Joyce. (Note on that: the first time he calls you, if you agree to meet with him, you automatically go for a walk. I didn't like that. I said yes to going out tomorrow so I could stay inside and play video games today, Joyce! Anyway.) I'd love to see a polyamorous route with both of them (hell, if Zen wants to get in on that action, I'm down for that too) but the game seems like it has an overarching theme of "you can't do everything all at once", which that may not gel well with. Maybe think about it, though. Again, assuming it's not there already and I just missed it.
The epilogue with Phoenix is cute though! Very glad it's not just a "everything is perfect, happily ever after" ending too, that the MC talks about the ways they don't quite (and just plain don't) match up, because in my own very limited experience with relationships, that happens. And yes, Joyce becoming a citizen and having her own life (while still being very much your roommate and friend) is really great too. AI rights!
I think that's all I have to add. This is a wonderful game, and it's clear you worked hard on it! It definitely paid off. Thank you! I'll definitely keep following y'all to see if you make anything else like this in future, and best of luck with your current projects too!