When analyzing a game, the genre is in the spotlight. How does it hold up compared to its contemporaries, does it innovate, is it a return to form, or an evolution? Other games, as we’ve noted before, combine genres. Vanquish combines lightning fast third person shooter gameplay with mechanics and rules of the action genre while platformers like Super Mario Galaxy flip the script per stage while keeping platforming at the center. Yakuza Zero (龍が如く0) on the other hand is a game with many games inside it, each with their own genre. While the main adventure is one of drama and fists, each door opened away from the spotlight leads to a unique experience. You can go bowling, karting and even dating, but there is one door that opens to a very unique game. As the doorknob turns a golden light escapes through it and when it bursts open we are greeted by Majima Goro in a well kept suit, and his fellow hostesses, each a sparkling beauty. Stay, drink, chat and enjoy at Club Sunshine – a game within a game that confronts the simple question: how do you use combat mechanics, in a non combat game?
One of the mini-storylines sees you trying to build a failing Hostess Club – a Japanese establishment where men go to chat with woman while spending as much money on drinks – into a success by taking on the competition head-on. This is done by collecting fans in each competitor’s area, mostly gained by playing the mini game. To play the game you need woman. Each has their own stats in terms of sex appeal, beauty, smarts and how funny they are – stats which can be customized by changing their hairstyle, glasses, dress and make-up. While those nerdy glasses might not really make her smart, it does make her look smarter which is all the customer really wants in the end.
For the game itself, there are six tables laid out for customers where they can be relax as they walk through the door. Once seated you can assign a girl to keep them company and watch as you reek in money and fans, at least that’s the game in a nutshell. Under the hood there is more at play, some factors within your control and others outside of it. The tempo at which customers appear for instance, and how deep their pockets are, is random. The most important statistics are the stamina of the woman and your customer’s happiness. Assign a hostess to a client and the game will pause, showing you an emoji on just how well a fit the girl is for the man. The happier the customer, the more money he’ll drop. Unhappy, and they might leave and insult your woman, making them tired and perform worse later-on or even be absent for a next playthrough.
During random intervals one of your hostesses will call for help and give a hand signal. The tells are few, but you only have a few seconds to decide what she means. Does the customer want a towel, or should you refill the glass? Choose right to gain some extra money and customer happiness, fail and face the consequences. If a customer is happy and his time is up, you are presented with some options. You can choose to thank the customer, apologize, give them a gift, thank the girl or give a gift to the girl – each with their own benefit. Thanking the customer builds more fans via word of mouth, while giving him a gift does that even more so while costing money on your end. Thanking the girl recharges her energy a bit, while a gift does this even more; a decision of which only one option can be chosen that leads down to a core goal. Do you go for fans? Money? Or is it in the early game and do you want your best hostess fresh and awake for that rich customer down the line? It is in decisions like these that Club Sunshine really shines but also shows that it constantly pausing the game during these decisions is a mistake, taking away a lot of urgency.
Eventually a rich customer enters your humble establishment and you’ll want to take full advantage of him as they give the biggest loads of cash. After their first round is over, you can ask for an extension which they will, if happy enough, accept and have them enter what is called “Fever Time”. In this mode they’ll will spend nearly twice the amount of money, but it is really draining on the girl. By gaining cash a meter fills up which allows you to manually trigger “Fever Time” as well. Customers affected by this are automatically the happiest they can be and thus spend the most, but cannot be asked for an extended stay. As such “Fever Time” as a meter-based ability has two functions rolled into one; it can save a bad situation and it can double the effectiveness of a good one. Building up meter and using it at the key moment can turn the tide of a session immensely, using it at the wrong time can spell disaster.
In its core, Club Sunshine is built on managing customers (enemies), reacting to their tells (attacks) while juggling small decisions in the back of your mind (economy). At its peak you are constantly assigning new customized girls to customers, reacting perfectly to each tell and assigning “Fever Time” at just the right time when a table is failing or has a rich customer that you cannot extend further. You are always juggling options in the back of your head, how do you get poor customers out the door as fast as possible while holding on to the rich ones for as long as you can and building enough fans to proceed to the next area. Once you do have enough fans it’s time for a Rival Showdown, small boss-battles where you square off against another Hostess Club to see who makes the most money in one match. Each Rival has their own meter-based ability and it’s up to you to balance your own gain and usage accordingly. During these faceoffs you have a single goal though: money, meaning a lot of decision making is lost turning these supposed epic showdowns into a cakewalk where you focus solely on emptying the pockets of your guests instead of building a good reputation. This is made worse by the fact that there are only five Rival Showdowns in the game, and they cannot be repeated. The lack of any scoring system also reduces the replay value afterwards as there are no high-scores to aim for or other goodies to unlock, you play the game to play it; nothing more, nothing less.
If it had more meat to it in forms of a scoring system and more Rivals to have a Showdown with, Club Sunshine could have been a great stand alone game that used combat elements in a novel way, built on a simple foundation. Instead, it opened the door with protagonist Majima Goro with his hostesses to provide a experience that shows: yes, a non combat game can use the mechanics of a combat game successfully – but it also shows that without the immediacy those mechanics slowly fall apart and lose their interest. As it stands now, Club Sunshine is a great little game within a game, but not one deserving of its own spotlight just yet.
斬 postscript notes 斬
This article was originally written within fifteen minutes, be required extensive rewrites to get the core right;
The mini-game is slated to make a return in Yakuza: Kiwami 2. Here’s hoping it will fix its problems;
To write this article I played through the whole Club Sunshine campaign twice to really get to the meat of it;
It is scary just how much some makeup and a different haircut can change a woman.
This article was originally written on the original Blogspot site, if there are any visual bugs please let me know in the comment-section.