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What does it really mean to have a virtual girlfriend? With the Japanese release of Konami's New Love Plus on 3DS, we asked our man in Japan, Daniel Robson, to spend a month investigating. What follows is a wicked tale of glitches, adultery and the potential extinction of the Japanese race.
TUESDAY 14 FEBRUARY
It's Valentine's Day, and love is in the air. Actually, love is in a box in the living room of my Tokyo apartment, sent directly from Konami on release day - a sort of digital equivalent to a mail-order bride. New Love Plus is Japan's most popular dating sim. It casts you as a schoolboy in pursuit of one of three girls - Rinko, Nene or Manaka, all of whom have been carried over from the previous DS iterations of the game (along with most of the gameplay). You have 100 days to woo your girl of choice by upping your stats and taking opportunities to talk to her, while shunning the other girls. Get it right, and you get a girlfriend. I'd hoped to take my new virtual belle with me on a Valentine's date with my non-virtual wife (much to her disdain). But in fact it took a few days (three real ones and 61 in-game ones) to successfully pull, so...
FRIDAY 17 FEBRUARY
Smooch! A tap with the stylus and I finally seal the deal with Rinko, the moody, sensitive, arty younger girl. I knew she was The One when she started lecturing me on how modern Japanese visual kei bands owe everything to the pioneering British indie and goth bands of the 1980s - a lecture I was just getting into when the conversation sort of trailed off and the game skipped forward to the end of our first date.
That happens a lot in New Love Plus.
Often we'll be on a train together and I can see Rinko's lips moving - her luscious, luscious lips - but no words are coming out. It's one of many clues that the game's creators consider meaningful conversation considerably less important than trite clichés about love and banal questions about your favourite food or your blood type. Blood type in Japan has similar connotations to star signs. Everyone in Japan knows their blood type. Everyone except me.
Actually, Rinko and I have a bit of a language barrier to deal with. She doesn't speak English, and although my Japanese is more or less fluent, our budding relationship is impeded by her dodgy hearing (via the 3DS' mic) and her limited vocabulary. Oh well, it's one of the downsides of dating a teenager (besides being massively inappropriate). Plus she's not real. And that's enough to crimp any kind of conversation.
SATURDAY 18 FEBRUARY
"Sorry it's late," says Rinko as she hands me a Valentine's gift. In Japan, girls give chocolates on Valentine's Day and boys repay the favour on White Day, 14 March.