Cherry Tree High Comedy Club is a cute little game that follows the adventure of Miley, a high school student on a quest to rebuild her school’s once great comedy club with the help of her friend Harriet and anyone else she can rope into her scheme. Cherry Tree High I! My! Girls! is a sequel to this, in the form of a kinetic visual novel that continues the adventures of the Miley and company as they attempt to become a functioning comedy club in the face of opposition from studio producers and other students.
When Cherry Tree High I! My! Girls! was first announced, I (and many others) were surprised that the developer, 773, were choosing to do a kinetic visual novel for a sequel, because its predecessor had essentially been a time management game with VN elements mixed in. In the original Cherry Tree High Comedy Club, you had to recruit your fellow students to join the school’s comedy club by a certain date, or else the club would be shut down due to a lack of members. Your day would be divided into four sections, and you were responsible for using that time to attend class, boost skills, earn money, or talk with prospective club members, working towards the eventual goal of recruiting at least 4, preferably all 6, potential targets. It could be frustrating at times, especially with the decidedly weird controls that relied on “z” for selecting and interacting with people, “w” for the menu, and “x” to cancel, but I found it to be very fun.
In Cherry Tree High I! My! Girls!, there is no time management of any sort, no skills to grind or people to recruit. You start up the story and are taken to a chapter select screen, and simply read through the chapters of the story one at a time. As far as I’ve been able to tell, there is no way to save in the middle of the chapters and come back later. You simply have to either read through the whole thing at once so the game can mark it as read and unlock the next chapter, or exit out and have to read the whole chapter again when you come back.
Changes were also made to character names between releases of the first and second VN. In the original game, pretty much every character had their name and story localized to appeal to a North American audience (perhaps 773 forgot for a moment that the typical audience of a VN wants those Japanese things in their stories). Mairu was changed to Miley, Haru became Cindy, the local Shinto shrine was explained away as being a gift from the town’s sister city in Japan, and so on. But in Cherry Tree High I! My! Girls!, stories and names have gone back to the original Japanese iterations, so we can be grateful for that.
The art, on the other hand, stayed exactly the same, as did the music. There’s nothing bad about the sprites or backgrounds in either game, but I feel the need to split the sprites into two categories. One set of sprites are the traditional ones that you see in all VNs and pop up whenever you initiate a conversation, with subtle poses to their body and a variety of facial expressions conveying their emotions. These are cute; not super detailed, but they fit with the VN theme very well. There is a second set of sprites that are a remnant from the first game, and actually walk or run around the screen. There’s nothing inherently wrong with them; I’m actually a bit fond of them. But they remind me very much of the sprites you’d have playing an online game like Maplestory more so than ones seen in a VN, and it’s a bit weird to have the running around sprite give a dead-eyed smile to the screen while the conversation sprites are alive with rage or sadness. The music is limited to a few tracks played on a continuous loop, and honestly aren’t that good. Since the game is typically played in windowed mode (still trying to figure out how to turn on fullscreen mode which has apparently broken recently in the sequel), this isn’t an issue because you can just mute the music and play something else in the background.
Now for the big problem with both games, but especially Cherry Tree High I! My! Girls!: its story. With kinetic visual novels, the reader only interacts with the story by way of clicking to the next bit of dialogue, so a good kinetic VN needs to have good art, good music, and good writing to keep their audience interested in what is essentially an interactive picture book with a soundtrack. When I played Cherry Tree High Comedy Club, the story to me was the weak part. I never got particularly attached to any characters (although I could relate to some of their struggles) and didn’t find their jokes very funny (particularly tragic for a game about a comedy club). Not to mention that you have to play the game through multiple times to recruit all characters in New Game+ mode and cannot skip through the dialogue, so you get very tired of the story and the character’s responses after a while. I had always wondered if perhaps 773 sacrificed better writing and music so that they could spend most of their time working on the skills and recruitment sections of the game, which were the best part. The sequel disproves that notion.
In Cherry Tree High Comedy Club, you were trying to bring people into the comedy club, so comedy itself came up very little as people were more drawn in by Miley’s personality than merely the prospect of doing standup. The story was centered around the idea of making friends and using the comedy club as an excuse to hang out with people you really cared about, which I always found to be kind of sweet. But then in Cherry Tree High I! My! Girls!, you actually have to have a functioning comedy club, and it’s clear the writer didn’t know how to put one together. You’ll have scenes of people talking about researching this or that, followed by a fade to black. Other times, you’ll get a brief mention of something distantly related to comedy, but then the subject is quickly changed. The few times they actually run a comedy routine, it’s either terribly bad or just good enough to get a chuckle out of me. A few new characters are introduced, and although there were more than a few (unintentionally) funny moments, overall I just couldn’t get hooked on the story and usually only got through one or two chapters at a time before running off to play something else. But it’s worth pointing out that that’s a personal preference; there was nothing inherently bad about the story, and a number of other people really enjoyed it. I just didn’t care for it.
The original Cherry Tree High Comedy Club is available for $8 on Steam, and the sequel Cherry Tree High I! My! Girls! is available for $4. They’ve both gone on sale for much cheaper in the past though, so I’d wait and pick them up in a sale. The first one I’d strongly recommend, because even if the story was lacking the gameplay definitely made up for it. I’ve logged over 20 hours on it, just replaying it again and again. As for the sequel, well, if you got really attached to Miley and the gang and want to read about their next adventure, go ahead and grab it. It should only take you a couple hours to read through the whole thing. But if you weren’t deeply enthralled by the first game’s story, the sequel is not for you.