Rowyn (rowyn) wrote,

Love Nikki: Dress UP Queen

Love Nikki is a phone app game, for iPhone and Android. It's made by a Chinese company, released in China in 2015, and released in the US in 2017. It's a wacky mix of elements: anime-style art, RPG quest lines, tons of crafting (so much crafting), and a combat system based on FASHION.

This is the game of FASHION WAR, y'all.

I have a lot to say, so I'll hide it behind cut tags.

Race and Diversity: OH NO LOVE NIKKI NO

I'm gonna start this with a content warning: race is handled BADLY in this game. So badly. By which I mean, almost everyone is the same skin color. All of them. Like there's a couple of supporting characters who are SLIGHTLY more tan than the others? And there's an elf who might manage to be even paler than the rest? But everybody else is the same shade of extremely pale pinkish orange. It's a Chinese game drawn in anime style and I don't know what race these people are supposed to be, but they are all disturbingly similar in skin tone. I mean, there is more skin tone variance between the WHITE PEOPLE I know than in this cast. It is WEIRD.

So that's kind of bad, but don't worry, it gets worse. See, you can pick the skin color for your avatar ... kind of. That is to say: you are playing the titular character, Nikki. Nikki, like everyone else, is portrayed by a standard image in the cut scenes, and that image is always of the same pink-haired, pallid young woman in a short dress. You can't change that.

But the game is about dressing up! And you can dress Nikki up to look like practically anything. Her base wardrobe comes with accessories, and these accessories include four skin tones, plus her default of SUPER PALE GIRL. Okay, five skin colors, that's not too bad.

Except that the four other skin tones are ACCESSORIES. Meaning that they have stats and will impact, for better or for worse, the outcome of your battles. Do you need a "simple, lively" look? How about tan skin? Want to be "mature and sexy"? Go with dark brown!

oh no fashion game


In case you thought that was bad enough, makeup is, naturally, another factor in the game. But "makeup" doesn't consist of a different lip color or eyeshadow: instead, the game replaces the avatar's entire face. There are 325 different possible faces in the game at present. Of those 325, eight of them are in shades of brown.

So "optimal combat build" for a given match usually involves wearing a white face, and may or may not involve having dark skin on the rest of the avatar's body. It's ... bad. It's so bad I am embarrassed to like the game despite it. This is not even touching on the two chapters that take place in "the Wasteland" which is a pastiche of stereotypes about Native Americans and features the only brown-skinned characters in the game. *cringe* I mean, the game could be more racist? It doesn't depict other races as inferior or bad? But yuck.

Other diversity issues are almost as bad. Everyone in the game is young, thin, able-bodied, and beautiful. Even the people who are supposed to be old look the same age as the teenage protagonist. You get some variation on height, and that's about it. The only reason I qualify this as only "almost" as bad is that I feel that, say, giving your character a fat suit that she wears in order to be "lively" and "cute" would be worse than not having fat characters at all. YMMV.

Game Review
Depressing lack of diversity aside, the game is addictive and fun.

Love Nikki is an online CRPG. The actual gameplay is almost all solo, but there are various interactions with other players. Your score in each mission is ranked relative to the others who have completed it. The Stylist Arena is quasi-PVP (you compete against the outfits of other players, but not in realtime.) The Competition is judged by the playerbase.

Like most online CRPGs, the game changes as your character progresses. For the first few days of playing Love Nikki, I found it impossible to play as much Love Nikki as the game would let me. I kept trying to spend my stamina down to below the cap so that I would actually benefit from stamina regen, and then the game would give me MOAR STAMINA for leveling, and I would give up because I had other things I needed to do with my life.

After a few days, I started to hit walls in progression that I couldn't get past on the same day no matter what I did; I would run out of Star Coin, and there is a maximum amount of Star Coin that you can earn in one day. So I'd have to spend my stamina on repeating missions I'd already done instead.

At this point I'm almost at the end of the main story line, after about two months of play. I've done a lot of grinding for required pieces, including:

a) The chapter "target suits" (you have to finish a specified suit each chapter after the first, in order to get to the next chapter)
b) Future individual missions that require items I don't have (I use to check to see what future missions I need items for so that I can grind in advance.)
c) Miscellaneous "Dreamland" quests, which take a new approach to some of the existing mechanics, and involve exploring the histories of various supporting characters.

I work on all of these things at once because all of them have things that I can work on right now, and for one reason or another, none of them are things that I can just focus all my stamina on until they're done.

Sometimes the reason for being "blocked" on the main quest line is one that I could get past if I chose to. The game has two difficulty levels: "Maiden" and "Princess". You essentially have to play both at about the same time: you can't do the Princess version of a mission until you've done the Maiden, and you need drops that you can only get from (somewhat earlier) Princess missions in order to advance on Maiden. You only get three free attempts per day per Princess mission. So when you need, say, 6 of one drop from a Princess mission, and that item only has a 30% chance of dropping -- yup, you're gonna be waiting several days to collect all the bits you need.

Unless you want to spend diamonds to "reset" your attempts. For 30 diamonds, you can get another 3 tries at a single Princess mission. You can only reset Princess missions [X] times, where X depends on your VIP level.

Diamonds are, more-or-less, the pay currency of the game. You actually do get lots of diamonds by playing the game, without spending money on it. To be specific: I've received a total of ~34,700 diamonds in Love Nikki. About 8-9000 of those were from cash purchases, but the rest -- at least 25,000 -- were given to me by the game as I played, no cash required. The game gives you diamonds in fits and starts; there's a reliable 53 diamonds per day that you get for daily quests, and then a random and generally much larger number that you get for various achievements. So it disguises your diamond income pretty heavily. In the early game, you will think "I have tons of diamonds, I can spend these freely because I will get more." But then advancement slows down, achievements stop coming, and your diamond income slows to a trickle. Presumably this is to entice you to spend money on the game. Since I'm about to reach the end of the main storyline, I think I might be near the end of "getting lots of diamonds for free", but I'm not entirely sure.

I have spent a chunk of money on the game -- $49 to date. I spent $33 in the first month, $10 in the second month, and $6.00 in the last 19 days. There's been an evolution in my reasons for spending:

* First $6: because the game was fun and I wanted to reward the developers.
* Next $16: because the particular deal offered would get me past the current thing holding me back.
* Next $11 was to reach "V6". The game has VIP levels which give you various daily benefits. A lot of these daily "benefits" amount to "the opportunity to spend more diamonds every day", which is not enticing. But some of them are actual freebies. V6 gives you 5 starlight coins every day for free, plus what (for me) amounts to an extra 26 starlight coins per week on Mondays. Starlight coins are one of the big things that block progress in the game. After I looked over the benefits of VIP 6 and realized I only needed to spend another $12-$13 to get to it, I wanted to reach it ASAP so I could start reaping the daily rewards of it. And VIP levels are permanent: you don't have to pay to maintain that level once you've reached it.
* Latest $16: $10 of this was to get two months of the "monthly card", which gives you a bonus 60 diamonds per day for a month. The other $6 was "it's 99 cents for this cool thing, why not?"

I will probably continue to spend $5-10 a month on the game for as long as I keep playing it. Spending more than that is unlikely, for a number of reasons:
1) Spending to progress in the game requires a prohibitive amount of money for not very much progress. I will reach the end of the main storyline this weekend anyway.
2) The reason for the slowdown in content is the same as in MMOs: there's only so much content and they want to stretch it out. It's not a case where "either you pay or you will never get past this mission". It's a case of "either you pay or you wait a few days until your character has gathered the needed resources without paying."
3) Reaching VIP 7 costs a lot more than reaching VIP 6 and doesn't have any particularly enticing benefits. V6 was a good break point for me, because it offered freebies that I wanted at a price comparable to what I'd spend on a desktop game. Yes, it feels weird to spend that much on a phone app game. But Love Nikki is as beautiful, detailed and rich as many desktop games I've played over the years, and I enjoy it as much. So it doesn't seem unreasonable.
4) I don't have a Facebook account.

That last one looks like a non sequitur, I know, but Love Nikki's developers made the odd choice that you can't get a Love Nikki account. You can tie your Facebook account to Love Nikki, or you can have a "guest account". I have a "guest account". "Guest accounts" mean "your game is basically a local save to your phone." If I switch phones, or if I lose my phone, or if my phone gets wiped, then I will lose all the progress I've made in the game and presumably everything I've spent money on in-game. Spending $50 on a game I could lose at any time seems a little weird in the digital era where everything is usually backed up to the cloud. Spending a lot more than that is even less tempting. At some point, it would lead to me getting a Facebook account in order to protect my investment and yuck, Facebook.

Yes, it says a lot about me and also Facebook that I'm more willing to spend $50 on a phone app than I am to get a Facebook account.

Anyway, something I also wanted to say: one of the fascinating choices in Love Nikki's design is that grinding is painless: if you've already gotten an A or an S in a mission, you don't have to go through the dress-up combat again. You can just click "done" to collect the loot and chance for a drop from the mission. So what happens is not so much that you, as a player, have to spend more time doing something you've already done. Rather, you have to spend less time playing the game, because there's not enough to do. This is very different from grinding for XP in an MMO, where the player needs to spend the same amount of time playing in the late game but doesn't make nearly as much as progress as in the early game. Love Nikki basically says "you're done after 5 minutes, come back in 6-8 hours and play for another 5 minutes." So literally, when you spend money or diamonds to advance in the game, you're not spending so you don't have to grind. You are spending so you can play the game more RIGHT NOW instead of having to wait and play it later.

In all of this, I haven't talked much about the game play. Content is a combination of "watch little cut scenes between your character and the supporting cast" and "dress-up battles". Each dress-up battle is scored in five different categories -- "styles", of a possible ten. These categories are things like "lively", "cute", "sexy", "gorgeous", etc. Categories are additionally weighted based on each battle. So in one battle, "sexy" might be weighted as the most important, and in another it might be the least important of the five categories relevant to the battle, and in a third is might not be rated at all. In addition, clothes might have "tags", like "Rock" or "Classical China" or "Army". Most battles don't require tags: some do. Occasionally, it's impossible to pass a battle without having specific items of clothing (this becomes about 25% of missions in the last 9 chapters; in the first 11 there are generally required "tags" and suggested items that have those tags, but you can make some substitutions.)

Each item of apparel likewise has values in each of five styles. You can go into your wardrobe and see the exact scores, ranging from C (worst) to SS (best) in each category. But when you're in the dress-up screen, you can only see each item's tags for its best two scores, and you can't see their specific ratings. It's a little weird. You can guess, based on the way an item looks, what it's probably good at, just as in a combat game you can guess that a mace will do blunt damage and a sword will do cutting damage and a rapier will do puncture damage., etc

The optimal outfits tend to look like trash, because while the game penalizes "overdressing", it doesn't penalize it enough to offset the benefits of just larding on whatever items give you the best bonuses for this battle. But there's enough leeway in most of the main story line that you can make your outfit look good and still win with an S (the best rating). I find the dressing-up to be fun and satisfying. They add a little more variability to the game by giving you skills -- smile, charm, etc. -- which you use to boost your score or tear down your opponent's score or defend yourself from having your own score lowered. I focus on boosting my own score because usually the AI opponent isn't going to win anyway and it's just a matter of getting the best rating for the battle. There are occasional exceptions.

The supporting cast is charming. One of the main characters is your cat, who is also your expert fashion adviser. (Me: "I am taking all of my cat's advice for this battle but I still can't win. Who can I turn to for fashion advice, if not my cat???" Answer: the internet. Also it turns out you just need to be lucky and persistent to win that particular battle.) You also have a best friend, who is the first person you met when you arrived in Miraland, because of course she is.

Some general notes:

If you like games where you do a little bit each day and where the game won't let you just keep playing for 12 hours while you ignore the rest of your life, this is well-suited to your style.

Conversely, if you prefer games where you can just play straight through and you don't have to keep remembering to check in with the game every day or every 6 hours or at set times: this will annoy you once the early content runs out.

If you like collecting things, this is a great collecting game.

If you are a completionist, this game may make you nuts and/or bankrupt. I recommend choosing the things you really want instead of trying to get them all, especially on the time-limited events.

Tips for New Players
1) Click on everything. There is SO MUCH in this game. SO MUCH. Not just the main quest line, but the Stylist Arena, the Competition, the Association, the Dream Weaver, and even your Home, all have stuff in them you can do every day. Sometimes it's not very much and you can do it with a few clicks, and sometimes there's a bunch of new content.
2) There are always new limited-time events. Since I started playing, I think there was one day when no events were running and I was SHOCKED. Limited-time events vary in nature: most of them last 7-10 days, most of them are a diamond sink, most of them give you a little something for free if you click on them. But you do have occasional events where there's nothing for free, and occasional events where you can get all the rewards for free.
3) Most things have an exclamation point to mark when you can do something, but some of them don't or the game forgets. It forgets to put one on Home a lot, and also on the Association. The "Event -> Long-term" section has a "Fortune Cat" which never has an exclamation point, whether you qualify or not. The "daily draw" is in the same section, and is daily, but also never has an exclamation point. You just have to remember to check.
4) If you can get something just by waiting, then wait for it. Don't spend diamonds to get it sooner. This means: don't spend diamonds to get stamina, gold, to reset Princess quests, to reset the Association shop, to reset the Dream Weaver Institute quests, to get more Association currency, to get more Stylist Arena currency, etc. Spending diamonds in this way lets you play more game sooner, but it doesn't give you any actual advantage in the game. It's literally just "instead of playing later, I can play sooner".
5) Your Home has no gameplay affect. You get daily stuff for your home by showing up and clicking. It has its own currency -- "heart tickets." I find it fun to decorate my virtual house with the freebie items and stuff bought with tickets. But I can't recommend spending diamonds or gold on it, because you need that stuff to progress in the rest of the game and you're not going to get any game benefit from the stuff you buy for your house.
6) Do use diamonds to buy clothing items you can't get any other way. I'm not saying you should buy every piece of clothing that requires diamonds, mind. I'm just saying that if you're looking at a time-limited event and you want the suit it drops and you're wondering if it's worth spending all those diamonds on: this is what diamonds are *actually for*. You will not get that suit except by spending diamonds (or possibly real money) on it. Almost all of the other stuff diamonds acquire is just "let you play the game sooner". So if you want a clothing item that costs diamonds, yes, spend diamonds on it. It's also worth noting that event items and login suits and the like usually have good stats. You will never need an event-only item to progress in the game, but many of them will be helpful.
7) If you're going to spend money on the game, maximize the effectiveness of your dollar. There's often a "charge set" available if you buy [X] amount of VIP exp. If you're thinking of spending $10-15 on the game, you probably want to do it when there's a "charge set" on offer so you can get the set in addition to whatever other goods you're getting. Alternatively, you can buy the item when there's no charge set available, and then leave it in your in-game mailbox until a charge set shows up. VIP exp is counted when you claim the purchased items from the mail, not when you buy it.
7a) Purchases tend to offer a combination of "stuff" plus "VIP exp". VIP exp is what gives you V levels. Some purchases are a lot more efficient for VIP exp than others, so bear that in mind. Probably the best things to buy are VIP exp, clothing and diamonds. I am not sure how reliable the game's statement of "this is an 844% discount!" are. For example, right now there is a "sale" on stamina, but the sale price for stamina is less efficient than buying diamonds and then using the diamonds to buy stamina. Basically, as with #3, I feel like real-money purchases should be used to get things the game isn't going to just give you if you're patient.
8) Join an Association. I am currently in Violeta, ID 42795, which is just "the association I joined because it said it was taking anyone who was an active player". If you want to join a l33t Association, you can check Reddit. But literally any association is going to get you Moar Stuff and give you more things to do. So if you like the game, you should definitely join one.
9) When you first start playing, you will get a lot of in-game mail with bonus stamina, because every few levels you get bonus stamina and you level quickly at the start. There is no need to open this mail right away. Most mail will last between 7 and 30 days (it has an expiration date). If you're not going to use the stamina right away, just leave it until you are. You will also get a lot of bonus stamina as stage-completion bonuses, and this too does not have to be claimed immediately. You can save it for later, when you want to play. The reason to not just grab all the stamina is that if you're below your max stamina, you will regen 1 point every five minutes. Collecting all that bonus stamina that you're not going to use yet will keep you above the max and you won't benefit from regen. So just hold off until you actually need it. If you like the game, you will be past the point that it's just throwing tons of stamina at you within a few days anyway.
10) If you're blocked on advancing by something like princess drops or starlight coins, look for other things you can spend your stamina on. Use the web to see what suits you will need in the future and start working on those. Work on the sidequests. Work on getting your rating in every mission to an S. Check to see what you can do at the Dreamweaver. There is a lot of stuff in the game. There's something you can do that will unlock content in the future, even if it's not going to unlock anything today.
11) If the thing you want to do most is progress in the game, don't spend gold/diamonds/etc. on things you don't need to progress. I don't spend starlight coins on recipes or dyes or unless I need that item for a stage. I don't decompose clothing that has alternative uses unless I need the material for a stage. Etc. You can shop in the store for fun, just to build out your wardrobe, but I prefer to focus on progressing somewhere.
11a) If the thing you most want to do is build up a wardrobe of pretty virtual clothing, then do that. You don't have to play the game the same way I do. It's a game.
12) As you progress through the game, you will acquire skills: Smile, Charm, Critical Eye, etc. The game explains how these work. The game does not tell you that you can click on your avatar portrait and pay gold to increase the effectiveness of these skills. I discovered this by accident after playing for a few weeks. I think the game thought it would be obvious? It was not obvious to me.
13) In the middle of chapter 13, I started making a spreadsheet to tell me what items I'd need in order to complete stages that had required items. The spreadsheet is here: . You can find all this info elsewhere, and the game has a "Guide" button that allows you to track up to three suits at a time, but I found it really helpful to get all the items and what they need in a single list. And especially to see when more copies of the same item would be needed for a later outfit.
14) Particularly useful resources are, and the Love Nikki subreddit. As always, web search is your friend.
15) If you have questions, leave them in the comments! As should be obvious by now, I have SO MUCH to say about this game. @_@
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Tags: gaming, review
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