It can be a ruff go for a pup out there.
It’s safe to say that—generally speaking—visual novels are for a more niche audience. Between romance-based storytelling and mechanics, some hot-and-heavy love scenes, and the dialogue-heavy style, a title like Best Friend Forever tends to not be for everyone. Giving itself something to stand out from the pack, this dog-laden iteration on a tried-and-true genre brings in some management gameplay and all the cutest pups you could ask for. Unfortunately, said management portions of Best Friend Forever end up being side pieces that cause more problems than add fun-factor. Additionally, this means the only way to distinguish itself from the stable of visual novels, not only on the system but on offer in general, is severely lacking in what is necessary to give a title such as this real staying power.
The protagonist is new in town, leaving the big city for a more calm, restful life away from the hustle and bustle. Arriving at a town that features a high rate of dog ownership doesn’t necessarily mean you have to join in, but alas, you hop onto a dating app and run down to the nearest pet adoption center to get a furry friend of your own. After selecting your new best friend, you have to make it through Paws Academy—a 15-week course to help you succeed as a dog owner—while searching for a life partner to accompany you as well. While following most of the basic tropes done in a vast majority of visual novels, Best Friend Forever has a couple of saving graces. The romantic options are more diverse than what you might have seen in the genre, with available suitors of all gender, sexuality, race, and more. Pair that with the diverse range of pets they own, and you have a majorly positive set of options in this particular visual novel. Beyond the inclusivity, the dialogue tends to match up with the overly-sexualized standards, corniness, and lack of interesting developments you’d see elsewhere. The story as a whole stays pretty even-keel, with your other significant mechanic being in tending to your animal.
Through this extremely short experience (around an hour for a single run), you must move to increase your dog’s stats in order to maintain progress in doggy school. Choosing events week-to-week to help them, from exercise to play, helps boost those areas, but beyond selecting what you’re doing there isn’t any other interaction with the mechanic. Otherwise, you’re only met with random, interrupting outbursts from your pup while you’re in the middle of dialogue sequences. Think of these as quick-time events, but instead of pressing a sequence of keys to make a jump or something, you need to shake your cursor back and forth quickly in order to settle your dog down or drag a bag of feces to a garbage can to stop the dog from losing control of his or her bowels. While these events were meant to break up the tedium of reading through long stretches of dialogue, they instead add an annoyance that is extremely cumbersome with the way the UI operates.
Clearly made for PC first, Best Friend Forever on the Nintendo Switch features the dreaded on-screen cursor for game control. While this sometimes isn’t an issue, paired with the quick-time events you will find yourself regularly failing to complete them successfully while in docked-mode. Handheld mode offers a touch screen variant that helps, but all in all, it is disappointing that more time wasn’t taken to develop some alternatives for console.
The only real positive outside of the inclusivity is that the art, style, and soundtrack are great. Detailed and interesting characters make for more unique interactions than normally found in visual novels, as well as a light-hearted and colorful backdrop that pairs well with the tunes coming from your speakers. A lot of love and care was clearly put into visualizing this world, but a lot of shortcomings overtake these positives.
Best Friend Forever offers a fairly generic visual novel, with the only hook being one that fails to do anything truly interesting. The management mechanics are the lightest, most fleeting portions of the game, where you’re bogged down with a rough control scheme that is quite frustrating. Even with the positives in inclusivity, too many shortcomings make this feel like it was built to be vanilla and given the toppings way later on.