Sometimes you need to start fresh. Getting a new job or moving can serve as a way to accomplish this, while some may choose to do something minor such as getting a new haircut. Best Friend Forever features a protagonist that moves to a new town in order to begin a new life and career. With the help of a few friends, one of which is particularly furry, they do just that.
With nothing but a suitcase and overflowing optimism, you embark on a bus ride to the dog-friendly town of Rainbow Bay. Having quit your office job in a big city, you’re looking for a life with more freedom to pursue your passions and enjoy the world around you. Shortly before arriving in town, you are compelled to join a dating app and make a profile, which reveals several inhabitants of Rainbow Bay that are compatible with you. After settling in your new living space, you adopt a dog to keep you company. Much of the story from that point centers on training and interacting with it. At the same time, you have opportunities to get to know other people in Rainbow Bay, perhaps even sparking the flame of romance.
While the game’s name and the town’s theme definitely focus on the canine aspect of Best Friend Forever, and training of your dog plays into its overall story, the real depth of the story comes from its character interactions. The plot is light initially, but like any visual novel, it gets deeper through the dialogue.
You’re able to get a better picture of the town by finding out more about the people who live there. What’s great about this game’s story is how realistic every character’s life is. Everyone in the game has their own issues and insecurities, none feeling stereotypical or outlandish. These are people you could find in an actual city, just living their life.
Best Friend Forever is a hybrid of the visual novel and stat building/management genres. Much of the game involves talking with other characters in Rainbow Bay, building your relationships with them. At the same time, your canine friend is always by your side reacting to you and anyone you talk to.
A mouse pointer is used to navigate the town map and to interact with your dog during dialogue segments, random dog events, and activity mini-games. This is a unique aspect for a game with visual novel elements, and sets it apart from any other VN you’ve played. The pointer interface may take some getting used to, but it makes sense to have it because it’s integral in being able to navigate both conversations and your dog’s antics.
Your primary objective in the game is to train your dog as much as you can in fifteen weeks in order to “graduate” from the dog shelter’s training program. This must be done while simultaneously building a life by way of friendships and potential romance. It’s up to you on what you focus on in that time frame. Similar to real life, juggling between taking care of another living thing and living your own life can be a struggle, but can also be worth it.
At the start of the game, you’re given options on how you want your character to look. You have a choice of three preset appearances, which is lacking if you’re accustomed to character creation options in other games. However, it is rare to have the power of customizing anything about the main character in a visual novel-type game, so even this counts for something. Additionally, you’re given options regarding blood type, astrological sign, name, and pronouns. Pronouns do affect how you’re addressed, but blood type and sign don’t make any real difference in the game, and is just there for customization.
Inclusion and representation are always a welcomed sight to see in games, but it is puzzling that you’re forced to be one of only three preset characters. Expanded customization options would make a lot more sense in conveying representation. The characters you meet all have distinguishing traits that contribute to their identity, and being able to use similar aspects for your character would do wonders for allowing the player to feel like their character is their own.
You will meet several people around town in Best Friend Forever. You can hang out with most of them, and even date them after enough interactions. Each of these individuals also has a dog of their own that they take everywhere they go, just like you. Each character has completely different personalities and looks. Representation is also seen in these characters, as the game includes LGBTQ individuals and characters with different body types. What this accomplishes is giving the town of Rainbow Bay much more realism and its inhabitants more variety. It won’t be hard for you to find a resident that interests you in particular, and several others that you wouldn’t mind having as a friend.
It’s also worth noting that character interactions contain great humor. Due to each character’s different personalities and life experiences, you see a good mix of varying senses of humor. You will surely find a character that resonates with your own funny bone. Granted, the game isn’t overly-comedic. The humor you see is included in a natural way, popping up through interactions at a comfortable frequency.
There is a small assortment of canine companions you are able to choose near the start of Best Friend Forever. There aren’t many, but the variety is enough that you’ll find one you like. The dog you choose will spend the majority of your playthrough represented as an animated portrait on the right-hand side of the text box. Over the course of the game, the dog will bark and react, either randomly or suitably, while you talk to other characters. This includes barking, flatulating, or even engaging in occasional random events like pooping and becoming scared.
During these events, you must move the pointer over them and interact with them to complete the event and gain bonus stat points for your dog. Failing these events causes decreases in these attributes. A feature you might like is being able to pat your furry friend on the head at any time you want. This is accomplished by simply clicking on them, prompting your dog to close its eyes in ecstasy. These interactive elements are a great way to keep you on your toes and engaged, something many dedicated visual novels have trouble doing and indeed don’t often bother with. Often those games consist of pressing a single button to advance text, but doing that here will not suffice.
Your dog has traits you improve every week in the game through training activities. These traits include things like manners and sociability. You’ll also have to keep their feelings in check with several activities to groom and wash them, just as you would with a real dog.
The town map is where you are able to choose what you want to do each week in the game. Several pins can be seen on the map, color-coded depending on the type of event. You can partake in simple interactions with another resident, engage in small training segments that boost one of your dog’s traits, or go on dates after a sufficient amount of interactions with a particular character. Each even costs a different amount of motivation points or MP, of which you have five total every week to spend as you choose. This system makes choosing your weekly interactions very easy, and color-coding each pin helps to visualize what there is to do each week.
You are also able to access your email from this screen. Emails your receive are mostly for entertainment value, such as spam or comically immoral advertising emails from the game’s big bad corporation (and your former employer) Obelisk. The town’s inhabitants can also email you as the game goes on, commenting on recent events. This is a nice way to develop the game experience, making it feel more real and organic.
Stat Building & Management
Every week, five activities can be planned for your dog that increases their traits. These include funny things like having them model or taking them to a cafe, another example of the great humor you’ll find in Best Friend Forever. Each activity raises different traits after completion, allowing your pet to reach new levels in each trait.
After each weekly segment of choosing and carrying out the trait-training activities, you are given the opportunity to recover some of your dog’s feeling stats, known simply as “feels”, that were depleted over the course of training. Hygiene, energy, and hydration are a few of these feels. These activities entail common practices any pet owner is used to, like feeding them treats and washing them. Like trait activities, these practices each recover different areas.
What makes them unique is that each activity is interactive. You’ll need to clean your dog’s ears individually with your pointer and move a water hose over your dog to get them clean. Much like the interactive random events, these mini-games help to break the monotony and keep you engaged. It’s unclear how important maintaining high levels of these ‘feels’ really is, and you may never find out because you’ll naturally want to keep your pet happy and clean at all times.
At a few points in the game, the animal shelter you got your pet from will call you back and assess your progress in training your dog’s traits. These check-ins are a decent way of knowing if you’re on the right track or not. If you do well enough with these assessments you might even find your dog earning the title of valedictorian of its graduating dog academy class, though achieving this seems extremely hard regardless of how much you focus on training your dog.
The art of Best Friend Forever is particularly colorful. Many pastel colors are used in the backgrounds and character designs. The backgrounds have a crisp and clean style, greatly conveying the scenery. The character models are as varied as the game’s characters, displaying each of their distinguishing traits beautifully. Their different expressions that show during conversations are also illustrated well, as are the little animated hearts and symbols that display around them depending on their mood at a given time.
The appearance of the game’s dogs is remarkable. The many breeds represented in Best Friend Forever are illustrated in enough detail to distinguish them as those breeds. The art style doesn’t depict them as realistically as the human characters, but they don’t look out of place in the game’s world either. Also of note is the way they’re animated, which moves their 2D models selectively to make them look animated. This looks great and really brings them to life.
MUSIC & VOICE ACTING
The music heard in Best Friend Forever is pleasant enough. Tracks include piano and percussion instruments mainly. The songs are electronically arranged as opposed to performed with actual instruments. This distinction does not diminish from the quality of the music tracks. Every song is able to match the tone of the scene. The amount of songs isn’t particularly expansive, but by the end of your playthrough, you likely won’t feel like any one song played too often or was bothersome to listen to.
There is a small amount of voice acting done by the characters you meet, though never from your own character. A word or single sentence is uttered every now and then, though the variety of these lines is tiny, with the same lines being said numerous times by each character while viewing their interactions and dates. They also occasionally laugh if it’s appropriate. The quality of the voice acting is decent, though you will surely like some more than others. Overall, the voice acting that is included is sufficient in adding life and individuality to each character.
Like most games with romantic visual novel elements, every playthrough only allows you to fully pursue one suitor. Thus, it will take multiple playthroughs to see how each character’s personal journey plays out, and how you fit into it. You can also try playthroughs where you choose a different dog in the beginning. The issue with doing this is, unlike other visual novels, you are unable to fast-forward text. So unless you save strategically (also hard with the game only offering five save slots), you will have to start a new game fresh every time. This can be tedious, since you also have to conduct all of the training sessions and view every story scene again.
Best Friend Forever is a novel experience. Not many games, if any, feature the kind of gameplay and genre-mixing that this game does. What results is an experience that is unique, funny, and interesting. The trade-off is that each of the game’s elements lacks the depth of their more dedicated counterparts. The visual novel gameplay, while solid for what is there, sorely lacks the length and development of other VNs. The stat-building mechanics, likewise, will not be as extensive as enthusiasts will want. However, the diverse and relatable characters, as well as the level of interactivity in several of the game’s aspects, make this a fun game to play through.
Final Rating: 7.5/10.