No wait! You might care! AKA “Syrenne’s Guide to the Series”
Written by Syrenne McNulty
She’s been wearing these shorts for three days now. She used her last spoon this morning. Empty Dr. Pepper cans are everywhere. Her apartment is in shambles. She needs the help of Arcobaleno Boutique.
Nintendo Presents New Style Boutique 3: Styling Star is the fourth game in the series (despite Nintendo of Europe’s awful naming convention for the series,) known in the Americas as Style Savvy and in Japan as Girls Mode. I’ve been a fan since the first game on Nintendo DS, enjoying how the series mixes wacky characters, diverse fashion and apparel choices, and business management. Now, with the fourth entry, the series adds two new hooks: pop idols and adventure game elements.
For those not familiar with the series, the core gameplay loop can look like this: a customer walks into your boutique, usually with some ridiculous piece of trivia about her (such as “always steps onto an escalator with her left foot!”) and tells you a bit about her life and her current situation. While telling you about her current situation, she’ll then tell you what she’s there to buy, and then the fashion comes in.
Let’s say a customer comes in asking for a Lively Skirt, under $100. You then go through your stock and find skirts that evoke a “lively” image. For those new to the series, those not familiar or comfortable with the different brands and styles in the series, or those who simply need an extra leg up with the fashion element, a robust search function exists where you can narrow it down to only show you items the game has tagged as “lively,” then narrow it further to only show you skirts, then narrow it further still to not show you anything above $100. New to this entry is a button to immediately filter your results to only show you items that specifically match their request, which should serve as an extra boon to newcomers.
If you give the customer exactly what they want, they’ll buy it on the spot! Otherwise, you may have to persuade them that what you selected is still worth purchasing. The search functionality is a good set of training wheels, but the system becomes deeper and more fun when you’re not using it. Stage Dive usually sells “rock” outfits, but a pair of shoes may look like they could ALSO be classified as “bold.” Sometimes when you go outside the search functionality and take big risks, they pay off with an extremely satisfied customer, and a very satisfied player.
In the first three entries in the series, you had to keep a running inventory in your head of what you have. “Do I have any red scarves under $60? Or did I sell my last one since my last restock?” The single biggest mechanical game changer to the fashion system in Styling Star is the fact that if a customer asks you for something that you’re not sure you have, you can check your inventory before you accept their request. If you don’t have it, you can tell them to please wait while you restock, which means they’ll come back later – enough time for you to run to the Exhibition Hall and buy just what you needed.
At first, as is tradition in the series, the Exhibition Hall only has a few brands represented. If you want “Marble Lily (Baby-Doll lolita clothing),” “Raven Candle (Gothic clothing),” “Brooke Bridge (Preppy school outfits),” “Soy (Boho-chic outfits),” or other fan favorite brands to appear, you need to level up – a new system in Styling Star. As you help customers, you’ll gain experience points, which fill up a meter that you can cash out at the end of the day. Thankfully, you can keep gaining experience points after your meter maxes out, meaning you’ll start the next day with a head start towards the next level. Leveling up lets new brands move in, as well as unlocking new features and mechanics like the ability to design and create your own clothing.
The fact that days progress like they did in the second entry (Style Savvy: Trendsetters in the Americas,) where doing activities progresses time and story threads can take days to progress is a very welcome return to form. The third entry, Fashion Forward, operated on an Animal Crossing style real-time clock, which, while a nice experiment, made the story feel a bit more disjointed as a result, and limited my gameplay options, as I primarily play in the evenings before bed. The photographing challenge from Fashion Forward, where you tried to take photos of things with weird colors in order to unlock the use of that color for things like makeup and hair coloring, is also gone. It too was a nice experiment that gave players something extra to do in Fashion Forward, but would not be enjoyable to do a second time.
Another big similarity this game has with Trendsetters instead of Fashion Forward is Men’s Fashion, which the third entry removed entirely amidst fan complaints. Styling Star features a compromise: Men’s Fashion is back, but it’s in a separate location. In Trendsetters, it was possible to back yourself into a corner by not stocking men’s clothing because it didn’t interest you, only to have every customer in your store be a man with no way to cycle the customers through. Now, it’s there for anyone who wants to engage with it, and easier to ignore for those who don’t (like me).
Makeup and hairstyling return as alternate ways to spend your time, if you need to take a break from your shop. The enhanced graphics (at the expense of stereoscopic 3D) help makeup in particular shine, allowing you to be a bit more nuanced with your palettes than in previous games. New to this game is the ability to do nail painting, which is sadly less interesting and fleshed out than makeup or hairstyling. A set number of nail designs are available for characters, categorized into different images, but creative freedom is limited. In a series where creativity can be explored, this feels like a particularly underdeveloped inclusion.
In past games, one or two main story threads would usually be told by following a cast of main characters around, playing out as visual novel sections interrupted by gameplay. Styling Starhas way more main characters, a far more interesting story, and many parallel stories moving at once. The biggest addition is that different stories will have different endings depending on your choices, which seems incredibly promising. Even early, I’ve seen some situations that I expect only happened because of earlier choices I had made, and I’m curious to continue forward and see how many points of divergence there are, as well as how impactful the decisions end up being.
The hundreds of other customer characters who are not “main characters” are also more fleshed out, featuring a relationship (not dating) system, indicated by five filling hearts, that unlocks new conversations and micro plot elements as you interact with them. They may ask you out on a (non-romantic) date, or open up to you about their problems. If you develop a favorite character, you don’t have to wait for them to need new clothes either. You can use a new text messaging system to request that they come to your shop, and fast track your time spent with them that way.
Fast-tracking time spent is something I’ve done frequently in my first few hours with the game, because the characters are somehow even more endearing and silly than in previous games. The writing, too, is brimming with personality, humor, and a charm that is nowhere to be seen in other fashion or business sim management games, and is what helps the series stand above the competition.
The business sim management angle of the game is also more intense in the first few hours of Styling Star than previous games. Money remains tight during the beginning of the game, meaning you won’t be buying everything in the Exhibition Hall early to just prepare for what may come. Look at the customers coming in, pay attention to your regulars, and stock to what you like most and what you expect the most. And remember not to sell someone something you’ve already sold them!
The main story follows characters in and around an idol agency called NIN10, journeying to become idols, singers, and musicians. The characters Rosie and Yolanda are particular highlights early in the game, stealing not just most of the story focus, but also every scene they’re in. Alina is also an early favorite of mine, though she’s mostly in the background as of where I am in the game.
Once characters make their musical debut, you’re treated to a cut scene featuring a fully voiced song (the first voice acting in the series,) and you’re able to re-watch the performances via your phone (on the MewTube app). They’re generally well sung songs, and while none of them will really stick with you (the way a performance in, say, Tokyo Mirage Sessions might), they all fit the tone the game is going for and are mostly pleasant to listen to.
One small change they’ve made may hammer home to series fans just how much developer syn Sophia (formerly AKI, of Nintendo 64 wrestling game fame,) understands. In previous games, you could enter a frustrating and common scenario where a customer would come in, wearing a dress, and ask you for jeans. You’d be out of luck in that case, because any emphatic recommendation would be met with hesitance (because she would need to borrow a top in order to show you what the jeans looked like.) This hesitance would lower the customer’s excitement, and penalize you slightly in terms of customer satisfaction bonus. Now, you still need to loan a generic shirt or pants for these types of requests, but there is no longer any penalty. It’s small, and something that should have been addressed in the first place, but is just one more welcome change in a sea of them.
And that’s largely what Styling Star is, outside of the new features: a refinement of what works, and the series at its best. The most interesting characters, the most welcoming to newcomers, the most navigable UI, the most straightforward progression system, etc. The improved game flow and return to days of a set length also increase the portability, letting you make real progress in the game with just a short time commitment. The combination of early game financial and stock limitations, and the fact that there are more than 20,000 clothing items ensures that fans of the dressing up characters in new and creative ways won’t grow bored either. It also has some phenomenal music, with the character creator music, the store redecoration music, and the music when helping a customer being particular highlights.
I’ve had the game for about two days, an in that time have spent over 13 hours with the game. I’ve barely scratched the surface (no, really, the story is still in Act One,) and can easily see myself pouring another 100-200 hours into this game. I don’t know what the post-game looks like, but previous games have had enjoyable post-credits scenarios and gameplay. The ability to create your own clothing and upload it online, and then browse and download other players’ creations also promises to add some longevity to this entry.
The Style Savvy/Style Boutique franchise is among my favorite Nintendo franchises. I’ve never run into anyone who thinks the games are bad, only people who think it is not for them. A free demo scenario featuring one of the game’s stories on fast forward (the demo takes about an hour, the same story in-game takes about 5 and is more involved,) as well as a quick introduction to the gameplay loop, is available now on the Nintendo eShop in every territory. If any angle of this sounds remotely interesting to you, whether it be the writing, the fashion, or the business management gameplay systems, I implore you to give it a shot. Don’t judge a book by its cover: a shallow game this is not.