Genre hybrids are always an interesting proposition. And what about a game which mixes sport and visual novel mechanics in one single nifty package? Italian studio Open Lab Games is not new to the idea. After their interesting Football Drama, comes this spiritual sequel which exchanges football for roller derby. Is it worth putting your skates on? Find out in our Roller Drama review.
You are the manager of a young girls’ roller derby team and, as all good managers should do, your main task is that of keeping the girls happy and (as much as possible) not fighting with each other. Oh, and yes, taking care of a zombie cat.
The narrative in Roller Drama is all about single episodes – think of them like comic book issues regarding the girls, their problems and a huge government conspiracy. Perhaps it’s Anna up to her shenanigans again or Portia falling in love, or the entire house risking getting arrested. Either way, you’ll have to step in and save the day.
The girls in the team all have their unique personalities, quirks and needs, which are brought to life by the fantastic art of Vittoria Macioci, with Pino Panzarella being the wizard behind UI design and environments. The way you solve each quest will influence your relationship, along with team morale. If anyone leaves the team, that’s game over. The poor Jean will have her hands full trying to make the team of misfits behave, but fear not because helping you is a… uhmm… zombified Shakespeare guide? Roller Drama sure doesn’t hold back on crazy ways to solve conflicts in the team, and it’s all wonderfully brought to life with a unique comic book-like narrative framework.
But, it’s not all about the narrative, is it? There are roller derby matches to play and possibly win. Compared to the previous game by Open Lab, Football Drama, it is easy to see how they tried to make the gameplay part more visually engaging. Now you can actively interact with the players by using special moves, switching tactics and also playing bonus cards you collect during the narrative sequences. You’ll also have to keep an eye on their energy meters, so as not to have our girls get tired too soon.
Roller derby is all about going circling the track as fast as possible, with one player running and the other four defending. Unfortunately, there is no way to directly control the rollers, and this leads – sometimes – to frustration. Like when you see your Jammer (the “attacker” of sorts) ignoring the open gap between the opposite team players and, instead, crashing into them. A missed opportunity is also how the players on the field don’t really reflect their personalities. They are all easy to identify, sure, and their mood will influence their performance, but there’s no real connection between their playing style and their narrative personas.
This unfortunately leads to the main issue of Roller Drama: the matches tend to be a bit boring. Luckily, it is possible to skip 75% of them with the autoplay, but you are still forced to play the first round of each of them. While this boils down to a few minutes of gameplay, they tend to get repetitive and not very interesting as a simplified version of roller derby. Luckily, the crazy off-the-rails narrative, with some appreciated fourth-wall-breaking jokes, does partially make up for that.
The narrative parts are all about solving team drama and conflicts between the players, as all of our teammates are definitely flawed in their very own unique ways. Sometimes there are actual inventory puzzles to solve, which can be done through an interface which is a little cumbersome but works. If you’re expecting serious in-depth analyses of team building and getting along with others, Roller Drama might be disappointing. The story brings definitely more of a wacky vibe, think of Friends mixed with Sabrina the Teenage Witch.
Overall, Roller Drama is a peculiar visual novel which will interest those fans of the genre looking for something more than just clicking away their stories. It is not a long game, so it also makes up for the slight repetitiveness of the matches. For the future, we definitely hope Open Lab Games can invest heavily in their purely narrative mechanics cause we can see a lot of potential to expand upon. While we wait, though, we can just keep on rollin’ rollin’ rollin…
Our Roller Drama review was made possible with a review key by the PR Future Friends Games. Roller Drama is available on Steam.
Roller Drama: An interesting hybrid of visual novel and sport, with fantastic art and well-made narrative design, brought down a bit by the repetitive roller derby gameplay. – Damiano Gerli