It may not have the ‘Story’ suffix, but Pocket Academy is the latest in Kairosoft’s line of adorably addictive sim games that began with Game Dev Story. This time around you’re put in charge of a high school that will (hopefully) continue to expand and grow and churn out increasingly bright students. And while the game has much of what made its predecessors such incredible time sinks, it’s ultimately not quite at the same level, and takes longer to get the hang of.
Once again the game is a largely menu-driven affair. You’ll be selecting facilities and decorations to build, tests to administer, teachers to hire, and a whole lot more. Like the rest of the developer’s games, Pocket Academy is extremely deep. There are so many different things to do and change and buy that it can be overwhelming. And it frequently is. This is largely due to the fact that the game never really gives you much of an introduction: you’re simply thrown into a school with a pair of students, a single teacher, and chunk of cash.
It’s learnin’ time.
There is a ‘how to play’ section, but it’s not much of an overview. Instead, it’s more useful once you’ve already figured out the basics and you need to clarify how some part of the game works. Throughout the game you’ll regularly get newspapers that provide sometimes useful tips, but for the most part you’re on your own. Pocket Academy forces you to learn how to play through trial and error. It’s likely that you’ll be several in-game years in before you get a grasp of the basics, and even then many aspects will remain a mystery.
The game is, essentially, broken down into two parts. There’s the school management, in which you’ll hire and upgrade teachers, build and design how your school is laid out, increase the quality of your exams, all the while managing a tight budget. Students will transfer over, earning you cash bonuses, and if you’re lucky you might earn a few random grants, as well. That’s the shell of the game: building a school that functions. But the heart is the students.
Let’s all go flirt with the new girl.
In Game Dev Story the real goal was to make successful games that people enjoyed. Building a studio was just a means to an end. And the same is true in Pocket Academy: the real reason you’re putting to much time into the school is to improve your students. As each semester rolls by, your school’s test stats will be ranked against the rest of the nation’s, and this is where Kairosoft’s patented just-one-more-turn gameplay comes in. You always want to get better, so it’s hard to put the game down when you’re waiting to see how a certain set of changes will pan out.
More than just grades though, Pocket Academy is about improving the lives of students. You’ll not only set them on the right career path, but try to help them make friends and even get into relationships. When you watch a student successfully ask another out on a date, it’s hard not to feel a pang of joy. They make be tiny little sprites, but they’re your tiny little sprites.
When you finally get the hang of it, Pocket Academy is no different than the developer’s previous efforts. It will snatch away hours at a time as you attempt to manage the surprisingly large number of choices at hand. It’s just a shame that it takes so long to really understand what needs to be done. With even a simple tutorial Pocket Academy would be a much more enjoyable game, but as it stands, you’ll probably have more fun on your second playthrough.