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SummaryThe only game in which you kiss people for money and health
The GoodYou are taking a stroll through a quiet town at night, trying to avoid a maniacal, robotic, permanently smiling policeman who will shoot you on sight. Suddenly a teacher who looks like a midget imbued into a telegraph pole runs towards you, shouting gibberish. You decide to take a back alley and put your ear to the sewer manhole. You discover that a turtle lives underground, dreaming of naked people. But you have no time, because you need to assemble four dictionaries in order to kiss an alien. You barely escape a crazy purple dragon who has occupied a children's playground with a map of Japanese railway encrypted in the sand. You decide to head home for now, and on the way try to kiss a girl you are in love with, but get slapped and lose five hit points. Oh, well. Diving into a trash can, you console yourself with a potato, then open the door to your house, greet your father, and go to the toilet to save your game and end your day in Chulip.
The above paragraph can only give you a shadow of an idea of the incorporated weirdness that is Chulip. However, though this game must have appeared foreign and bizarrely unique to Western audiences, in Japan it represents a venerable tradition of strange, yet artistically inspired adventure games with very unusual RPG elements, all going back to the seminal game Moon. As far as I know, the only game in this style that was released in the West beside Chulip is Chibi-Robo.
Like other Moon-inspired games, Chulip is essentially a puzzle-solving adventure with a RPG angle, which is truly unlike anything you have ever seen. In Moon you saved the souls of monsters defeated by a virtual RPG hero, and gathered "love points" instead of experience; in Chulip, you level up by kissing. Yes, that's right, kissing. There is no combat in the game, but money and sufficient amounts of health are needed to solve the main quest, and these can be increased almost exclusively by kissing the residents of the wackiest, most grotesque town ever conceived for a video game.
But don't think that all you need to do is just walk up to a person and kiss him or her. Inhabitants have their own preferences, which are anything but easy to discover, and you'll have to work very hard to find the right approach. Sometimes you just need to be in the right place at the right time; but more often than not, you'll have to collect items, bits of information, and closely follow the schedule of a character to land a successful kiss. There is a fully functioning internal clock in the game; characters have detailed, elaborate schedules, the scenery changes all the time, and the town, despite the somewhat minimalistic graphics, feels vibrant and alive.
Walking around the town, collecting strange items, learning everything possible about everyone, listening to latest rumors, and trying to solve the mind-boggling kissing tasks can become quite a fascinating experience. The game is consistently bizarre and refreshingly different from anything else out there; everything in it seems to serve the same purpose: be weird. From the edgy, jazzy music to the impossible character design (everyone is widely disproportional at best, and in many cases only marginally human), hilarious, nearly hysterical "gibberish" voice acting and the devious, purposely illogical, twisted puzzles - every single design element defies tradition and conventions, and challenges the player in many different ways.
Despite all this wackiness, there is also something sweet and charming in the game. The main quest involves becoming a proficient kisser so that the girl of your dreams will realize that you've made a name for yourself by making people happy. Much of said fame-gathering consists of interacting with mentally unstable, yet strangely appealing characters that you may grow to like despite their clearly abnormal attitudes. There is something hippie-like in the game, similarly to Kenichi Nishi's games that inspired it; light drugs come to mind more than once when you plough your way through its assorted insanity.
The BadThe game's big problem becomes evident when its own wackiness turns against itself. The designers showed much inspiration creating the game world, its inhabitants, and the original premise, but they didn't stop there: apparently, they decided that lack of logic and weirdness always equals fun, no matter how ill-conceived they may be when applied to gameplay. As a result, their imagination traveled too far, turning the simplest tasks in the game into exercises in clueless frustration.
Much of the gameplay in Chulip consists of solving the main quest in an adventure-like fashion, by taking to people and gathering clues; in addition, you'll have to kiss as many people as possible to gain the much-needed money and extra health. However, in many cases it is next to impossible to figure out what needs to be done in order to make a person agree to kiss you. Many of the solutions defy logic and can be figured out solely through trial-and-error, made even more aggravating due to the game's strict time constraints. Time passes very quickly, and since most inhabitants can be encountered only during a few select hours, you will find yourself constantly hurrying, being late, and having to wait another day.
To be fair, it's not half as bad as in Endnesia. The publishers of the US version included a walkthrough of sorts in the game packaging. Unfortunately, it is more than likely than you'll need to consult this walkthrough several times to put an end to aimless wandering and frustrating attempts to do something constructive in the game. Obtuse puzzle design has ruined many adventure games, and is close to do this to Chulip as well.
The graphics may turn off some people because of their very "old school" appearance. It would have been nice to have more advanced 3D and a rotatable camera. Also, while the characters are charming in their "blockiness", the backgrounds are for the most part fairly bland.