Guard me, Sherlock Review: Solving Crimes and Wooing Hearts
Guard Me, Sherlock! is one of the free-to-play otome (female orientated) dating apps from the Shall we Date? series which is in the stylings of a visual novel. The brand gained popularity over the years since it was one of the first to release dating sim apps on mobile - with Sherlock being one of their newest releases.
So you're probably feeling a gambit of emotions right now; possibly a little confused, maybe a bit skeptical, or even perhaps amused at the idea of a romantic visual novel based on Sherlock. Let me tell you that you are not alone.
Every time I saw it, I laughed mockingly before I decided -- just for fun! -- to see how bad it was. Oh, how wrong I was.
The plot is focused around the protagonist, Jane Marple (default name), a passionate actress with a strong-willed personality who's most well known for her role as Irene Adler on the crime-drama show "Mid-Fall Murders".
The plot progression changes depending on the character route you choose. Currently, there are 5 routes: Sherlock Holmes, John H Watson, James Moriarty, Mycroft Holmes, and Mikah Hudson (a male version of Mrs. Hudson) - but for review purposes, let's briefly talk about the great Sherlock's route.
In this route, Jane had just finished a rehearsal for a theatre performance when she's visited by three mysterious men in her dressing room - in which one gives her a bouquet of blue roses while proclaiming to be a big fan of hers. Deeming it unimportant, she sets off to town the next day for an appointment of sorts but gets lost on her way. She ends up meeting a variety of characters, such as Hercule Poirot, Jeremy Cassel, Mycroft Holmes, all of whom are related to her destination: 221B Baker Street. It is here that she meets the infamous Sherlock Holmes.
She asks him for his help as she's been receiving death threats trying to pressure her into quitting the play. At first, he dismisses the heroine's case as it seems "boring", but later he gives her a chance, but only if she can correctly guess his cat's name. Ultimately, she figures out it's named 'Irene', in the process discovering that Sherlock does not only know of her but actually loves her character in the show.
While visiting her during rehearsals, he ends up saving her from being crushed by a falling stage light and realizes the case is bigger than it seems. As they spend more time together, Jane finds herself falling for Sherlock and vice-versa.
Unlike some romance stories that end at the characters getting together and having their happily ever after - this moves past that, as their relationship hits many obstacles along the way such as Sherlock being unable to understand his feelings, Watson's feelings for Jane, and the connection between the death threats and Moriarty's connection to it.
My knowledge of Sherlock is largely based on BBC One's Sherlock -- an egocentric and analytical loner who has drug problems and difficulties in making friends -- and as far as that knowledge takes me, this depiction is accurate. THIS Sherlock is also an egocentric maniac with an obsession for Jaffa cakes and interesting cases.
Guard Me, Sherlock also does a surprisingly good job with world building whether through references to the city of London, which feels well researched, the Sherlock source material, or other crime detective fiction. For instance, in Moriarty's route, he owns a train called the Reinchenbach Express, which is a clever nod to the 'Reichenbach Falls' - the place where Sherlock and Moriarty have their final confrontation in the final chapter of the original Sherlock Holmes books. Hercule Poirot is also a famous detective of Agatha Christie's.
Watson is also quite accurately portrayed.
Progressing through GMS is similar to most graphic novels. You choose a variety of options to improve the affection of your character in order to obtain the best ending. What really sets it apart is the inclusion quizzes and riddles, which you have to solve to get free items such as energy or bonus stories. Being forced to think instead of just absent-mindedly reading the story kept me engaged and made me feel like I had a reason to invest in the story line. Moreover, this felt like it belonged thematically since it is a game about Sherlock Holmes and company.
The character routes all have a "First Season" and "Second Season" except Mikah, which means that the game is still ongoing with lots of stories to play through. In addition to that, the game also has other things that prolong the story you're currently playing through.
Hide & Kiss - A mini-game which helps you earn Sweetie points (in-game currency). It's basically a luck-based game where you can earn points, gold, and tokens to "kiss" your character of choice to earn bonus points. These points are used not only for checkpoints but also for events to redeem clothing, stories, and bonus CG.
Sweetie Checkpoint - These checkpoints are spread across the chapters and are based on your avatar - often requiring you to buy a specific clothing to equip onto your avatar or for you to have a certain amount of Sweetie points to continue the story - which you get by playing through the story, logging on, or playing the Hide & Kiss mini-game.
Events - As with all free-to-play games, these special events give you the opportunity to earn special limited items and story lines you can't otherwise attain. There are 2 kinds of events: Ones that give special items where you just play the normal story and redeem sweetie points. The latter is a special story event where you can earn new CGs and items, although these are more costly and may require real money or "diamonds" to attain.
Need I say anything about the art? Aside from a few anatomy issues in rare images it's absolutely beautiful. The colours are bright while still embodying what you'd imagine a British/Sherlock game to be.
The game does offer bonus CGs for certain scenes that require diamonds/money to view, but these are completely optional and while they are adorable, you aren't missing much overall even if you don't get them. You can also replay the chapters and try to get them again if you miss out.
Guard me, Sherlock! pleasantly surprised me and really taught me not to judge a book by its cover. Usually these kinds of female-orientated games - especially free-to-play ones - tend to be really shallow, poorly translated, or demos that allow you to try the game before you buy the full route for an expensive price.
While this game was beautifully illustrated with a somewhat unique plot, what really surprised me was the quality writing, particularly concerning the characters themselves - especially Sherlock. While the interface and mini-games are very in-your-face cutesy, don't let it cloud your judgement of how well the stories are actually written. I've only managed to complete Sherlock's route (which was downright adorable) but I'm definitely looking forward to seeing how the others fare.