Review – Cupid Parasite
Romantic comedies take a lot of flack in the movie community, and yet they continue to fill theaters and generate blu-ray sales each and every season. The reason is that you don’t need to be innovative or drastically different as long as what you’re doing appeases the fanbase in the right way. When you look at visual novels that focus on romantic angles, there’s been this sort of overly dramatic focus in trying to break new ground and craft audacious scenarios. Fans like to look at Doki Doki Literature Club as an example of taking the game and flipping the meta to make a psychological tour de force that isn’t easily forgotten. But I prefer to think of certain games, especially otome titles, as an exercise in hamburgers.
Bear with me for a second.
There are a hundred, nay, a thousand different ways to make a burger, and most of them come from Bob Belcher. You can go into most restaurants, food shacks and fast food joints and get a burger, and there’s hopefully be something different about each one. You aren’t expecting a burger to suddenly be filled with ball bearings to make you think about the death of the cow you ate, or for the burger to turn the tables and start trying to eat you. Both of those instances will get your establishment shuttered and perhaps an exorcist called. Instead, you want to bite into this meaty treat and get the flavor profile you expect, perhaps elevated with condiments and toppings, and come away satisfied.
Damn, Cupid Parasite is a fine burger.
Let’s cover our bases really quickly: Cupid Parasite is about our fearless female protagonist (who can be any name, but I went with the default Lynette Mirror) who works at a match-making company. One that’s incredibly successful, and Lynette has no small part to play in its success. Her boss, one Shelby Snail, has promised her a promotion if she can do the impossible: get five candidates from the company, named the Parasite 5, successful matches so they get married and stop embarrassing themselves. Lynette eagerly takes the challenge, and, through a series of insane decisions, ends up hosting a reality TV show, where the five very pretty men and Lynette all live together in a house for a period of time.
Lynette is confident in the challenge, even though she herself has a deep secret: she’s never been in love. No, wait, that’s not the deep secret, that’s literally true in every game like this. She’s Cupid, that’s the goddamn big secret, and also the Parthenon is real, the Gods constantly watch over and judge us and she’s going to make humans fall in love without her Bow to prove her father wrong. Cupid’s a girl in this one, and that’s not a spoiler because it happens in the first twenty minutes of an incredibly long game. The decision to put everyone together in a Terrace House-style life is just the tip of an iceberg that runs deep.
If you’re looking for an archetype boy, Cupid Parasite has you covered. There’s the boy you used to know who has been hung up on you all this time but is afraid to admit it, the fanatical boy obsessed with mythology and making movies, a boy who is clearly another deity pretending to be a normal dude, a man so pretty that it’s impossible for him to see beauty in others, and your boss, claiming he isn’t your boss, but would like to delve into the dating pool anyways. Shy, nerdy, sexually domineering, fashionably androgynous and all business, we’ve got them all.
Cupid Parasite has you move through what is a very long prologue in order to find out which of the boys you’ll be pursuing, because this isn’t a harem game: you pick one bachelor and have to chase him to the ends of the earth through a series of wacky but seemingly plausible choices. Say the right things, make the right moves and watch his affection for you grow, finally culminating into the right love confession and marriage proposal so you can live happily ever after.
Cupid Parasite does a lot right, and I applaud Idea Factory for stepping up the quality of their visual novel/otome titles. The localization is very accurate and crisp, and I never encountered any ill-broken sentences, strange punctuations or bizarre word choices. Sure, the confirmation for the save games is always Yes or No in spite of “Ok” being more appropriate, but that’s a very small, technical thing. The quick save and load are intuitive in binding, with some amazing replay features that make ferreting out all the endings simple. Besides fast forwarding, there’s the option to skip straight to the next choice or unread dialogue, which grants you a black-screened time machine to move ahead with the lives of everyone. It’s the first time I’ve seen such a time skip mechanic, and it was incredibly helpful to see what some of the endings looked like.
In terms of gameplay, Cupid Parasite is as straightforward as you can get without it being a kinetic novel. You do a lot of reading and listening (it’s fully voiced, save for the protagonist) and then make a decision about something, sometimes with two or even three choices. You’ll get feedback from the man you’re currently pursuing almost instantly, to let you know if you’ve made the right choice. The Love meter in the menu lets you know how close you are to achieving 100% affection (and thus guaranteeing a good ending), and the Flowchart lets you know both how close you are to the finale and also when you’re about to stumble onto an early finish.
The one other thing is a compatibility test you take at the beginning (and possibly later) in the game, which is the one snag in the current of Cupid Parasite. I didn’t like that the test could and would determine ultimately whether you got a Best End or not: it felt like it validated those terrible tests from Cosmo magazine, and, even in a fictitious world, I’d prefer not to give those things credit.
Visually and aurally, you’ll really love where Cupid Parasite takes you. The soundtrack is a fantastic buffet of classic visual novel ambience tracks with tons of vocal swing and throwback-inspired tunes. There’s something about the soundscape that evokes a real Gentlemen Prefer Blondes or Roman Holiday vibe (both apply depending on the path you choose). And the avatars have a bit of movement when talking, and it’s a great level of minor gesticulation with very solid mouth work.
I’ve seen too many games where it was like trying to woo a South Park character, and here the confessions of Ryuki, Allan, Shelby, Gill and Raul all come naturally and beautifully. Plus, the character designs are very flattering and pleasant for male and female characters alike: Lynette has surrounded herself with a throng of lookers. For those wondering about overly ecchi scenes, there’s nothing further than some kissing, a few compromising poses, and a hilarious exchange between Lynette and Shelby involving a banana.
Finally, yes, Cupid Parasite is just well written from front to back. Far from being the next great read, Cupid Parasite is content to tick all the boxes but do so with flair and elegance. Each pathway allows you to know more about the men from a personal standpoint, to understand their background and driving forces and what makes them special and interesting. Lynette is a deity, true, but she presents as human, and is very compassionate while still being self-reliant and able to stand on her own feet: this is no fainting lily Mary Sue.
Several of the endings involve Lynette going off on her own, not getting the guy but also not wanting him. There are a few darker moments (one of the earliest bad endings paints a grim picture for the company and for Shelby), but there’s nothing you need to brace yourself for. Instead, be ready for some really exciting and interesting surprises, particularly if you’re able to dedicate your time to finding out the final path. It takes a bit of time, but, with the mechanics of Cupid Parasite, it’s very doable.
Cupid Parasite was enjoyable from beginning to end, which is not something I can often say about this style of otome. Top notch voice work, enthralling soundtrack, excellent design and solid story beats that kept me locked in and even made me laugh out loud. It’s far from difficult to make the right choices (should I try to impress him with jargon I don’t know, or be honest with my feelings?) but there’s enough trial and error moments that will keep you reloading to see what may have come. If you’re curious to see just how a goddess can end up falling for a mortal, don’t stick your nose in a moldy old book: come ram your face into the Switch and let the good times roll.
Excellent character models allow you to ogle the men without creating rough sexual buzz.
Very little new ground is tread, but replay mechanics allow for easier runs.
Not just good voice acting: freaking GREAT music from start to finish.
It’s got spirit, sass, complexity and humor; I couldn’t ask for much more.
Final Verdict: 9.0
Cupid Parasite is available now on Nintendo Switch.
Reviewed on Nintendo Switch.
A copy of Cupid Parasite was provided by the publisher.