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Friday, November 27, 2020

Review: LoveKami: Divinity Stage (Nintendo Switch)


Review by Matt S.

LoveKami: Divinity Stage loves boobs. Big, heaving, gravity-defying boobs. Boobs that burst out of whatever too-tight clothing is meant to be holding them in and yet, oddly, boobs that don't seem to have nipples. There are a number of instances through LoveKami where the boobs are dawn in such a way that the nipples are conspicuously absent. It's a really weird line to draw, if you ask me - this game clearly fetishises boobs, but stops short at the last stretch. Surely it would have made sense to draw the fan service in such a way that this issue didn't pop up, if those nipples would have disqualified the game from stores like the Switch eShop? Anyhow, I digress. The point is that LoveKami is full of boobs.

Now in this context, you must surely realise whether the game and its fan service is going to be for you or not. If it's a point of sensitivity to you, then nothing about the narrative or experience that has been built around it is going to be enough to offset the boobs. I'm going to assume that you can tell that from the screenshots, and that I don't need to have that conversation in the context of this review, so I'm not going to do that.

Instead, what I will say is that it's almost disappointing that the boobs are so dominant on the screen that I feel like they should be poking my eyes out, 2D or no. See, LoveKami actually has some good ideas going for it, and they're worthy of discussion in their own right.


Japan's native religion - Shinto - posits that there are a lot of Gods (kami) in the world. Thousands of them. Everything person, animal, object and thing has a spirit and it's possible for those spirits to gain a divine spark. It's actually a nice concept, since the underlying principle of it is that we should respect and empathise with everything in our world. Furthermore, we should remember it. Kami draw their power from being in the minds of people, so when a Kami is forgotten it loses its power, and that's a kind of tragic nihilism that is resonant to think about.

There was a forest that I visited in the northern part of Japan on my last trip (and, frustratingly, the name actually escapes me right now), and in that forest there were dozens of shrines laid out to various deities. Some of them were the equivalent to household names within the Shinto faith. Others have been forgotten to time, right down to their names and/or purpose in existence being lost. Within that forest (and it was an ancient one with many of the trees being hundreds of years old), these shrines struck me as particularly poignant and... well, sad to behold. It's hard not to have wished that those Kami names and stories had been preserved into perpetuity.

Fast forward to today, and Japan's idol culture is the perfect staging ground for a very Shinto story about Kami. Today's idols are very much "gods", being idolised and, typically, fetishised by adoring fans and their power comes directly from the number of fans that they can muster. LoveKami is a game that turns all of these dynamics into the literal; a troupe of Kami have appeared on earth and are going about maintaining their divine spark by becoming pop idols. Pop idols with massive breasts.


The game leans into the stories of many of these idols - a Kami that had a reputation for being a bit of a sexy darling is portrayed in this story as a girl that really, really enjoys taking her clothes off. These interpretations of the Kami and their stories are, of course, exaggerated in the extreme and nothing is subtle about LoveKami, but anyone that dismisses this particular visual novel on the basis of the fan service would, I suspect, be surprised to find that more thought went into the structure of this one than most people would suspect.

The writing throughout is affable and enjoyable. LoveKami is a light-hearted and simple comedy, and while I don't think it's going to be remembered in detail, the bright bubbliness of it is very engaging. For context, it was written by the same people behind If My Heart Had Wings, and this team does know how to write a good and well-paced narrative. Each of the characters (though there isn't many) are nicely written, and there are good dynamics and a solid sense of the relationship between all of them. The designs of those characters are also very nice for the kind of aesthetic that the game aims for (i.e. almost grotesque in the bustiness). What lets the presentation down a little is the low resolution of the sprites. They're passable when zoomed out, but every so often the game scales the character models in close, and the soft fuzziness that you see when that happens isn't pleasant on the eyes.

What confuses me - and LoveKami is by no means the only game like this - is just what the developers are really aiming for with the fan service. It's surely not meant to be sexy, on account of, firstly, the inhumanity of those boobs and the lack of context to make them sexy. Dead or Alive is sexy because it plays hard into the gravure perspective. LoveKami is a light and cheerful little story with characters that are written to be silly rather than erotic. On the other hand, if those gigantic boobs are meant to add to the comedy... they don't. Unless you find boobs to be funny simply in existing. Max's Big Bust makes the size of the chest (and a running commentary on anime tropes) core to the humour. In LoveKami, those boobs just exist. The point is that nothing about LoveKami changes if you remove those massive boobs from the art... and perhaps people would focus on its many other qualities if the fan service aesthetics were better balanced. Look at Date-a-Live - it's a comedy game that is fanservicey in the extreme and it has plenty of characters that are both gorgeous and washing boards. It comes across as a far more refined experience because of that.


Anyhow, I digress again. LoveKami, for better or worse, is the kind of game that, for all its merits, is going to keep driving you back to its most overt elements; those giant cup sizes, and the costumes designed specifically to highlight them. That will put some people off immediately and irrecoverably. Others will come to the game entirely because that's what's on offer. In the case of both groups, there's an enjoyable reflection on a very Japanese way of thinking in the game that is going to be overlooked for interest in the fan service... but then I imagine that my efforts here of trying to intellectualise this game has been one giant exercise in futility.



- Matt S. 
Editor-in-Chief
Find me on Twitter: @mattsainsb

The critic was provided with a copy of this game for review.

Review: LoveKami: Divinity Stage (Nintendo Switch)
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