Jon Gracey's

Games That Rocked My World – #50: High School Story

In iOS on January 3, 2014 at 12:41 am

Happy 50th article, Games That Rocked! Here’s a rant.


Title: High School Story
Format: iOS
Released: 2013

HSS Front Cover

This is a hard one to write. Up until this point, Games That Rocked My World has largely been about celebrating games that have affected our lives in a positive way – from showing us new worlds to helping us jazz up our own miserable existences. But then I realised: one’s world can be rocked in a bad way. Good. Because I really want to talk to you about High School Story.

Full disclosure. If any of the following should sound bitter, allow me to preface: I recently spent my 28th birthday visiting a friend out of town. It cost me time and money to go and visit, neither of which I have much to spare at present. He forgot to wish me happy birthday. He also recommended I play High School Story.

HSS Main Image

On the surface of it, HSS seems a benign, if saccharine, exercise. You have to build a high-school, populate it with students of different social strata culled from numerous “college” films (jock, nerd, prep – and seriously, what the fuck is a “prep”? Maybe I’m just a middle-class skidmark*, but when I was a kid that’s what we called homework) and then fulfil “quests”, along the lines of pranking a rival school, or building a cheerleader’s confidence before the big game. All perfectly fine, if banal. But here’s where it all goes wrong: it’s free.

I’ve had mixed feelings about so-called ‘freemium’ models for a while. For those who don’t know, freemium games are free to download, but make their money by slowly coaxing you towards micro-transactions (usually a couple of pounds at most) in order to access their best features, or to conquer the more difficult levels, or sometimes just to keep playing. It’s a tough balance to strike. Plants Vs. Zombies 2 absolutely nails it – almost too much so – by providing a fully-realised, brilliantly accessible game that you can play through, with a bit of skill, without spending a penny.

High School Story, on the other hand, wants to grab your teats and squeeze them until the cows come home. Which they won’t, because they’ll see the outrageous level of teat-squeezing ocurring and – if they’ve got half a brain in their fucking nuts – run a mile.


“Not if you paid me. Which you WON’T”

The ‘gameplay’ of HSS comprises of this – and strap in, because there’s going to be sub-sections: 1.) Wait for the game to give you a ‘quest’. 2.) Fulfil the criteria of the quest which, after hours of play, never equated to more than either 2a.) pay a certain amount of in-game currency to achieve a token objective, 2b.) pay for something and wait for it to finish being built, or 2c.) Pick a character to do a task over which you have no control. An example of this banality, you say? Of fucking course!

Let us assume our jock – in my case STEVEHOULT!! – wants help practising for the big football game. You, as the ‘player’, might have to: a.) buy some land for a new football pitch, b.) purchase some arbitrary items (like benches – I wish I was joking) to ‘help’, or c.) pick two characters to help STEVEHOULT!! practise. And then? Well, that’s it. You wait. Once the various timers tick down, your land is purchased, your things are built, and your characters have done things. And you’ve done nothing.


Go home Mia, you’re drunk

This utter lack of anything approaching gameplay might not be so bad – the constant blips and beeps are soothing and give you that mini-endorphine rush of achievement, even though you’ve done fuck-all – if the game didn’t intentionally sucker you in. Early on the rewards and an overabundance of items come thick and fast, before HSS ramps up the ‘difficulty.’ The first few buildings are really cheap to buy, take 30 seconds to build, and advance the story, unlocking new items and characters to use.

After a few hours of play though, a new building takes 6 hours, a quest unlocks a miserable amount of in-game currency, and takes a character out of play for hours. And you find yourself thinking: “Just what the fuck am I doing with myself?” I am waiting for an artificial timer to tick down so I can add more meaningless things to a flimsily constructed existence. I may as well get a job.

Adam Sandler, Click

It’s funny because he’s fat

And here’s where the freemium model really falls down. Imagine a job where you could pay to skip the boring bits! Like Adam Sandler’s Click, except of course not that depressing. There is a way to advance timers quickly, but it involves using “bells”, which are the in-game currency, and are doled out very rarely. But you can buy bells. Of course you can buy them.

The game even has the temerity to further guilt you by claiming some of its proceeds go to an anti cyber-bullying charity. I’m sure they do, game, and I’d be happy to donate if you’d ask nicely, but don’t go round the back of my brain, rewire it without my knowledge or consent, and then claim I’m doing you a favour. That’s cyber-bullying! Probably.

HSS Hope

I feel your pain, Hope

Because here’s the thing: High School Story is fucking addictive. It’s got just the right balance of drip-feeding to keep your stupid clammy hands reaching for the juicy grapes hanging tantalisingly out of reach. Many’s the time where I’ve actually sat there, waiting for the last few minutes of a lengthy timer to tick down, so I can complete a quest and start the next, utilising, may I remind you, no actual skill at any point. The game teaches you absolutely nothing. It is devoid of gameplay or merit. It tells you exactly what to do, introduces arbitrary obstructions, and then charges you to circumvent them. This seems perilously close to evil: deliberately aiming to get you addicted to something, before taking it away from you, unless you give it money.

Seriously, fuck you High School Story. You and your ilk are a blight, tempting people in with your colourful, androgynous, delicately chiselled characters (who are all thin by the way; this game is supposed to bet set in AMERICA) – giving them ‘issues’ to overcome, promoting teamwork and school spirit (like fuck you care about that) when all the while you slide your greasy tentacles into our wallets and suck out as much cash as you physically can while we’re jonesing for our next hit.

Candy Crush Saga

Stay away from that man

At least Candy Crush Saga involves some kind of gameplay behind its fearsomely saccharine facade. You are nothing, High School Story, and I have deleted you from my phone in act of great mental difficulty. I still think about setting tasks before I go to bed, knowing my little identikit schoolpeople will be working round the clock, but every time I do, I think about how fucking short life is and curse your name for creating something so utterly, devastatingly empty for people to pour their limited days on this earth into. Aim higher.


Happy fucking birthday.

*There’s no “maybe” about it

  1. You might get sued for this.


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