Cute Bite is the latest raising sim from Hanako Games, where you take the role of a butler training her vampire mistress, who’s decades long sleep has reduced her from a fearsome queen to a small child. By training various stats, the player guides the vampire towards her true power, gaining various endings for their efforts.
The main gameplay loop is choosing activities for the vampire to do – either jobs that gain money, or classes that raise stats and cost money – and balancing this with her mind and body health meters. In this respect the game is a standard, but very well executed, raising sim.
The thing that I found interesting was the additional mechanics and minigames that could be played at the end of the week, and how they tied elegantly into the main loop rather than feeling like seperate elements. Minigames can often feel tacked on, but despite the range of additional activities they fit excellently into the game.
For example, one of the activities available by default is hunting. This can increase your mind and body meters if successful and uses the stats raised in the core loop. There is also a chance of money dropping. Because the stats are at the heart of the game, and the player is afforded an opportunity to gain crucial resources, this feels like a consistent part of the overall product despite it using turn based combat – the hallmark of a different game genre altogether. It is worth noting that Princess Maker, arguably the origin of these sorts of games, did have a dungeon mechanic, so it isn’t that Cute Bite is original in doing this, just that it is done exceedingly well.
The battles are based on the opposed stats of the vampire and her victim, which are in turn made up of two of the stats raised in the core loop. Not only do they tie into the main form of gameplay, but they are thematically appropriate to the vampire genre and are a little different from what you might expect from RPG stats. The target’s aloofness versus the vampire’s feigned helplessness was a particular favorite. The stats of each target are hidden at first, but as you encounter the same targets, you gain a picture of their competencies and weaknesses. This not only serves as a fun mechanic for discovery and strategy, it builds a painting of the town that you live in, as you meet the same people on the streets at night.
Other activities include testing the vampire’s stats as she shmooses at a ball, attempts to burgle the local shops and mansions or arm wrestling grown men in the local pub. While these are all simpler, stat based challenges, it is worth pointing out the non-intrusive but well telegraphed difficulty of these challenges, using colors to signify difficulty, and the randomised nature of which stats will be challenged. Both make these great little mechanics that tie in nicely to the stat raising core.
There are also activities that allow the player to predict and affect their ending, by trading stats for money or divining a hint towards the ending they’ll get. Again, because both activities are tied directly to those stats that are at the core of the game, they work well.
What feels really great about all this is that these stats are not only the mechanical heart of the game, but the narrative one too. The game is a raising sim, you are trying to turn this girl into someone. The stats are both what you do and what the game is about. The stats affect your vampire in ways both telegraphed and obfuscated, with an icon appearing in the corner when the vampire is reacting to something that you chose for her or said to her in the past. The different choices, previous scenes and the personality the player sets for the vampire at the beginning of the game combine to change outcomes in a way that feels like the game is listening to you.
I searched for a game design term to describe what I’m talking about here. I wanted to use the word elegant, because it feels that way, but elegance in game design has a specific meaning to do with simplicity, depth and mastery. I’d argue that Cute Bite doesn’t have the kind of depth an elegant game does. While there is a lot of room for discovery and some interesting elements that feel emergent, the game is all authored and there is a finite amount of content that can be seen. This isn’t a bad thing – it just suggests that elegance is not the design philosophy I’m after here.
Coherence is possibly a better word, and one I’ve been using. Specifically I’m talking about mechanical coherence. Yes, there is narrative coherence here – as I mentioned earlier, what you do and what the game is about are the same thing, but I specifically want to highlight how every mechanic feels seamless and like it is build from the same set of bricks, on the same foundation.
Everything in this game is build around three concepts: Stats, Time and Money. The core mechanics of the game touch all three of these, with the less important aspects of the game touching less of them, but never having no basis in any of them.
I can’t say what methodology the team at Hanako Games actually uses to design their titles, but the idea of designing from this core outwards is a great one. I’m not sure I could design something that neatly, especially considering I tend to approach a design narrative first, but making a diagram like this is a great exercise to both make the core of the game clear and discover how connected your mechanics are. I’ll try it on my next project!