Imitation Lover (or IL for short) was released on January 27th, 2006 by the softhouse Light. The game encompasses the lives of Kurusu Itsuki as the first protagonist, and his best friend, Kidou Naoya as the second protagonist (more on this later). Itsuki is a bit of a loner, and a bit on the emo side at that (kind of gloomy, not well-spoken and with a bit of an inferiority complex); he's basically Shinji Ikari moved from Evangelion into a random ero game, with a new haircut and glasses. Despite this, he is best friends with Naoya, who happens to be one of the most popular guys in school (as in, girls contantly ask him out and proposition him for things, even older girls). Itsuki's life takes a rather interesting turn when one Ichinose Kyo approaches him. Kyo in this story is a girl with a bad reputation, though she doesn't seem to mind the negative attention. Either way, she asks Itsuki to help her cheat at some exams that are coming up (I didn't catch if they were district exams or something like a standardized set of exams or maybe midterms). In return, Kyo offers her virginity. As simple (and pointless) as this may sound, this set up leads to an emotional rollercoaster for Itsuki, not to mention the two girls he can end up with and the third girl that can potentially ruin his life. Aside from Kyo, both Sonomura Madoka (Kyo's childhood friend) and Kirisawa Iori (Naoya's would-be girlfriend) have a ton of emotional baggage that the player will get to witness, regarless of who Itsuki goes after. After completing Itsuki's routes, the player unlocks the scenario for Kidou Naoya, though that scenario has only one ending.
Ichinose Kyo is the obvious lead female. Unlike most lead females, she is a strong character that sports a devil-may-care attitude towards everything. She is more likely to jest, and often fails to sound serious (even when putting others in their place). Despite this, Kyo is initially interested in using Itsuki to help her cheat (the fact that she first approaches Naoya and asks him about Itsuki is also a sign that she has been keeping an eye on him for some time). One could say that the whole "cheating" thing may be an excuse for her to get to know our protagonist, but it is neither confirmed nor denied. Eventually, she grows to like Itsuki's conscientiousness and learns to love poking fun at his insecurities. The fun and games are taken up a notch when Itsuki is the victim of a small scandal in school; Kyo offers to be his pretend girlfriend in order to derail the rumors, and in not so many words because she enjoys having him around to poke fun at. Everything ends when Itsuki decides that he wants to have a real relationdship with Kyo, at which she simply says is impossible and leaves him. Apparently, Kyo's sole insecurity and probably the biggest piece of emotional baggage she has is that some time ago she had some malady that left her steril (as in unable to have children). Thus, she sees herself as less of a woman and more of an object (which would explain her hedonistic views).
Sonomura Madoka is Kyo's childhood friend, and an underclassman. Madoka passes off as the shy, quiet type of girl. She seems to get easily embarrased, and at the same time does what she can to not loose it in front of Itsuki. In reality, Madoka is, for lack of better words, really fucked in the head. She feels a lot of self-hate, and also hates Kyo for grabbing attention that she believes should be hers (most evident when it comes to the main character). She does her best to win Itsuki over, though she knows that she is behind Kyo as far as looks and style go. As such, she tries to be the more homely type of girl, though her obsession with our protagonist is a bit on the unhealthy side. Madoka is her own worst enemy, and this strains her friendship with Kyo after a certain point (Madoka uses the fact that Kyo is steril as an argument to prove why she's better).
Kirisawa Iori is not technically a herion, but more of a quasi-antagonist. She starts out as one of the most respected and admired girls in the school, though she also thinks of herself as Naoya's girlfriend. Sadly, Naoya treats her with indifference, and at times is annoyed that she has taken up such a role. Because of this, Iori has self-esteem issues. She finds some comfort in the semi-crush Itsuki has on her, and conciders him to be a very kind person. Despite this, she can't let go of the physical attraction she has for Naoya. Itsuki's story has her as the senpai that ends up getting Itsuki in trouble (she seduces him in the infirmary at school, which someone managed to get a picture of and posted it on the bulletin boards as a ploy to humiliate her), and could ruin his relationship with others if allowed in to. She takes the role of lead heroin in Kidou Naoya's scenario, which goes a bit deeper into the dynamics of their relationship, and brings some closure to the mess on her side.
The story plays a lot on melodrama, but manages to convey the issues of the characters as real problems. The main conflict in IL ends up becoming the "pretend" or "sex friend" relationship versus the "romantic" relationship. Characters like Iori, Naoya and Kyo play on the former, especially Naoya (who swore to not commit to anyone), whereas Itsuki is alone on the latter. Self-esteem (or lack thereof) is another big issue/theme, since several members of the main cast lack enough of it to make irrational decisions at times (and later have to bear the consequences). Another interesting aspect of the plot is that it brings up the question of what exactly defines a relationship. Oddly enough, I feel the cast is a bit too young to even worry about something that deep, but then again, some adults have proven to be short-sighted enough to miss something this crucial. The fact that a character like Itsuki is trying to make sense of the changes in his life give us insight on not only the obvious "children in adult situations" scenario, but also at how things can seem when seen through the eyes of a guy with a lot of issues.
Upon completing Kyo or Madoka's storylines, Kidou Naoya's story opens up. Unlike Itsuki, who faces self-imposed complications towards dealing with others, Naoya's story is a bare-bones look at pieces of the main story through his eyes. Because this is technically a separate story, there are some deviations here and there, but the overall impression we are supposed to get is Kidou's point of view on the whole thing with Itsuki. Kirisawa Iori is the lead heroin in this one, and the focus of the story is the lessons Naoya learns in order to first accept the idea of a commited relationship (part of the reason he treats Iori badly is because he wants her to leave him alone) and second to reciprocate Iori's feelings for him. Kyo ends up playing a very important role, and manages to publicly humiliate our second protagonist in order to get both lessons across.
Musically, the game is...lacking. There's plenty of tracks, and some are very fitting. The problem is that the majority of songs sound out of place and could have been better used in other games (like Rockman X or Ikaruga). The voice acting is decent, though Itsuki's voice (he's voiced when the player takes the role of Naoya) sounds scaringly like Ikari-kun's voice.
As far as extras go, there is only one extra that is unlocked upon completing all storylines: the "Another Story" option. Unlike most games that have this, IL pretty much opens up its game engine to the player. In short, this means that the player can type up a scenario using the code for the game engine and then play it out using the cast from IL. The tutorial story is pretty thorough in explaining what tags stand for what, what certain commands in the .txt file will do and so on. Sadly, you can't attach voice files to the scenario, but this in itself is probably one of the most original and impressive extras I have ever seen.
Overall, the game reeks of emotionally unbalanced characters. The drama is not touching like that in Kanon or Kimi ga nozomu eien, but at the same time we get an idea of what our cast goes through. Still, a solid game with an interesting set of characters that could have been better with a couple of tweaks. Anyway, that's my two cents on the matter.
PS: Apologies to all King of Fighters fans out there.