Game: Shiritsu Akihabara Gakuen
Shiritsu Akihabara Gakuen, or AkiGaku, was released by Front Wing on August 29, 2003. Front Wing at this time was known in part as one of the parent companies of Groover (makers of Green Green), and for their high school-style games prior to AkiGaku. The player takes the role of Touma Souichirou, a high school student that transfers into an academy that his younger sister currently attends. Much to his surprise, this academy is actually located in Akihabara, and caters to every possible type of otaku around. Even the teachers themselves are some type of otaku (the principal dresses like a Noface, made famous in Miyazaki movies, while one of the teachers crossplays and talks like Lum from Urusei Yatsura). In a weird twist, our protagonist is a bit of a closet otaku and has a hard time fitting in at first, mostly due to his inability to open up about his tastes in anime and games. Thus, the story focuses on Souichirou's day-to-day life in AkiGaku, while learning about a variety of subjects, interacting with his fellow classmates, and also attempting to woo one of five available heroines.
Heroine: Touma Kotomi
Kotomi is the staple younger sister character, and the lead girl of AkiGaku. She's less than a year younger than Souichirou, and makes it no secret that she is interested in him. Of course, the twist here is that Kotomi confessed to our protagonist that she was actually adopted back when they were children, which turns out to be the source of tension between them when we find out that Kotomi was not really adopted.
Kotomi is generally cheerful, but has her share of rough moments. Much to her onii-chan's dismay, she is a full-blown otaku, likes ero-games and ero-doujinshi, and religiously watches her favorite anime shows. Aside from this, she is a talented artist, and is highly revered at school for her artwork. Though Souichirou sees her true personality on a regular basis, Kotomi is very capable of manipulating the other male members of the cast. Lastly, she is notably jealous of girls with breasts bigger than hers (like Kannagi Aya).
Heroine: Murai Mariko
Mariko lost both of her parents in an accident, and was sent to live with her uncle. As it turns out, her uncle is also the principal of AkiGaku. She can't make heads or tails of what goes on in school, since she is relatively normal and actually dislikes otaku. After her personal blog was nuked to hell for bashing Akihabara Gakuen's staff and students, Mariko decides to go with the flow (at Souichirou's expense). She forces our protagonist to pair up with her for the purpose of learning about otaku while she teaches him about spending time with girls.
Mariko does her best to not think of her deceased parents, preferring to devote herself to learning about computers. She tends to be confrontational and almost always tries to force things to go her way. Most of her ideas clash with the other students at AkiGaku, and she is particularly not fond of Jet. Beneath all that, she is actually very lonely and eventually becomes desperate to make friends.
Heroine: Kannagi Aya
The almost doll-like Aya could pass off as a rare bishoujo, were it not for her part-time job at a maid café and her peculiar taste in ero-games. Not much else can be said of Aya, though she tries her best to keep her hobbies a secret from others. She grows to appreciate the fact that Souichirou doesn't think of her as strange for liking ero-games, but still weirds him out with all the erotic stories she can come up with.
Aya is generally quiet, and prefers to follow rather than lead. This makes her a good foil character for Kotomi and Mariko, who have strong personalities. She seems to be obsessed with the idea of serving others, and many of the scenarios she writes focus on the themes of subservience and almost always involve maids. At first she is very ashamed of her taste for ero-games, but loosens up a bit with Souichirou in her life. Some might even say that she is shy or gullible, especially around characters like Cynthia.
Heroine: Ayanokouji Cynthia
AkiGaku's resident Kansai-ben speaker. In the hierarchy of otaku, Cynthia falls into the "fantasy cosplayer" category, if only because she walks around with elfish armaments and wears elfish ears wherever she goes. The rest of the cast quickly learns that the best way to get along with Cynthia is to treat her as if she were a real elf. The fact that she thinks of herself as a real elf doesnt help at all. Most people consider her strange for being so absorbed in fantasy concepts, not to mention the trouble she causes when she interprets something she doesn't understand through the fantasy filter (she calls one of the teachers a hobbit and accuses Mariko and Souichirou of being goblins).
As expected of a Kansai character, Cynthia is light-hearted and very easygoing. She will, however, get angry at people who tell her she is not an elf, and will become violent to those who try to touch her (supposedly real) elf ears. Despite her fantasy-immersed personality, she will show some of her native Osaka roots by doing business with the regulars at AkiGaku, and will drop her fantasy act at any mention of money.
Heroine: Satonaka Nami
The staple loli character. Nami is one of the teachers at AkiGaku, though few take her seriously because of her small size. She claims to be forty-five years old, but no one actually believes her because she goes to bed at 9 o'clock and her favorite food is ice cream (not to mention that she still believes in Santa Claus). Despite being very mild-mannered, Nami is somewhat passionate when it comes to getting people to treat her as an adult. Her adult persona breaks when things don't go her way, and can prove to become childish when her credibility as an adult is in question. Because of this, very few people have managed to earn her trust.
Unsurprisingly, Nami is a serious character that is strongly undermined by her small size and other child-like traits. Even though she is quick to get flustered but slow to anger, few things can match the ferocity of her unbridled wrath. In general, Nami is very lonely, but at the same time keeps away from others out of fear of being patronized and treated like a child.
The recurring support cast members all happen to be from the Nijigen Bishoujo Kenkyuukai (The Two-Dimensional Pretty Girl Society): Hime, Nekomimi and Jet.
Nekomimi is a strongly opinionated otaku that is obsessed with anime and game women, but despises their real-life counterparts. Is particularly in love with EVEs Ayana Mirei (EVE being AkiGaku's version of Evangelion).
Jet (real name: George Bush) is the not-so-intelligent American that transferred to AkiGaku in the hopes of finding an otaku girlfriend. He is particularly interested in "moe" characters, but seems to be willing to chase anything that wears a skirt. Also has a tendency to yell out "Japanimation!" whenever he gets excited (which is rather often).
Hime is the de facto leader of the Nijigen Bishoujo Kenkyuukai, but has proven to be as much of an oddball as Nekomimi and Jet combined. She tends to be on the receiving end of comments about her face, and likes to be the center of attention. Has a thing for Nekomimi, but is well aware of his hate for 3-D women.
Story Structure and Game Engine
The story is structured on a day-by-day style, but there is no in-game calendar of any sort. The prologue leads to the beginning of the main story, where we are graced with all character introductions. After the introductions are complete, the story will slowly branch out, and the player will begin seeing the mini-map of Akihabara with the option to interact with one of the five heroines.
The game engine is nothing new, since you have the text box at the bottom of the screen. AkiGaku keeps a rather extensive text log, and can go back as far as several scenes before they are overwritten. The log has an option to replay any spoken lines.
Interestingly, the routes seem to be designed so that simply choosing to interact with a particular heroine will make her like Souichirou more, while the choices presented throughout the story determine some of the dialogue and the flow of certain ero-scenes.
Music & Video
AkiGaku's music is nothing really special, and personally, might even be bordering on bad. A handful of songs really seem to fit the game nicely, but the rest of the soundtrack is somewhat lacking.
As for video, we have the opening movie, which can be viewed here.
WARNING: Extremely sugary song. Cavity advisory is in effect.
The original release of the game had AkiBako, a fandisk for the game. Aside from this, you have the standards: CG mode, Scene mode and Music mode. Several of the songs, however, cannot be listened to in Music mode until they have been heard in-game.
Brilliant for its use of comedy and the otaku culture. A lot less serious than its predecessors, yet at the same time able to present deep (if exaggerated) examples of the types of otaku out there. Could definitely work as an anime, had it not been released in 2003. I would definitely put money into reworking this game's music and bringing it up to date, especially since Front Wing took some shortcuts when developing the interaction artwork, leaving several characters without moving mouths when their emotion artwork was set to angry. Overall, a very amusing title that I wish more people knew about. Anyway, that's my two cents on the matter.
PS: I was lazy and didn't take screencaps of the heroines. I wrote their character bits matching the order in which they are introduced in the OP movie, though.
PPS: Ok, here's some screencaps I made...