And then there were four!
Seeing as how most know of Nigma Box for the work I’ve done covering Press-Switch and Student Transfer over the years, I’m always keeping an ear and eye open for similar games to cover, like re:Dreamer. So naturally, I perked up when I heard about P.D.A. – Personal Data Altercator, a new visual novel inspired by the likes of Press-Switch and Student Transfer with a different set of priorities and TF themes. And seeing as how Version 0.1 just released on November 1st, I figured I may as well strike while the iron’s hot and put out a timely review for once.
P.D.A. – Personal Data Altercator Version 0.1 Review
P.D.A. – Personal Data Altercator, or just P.D.A., follows Jean Travers, an 18-year-old “himbo” with a penchant for goofing off, chilling with his friends, and recreational drug use. But his humdrum life soon takes a turn for the bizarre when he happens across an
Amiga Emiiga 1200, takes it home, and finds that the ancient computer came with an equally ancient-looking PDA.
Which, as you might have guessed, has the powers to alter reality, do the impossible, and send Jean on myriad adventures. However, instead of being relegated to individual mental or physical transformations, as is the norm, this PDA can change basically anything. Sure, it can change your sex, swap bodies, and fry your brain like nobody’s business, but this thing can also rewrite one’s past, create, remove, or swap key events in one’s life, make its changes the de facto reality to all unaware of them, and do pretty much anything the writer can think of.
What exactly does the sole developer, Milly, think of? Well, like the initial releases of… basically every non-profit choice-driven visual novel, P.D.A. is something of a skeleton, housing a lot of potential routes, only developing a few of them beyond the placeholder image, and those that are developed are closer to stubs than they are complete stories, frequently ending right as things get interesting. Accordingly, it’s no surprise to hear that the title is only roughly 2 hours long. Half of which is prologue, and half of which is the storyline teases.
This makes it harder to offer a critical analysis of the proper story of P.D.A., but the game still makes its identity clear, and I have to say that I liked what I saw. For starters, I find Jean to be a rather appealing protagonist because despite seeming like a boilerplate protagonist fodder, he does have a unique distinction: He is openly stupid, a genuine “himbo”. This should make him a frustrating hero to follow, but because I know he is stupid, and because the world knows he is stupid, that just makes his actions and mistakes all the more enjoyable to watch as his life unfurls and contorts into something beyond even his wildest fantasies.
I find the cast of characters to be surprisingly jovial and likable. Beyond a few characters who are meant to be confrontational and aggressive, everybody is pretty chill and seems like they’d be down to hang out and do whatever, making it more enjoyable to watch them get into assorted nonsense, PDA-related or otherwise. And even beyond that, I like how it is balanced. The gender ratio between characters is roughly 50/50, unlike the mostly female casts of P-S and ST, but it also has a very distinct way of dividing them. The majority of males in P.D.A. are these small androgynous-looking legal shotas who teeter somewhere between being effeminate in looks, demeanor, or just being delightfully outwardly gay. As for the females, most of them are these giant older authority figures whose womanly features only seem all the larger because of their relative size.
I don’t know why this is the case, especially because Jean is supposed to be an ace swimmer, which insinuates that he should be a tall fellow, but I’m also a fan of this direction. Of taking this character who, based on his blanket description, should be a dominant force, and then making him submissive to the women around him, treating Jean like their doll… in more ways than one. Plus, by establishing this, the inverse, the inevitable routes where Jean ‘doms it up’ with his divine-strength doohickey will be all the more interesting due to the size and power dynamic being turned on its head.
And when it comes to the actual TF themes and general subject matter of the current route stubs, P.D.A. is more of a grabbag of conceptual stragglers and offshoots the writer finds interesting. You’ve got busty boys, crossdressing boys, crossdressing boys getting their gay on, light feminization, BDSM sissification, life swapping— or rather copying, and some classic reality-altering TG transformation for good measure. It casts a wide net for certain, and while I typically am not a huge fan of most of its content, it is written with an enthusiasm, earnestness, and purpose to it that made me invested in these storylines… at least before I got this game’s under construction screen.
As for the things I did not like, they tend to be on the more technical or minor side of things. While I enjoyed the writing of P.D.A., which teeters more towards the comedic end than the dramatic, the script could use another style and grammatical pass. The dialogue is missing a lot of commas, emphasis is applied to words using hyphens, which just looks strange, and periods are egregiously missing from the end of dialogue.
The idea of the PDA having connectivity to and being packed in with an old computer is a novel idea, but is also needlessly complex, and for no apparent reason. Yes, the computer does enhance the PDA’s capabilities, but I do not see any reason why the PDA couldn’t be a standalone piece of hardware that Jean found in a boxed copy of an old handheld. Like a legally distinct Gizmodo, Wonderswan, or preferably a Game.com, because that thing was at least kinda like a PDA.
It’s unclear if this game is meant to be set in some variation of Japan, America, or an arbitrarily determined hybrid of the two. You have references to how one needs to be 20 to purchase alcohol and half of the characters have Japanese names, but there are no Saturday classes, weed is clearly not widely criminalized, and everybody is so chill and progressive when it comes to gender issues that I would have a hard time buying that this story takes place outside of the US or Canada.
The title of “Personal Data Altercator” does not make a lot of sense. An altercation is a noisy and public dispute, so an altercator is somebody who gets into altercations, and while there are altercations about changing one’s personal data or body throughout this game, I doubt that’s what the title is meant to convey. I think the word Milly meant to use here was “Alterer,” one who alters things, but she used the wrong word in order to make the acronym work.
Then there’s the overall presentation, which is on the mixed end of things. Like most other games of this variety, P.D.A. lifts sprites from various other visual novels, casting its net wide to find ones previously unused by others. This naturally leads to some conflicting art styles, but if you have dabbled in this growing loosely defined… family of games, you’re probably well used to that by this point.
Still, the selection of characters leads to a visually distinct cast with a wide variety of expressions, and whose visual detail is furthered due to extensive sprite editing to convey partial body transformations, new outfits, and so forth. These edits are surprisingly polished for what they are and add a lot to the visual element of this visual novel, with the creator cobbling together something all their own. Barring minor issues like contrasting shading styles or the remnants of a subpar crop job, I’d say it is an impressive use of existing assets. The same can be said on the audio front, as the tracks used are chill and catchy backing beats, while the game is peppered with the occasional sound effects, including public domain vocal sounds that really do enhance certain scenes.
Unfortunately, this game’s presentation is ultimately held back by its choice of engine as, instead of using the standard Ren’py engine, Milly opted for the faster, simpler, and less versatile TyranoBuilder engine. This initially doesn’t seem like a big deal as, aside from the stock to-be-replaced UI, the game looks quite good just based on scattering of screenshots. But the limitations began adding up as I actually played the game.
Character animations are overall less dynamic than the kamishibai-esque offerings of P-S, ST, or re:Dreamer. The lack of colored character names can make it harder to keep track of who’s who. There are only 5 save slots, which is just bafflingly limited for a freeform decision-based game like this. You cannot scroll back to previous scenes and the dialogue backlog is erased after every reload. I had to manually take screenshots using Snipping Tool, like a schlub. And while I’m not sure if the poor visual quality and artifacting seen during the TG transformation sequence in the Clara route are due to engine limitations… I’m guessing it is.
To wrap this review up, P.D.A. – Personal Data Altercator is yet another wildly promising TG/TF visual novel. It has enough of its own unique flavor, personality, themes, and priorities to distinguish it from its peers, but in its current form, it is a tad rough in spots, limited in content, and has assorted quirks. It is a title that, with continued iteration and development from its sole developer, could blossom into something truly great. But for those who want something a touch more robust, I’d recommend waiting until routes are expanded, errors are corrected, and visuals are updated.
P.D.A. – Personal Data Altercator is available for download via TFGames.Site.
Oh, and because I am annal about this sort of thing, I also went and created a flowchart showing all available choices in Version 0.1 of P.D.A.: