NB: This review was written about v1.0 of SD3. Goblinboy has never released a v1.1, or SD4 for that matter. Any files purporting to be such things are at best fakes, and at worst infected with viruses.
A review of SD3 was one of the very first AIF-related things I wrote. Compared to some of my later work it was a model of brevity. To rectify that, and to reflect the fact that some of my opinions of SD3 had changed, I rewrote it in a more 'in depth' style (i.e. more verbiage) for this blog. I’m revising it again for 2012 as a result of the discussions I’ve had with various posters, in particular thundergod.
School Dreams 3: School Dreams Forever (henceforth referred to as SD3) is the third and probably final game in a series that began with Camping Trip in 2006. All three games feature the same core group of characters and are set within a month of each other. Because they are so inter-connected, it's difficult to discuss the plot of SD3 without providing at least a précis of the events of the previous two games.
Camping Trip appeared in 2006, but was based on an unpublished prose story written by Goblinboy some time prior to that. It follows the unnamed PC as he goes on a camping trip with his girlfriend Becky, accompanied by his best friend Mike and Mike's girlfriend, Melissa. Being AIF, the PC’s motivation for going camping is less wanting to get back to nature and more wanting to make the beast with two backs with the virginal Becky. However, extra spice is added when Mike bets the PC that he can score with Becky before the PC can. As an added inducement he gives the PC permission to hit on his girlfriend, although it’s eventually revealed that Melissa is colluding with Mike to help him win the bet as well as betting Becky that she can get the PC to be unfaithful. The plot therefore forces the PC to make a choice between the pure and virginal Becky or the more 'accessible' Melissa. It's a choice that actually has some consequences within the game, which was a major revelation for AIF at the time. However, the final scene (a foursome involving all the characters) is the same no matter what decisions the player makes, and it establishes a basic status quo that carries over to the next two games.
School Dreams 2: Forfeit Fantasy was released in 2007. A remark made by Becky at the end of Camping Trip implied that her sister Kirsty would feature in any sequel, but Goblinboy instead chose to make Molly, Mike's little sister, the main subject of SD2, although Melissa's sister, Alison, was also introduced. The plot had Mike getting the PC to not only deflower his little sister but also capture the moment on video, supposedly as a 'forfeit' from the bet in the first game. SD2 was very different in tone from Camping Trip, and I would describe most of the characters as overly-sexualised caricatures. Goblinboy realised that the game wasn't turning out how he had hoped, but decided to salvage the work he had done by tacking on an 'it was all a dream' ending and releasing it anyway. Although the PC's dreams are briefly mentioned in the opening of SD3 and there are a few other references scattered throughout the game, SD2 doesn't have a direct bearing on the plot of SD3. However, it does provide a frightening glimpse into the subconscious of the PC, who is otherwise severely under-characterised.
|Copyright 2009 Goblinboy|
That brings us to School Dreams 3: School Dreams Forever, which was released in 2009 and shares the same basic plot as SD2 but is much closer to Camping Trip in tone. SD3 is said to take place about a month after the events of Camping Trip. As a result of the bet in that game, Mike has asked the PC to deflower his sister Molly. Although this is referred to as a forfeit, SD3 avoids providing a canonical outcome for the bet, so it's not clear if the events of SD3 are supposed to be the PC's prize for winning or the price of losing. The fact that Becky is in love with the PC and hoping to marry him would seem to suggest that he won the bet, but during the truth or dare sequence at the end of the game the PC can choose to say that he lost his virginity (and the bet) to Melissa. The ambiguities created by trying to fudge together the different possible endings of Camping Trip weaken SD3’s plot somewhat. I would have preferred it if Goblinboy had simply picked one ending as canonical or allowed the player to specify the outcome of Camping Trip at the beginning of SD3 and modified the characters' responses accordingly, although the latter would obviously have added to the his workload.
Something else that I think weakens the plot is that despite the game being about the choice between Becky and Molly, the reasons provided for the PC's pursuit of Molly (she's cute and Mike wants him to) aren't very compelling. Goblinboy attempts to buttress this by making Becky more interested in commitment and jealous of any attention the PC pays to other women in order to make the easy going Molly seem a more attractive choice. I don't think it's wholly successful, and it's perhaps telling that Molly was the only one of the three main female characters not to be nominated for a Best NPC Erin.
Despite that, the fact that SD3 is about a choice rather than simply the PC having a lot of sex is a positive thing to my mind. It's certainly one area where SD3 holds an advantage over the more recent Meteor, and is perhaps one of the reasons why it generates more discussion. You could also read the choice between Becky and Molly as being symbolic of something deeper, such as the PC's decision to embrace adulthood or remain a child. There are factors that militate against that reading, the question of how Alison fits in chief among them, but it's certainly a significant choice. No matter what the PC decides he has to sacrifice something, which makes SD3 almost unique in AIF.
Ultimately, any weaknesses in SD3's plot are more than compensated for by the fact that the plot doesn't restrict the player. Unlike Camping Trip, the PC is free to completely ignore Mike's desires and pursue a monogamous relationship with Becky. Or perhaps he's more interested in the enigmatic Alison? Or maybe he'd prefer another tumble with Melissa or one of the other minor female characters. SD3 is the closest that AIF has come to a 'sandbox' game in that it allows the PC to do many things that aren't connected to the main 'plot'. It's this nonlinearity combined with the breadth of content that is SD3's main strength, rather than the plot itself.
The characters of SD3 can be broadly divided into two categories. On one side are the characters whose main motivation is sex and who are completely self-centred in fulfilling their desires. This includes Melissa, Mike, Gary, Mrs Stevens, Charlotte, Yuki and the Head. On the other side are the more realistic characters, whose motivations are not primarily sexual and who are recognisably human rather than caricatures. This latter group includes Becky, Molly, Alison and Mrs Johnson. Camping Trip featured a similar contrast between its two main female characters, but in SD3 that's extended over a much larger section of the game world. In my opinion, it's an uncomfortable juxtaposition that does not help believability, especially since the player is given concrete examples of its negative effects (e.g. Alison).
Of the three NPCs who appeared in Camping Trip, only Becky plays a major role in SD3. Over the course of the three games Becky has been portrayed very inconsistently. In Camping Trip she was the innocent virgin who nonetheless becomes a convert to group sex mere hours after losing her virginity or, even more egregiously, literally hurls herself at Mike if she catches the PC with another woman. In SD2 she became (as already mentioned) an overly sexualised caricature of herself, among other things deciding that starring in a hardcore magazine pictorial would be a pleasant surprise for the PC.
In SD3 it seems as though her original instincts from Camping Trip are reasserting themselves, as evidenced by her dissatisfaction with both the ménage a quatre she finds herself in and the PC's wandering eye. It's an altogether human reaction although, as previously mentioned, I think it also serves the ulterior purpose of making her less attractive to the PC and Molly a viable alternative. The most obvious example of this is their differing reactions to the waitress at the pub. Becky is visibly annoyed if the PC pays any attention to her, while Molly actually helps the PC get a better view of her ass. This behaviour reflects Becky's infatuation with the PC, although I find the strength of her feelings for the PC to be frankly inexplicable given how they're both characterised. Although Camping Trip stated that she's at least a year younger than the PC, she seems like the more mature of the two. She's certainly the more studious, assiduously doing her homework when she gets home each day while the PC can barely concentrate in class. It's a mystery what the two of them find to talk about, as Goblinboy doesn't tell us.
Despite being the same age as Becky, Molly manages to seem like the youngest of the female characters. Physically she's the least mature, lagging behind even Becky in her development. Emotionally and mentally she lacks Becky's intelligence and maturity, Melissa's sexually-derived confidence, or Alison's old-beyond-her-years jadedness. That supports the idea that by choosing Molly, the PC is symbolically choosing to reject adulthood (represented by Becky) and remain immature (represented by the more child-like Molly). He's definitely rejecting the monogamy that Becky wants, as Molly seems much more willing to accommodate the PC's desires in that direction. You could draw some parallels between Molly and Becky in Camping Trip, since both go from being virgins to taking on (up to) three guys at once in the course of a single evening. However, Molly’s youthful appearance belies a much greater eagerness for sexual experience. Although Molly can form an emotional connection to the PC, it seems as though the physical side of their relationship is more important to both of them (tellingly, the epilogues where the PC ends up with Molly focus exclusively on the sex). That contrasts with Becky, for whom sex is an outgrowth of her relationship with the PC rather than the other way around (the same is true, to a lesser extent, of Alison).
It would be easy to write off Melissa as being merely a slut, and in fact all of the characters in SD3 do. However, on closer examination her motivations and character are more complex. Far from being a simple sex object, she embraces her carnal side and uses it to exert dominance over those characters who don’t. For example, in Camping Trip she talks derisively about “prim and proper Miss Becky Johnson”. At the party in SD3 Melissa’s triumph over Becky is complete when she explains to Molly how Becky is now “as big a slut as the rest of us” while Becky looks ashamed. In effect, Melissa is the alpha predator of the dystopia universe of the School Dreams series, perfectly adapted to her environment.
In SD2, Alison was very much a junior version of her sister, gleefully letting the Head fuck her in the showers. That scene occurs (off camera) in SD3 as well, but now it's because the Head is blackmailing her and Alison is far from gleeful about it. Alison is forced to occupy the ‘limbo’ between the two categories of characters I outlined earlier. In terms of her outlook, she's one of the more realistic characters, but the other characters assume she's as big a slut as her mother and sister, which leaves her with no allies and allows both the Head and Gary to take advantage of her. Being trapped in this situation through no fault of her own takes an obvious toll on Alison and demonstrates how callously destructive the self-centred characters can be. Alison is isolated and friendless (apart from whoever it is who takes pictures of her and the PC), but that has the effect of making her a much more sympathetic character than either Becky or Molly. In a way, she’s the true innocent of the game rather than the virginal Molly. Her dealings with the PC are tinged with a hope that he will prove to be better than the other men in her life (it’s notable that he is the only man she ever seeks out of her own free will). However, her past experiences lead her to expect that her hopes will be disappointed and prevent her from fully trusting him. If they should pair off at the party, their wistful leavetaking is the most touching scene in the game.
It's hard to say on which side the PC stands in this dichotomy, which reflects the fact that there is no one true way to play SD3. The strongest evidence for his self-centredness is the fact that he has to rely on Mike and Melissa (of all people) to explain Becky's feelings to him. The fact that he's friends with Mike and could have been friends with
also supports the
self-centred interpretation. The player can choose to make him act even more
selfishly, such as by blackmailing Alison or taking advantage of the cinema
girl. At the same time, there are indications that he's a better person than,
for example, Gary .
It would explain Becky's infatuation with the PC and the hints that Alison is
romantically attracted to him if he was the least worst man available. Alison
says as much when watching Mike take advantage of an unconscious Molly
(although of course the PC has the freedom to prove her wrong). Gary
Overall, I think that SD3 suffers because of the unevenness of its characters. It's often hard to believe that characters like Gary or Melissa are even the same species as Becky or Alison. Melissa is never less believable (or more unlikeable) to me than when she says that Alison being raped by the Head is "Great!" That problem is somewhat mitigated by the fact that the unrealistic characters are largely peripheral to the story.
plays the largest role, but as the PC's antagonist he's not meant to be a
sympathetic character. Conversely, Becky, Alison and (to a lesser extent) Molly
are more attractive and likeable, as well as more believable. Gary
However, those problems are balanced out by how interesting and compelling the characters of SD3 manage to be. That’s partly due to the fact that each character has a strong motivation that relates to the plot and conflicts with the motivations of the other characters, creating drama and making them more dynamic and believable characters. For instance, Becky wants to be monogamous with the PC, which conflicts with Mike’s desire to watch the PC deflower Molly (as a precursor to having sex with her himself), Molly’s own desire to lose her virginity, Melissa’s desire to exert her dominance over Becky by turning her into a slut, and so on. Because of that, even someone as superficially stereotypical as Melissa has depth and complexity once you look at her closely. Although I think that Meteor exhibits better and more extensive characterisation in technical terms, it’s no accident that there has been much more discussion about the characters of SD3.
As I've written elsewhere, I think Goblinboy's major weakness as an author is the lack of interest he seems to have in any non-sexual description. In particular, the room descriptions in SD3 are predominantly bland and generic, without much in the way of secondary description (objects and decorations). They're not bad per se, but they do leave me with the overall impression that the game takes place against a painted backdrop, rather than a 'real' world, which does not aid believability.
Goblinboy does rouse himself for the sex scenes, but given the paucity of the rest of his writing they almost seem like oases in a desert. That does have the benefit of focusing the player's attention on them, but it also suggests that SD3 sees itself as 'just' porn, with no pretensions towards creating a believable world or story for the player to immerse themselves in. That's disappointing given what an author of Goblinboy's ability could be capable of if the ambition of something like In Darkness was married to the scope of SD3 or Meteor. Overall, I'd classify Goblinboy's prose as competent and workmanlike, but that sounds a little like damning with faint praise, so I'll just describe it as good.
The presence of graphics makes up for some of the weakness in description, particularly for the characters. It's a subjective area, but personally I felt that the character designs in SD3 were even better than Meteor, although there were a few that didn't work (e.g. the cinema ticket girl, who looks like a refugee from IMVU).
The defining feature of SD3 is the extent to which the player is able to determine the outcome. Although the structure of the game is essentially a linear journey through the four days, there are many small detours that the player can choose to take along the way and those detours have consequences. They might open up an option the following day, or close it off. Consequently, if you play the game in a certain way, events will reflect that, as will the ending. True, the range of ‘personas’ that the PC can assume isn’t very broad, going all the way from ‘self-centred guy with occasional episodes of kindness’ to ‘complete bastard’. If you try to stay faithful to Becky, for example, you’ll encounter various characters who assume you’re pursuing Molly and there is no way to tell them otherwise. However, it’s much more freedom of action than any other AIF game provides.
More importantly to most players, SD3 has a large number of sex scenes, and some of them are very hot indeed. Each of the main female characters (Becky, Molly, Alison) has three to six minor scenes that the PC can enjoy before the grand finale. These scenes are mostly quite small, but each is distinct and memorable, and collectively they serve to heighten the player's anticipation of what is to come. The PC’s dates with Becky and Molly could occur in any order, and therefore can’t have significant dramatic consequences. However, they’re buttressed by a number of other small encounters which contribute to the player’s sense of how their chosen relationship is progressing.
I would describe two of the four climactic scenes (Molly, and Becky/Molly) as among the best ever written. Each is almost a mini-storyline in itself, with variations depending on which characters are present, what limits the player has set and the choices the PC makes. For instance, in the Molly scene it's possible for
to join in if he's present (and for Mike
to do so as well if the appropriate limits are turned off), or she can stay
faithful to the PC. These variations increase replayability, and I ended up
playing through the game many times simply to set up all the different possibilities. Gary
The other major scenes (Becky and especially Alison) are a little disappointing by comparison. Becky's scene is meant to be the 'romantic' ending to the game. However, part of what makes the scenes involving Molly so memorable is that the entire game has been leading up to them. By contrast, the PC and Becky can have sex as many as four times before their final scene, so the fact that they have sex again in their final scene has much less impact. The only thing that really distinguishes it is the PC's admission of love. But that seems impulsive rather than the product of deep emotion, and he has misgivings almost immediately.
Alison's scene is undoubtedly the weakest of the four. For starters it takes place in the same room as two other sex scenes (Gary/Molly and Mike/Melissa). So each turn the player is deluged with the results of their actions (which quickly become repetitive) as well as his own. It would have been both more readable, and more in keeping with Alison's character if she had insisted on going somewhere else. However, the major weakness is how perfunctory the scene feels. It's nowhere near as in depth as the other scenes, and features fewer pictures as well. The only truly memorable thing about it is the rather wistful way that Alison and the PC take their leave of each other at the end.
Apart from the three main female characters, the PC has five other potential playmates. However, only Yuki and Melissa get interactive scenes. Yuki’s scene gets quite a bit of build up, but Melissa’s is simply meaningless sex (as befits her character). The PC's encounters with the other girls are simply narrated via cut scene once they have been triggered, and there are also a number of opportunities for voyeurism to be found. However, some of the best sex that the PC can have occurs in his own head. There are nearly a hundred scripted daydreams, the majority of which have pictures, plus a much larger number of randomly generated fantasies. I have mixed feelings about the daydreams. On the plus side they allow the game to include content that would have been completely unrealistic if it had actually ‘happened’ to the PC, such as anything involving Mrs Johnson. On the minus side, the fact that the PC can spend so much time staring at girls and fantasising about them makes him seem like a creepy pervert. Additionally, most of the daydreams are completely random, so seeing all of them requires repeating the same command over and over (and undo-ing it if the right daydream doesn't appear). It's a tedious process that makes what should be a fun aside almost an exercise in masochism. Overall, I wouldn’t have minded if some of the effort put into the daydreams had been diverted elsewhere, such as Alison’s final scene.
For a game of its size and complexity SD3 suffers from very few bugs. Those that did slip through the net are annoying rather than fatal, such as it being impossible to get the last bonus point or one of the dreams being inaccessible. I'm less forgiving of the large number of spelling mistakes and typos.
The main innovation of SD3 is the ability to set limits on what appears in the game. If the player doesn't want to see a particular type of content, they simply set it to no and it either doesn't appear or they see an alternate scene instead. Given how extreme some of the content in SD2 was (for AIF anyway), this is a welcome alternative.
Although SD3 doesn't introduce much in the way of new technical wizardry, it does make good use of some of the things that were introduced in Camping Trip. In particular, the clothing mechanics make a welcome return. It’s surprising how much the ability to move or undo items of clothing (rather than simply removing them) adds to the believability of the scenes that occur in public places, especially when backed up by pictures reflecting the NPC’s state of dress (or undress). Additionally, the PC can now ‘penetrate’ the various girls and then perform other actions while in that position. Speaking of penetration, the ‘finger’ verb has also been added, which produces a different response to mere rubbing. These factors make what would otherwise be quite minor scenes feel both believable and significant.
Daydreaming also assumes a much more prominent role than it did in Camping Trip, although its sole purpose seems to be wedging in even more content and it eventually starts to feel excessive (something that also applies to the computer).
When SD3 was first released, I wrote that there was no doubt it would be the standard by which all other AIF is measured for a long time to come. So far I think that’s proved to be the case, even if Meteor is the more technically polished piece of work. However, what SD3 offers is almost compulsive replayability. Despite the minor gripes that I’ve made during this review, I have to admit that I've spent more time playing SD3 than any other piece of AIF. It's a game that sucks you in and doesn't let go, as well as being the only piece of AIF I can think of that supports readings beyond the superficial.
However, SD3 is very specifically a teenage male fantasy. Parental control is virtually absent (where are Mike and Molly's parents during the party?). Mrs Johnson and Mrs Stevens only appear in the game to be subjects for the PC's lustful imagination. The sex is almost purely physical, which reflects the emotional immaturity of most of the protagonists. Only Becky assigns any real emotion to her encounters with the PC, and that's presented as a reason to replace her with Molly.
More subjectively, the world of SD3 is basically a dystopia. The guys are misogynistic jerks and the girls are expected to be sluts. There is no place for empathy or altruism. The PC has the freedom to rape an unconscious girl, but not to stop someone else from raping her. The character of Alison shows that this kind of behaviour has a human cost, but that also prevents SD3 from being put in the same category as the cheerfully amoral Sam Shooter series. The result is that while I found the scenes arousing, I found some of them to be a little disturbing as well. SD3 is definitely a game that’s easier to enjoy if you don't think about it too deeply. However, the fact that you can think deeply about SD3 is something that’s absent from a lot of AIF and I think forms part its enduring appeal.
The other thing that truly makes SD3 a special game is the unparalleled number of options that the player can choose from. Although there is an ostensible goal, the PC is not forced to pursue it and can instead follow several different paths. The game doesn't make any path more compelling than another (i.e. there is no 'true' path), although some are supported by more content than others. The sacrifice inherent in having multiple paths is that none is going to be as well developed as a single-storyline game would be, but that's a small price to pay for the gameplay experience that SD3 offers.