If you’re looking for a verdict on whether or not to buy this game, you can stop here: it’s great. Just get it. Roger Ebert, that old videogame nemesis of old, once said to judge movies on the merits of their genre. If an action movie is really good at being an action movie, don’t compare it to Oscar bait or whatever. It is okay that Die Hard isn’t Schindler’s List. No one was asking it to be. So I submit that Style Savvy: Fashion Forward does exactly what you’re expecting it to do, and it does it very, very well. Ten out of ten. Graphics, mechanics etc, just buy the damn game.
But Style Savvy is also sitting at the crossroads of some hot button issues and while it’s not a game about anything of them, it’s still going to have a point of view. This is a videogame about interests that typically appeal to women: fashion and beauty. I’m a woman who is fairly politically active, I’ve written about fashion, and I love videogames. How does this game make me feel about these things?
The first time I had an inkling that the game was trying to teach something was right before the credits hit. Adelaide, a prissy character who was trying to (gasp) shut down the fashion shows you put on with your friends, finally comes around to seeing the value of personal style. What she says to you is, “It’s always better to say, ‘Thank you,’ than ‘I’m sorry.’” She goes on tell you to value yourself, not to constantly apologize for taking up people’s space and time.
I say “right before the credits,” but as with the last Style Savvy the game goes on, and on, and on, after they roll. There’s a lot of game here, and very little filler. The simplistic plotlines carry on and through the post credits—yes, there’s plot here! One character, Xiaoling, finds a new sense of self first through remaking herself in the image of her idol, Callie, and then through finding out what her own style is. You as a player will develop as a style icon first by adding hairstyling and makeup artistry into your repertoire, and later by making your own designs and selling them to brands. In fact, one of the designs you make will be Adelaide’s wedding dress. She met her fiancé wearing the outfit you picked out for her.
It’s a gong I’ve been banging on for my whole life: when you like how you look, you feel better about yourself. The game contextualizes your skill in fashion not by dressing people how you think they should be dressed, but by making them look how they want to. You’re granting wishes, like a fashionable genie. I gave a girl a haircut that looked like toothpaste—pure white, in a side ponytail without bangs. It looked fucking awful, but it was what she wanted, and she was so happy.
I mean, this is the way that fashion as an industry has been trending since beauty blogs became a thing. It’s a more holistic approach to clothing: don’t try to hide what you hate, instead try to emphasize what you like. With the rise of beauty blog Into The Gloss’s own makeup and skincare brand, Glossier, Style Savvy seems particularly on trend. It is possible now to became an all in one brand like you do in Style Savvy in ways it wasn’t even ten years ago. There’s more freedom here. I don’t have to listen when the industry tells me that paisley prints and corduroy are back in style; I can be fashionable in a way that’s uniquely me.
The clothes in this game speak to that. There’s a whopping fifteen brands in the game, ranging from gothic petticoats to preppy pleated skirts to head turning sequined gowns. While most customers will request looks that fall inside a certain image, some brands have items that do double duty in different styles. You think those blood-red oxfords would look cute with that girly shift dress? The game does too. It feels a lot less constrained than the previous game, which got a little monotonous after a while. Here, you can take a chance on an out there item with less risk that the customer will hate it.
But I honestly think the hair styling portion is a real gem. The requests are the most abstract—I haven’t quite figured out what “romantic” means in context—which makes it more challenging. When you take a risk and get it right it feels incredible, and if you don’t get it quite right the game gives you enough information to understand why and get better.
The only mechanic that I think could have been thought through a little more is the color collecting. You’re not given a full palate of colors at the start: you have to collect them by taking pictures. What seems charming at first quickly becomes frustrating. There’s only so many locations, new colors are hard to find, and you can only use the colors you have for makeup, hair dye and designing. How am I supposed to live with only two shades of purple? Where are the other shades of purple?
All these small tasks are in service of a showstopper—the fashion shows. Once you impress enough people with your styling skills you get to strut your stuff on the runway. There’s some tweaks here from the last game. These aren’t contests anymore, but chances for personal expression. The audience will have a reaction to what you put on but you’ll always be congratulated for your efforts. In fact, whatever is the dominant style in your outfit will suddenly be the most requested at your shop.
Personal expression really is the game, here. That’s what the game is trying to tell me. That I deserve to look how I want to look, be who I want to be. That I deserve to say “thank you” instead of “I’m sorry.” Even the male characters who show up play into this. I had a male customer come into the beautician’s and buy a cat themed makeup set just because he thought it was cute. I had a pair of brothers buy a set for their sister who was too busy to treat herself. They deserved nice things, and so do you.
If you want to know if this is a good videogame, just look at the first paragraph. It does exactly what it says on the tin. If you want to know how fashion can enrich your life, here’s my advice: you, too, should just buy this game. Just get it already. And maybe that pair of shoes you’ve been eyeing. You earned it.
Style Savvy: Fashion Forward was developed by Syn Sophia and Nintendo SPD and published by Nintendo. It is available for the Nintendo 3DS.
Gita Jackson is the assistant editor for Paste’s comedy and games sections.