The Flower Shop:
Winter in Fairbrook
Is the weather outside frightful? Then why not indulge in a little winter warmth in Winter Wolves' visual novel simulation The Flower Shop: Winter in Fairbrook, the sequel to the original. This time, you play Natalie, a mostly well-meaning but unmotivated young college student whose parents are fed up with her lack of priorities and insist she gets a job over winter break. Her roommate snags her a position at Susana's flower store back in the tiny village of Fairbrook, and to Natalie the isolation and hard work sounds like boredom personified. Will she have a change of heart as she comes to know the people she meets? Perhaps even grow up a little... or maybe even find romance?
Gameplay is virtually identical to the first game, although Natalie spends her mornings working in a greenhouse rather than toiling away on a farm. At the start of each week, you're given a calendar that lets you choose what you want to do on each day, and different places could lead you to interact with certain people, or increase Natalie's statistics. Don't get too carried away catting about town, though; every morning you still need to weed, water, and take care of the plants in Susanna's greenhouse... or at least, you do if you want to turn a profit. You can buy more seeds from Ryan's general store if you've got the cash, but take care not to overwork yourself. Spend some time relaxing at home if Natalie's health gets too low.
Of course, at its heart Winter in Fairbrook is more of an interactive story than anything else. As you play and explore the town, you'll be presented with different choices at times that will effect how whoever you're speaking to feels about you. More than anything else, this impacts the relationships Natalie can potentially form with the eligible bachelors around town, and if she gets certain statistics up high enough, she may get even closer to them. Ryan, for example, is more likely to open up to someone he considers cultured, while Steve, as his uncle will inform you (because that isn't creepy at all), likes his women smart. Just set your sights on someone (or not!) and spread your time out around the town. You're bound to run into something interesting or life threatening. Fun!
Analysis: Heavy drama? Break-neck action? Who needs 'em! Or at least, who needs 'em all the time? Winter in Fairbrook is a sweet, sentimental, mostly drama-free little game that focuses more on coming of age and character interaction in a way that those of us looking for something warm and welcoming to curl up with in the evening will appreciate. While initially the surplus of familiar locations and faces might seem like a bit of a let down to those who played the original, Natalie and the crew provide a wholly different set of plot points and interactions that keeps things from feeling stale. Though the whole "I wub you" bit with each of the potential bachelors feels a little abrupt (even with the rather impressive 12 week vacation Natalie has here), they're a likable sort and come with minimal baggage so chances are you'll find someone to cozy up with.
The gardening aspect, unfortunately, remains identical in all but setting to the original, and is still just as uninteresting. Even though earning a high amount of cash influences the "special" ending you can unlock with each character, all you can buy with the money you earn is more seeds, and since the type of flowers or amount you grow doesn't have any impact on anything except how much money you get, it's hard to feel motivated to care about it. It feels like there was a real missed opportunity to make better use of Ryan's general store, perhaps in allowing us to buy gifts for people, or even just cosmetic changes for Natalie. Hey, how about letting us buy some of those fish sticks he seems so proud of?
Despite the identical gameplay, The Flower Shop: Winter in Fairbrook is a warm and fuzzy visual novel that will appeal to fans of the original who wanted a chance to get to know certain characters better, or even just the option to play a female lead. With the ability to save and load your game any time you please, you can navigate your way through many different endings with ease, and with the gorgeous art and professional design, this is one you'll easily want to come back to again and again. Winter in Fairbrook doesn't take a whole lot of risks or offer a lot of innovation, but it does offer up a well crafted experience with an accessible story and a whole lot of replay value. Give the demo a try, and if you ever figure out a way to talk Ryan into selling you some of those fish sticks, let me know. With a banner like that, they must be amazing.