Strawberry Vinegar review for PS4, Xbox One, Switch

Platform: PS4
Also on: Switch, PC, Xbox One
Publisher: Ratalaika Games
Developer: ebi-hime
Medium: Digital
Players: 1
Online: No

There?s a scene midway through Strawberry Vinegar that really captures everything you need to know about the game. It?s a visual novel about a pair of young girls (or, technically, a 9-year-old girl, and a demon who looks and acts like a 9-year-old, and why yes, this game is Japanese, how could you tell?) who are becoming friends — or, as the game description says, ?perhaps something more??

The two characters are at an apple orchard on a class field trip, and the demon girl, Licia, holds an apple out to the human girl, Rie. While it?s undeniably creepy — I mean, it?s not hard to spot the symbolism of a pair of prepubescent girls re-enacting the story of Adam and Eve, and all the ickiness that goes along with that — it also highlights how different Strawberry Vinegar is from most other visual novels. Where most games of this ilk would linger creepily on the girl in her schoolgirl outfit, Strawberry Vinegar spends a long, long time focusing on the food.

Like, a loooooong time.

And it?s then that you realize that, more than anything else, this game is really a love story about food.

I mean, you?ll probably realize it sooner than that, since this game devotes a crazy amount of time lingering on shots of food, right from the get-go when you?re treated to a lengthy shot of plate full of cucumber slices. After that, it?s shots of pancakes, shortcake, milkshakes, corn on the cob, shrimp…you name it, and this game probably has a shot of it that qualifies as food porn. Strawberry Vinegar even has a long, lingering shot of a cup of shaved ice, if you want to get an idea of how deep its obsession goes.

Perhaps because this game is about food more than anything else, it?s easy to overlook its shortcomings. The story is undeniably discomfiting, for starters. Even if the game is very careful to never show Rie and Licia kissing until they?ve turned 18, there?s enough unsubtle innuendo that you don?t have to look very hard to read between the lines. On top of that, most of the female characters here dress in clothing that?s creepily infantilizing at one point or another, which just adds to the feeling that you?re watching some developers work through some unsettling fetishes.

And, of course, this game is pretty technically lacking too. There?s no voice acting. The animation is subpar at the best of times. For some reason, the developers decided they should make a visual novel that features white text on a pink background. Really, if you?re looking for reasons to be underwhelmed by this game, it?s not hard to find them.

Yet, despite all that, it?s hard to really dislike a game that loves food so much. For all its flaws, I don?t think I?ve ever played a game that left my mouth watering and my stomach growling, yet that?s precisely how I?m feeling after finishing this one. If that was Strawberry Vinegar?s aim — and given all the shots of food, I have to think it was — then it?s done everything it set out to do.

Ratalaika Games provided us with a Strawberry Vinegar PS4 code for review purposes.

Grade: B-