At the time of writing I am, as you’ll well know if you’ve watched any recent videos or read my blog on Patreon, ill.
When I’m ill, I want to do mindless things. And in the world of interactive entertainment, there are few things more mindless than mobile games. So with that in mind, I downloaded Arknights. This is the new release from Azur Lane publisher YoStar, and a game a lot of people are talking about on social media right now.
Then I decided to play CocoPPa Dolls by United Inc. instead. Why? Well, why not?
CocoPPa Dolls’ curious name stems from a couple of other apps that have been available for a few years now. CocoPPa launched in 2012, and is a customisation app that allows its users to create, share and download custom icons and wallpapers for their phones. Two years later, it got a spinoff app named CocoPPa Play, which provided its users the opportunity to create custom 3D chibi avatars and dress them up in a variety of outfits to interact with other users.
The time was evidently ripe for a new CocoPPa title, though, and so it was on January 20, 2020 that CocoPPa Dolls was released to the public, I happened to see a friend post excitedly about it on Twitter, thought “that looks cute” and, well, now here I am.
CocoPPa Dolls is actually a full-on game rather than a social app or software toy with game-like elements, though; specifically, it’s a gacha game themed around fashion.
Our story begins as a cluster of planets known as Cocoroa was hit by a meteor storm, which, disastrously, drained them all of their tokimeki. If that word sounds familiar, you’re probably thinking of something like classic dating sim Tokimeki Memorial or perhaps the erotic visual novel Tokimeki Check-In! It’s a popular word in Japanese popular culture because it’s strongly evocative — it literally refers to a racing heart or palpitations, and is usually used to denote excitement, typically (though not exclusively) relating to romance.
In the world of CocoPPa Dolls, tokimeki is a tangible resource; it’s a form of energy generated by the excitement of the people, and it is essential to the wellbeing of everyone in Cocoroa, and the smooth functioning of society. Under normal circumstances, Cocoroa’s tokimeki levels are maintained by its Princesses and CocoDolls performing on stage for the people, but as CocoPPa Dolls’ narrative gets underway, each of Cocoroa’s twelve planets has been almost entirely drained of this valuable resource, causing everyone to become unmotivated, lethargic and sad.
Enter our heroine Thia, whose fate you control. Thia has always dreamed of becoming a CocoDoll, and happens to stumble across an opportunity to do so much sooner than she expects. In an attempt to resolve the crisis, it seems that the Star Government has dispatched a number of agents to recruit new CocoDolls and give a much-needed boost to the twelve planets’ tokimeki levels. And Thia happens to run into one while shopping one day on her home planet!
From here, her adventure begins; she must proceed through the twelve planets of Cocoroa, impressing people with her CocoDoll skills along the way, gathering a fanbase to generate tokimeki and ultimately impressing the local Princess. Perhaps one day she’ll get to become a PrincessDoll herself…? (I don’t know yet, I haven’t got that far.)
The basic gameplay in CocoPPa Dolls revolves around “fashion checks”. These are situations where a character challenges Thia to put together an outfit favouring two specific characteristics; she’ll actually be assessed on five in total, but the two specifically mentioned carry the most weight and require you to earn the most points.
The fashion check unfolds over five stages, during each of which one of the five characteristics is assessed. Thia has a target score to reach for each of these characteristics, and is rated between zero and three stars based on whether she reached it and, if so, how much she exceeded it by; scoring more than one and a half times the target score nets the maximum of three stars.
As the five stages of the check progress, Thia’s stars are accumulated in a meter at the top of the screen. Every three stars nets her an increase in letter grade up to S, and successfully completing the check with that S-rank provides additional rewards. You don’t actually need to be perfect to get an S-rank, either; you can afford to miss two stars in total before you drop back to A-rank territory.
These points are accumulated based on the elements of the outfit you put together for Thia. There are ten elements in total, arranged in pairs of “opposites” to create several spectra of different qualities. Something that is “simple” cannot also be “gorgeous”, for example, because these represent two opposing ends of the same spectrum. Likewise, casual is the opposite of elegant; cute is the opposite of beautiful; pure is the opposite of sexy; and unisex is the opposite of girly.
Those of you who know your mobile games may have noticed that this sounds uncannily familiar to the sort of thing you find yourself doing in combat-based titles such as Granblue Fantasy and Fate/Grand Order, where you typically need to put together a party of characters or arrangement of weapons to exploit enemy elemental weaknesses. And you’d be absolutely right to think that; despite being a non-violent game about cute girls wearing pretty dresses, the core mechanics at play are pretty much identical to more conventional-looking RPG-style affairs. You even use cooldown-based “skills” during the fashion check in order to boost the points you’re acquiring, or protect yourself against vicious attacks such as “Harsh Comments”.
The difference between CocoPPa Dolls and its more violent brethren is that here you’re never facing an “enemy” who simply has a single elemental weakness; you need to ensure the items of clothing you dress Thia in cover all the appropriate characteristics to varying degrees, otherwise you won’t attain sufficient stars to get those valuable S-rank clears. This also means it’s not just a case of slapping your highest rarity items on her and hoping for the best, either — you may well have a 6-star Beautiful dress, but if the person carrying out your fashion check is looking for something Cute, that lovely dress is actually going to make things more difficult for you.
Early in the game, it’s not super-challenging to put together an S-rank outfit, particularly as the game gives you some helpful ideas in the form of a Challenge Outfit for each fashion check. This is a specific combination of items that, in most cases, will guarantee you an S-rank clear. And from the Challenge Outfit breakdown, you can tap on each item to discover how to acquire each piece if you don’t yet own it — early in the game, most items can be bought in the in-game shop using the soft currency of Gold, while later you’ll need to either craft components in the Atelier feature or acquire items from the gacha.
That said, for rarer items, there are generally several ways to acquire them, meaning you don’t typically have to rely completely on the gacha — they might also be available as rare drops from later missions, so if you don’t want to press your luck, you can always come back later and attempt to improve your grades. And once you’ve cleared a fashion check with an A-rank or higher, you can get the game to quickly and automatically run it again for you either once or ten times in a row, allowing you to easily grind for particular drops if you need them.
The gacha itself is split into three main categories: a featured banner, which is the most expensive to participate in; a Platinum Gacha, which costs the hard currency of Platinum to try your luck at; and a Gold Gacha, which costs the soft currency Gold to play. All three of these gachas allow free single rolls at regular intervals, too, so it’s perfectly feasible to play as a free player — and the game is pretty generous with Platinum rewards, too, meaning even 10-rolls on the featured banner aren’t out of reach of free-to-play players.
Actually, some of those ways of acquiring Platinum are quite well-hidden, so it pays to explore the game’s interface somewhat. There are the usual overall, daily and weekly missions to accomplish, but there are also substantial rewards on offer for completing full themed outfits and collecting particular numbers of specific items. The latter aspects are designed to look and feel very much like flipping through a fashion catalogue or magazine as well as providing you a preview of things you might want to aim to collect in the future — and, like on the Challenge Outfit screen, you can also tap on any item to discover how to acquire it.
Like most games of this type, there’s also a social element. In this case, it comes in the form of “Units”, who are groups of players you band together with in order to perform on stage and gather tokimeki. Every so often during the story missions, a “Fan” will come to the planet’s stage and request a performance; at this point either you, either solo or in asynchronous collaboration with randomly selected members of your Unit, must put together a suitable outfit in order to score as many points as possible according to the daily Trends.
Like in the fashion checks, Trends for Stage performances favour two particular elements, but you’ll be assessed on five in total. There are also a number of hidden Trend Items, too; these provide big bonuses if you can incorporate them into your outfit. A nice quasi-social component is that if any of your Unit members happen to stumble across the Trend Items for the day, they’ll automatically announce this in the chat channel for your Unit, providing you with a link as to where you can acquire them. This is a nice way of feeling like you’re cooperating with other players, even if you don’t share a common language and aren’t actually playing with them “live”.
Don’t expect to be jumping right in to acquiring Trend Items, mind; many of them are locked behind Hard-level story missions or don’t become available in the Shop and Atelier until later in the game. This isn’t to say you won’t feel like you’re contributing until high level, mind you; each day, the Stage events pit your Unit against a randomly selected other Unit, with your respective communal scores being tracked against one another on a tug-of-war meter, with rewards on offer for the winner when the next day rolls around.
CocoPPa Dolls isn’t a hugely complex game by any means — it is, at its core, a pretty princess dress-up game with a scoring system — but I’ve been very pleasantly surprised quite how enjoyable it really is — and how ideally suited it is to times when you just have a few minutes to spare, like, say, a toilet break. Yes, CocoPPa Dolls has become my go-to toilet game; judge me all you want.
The story is fun and silly — although the translation to English in places is very variable, with some reading quite well and other parts coming across like the very worst of machine translation. The whole thing is generally very well presented; the art is absolutely gorgeous, a variety of catchy tunes accompany the various things you get up to, the various outfits all have light touches of articulated animation (though nothing quite as impressive as the Live2D animations in games like Azur Lane, it has to be said) and there’s a real sense of satisfaction and celebration in collecting the wide variety of outfits available to you.
It’s essentially a game about loot whoring, only instead of bigger and glowier swords, you’re instead netting yourself frilly dresses, pretty shoes and increasingly elaborate hats.
And you know what? I’m having a lovely time! Arknights can wait; the unfortunately named Princess of Cancer is waiting for me to come strut my stuff…
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Thanks for reading; I hope you enjoyed this article. I’ve been writing about games in one form or another since the days of the old Atari computers, with work published in Page 6/New Atari User, PC Zone, the UK Official Nintendo Magazine, GamePro, IGN, USgamer, Glixel and more over the years, and I love what I do.
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