I’m assuming that the story presented in Caroline’s Important Life Diary ($1.00) is meant to be a semi-serious meditation on the life and choices of a young girl trying to fit in, both within her circle of asshole friends (more on that in a bit) and the greater world around her. The title character is that perfect sort of non-descript type (as most of us are / were at that age), lost in the shuffle of faces and voices and therefore invisible to society. But the actual story— if you want to call it that— is also lost, lost in translation1 and in some of the strangest sequences I’ve ever played in a game. And I’ve played a lot of XBLIGs; I should be immune to the peculiar.
The format is a hybrid mix of visual novel and simple minigames, with a graphical style that looks like it came straight out of the Atari 2600’s back catalog. With a little MS Paint thrown in as well.
Caroline and her friends comprise a unit formed from the initials of their names, the C.O.O.L.2 girls. It’s not known what the other girls in the crew have had to do to keep their street cred, but Caroline specifically has to constantly show her worth to the group. Her story is told both in text and voice-acted… strangely. Given the choice-heavy narrative, text would have more than sufficient. The decision to voice these characters— with some of the most cringe-worthy dialogue imaginable— is baffling and distracting.
Anyway, Caroline has to take part in various activities to earn C.O.O.L. points and keep herself in good standing with the rest of the club. These life events include spitting on random people walking by, dodging lasers on the way to school, and stealing knives from a store after closing time. Yeah, it’s a pretty odd and edgy life Caroline finds herself living. These choices and minigames net you said C.O.O.L. points (or take them away), which help steer the story.
In various scenes, you can yell at the crowd that came to watch your play, talk to your headmaster3 on the way to a party, ignore your friends’ requests to spit4 on any ugly kid, refuse to go along on a late night raid, etc. That being said, it pays the most points to be a jerk. So it would appear that the game wants you to be an asshole in order to be ‘cool’, amass points and win the game, more than make the morally-correct choices. That’s not me advocating one side over the other, just that the game is short enough already (about twenty minutes per playthrough), and being a dick to other people seems to be the surefire way to extend the story.
Of course, it’s up to you. You don’t get much closure or view towards the future of Caroline’s life, but you are calling the shots in the present. There are multiple endings (how many isn’t exactly clear; I found three) based on your choices and the total number of C.O.O.L. points you’ve accrued by a certain point.
Though why you would want to take part in any of this is beyond me. Caroline’s Important Life Diary is not that important, and isn’t really a diary at all. It’s a bizarre series of scenes and text wrapped up in stranger plot points and bad dialogue, propped up by two or three ‘minigame’-style events that don’t do anything to redeem the rest of it. There’s plenty of indie games out there that do a stellar job at telling personal stories in various formats. Not so here. Caroline’s story probably deserves to be told, but not like this. Not like this5.
- To put it another way, the dialogue and story here would be like me trying to be witty and speak the lingo of teenage life… in French. I’m not French, so I’d be lucky if you could understand me, let alone think I was an authority on the subject. You’d probably say ‘Qui est ce connard?‘ ↩
- I love acronyms as much as the next guy, but there is not a single bone in my body that would allow me to form (or be a part of) a group of friends and label ourselves ‘C.O.O.L.’ by using our initials. That would simply be, not cool. ↩
- The headmaster bit as a whole is weird, and has a strong undercurrent of a predatory relationship. Early in the game, he calls her pretty, then later reveals to Caroline that he is the one who drives her to school each day. Why Caroline never seems to have noticed this before isn’t clear, but it’s not even the worst part. The headmaster tells her this is all because of some ‘deal’ he made with her father to drive her. Which is a little fucked up. For one thing, Caroline has a sketchy father that doesn’t seem to mind handing off his daughter to strange men, and two, Caroline probably needs to steer well clear of her school’s headmaster in the future. ↩
- These girls really like spitting on people. ↩
- Yeah, you’re damn right that’s a Matrix meme, son! ↩