"Dear Kyleen, My fiancee left me 5 years ago and I still haven't gotten over her. Now I fall for girls aimlessly. What can I do?"

Answering this question is Kyleen Nelphe, a vivacious 16-year old girl from the floating city of Sharan, whose saucy, "me first" personality often is reflected in her replies. Kyleen is just one of the many girls of Thousand Arms, Atlus' role-playing game for the Sony PlayStation.

Thousand Arms' hero, Meis, is a young "spirit blacksmith" on a quest to save a magical world from an unspeakable evil. The key to his success is that a beautiful woman must be present to help impart a spirit to Meis' forged swords; the stronger the love and respect of the woman for the blacksmith, the greater the weapon that can be forged. Thus, in addition to all the other cool events that occur in this epic RPG, Meis needs to meet – and date – women to accumulate charisma and intimacy levels so they will help you forge or improve weapons you and your party acquire as the story unfolds.

Thousand Arms was originally developed by Atlus in cooperation with RED Company of Japan, and it happens to be the first Japanese RPG game to be translated and made available for American gamers to enjoy that includes a unique "dating" element.

"Ren'ai", or "romantic", video games (also known by some as "dating simulations") have been all the rage in Japan for several years. In these, the player's character (usually male, sometimes female) must meet and get acquainted with various characters with the goal of fostering a virtual "relationship". This is usually accomplished by scripted "discussions" with a character, who will pose questions or make small talk. Players usually select one of several possible answers (often indicating different degrees of interest) that will have a direct bearing on whether the character decides she likes you or not and what happens in the story.

What makes the "dating" experience, especially in Thousand Arms, so dynamic is that the characters on screen have different facial expressions, reactions, body language, and lip sync that accompany fully spoken dialogue by talented voice actors. The characters react appropriately to your responses, too, and the programming is such that they can be increasingly receptive or equally moody. And if you "say" the wrong thing or exhibit boorish behavior, they sometimes will "remember" slights and exhibit jealousy or anger toward you or other characters. Of course, a player's long-term goal is to have successfully dated each character, not only to obtain spells but to see the character's unique events and reactions as the storylines progress in the game.

Yet the girls of Thousand Arms are not content to remain characters in their fantasy world; they're now offering their advice about life, love, and dating in the Sodina & Friends Advice Column.

"We struck upon the idea of an advice column, similar to the ones seen in the new brand of men's magazines (Gear, Details, etc)," said Colin Totman, the Thousand Arms script editor and author of the girls' wisdom. "Thankfully, the mature themes and the strong female presence in the game were a natural fit for this type of column."

Totman reads the emails sent to advicegirls@atlus.com, then sits down with a group of Atlus men and women. After deciding which questions to answer and possible slants to take in the advice, Totman gets into character and writes the girls' responses. The web page, found at http://www.atlus.com/thousandarms/advice1.html, is updated regularly with the latest serious and not-so-serious questions and answers.

The column's letters and responses vary from the serious to the whimsical, with Sodina usually offering practical answers and Kyleen (and sometimes Myna) tending to be a bit more outrageous.

Oh, and Kyleen's response to the opening question? "It's time to move on… Please step away from the self-pity. It isn't flattering."

But as the web page says, readers are encouraged to remember: "This advice is for entertainment purposes only. Any attempts to use this advice in real life may get you slapped or laughed at."

This review is copyright (c) 1999, 2000 by Ken Gagne and Richard E. Rae. All rights reserved. Not to be distributed without permission.

Original Publication: Sentinel & Enterprise, 1-Nov-99