Key Text Introduction: Style Savvy Trendsetters

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Fashion is rarely the subject of a game. Now, fashion, wardrobe choices, character editors, those are a massive part of many RPGs, sims, and minigames within larger genre titles, but fashion itself is rarely the focus a game drives itself on. Style Savvy Trendsetters, the second in the Style Savvy series, keeps that focus centered – the next entry, Style Savvy Styling Star, branches out into the pop idol industry in an attempt to give the game a clearer sense of direction. Trendsetters instead uses this more freeform milieu to create a setting for the game’s real focus – spiritual fulfillment and relationship building. When I look at people comparing the franchise’s entries, there’s a strong contingent who never were satisfied with the next two titles. Unfortunately, I never played them myself, probably for the same reasons this game was ignored by so many in the first place.

The core gameplay of Style Savvy: Trendsetters, the outfit designer, is fairly simple. You collect clothing for your shop, and then work with customers to find outfits that work with their needs in terms of budget and style. Each clothing item or accessory is separated by where on the body it is worn (there are three layers for shirts, for example, separated into whether they function as a base layer or as outerwear.) As you select items on the touch screen, they populate onto a mannequin on the top, building the outfit as it tallies the sale total against the customer’s budget. When you’ve assembled your suggestion, the customer will decide whether or not to make the purchase. Rinse, repeat, make cute outfits, meet new people.

Your stylist, a self-created avatar, is hired on as the assistant at a local women’s clothing boutique. A few days into your job, the shop’s owner decides to pass control of the store to you – having gone through the tutorial of assembling outfits, you’ll now be responsible for selecting the store’s stock and style, keeping up with current fashion trends, hiring new assistants, and directly assisting customers with selecting new clothes that meet their needs. The day-to-day operation ends up serving as a fairly satisfying shop management simulation, where sales feel personalized and more detailed than just setting a price on an item and letting the day pass. Clothing recommendations require keeping in mind elements of style and seasonal weather, which give you reasons to sell more than “the most profitable” items in your shop – and every customer will keep what you sell them, so you want to try your best to only sell things you actually think look good!

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This structure ends up providing a drip feed for new story content, most of it focused on your relationships with your customers or fellow workers throughout the city at local cafes, makeup shops, and so on. But inklings drip in about your shop’s former owner trying to become a superstar fashion Some number of weeks into building relationships, creating aesthetics, and exploring the city for social opportunities, you’ll gain the ability to select and outfit men’s clothing at your boutique as well, and eventually enter your boutique into fashion competitions in an effort to expand your store’s brand.

How many weeks? Well, I honestly don’t remember. There…isn’t a lot of writing about Style Savvy Trendsetters on the internet. A handful of reviews exist from the time of release – one of the five on MetaCritic is print only, and another links out to a site that no longer has reviews whatsoever. There’s only one in-depth customer list on GameFAQS – and zero walkthroughs, clothing lists, or competition guides. I remembered that Leigh Alexander used to tweet about the game – I’m fairly confident that’s how I originally found out about it! – but I can’t find anything in my searches now. This lack of guidance ends up leaving the discoveries of the game feeling even more special, more intimate. Style Savvy: Trendsetters might be one of gaming’s best kept secrets. If so, I’m glad I get the chance to share it with you.

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Let’s walk through a short play session, maybe twenty minutes or so. I’ll boot up my file on the third copy of this game I’ve bought over the years, which I’m probably about three hours into playing.

In my shop right now, I have Shea, my assistant. Per the game’s tooltip, “She’s a bit of a scatterbrain but works hard to make up for it.” I like her updo and denim vest, but the black-and-creme striped top she wears under it doesn’t quite line with the buttons – I have an option to change her outfit, so I suggest a different striped top, this one pale cyan and white, with a small blue bow at the collar. She thanks me for the suggestion, and I move back on to my customers.

First, there’s Guinevere, a serious-looking woman in a black blazer and knee-length straight skirt. Checking the tooltip, “she has asthma but is training every day for a half marathon.” This isn’t her first visit – she has a budget today of $300. Checking in on my other customers, I have a first timer in a cute soft outfit and glasses (“She slathers on the sunblock because her skin is so sensitive”) and India (“She’s a waitress at the cafe and has a serious thing for dinosaurs.”) I take too long deciding and find out for the first time that each game day is processing on a timer – it’s not about how many customers you choose to help, but how long you take. Now the pressure is on. It’s now nighttime, and my customers have changed over!I’ll help this next first-timer. There’s now a customer with long dark blue hair and blue polka-dot dress. She has a budget of $800, so we’re picking her quickly. Her name is Wren: “Listen up! I have some great news for this city! There’s going to be a new makeup studio opening near here! Everyone around here is going to be so gorgeous! Once it’s open, you’ll be able to buy makeup there!” Makeup is highlighted in yellow – a new feature is being added to the game. Wren asks me for a feminine skirt as her first purchase – let’s help her out.

The game opens directly to the skirts menu – it doesn’t highlight which skirts are “feminine,” though. To discover that, you either need to know your wholesaler and styles, or you can use the menu to highlight all the feminine items in stock at your store. Feminine in this game means “adult, but not formal.” It’s a style I’d affiliate with business casual. Noticing her leather brown vest, I pick out a brown fluted-hem skirt from Marzipan Sky. It’s well within her budget, so I’ll ask her to try it on rather than take a look first – it’s a double-down mechanic, going all in rather than offering choices.

That feeling of putting on a new piece of clothing you love – you see it in your customers every time. They receive these suggestions as an opportunity for a Sailor Moon style transformation sequence – they are empowered to be their best selves in the clothing you’ve selected. “I decided on a whim to try it on, and I was blown away! It’s perfect for me! This look is just what I was going for! So sophisticated!” She isn’t buying anything else today, but sometimes these sales will lead to customers asking for an entire new outfit. You’ll see them in clothes they’ve bought from you going forward, mixed and matched with what they already own.

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Eventually, as a player, you come to know these keywords, these wholesalers, and, yes, these customers. They’ve written hundreds of customers, and compared with Animal Crossing, there’s a lot less shared dialogue between them than you might expect. Combine that with the number of events available in the game at an ever-expanding list of locales, and you end up with hundreds of hours you can spend long after your shop is 100% solvent.

What makes that gameplay so appealing is how much of the writing is geared toward people who actually behave, well, like people. Some of them have mundane problems, like a lack of self confidence, or job dissatisfaction, or a history of dismissing their ex-girlfriends’ love for dressing well. Those relationships reflect something very real, which is the way putting effort into your own appearance can make you realize your own self-worth, or how valuable putting effort into something you care about might be. Other characters are bubbly and fun from the jump, and their conversations tend toward being like easier, occasionally more superficial friendships.

In addition, I have to say, it’s a blast to play a game where the clothes actually look good. I always love to notice details like the button-work on a cardigan, the stitching on a pair of pants, the little accent stripes on a scarf. All of it suits the game’s character models well, who look very much like classical fashion school hand-drawn models, the sort you might see in traditional design drawing. I like the music too – catchy, easy-going music, mostly jazzy, a little bit elevator-y at times. But I spend a lot of time with the game with the music off, mostly because it is such an easy pick-up-and-play title.

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There are obvious limitations to this game’s appeal. While I think the game does a decent job presenting racially diverse customers to the player, there is absolutely no body diversity – everyone is shaped like Taylor Swift or Andrew Garfield, reinforcing a monopoly of the thin and slender in fashion that many of its players won’t see themselves in. For a game with a fairly thoughtful approach to how strange and wonderful people can be in the city, there’s also not any explicit queer representation within the game, which is something I’d like to see them approach in a sequel. And, for all that great clothing can do for a person, the game frames that clothing in a sort of utopian capitalism, with no real concern given to where clothing comes from beyond “a warehouse wholesaler” and “a smartly selected boutique”, leaving it fairly unconcerned with any serious consumerist critique.

Still, I love this fantasy. I love living in a world where I think about expression. I love playing in a world where problems are easily solved. I love looking at clothes, and looking at those clothes on people who are nice and who I want to dress. Maybe someday there will be the Style Savvy clone that Stardew Valleys the original and builds even more into a queer utopia. When it does, I will remember this game.

You can expect me to write about this one again someday, now that you’ve been introduced.

Style Savvy Trendsetters is only available on the Nintendo 3DS, and currently sells at $39.99 digitally in the US. You can also find the game for significantly cheaper as a physical copy on online storefronts. The game is localized as New Style Boutique in the PAL region, and Wagamama Fashion: Girls Mode Yokubari Sengen! in Japan.