Roller derby is an unusual sport that has found a passionate audience that enjoys the kind of action and adrenaline it generates. However, there's far more to it than what is on the skate track, which is what Open Lab Games wants to show with Roller Drama. This game is a combination of visual novel and real-time strategy about the most aggressive type of roller skating out there. Lead a group of roller derby athletes to live and fight together as you try to climb to the top of the rankings. The team will need to be strong mentally as well as physically.
Drama can exist in any environment, especially in sports. Considering how rough roller derby can be, Roller Drama definitely lives up to its name. You play as Joan, the coach of a team of five roller derby athletes. From the start, it's clear that everyone is just getting their start and getting to know each other. As the coach, it's up to you to speak to all of the women, learn their strengths, and weaknesses, and make sure that they're doing okay. By doing this, all of you will get a chance to compete in roller derby matches in hopes of becoming the best. It's all about learning about the person behind the skates so you can watch them grow on all fronts.
When it comes to sports games, there's usually very little story behind what the teams, let alone the players are all about. Roller Drama completely challenges this by adding an interesting narrative component. A big part of the game is dedicated to the characters and their development. Each one of the skaters has a distinct appearance and personality which is presented clearly and colourfully through dialogue. When you're at the apartment building, the skaters will move about naturally, voicing their thoughts and concerns. It's up to you to speak to them and gain some insight into who they are as people which factors into how they perform when skating.
As a result, the narrative component feeds smoothly into the roller derby part of the game. Based on how you're caring for the players, you'll see and feel just how much they bring to each match. The affected factors can be passive and active which can have a very noticeable impact. This adds another level to the strategic element by getting you to think about how each player is feeling mentally so you know how much to expect from them physically. It really does make this sports story more fulfilling.
The thing about Roller Drama is that strangely, the actual rollerskating part of the game is the biggest issue. This is mainly due to the fact that the gameplay is clunky. It's true that roller derby is a very rough and chaotic sport, but that shouldn't come through in the gameplay. It's essentially a real-time strategy game split between two entities: The Jammer, and the Blockers.
You have direct input for both, but the results are most immediate in the Jammer. You can issue orders to the Blockers while paused, which breaks the flow, and there's a significant delay in terms of how quickly they respond. There's also a startling amount of RNG based on how your Jammer and the enemy Jammer move, so if the invisible numbers aren't in your favour, you'll get set back. Lastly, energy is the name of the game and you need to risk burning it and exhausting your players just to keep up.
Roller Drama is a roller derby game that combines a graphic narrative story with a 3D strategic sporting event. The narrative is detailed and engaging with cool characters which connect effectively to the actual roller derby matches. Unfortunately, the sports part of the game is clunky, tricky, and demanding based on limited input. Regardless, it gives a glimpse into what it's like to actually turn a group of strangers into a team, even if there is some drama that goes with it.