Reviewing these management games can be very difficult because it can be hard to tell if they are poorly designed or if I’m just bad at it. However, I do enjoy a good number of these games and they have been called “dark comedy business sim”. It sounded like a lot of fun. In the time I’ve played this game, I’ve found it to be fun, and I can definitely see it being a little addictive for people. Unfortunately, based on some of the reviews I’ve read on the Steam store, combined with my experience, Idol Manager either poorly done or very meta. What I mean by that is that the black comedy is that you realize you can’t succeed at this game. I’ll do my best to break things down better now.
The beginning of the story for Idol Manager you meet a nebulous person who warns you about a person with whom you are about to do business. Then you meet the person who serves as your financial investor, who welcomes you, is very friendly and generous. He helps you start the process of opening offices by letting you rent one floor of his building. Then you have to build two offices (one for you and one for the other manager), a recording studio and a dance studio as the main one. Each of these rooms also requires an employee to operate. Then you need your idols. So far so good, except it costs quite a bit of money (you really have a lot to start with) and you have to build one of these on a floor that requires rent. This immediately puts you in trouble, as you now have to pay the salaries of all your new employees, including the idols, but you also have to pay the rent for at least one room.
Of course there are good ways to make money, right? Not really. You have a simple promotion where you can give a performance to your idol group and get a little bit of money that will probably barely cover the rent of that space. Your other forms of income have been unavailable for a long time. When you’re first starting out, each of your employees should do some research (an action they do automatically). When they accumulate enough research points, you can spend them to start unlocking things you need to write and promote songs. At least one thing is needed from each of the main employees except the manager to write a song, but if you need some marketing (aka the actual sale of the song), then you need a manager who has developed at least one of the marketing campaigns. Oh, and it costs a lot of money to release a single that you just wrote, and if you can’t sell a metric ton of those CDs, you’re losing a ton of money every time you release a single. So even releasing a single will only lose money. After all, you can run television, radio, and internet shows that can be used to generate income, but even then, they don’t bring you much. This means that you are constantly on a downward spiral with no way out.
Another area worth talking about is idols. You can audition at any time to get new idols. There are three different audition levels (local, regional, national). [I think]) and each is worth more and more the wider the range, although you get more talented people as a reward. It’s a good risk-versus-reward situation. However, in the end, it’s all gacha. You are given 5 potential idols and can take as many as you like. Each of them will have different characteristics depending on their appearance (cute, sexy, etc.), as well as for dancing and singing. Each will also have at least one passive personality trait, which can be positive, like someone who doesn’t take as long to recover from an injury, or negative, like someone who loses more traits when there’s a scandal . I don’t fault the system too much as it really does help push things along with each playthrough, but if you’re just starting out you’ll likely be stuck with a lot of idols with extremely low stats, resulting in very little money. If you have idols, you can train them with your staff to improve their stats, which is great. You can also chat with them and learn about their goals, such as hosting a show or performing a song at a concert. It’s all good and I’d like to see something here. Unfortunately, when you’re dealing with girls, you end up repeating what you say a lot, and after the 3rd or 4th time, you don’t want it to distract you from managing other aspects of your failing business. Each idol also has two stamina meters: physical and mental. Physical Stamina is spent doing things like speaking, training, marketing for one person or business deals (like photoshoots and advertising) etc. I think this is the real nail in the coffin of the game. Your idols will lose stamina very quickly and regain it very slowly. Yes, there is a promotion to restore stamina, but at best you’ll get 10 back and spend a lot more before you can restore that much next time. A quick note on the plus side is that you can set idols to auto-train and then in the policy section control at what point they stop auto-training. This helps make everything more streamlined, although it does mean you have to stay on top of their durability.
You also have the ability to set and change policies for your idol group. This includes things like your idols’ salaries, what image you want to project, whether romance is allowed, whether your idols can use social media, etc. It really does make a difference, which is another good idea. There are some games where these things will only be for flavor and won’t affect your gameplay.
In story mode, you have objectives to complete in order to progress through the story. Unfortunately, I can’t comment on this story only because I haven’t gotten very far into it. What I saw of the story was decent, though nothing special or anything like that. The big issue I have with the game is that you can’t create a second save file. You must delete your story to start a new one. There is also a free play mode which is exactly the same but without the story aspects. This is for those who have completed the game and want to continue playing with different idol groups and such. It’s fine and exactly the same in terms of gameplay.
The nice thing is that the first time you run into real financial trouble, your investor will bail you out. I honestly don’t know what happens the second time, but I guess it’s game over unless you’re on the easiest difficulty.
A slightly random aspect of the game that I thought was out of place was the randomization it allowed. Every time you make a new single or a new show, you have to name it. Fortunately, the game has a random name generator, but it’s pretty bad. You click on it and it basically gives you two generic song titles grouped into one title. It definitely leaves a lot to be desired, though I can also see it being a weird thing that’s only a localization issue.
The last thing I want to mention is the user interface. This game was released on PC in 2021. It resembles a computer game on a console, and in my opinion, that’s not a good thing. Instead of using the analog stick to change the item you’re focused on, you’re cursed with a cursor controlled by the analog stick. I hate it on consoles. It also doesn’t help that to place characters in different locations you have to drag them from the menu to the appropriate location, and some of those locations seem to have the smallest possible hit area. A few times I tried dragging the idol into my manager’s office to start the chat action, but after a few tries it didn’t work, so I ended up having to go to the secondary menu and tell the idol to chat. In my opinion, the game is not very well designed for the console.
After all, there are some good ideas Idol Manager but they are heavily clouded by a sense of impossibility. I think this Steam review sums it up best, even if I’m confused as to why they recommended it: