If you are in the vicinity of a group of four of my friends and me at the right time of day, you might hear one of us say “collect that stamina!” and then proceed to talk about which outfit we are crafting. At first, you may be confused, but if you look closer, you will see that we are all playing an elaborate game of dressing anime-esque girls like smartphone paper dolls—we are playing Love Nikki Dress UP Queen, informally known as Love Nikki.
When I first played Love Nikki, it instantly differentiated itself from other free-to-play phone games on two counts: firstly, no outside advertisements popped up, and secondly, I did not have to pay for in-app purchases to successfully move forward. Considering my past experiences with fashion show games, I was immediately confused. How did this game, apparently launched in the App Store in May of 2017, get by while being so…customer-centric?
I did a little research via various video game guides and mediocre translations of Chinese Wikipedia pages and, while the origins of this app are rather ambiguous in the English market, it was developed by SuZhou Technology in China. In most countries, what I know as Love Nikki is the third or fourth iteration in a series of well-received “Nikki” games. As of now, within less than a year of the 2017 release, the English server’s Facebook page has over 450,000 likes, and the app store description notes that the game in its international iterations has over 100 million players—making it a global phenomenon of sorts. It’s not hard to find out why.
The premise is simple: you are a pink-haired girl named Nikki who has travelled to a mysterious world with her talking (text as well as audial dialogue, as the entire main storyline features voice acting) cat, Momo, and you have to find a way back home. Sounds typical, right? Yes, besides the fact that the only way to battle in this world, and therefore the only way to advance through the stages of the game, is to perform styling battles against various characters. Nikki moves through the seven nations of the game, each encompassing a general aesthetic of clothing, while collecting clothes on the way and completing an epic fashion journey.
There are currently 4436 unique items that you can use to dress up your avatar, or Nikki herself, from wedding gowns and platform heels to unicycling rabbits and snowball sceptres. Every item in the game is meticulously drawn and catalogued with different attributes and tags. Within each battle, Nikki’s outfit has to follow the attributes and tags required to rank above the in-game opponent. This carries over to the player vs. player aspect of the game as well, in which the player’s version of Nikki is dressed up according to specific attributes and is pitted against another Nikki, as they battle it out for “Starlight Coins” to buy dyes to customize clothing. The clever intricacies of the game, along with the artistic execution of the clothing, heighten the experience of playing it and act as the shining point of this game.
One of the many triumphs of the game is that it incorporates clothing that mirrors history. While some of the tags for clothing are mundane, like “Pajamas” or “Sports,” a few more eclectic ones weasel their way in, such as “European” or “Chinese Classical.” While the former categories are beautiful in their own right, the latter categories are truly exceptional in both concept and execution. For example, a recently released “Chinese Classical” outfit, “Flower Song in Fan,” references ancient Chinese courtesan fashions. Many of the scarves included in the game are dead ringers for these fashions as well, flying well above the head in still grace. These are mostly included in the “Cloud Empire” category, featuring traditional East Asian clothing.
Another notable piece of clothing, this time featured in the “Pigeon Kingdom,” is a rendering of an 1880s style dress, “Pigeon Manor,” with its matching coat, “Her Majesty.” These items are modelled after an authentic late-1880s European day dress and coat, with peach-colored flowers lining the contours of the lower dress. More recently, in the “Fast Food Waitress” category, a wider array of skin tones for Nikki have been added to the wardrobe in an attempt to further expand this primarily East Asian game to the Western market.
Overall, the quality of illustration does not waver, even as the months go on and more outfits are released. A common post on the official English Facebook page is a zoomed-in photoset featuring an outfit with a caption reading, “I bet no other dress up games can be zoomed in 600% and still be as stunning as ever before.” I believe that is a bet that will not be lost, as the immaculate details within each and every piece of clothing are miniscule to near ridiculousness. Furthermore, these images were meant to be viewed on a phone screen, making this game a testament to the value of craft.
Though it seems like a lot to take in, I have not actually elaborated on much of the game at all, omitting some of its most prominent features. But, if any of this piqued your interest, I highly suggest downloading the game and seeing how you like it, or at least taking a moment to stare at some of the art that will appear on your screen. Who knows, you might love Nikki just as much as I do!