I’ve been playing High School Story for almost three years now, and it’s still one of my all-time favorites. A cross between a choose-your-own-adventure story game and a town simulator, it’s an extremely well-done casual game from Pixelberry Studios, free to play on Apple and Android devices. (I play on my Kindle Fire to get a bigger screen, but it works fine on a phone too).
High School Story has two distinguishing characteristics: First, it’s inclusive. Default characters arrive in a variety of skin tones, and when you send characters on dates, they can go with characters of the same or the other gender. One prominent default character has a disability, and a lot of storylines are written to raise awareness for organizations like Girls Who Code or groups that help people with eating disorders. (All the characters are built on the same body type and there’s limited gender nonconformity, but if you start playing the game and you want more options I encourage you to write Pixelberry and say so.) You work with a mixture of standard game characters, plus the ones you’ve created in a wide range of personality types or cliques — these go from basics like “nerd” and “jock” to more complex combinations like “rock climber” and “DJ” as you progress into the game, so I don’t find that particularly problematic.
The second distinctive thing about HSS is the excellent writing. You have a lot of leeway to create characters, pick outfits and build your school, but the main activities are chains of quests in a few different styles. Some are long and encompass your whole school in a more intense storyline, others are short-term or seasonal, and there’s also a running chain of quests where you help different classmates with their problems. You can get very involved with the standard characters, but you also get enough leeway to create your own mental personalities for your own people, and the fun comes in choosing the right characters for each stage of a story. It’s not completely choose-your-own-adventure, because your choices don’t significantly change the outcome of a quest, but somehow the writing gets you involved and almost never contradicts whatever mental image you’ve built up of your school.
You have the option to spend actual money on resources, mainly rings (which are used to purchase special quests and items). You may have to grind a little to get gems in-game, but it’s perfectly doable and if you’re not into outfits, you may never want vast numbers of rings. You can also just run out of stuff to do too soon sometimes, and there aren’t a whole lot of options in the game if you just want to kill time, although you can always reclothe all your characters or move your decorations around. However, that can equally be a plus, if you want a distraction with a built-in time limit. (I love to play while I study. I can play, read for thirty minutes while I wait for a quest to finish, play some more, read while I wait…)
I’ve gotten several friends to play, and the only real problems we’ve had with the game or gameplay have been associated with backups and losing progress. There’s an option now to link your Google+ account to save online — I think it used to just be Facebook, although I’m not sure — and I also recommend only playing when your device is connected to the internet. You can theoretically play offline and sync up later, but I lost several months of progress doing that last year so I don’t anymore!
If you have any interest in casual simulator games, High School Story is definitely worth a try. And if you’re not sure, HSS would be a great place to start! Let me know in the comments if you’ve played it before, and feel free to recommend other casual games!