The second I saw a trailer for Idol Manager, I knew I had to give it a try. As they say, the game is relevant to my interests as a fan of idol groups and business management sims. Knowing I already liked the core idea of the game, I made sure to maintain a critical eye while playing, keeping an eye out for issues or concerns to bring up. I didn’t find too many – which is always nice to be able to say. 

Idol Manager Review | A Little Too Accurate At Times

Diving right in, Idol Manager is surprisingly complex and I quickly found myself addicted to it after I started playing. “Just a few more things to do, then I’ll save and quit,” I’d tell myself repeatedly. 

It was never just “a few more things” it was always several additional hours of playing. Idol Manager excels at getting you invested, not only because you personally want to succeed and not bankrupt the company, but also because you want your group of idols to succeed. 

Seeing the number of fans rise, and the group’s fame rank increase, is truly heartwarming. Or at least, that’s how it was for me. Note that Idol Manager does give you options to exploit and overwork the idols and in general be a scummy person for the sake of money, which is a little too accurate for comfort at times. 

I never wanted to pick those options because they make me feel terrible so… yeah. I avoided those options for 99% of my playthroughs, and only chose those options prior to writing this review to see what would happen and to explore the story from this negative “probably shouldn’t choose these options” route.

I didn’t enjoy this playthrough. I didn’t enjoy hearing about my idols overworking themselves to the point of injury. I didn’t enjoy choosing options like the one where you can straight up not give the idols safety shorts which offers a, "Double bonus to hardcore appeal, penalty to casual appeal."

It reminded me of a real life situation that happened with the kpop group Momoland where they did a number of performances without safety shorts, which angered fans and non-fans alike.

And rightfully so, not providing safety shorts is exploitative, and makes performing very uncomfortable as the idols are constantly having to pull down their shorts and make sure nothing is showing. Thinking about the situation after seeing the safety short question pop up in the game made me feel both sad and angry. 

I wish this was the only questionable thing to happen in the kpop or jpop industry but it’s not, and it’s heartbreaking to say that. With that being said, I do feel like the game is trying to offer commentary and create awareness about these issues within the kpop and jpop industry, and that’s great.

With that awareness, fans of idol groups will be encouraged and empowered to push back and tell a company, "Hey, this isn’t ok!" Which fans of Momoland did do, and which may be part of the reason why the company quickly switched over to using safety shorts.

Fans of these groups, please just know your voices matter more than you might think. 

Moving on from the heavy subject matter sprinkled throughout the game, let’s talk about the gameplay. First it’ll take you a while to get deep enough into the game to see all of your hard work pay off to the point where you can say your company and groups are doing well financially.

If you’re anything like me, you will bankrupt the company at least once. 

In the game, you’re given a second chance and additional money which is nice. Unfortunately, if you don’t have a plan in place on how to start earning money instead of losing money, that second chance is effectively worthless. 

What worked better for me personally was creating a brand new save and trying again. What you choose to do will ultimately depend on how far you are into the game. When I bankrupted the company the first time, it was pretty early on. I'm not even sure how I managed to go bankrup that fast.

What can I say except  내가 제일 잘 나가  (which means “I am the best”) and is an exceptional 2NE1 song that I enjoyed listening to on Spotify while bankrupting my company in Idol Manager. Nothing says “I am the best” quite like losing a company millions of dollars, right?

It almost felt like I was a kid again playing Sim City 2000 wondering where it all went wrong after watching my city catch fire. Also like Sim City, it’s better to have a strong foundation at the start when playing Idol Manager rather than persist and hope things sort themselves out with time.

They rarely do.

As daunting as getting the hang of the game may seem, getting started is relatively easy thanks to the tutorial which you can toggle on or off. I kept mine on, because I truly had no idea what I was doing and even with the tutorial I still managed to bankrupt my company four times before I was able to have a successful run.

If you’re like me, expect to do a fair amount of trial and error when playing Idol Manager. 

The goal is to find a method of managing everything that works best for you personally, while also keeping everything balanced. Sometimes you need to spend money to make money, or do nothing and let your idols rest and regain stamina. 

You’ll also need to be careful not to get distracted. When I was focusing hard on having coffee meetings with each idol to build up our friendship levels, I’d often forget things like making sure you have idols perform or promote, and making sure idols train every so often to improve their stats.

What I ultimately ended up doing was utilizing the game’s pause button as often as I could in an almost obsessive way. The pause button is your friend, do not ignore the pause button when playing Idol Manager. 

After a while, I got into a nice rhythm where I’d do a task, pause, think of what else that needs to be done, do it, and once everything is done, unpause and wait for the next moment where I’d need to pause in order to complete various activities.

And when I say complete various activities, there are a lot you’ll need to focus on and complete. You have the “Performance” and “Perform” daily options where you can increase your money or the number of fans your group has. You also have a “Spa Treatment” option to give your idols a rest and restore stamina, though this costs money.

Once daily tasks have been handled, you also have your marketing employees who’ll have deal pitches for you. With those deals, you can negotiate the payout. Also, some of those deals can come back to bite you in the rear if your idol does something scandalous as there are marketing deals that come with a degree of liability. 

All of these are things you need to look at, and every aspect of the game is like this where you need to do a lot of thinking before making a decision. You can’t speed your way through the game by saying yes or no to everything. Additionally, you and your staff accrue research points which you can spend on things related to song creation and marketing.

When an employee is idle, they amass the most research points so you also don’t want to have your choreographer constantly training idols or working on song choreo with zero downtime for research. You aren’t just an “Idol Manager” you are managing everyone and everything down to the most minute detail.

Which is what I love about the game. I love looking at charts before picking a genre of music for my group’s next song. I love choosing the formation the idols perform in, and I love being able to respond to problems as they arise. An idol said something people didn’t like?

Ok, here’s what we do, here’s how we address this. The game could have easily focused entirely on the idols themselves and the relationships you build with them and automated the rest. Instead, it really allows you to step into the manager role fully and watch yourself, your company, staff, and idols improve with time.

It’s also a game you could easily milk hundreds of hours out of, if not more. You aren’t restricted to managing one idol group, you can actually manage several at a time. You can befriend the girls in your idol group and get to know them better on a personal level.

You can keep your company going as long as you want to, or create a new save and switch back and forth between your established company and a new company that you want to run just a little bit differently. All of it is fun, all of it is impeccably detailed, and is at the end of the day a game that a lot of people are going to fall in love with.

If I could wish for one thing with this game it'd be the ability to create a male idol group. I don’t care about this for the romance elements, which are present in this game but take a lot of hard work to get anywhere close to unlocking, but rather because it’s something that’d make sense to have in a management sim like this. 

You don’t need to just have all-male groups either, you could do a hybrid like the kpop group KARD which has an equal balance of two women and two men. Ah well, maybe in the future they’ll add male idols as DLC, anything is possible. As an added note, The Idolm@ster: SideM is an example of a similar idol game with a focus on male idols.

And to keep this review from becoming excessively long, I’ll end by saying that I do recommend Idol Manager. If you already think this game is perfect for you, it is. If you’re less certain about how much you’ll enjoy the idol industry aspect of the game, the management elements are more than enough to recommend this game to fans of management sims as well.

There really is a lot to this game in the way of management and strategy, and you can tell the developers put a lot of time and effort into making sure you always have something to do. Idol Manager has the potential to become the game you ignore other new releases for, and if that doesn’t speak volumes about how good the game is, I don’t know what will. 


Pros:

  • There’s a lot to manage from songs to promotion to making sure the idols are well-rested and happy. 
  • Thoughtful, intricate gameplay with a real emphasis on strategy.
  • The ability to easily sink hundreds of hours into this game.
  • Includes commentary on subjects and issues relevant to the idol industry from the cost of running a company like this to the extensive planning that gets put into each and every song. 

Cons: 

  • You may need to create a new save if you make too many mistakes early on.
  • Too easy to go bankrupt, even on easier difficulty settings. Some rebalancing is needed. 
  • Can’t create a male idol group.
  • Includes commentary on serious subject matter and problems relevant to the idol industry that can make players feel uncomfortable. 

 

Score: 8

 

A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review.