As Jake pointed out to me, the stats go down during the couple of weeks in which you can't do anything but exercise, which means that you have to sit there looking at your stats going down without being able to do anything about it. It's annoying to say the least.
To expand upon this: it seems to me that every time you don't spend time improving a stat, that stat atrophies a bit. This isn't in itself bad, and it's realistic enough... but since the game introduces the ability to actually improve stats with activities in a rather piecemeal manner, many of your stats are left to atrophy for a long time before you can improve them. I think near the beginning of the demo I had very similar sport and literature scores, for example, they were both 3 or 4 - but by the time I even had the chance
to improve my literature score, it had decayed away to 1... and since sport was the first stat I had the chance to improve, with nothing to do for a week or two near the beginning of the game but sleep or exercise, my sport stat had ballooned to something like 12 or 13 through pretty much no choice of mine.
Coupled with this, it seems that your level in a particular stat determines how likely you are to succeed in it, which means that once your stats are imbalanced in one direction, it's even harder to reverse the trend; I tried 'fashion' when I first got the skill made available to me, and failed four times out of five; I got a measly +1 improvement that didn't even bump me to the next level... so I can expect that if I try fashion again, I'll get a similarly pathetic result, while all my other stats start to drop because I'm not exercising them. On the other hand, if I went swimming or exercised (I expect both of them depend heavily on the Sport stat) I got several great-successes and a success or two, and got a much better level-up.
The result is that once your stats are unbalanced in one direction it's very very hard
to get them going in another direction, since it's a far less effective use of your time than just buffing the one or two stats you're already good at... and since the game starts out forcibly unbalancing your stats in one direction, this makes the whole stat-management experience pretty frustrating if you want to do anything else with your character. It's also rather annoying (and unrealistic - almost backwards) that it's harder to improve at an activity you're already worse at. If anything, beginners tend to make much faster, more drastic improvements than seasoned pros in most fields, simply because there's more low-hanging fruit.
Now, it looks from the demo very much like this is going to be one of those games where each prospective partner has a single stat they're really interested in: Aya likes Sports, Rena (IIRC) likes Maths and Science, Alice likes Music... and so on. So maybe this gradual introduction of activities - and the order thereof - is an attempt to make it harder to pair up with some girls than with other girls, because your character is more inclined towards some skills than others, so it's harder to pair with Hiroshi (*shudder*) or maybe Satsuko than it is with Aya, because it's harder to build up your fashion stat compared to sports... but while this may be the case, I suspect there are ways to do it which don't frustrate the user so much. Maybe just have the requirements for some girls be higher?
As with Ren, I also thought it was nice that the game was easing me in and introducing the activities one at a time to avoid overloading me with too many options at once... but - for example - after recovering all my energy the first week, it was already annoying enough to be forced to sleep unnecessarily for a week and watch all my stats go down. If a particular stat weren't shown until it were properly introduced and only then started to vary, or perhaps if the character has a default baseline past which stats decay much more slowly (e.g. once stat-decay reaches level 2 or 3, it doesn't decay anywhere near as fast), it could be less annoying.
On the subject of stat mechanics... I don't know if I just didn't exhaust my guy enough in the game I played, but it seemed almost like two days resting was equally as good as a week resting, which didn't seem to make sense. And while having separate physical and mental exhaustion meters was a nice idea, it didn't seem like mechanically there was much difference between that and having a single meter; I was still reliably failing mental activities when I had a low physical energy meter, for example. One idea might be to have mental activities refill the physical energy bar a little and vice versa; this wouldn't just be a little more realistic, but would also encourage a more balanced approach to stat-building by default.
I found the layout to be confusing, too. The way the text is aligned in the screen where you choose your characteristics, for example, could use some work.
This too - for example, when assigning points to stats, one slider label is underneath the plus/minus buttons for the stat values. It's a nice idea to discriminate between different types of (say) creativity, but it could probably have been done as a separate step.
I also found the stat-levels screen a bit confusing at first: it took me a little while to work out why one of my stats saying "1" had a larger bar than one saying "6", or why one of my stats went down after the last activity but the bar was more filled.
Aside from the annoying parts of stat-building, my main complaint with Shira Oka
- at least from the demo - would be the complete lack of story, to be honest. I know it's not traditionally a strong point of dating sim games, and had the stat mechanic been interesting enough, it wouldn't need
one (c.f. Magical Boutique
), but it would be nice to have at least some set of character-driven stories that the protagonist can involve himself in, and short of the shy girl's shyness, there's not really anything like that even hinted at. The graphics are rather poor in some places (particular examples: when Kiku touches her chin it looks like she's pulling her face off; when Naoki looks down in a somewhat dejected manner her face is suddenly about a quarter the size and her forehead is huge) and there are some layout niggles and minor bugs, but the thing that puts me off spending money on it the most is the lack of anything interesting to do - the stat-building isn't that fun and there's apparently no story to hold my attention either.