Created by: Sakura River Interactive
My rating: 4 of 5
In the years since the Y2K disaster wrecked havoc on the small country of Sorayama, Ryou has shown an incredible amount of initiative and determination, working to support himself so that he can get away from the terrible foster care conditions experience by so many orphans in the aftermath of the disaster. He’s also shown a true commitment to his two best friends, Rina and Claire. But now that they’re in high school, things are becoming more complicated for these three friends. The girls are keeping secrets from him. Ryou has never told them about the freelance programming he does to earn his living. They’ve got an awkward love triangle developing between the three of them. Ryou’s other good friend Alex has rumors floating around that are totally inconsistent with the guy Ryou knows–yet that are just about believable. Not to mention the rumors flying about of giant monsters in the nearby forest and of a truly magical girl named Mystica. It’s hard to know what to believe, sometimes; harder still to make the right choices.
Fading Hearts is a unique video game that combines elements of several different game types: visual novel, dating sim, life/work sim, and RPG, possibly a few more. The premise is that the choices you make (point and click from a list of options, usually) will alter the direction the story is going, and even the genre of the game. It’s true, although I think a lot of people see that advertised and expect huge story-altering changes with each decision–and then they get disappointed or upset when they play it again, make different choices, and end up with similar story lines for large parts of the story. The way it seems to work is more that there are a few major decision points like that, but on the whole, the story is directed by the accumulation of the small choices you make over time, so the alterations you see are more gradual. Also, there are a lot of subtle things you can choose to do (like, with your spare time) that will make surprising differences–in other words, try random stuff and see what happens! Seriously, I liked the game mechanics, and I enjoyed the story also. You’ve got friendships and romance (if you choose to pursue it), otaku culture, work and school, and some really random mahou shoujo stuff mixed in. And yes, you can end up dying in this game; I have. I liked the characters–Rina and Claire are interesting, if stereotypical in some regards, and even Ryou (whom you play as) actually has some solid character built into him. Plus, the art is an attractive anime-style design. Minor points off for a soundtrack that can get repetitive and that seems to randomly trail off into silence and equally randomly start playing again (this tended to startle me), but it wasn’t enough of an issue to make the game unenjoyable. And honestly, I figure there’s a good bit more to the game that I’ve yet to uncover, considering the list of accomplishments I still have to unlock (all of which are story-centered). I think that for those who enjoy visual novels but would like a little more interaction and control–and for those who like sims but prefer more story–Fading Hearts would be a fun choice.
Note: This game is available on Steam and directly from the Sakura River website.