by Stephanie H., Staff Writer, Inside AX- Anime Expo
“Things are not what they always seem.” This is the main underlying concept in Fading Hearts, the first commercial venture undertaken by Canadian developer Sakura River. At first glance one would think that this is a simple dating simulation visual novel. But would this OELVN prove to be more than what it seems to be? There is only one way to find out!
In Fading Hearts you play the role of Ryou, an orphan who lives in an alternate world where the infamous Y2K bug caused many people to lose their lives in various accidents triggered by widespread computer failure. Ryou lives a normal life as a student and part-time computer programmer, until things get complicated. He finds that one of his two best friends, Claire (who he has a crush on), has an abusive boyfriend. Then he finds that his other friend, Rina (who has a crush on him), starts to act strangely. To make matters worse there have been sightings of strange monsters called Shadows in the forests. Ryou must make careful decisions in order to solve these various problems.
Fading Hearts is really an interesting visual novel as there a mix of visual novel, dating simulation, and even RPG game elements. You manage Ryou’s daily life by working, reading books, manga, meeting up with friends and even battling Shadows. The game is full of choices that you can take, which will affect what type of story you will play through. Different events, flashbacks, and even achievements can be triggered using by using the correct choices.
With this said, the story aspect of Fading Hearts is also interesting. I personally did three playthroughs of the game before writing this review, with each playthrough lasting about 3-4 hours. Each time I got a different ending with different events that played out. There are a few flaws that can be picked out with using this “multiple ending” approach. The first one being that if you only play through the game once, you will not get a lot of character development. There will always be some other choice that I could’ve gotten in order to trigger a path where a character starts to grow story wise. The second flaw was that some of the results I got from decisions I made were contradicting and confusing. One primary example was that in game I chose to date Rina, but later on I meet Claire in a coffee-shop and she apparently thinks that I’m not dating Rina. In addition, I felt that some of the “bad” ending paths were a bit choppily-written. Overall, events ranged from being really predictable to catching me completely off-guard (in a good way). However, with this said, Fading Hearts does a very good job of making players think about the intertwining plots and sub-plots. Every character that Ryou meets is connected to him, and they all have something to offer to the storyline. By adding this aspect of storytelling it is pretty easy to get sucked into the game by doing multiple playthroughs.
In terms of gameplay, the game takes “choose your own adventure” to a whole other level. You literally have freedom to do whatever you want. You can choose to ignore all of the RPG elements and play it like a dating sim, or you can choose to become a workaholic and just work on your computer the whole day for money. I really enjoyed this aspect because it gave you the freedom to do whatever you wanted. However, the downside is that by ignoring some aspects, you won’t be able to find crucial pieces to the plot. With the RPG aspect they did a pretty good job of trying to innovate specific parts of the system. For instance, you can learn spells from…manga books. Yes, you learn them from reading magical girl genre manga books. The battle system itself isn’t anything spectacular though. One major thing that irked me, however, is that until you learn magic (which is a bit painstakingly slow in my opinion), you have to keep clicking the attack button since that’s the only skill you have for a long while. This gets tiring easily. In addition, if you find yourself in a situation where you are losing, you cannot run. Better hope that you saved prior to the battle, as once you die it is an immediate “Game Over.” However, battling Shadows and exploring the forest does serve an important purpose as various events which play a major part in several of the paths can get triggered.
Fading Heart‘s character artwork by Kaze-hime is stunning, the character designs are nicely done, and the quality is definitely on par with some of the commercial visual novel artwork out there. The same goes for the outdoor background images. There is a noticeable quality jump between the outdoor and indoor background scenes due to the fact that there were two different artists working on them. There are very few event CGs, but they are excellently done. On the other hand, the artwork of the Shadow monsters leaves more to be desired as it seems to be a mix of heavily Gaussian-blurred and stenciled pictures. The overall interface design could use some work also as I noticed a few errors with capitalization of items. More care could have been put into the colors and textures used for the GUI as I felt they clashed horribly with the well-done artwork. The music is well-done also. Appropriate pieces are chosen for different events with quite a few of them really well composed. Fading Hearts also features a nice vocal theme that accompanies the opening video which was a pleasant surprise.
Currently there is no walkthrough available for Fading Hearts, but you can get hints after each playthrough. Sometimes these hints will be helpful, while some will not. In addition, the game features an “Extras” menu from which you can take a look at the various achievements you’ve received and revisit some of the “flashback” portions of the visual novel that you’ve unlocked.
This visual novel will appeal to dating simulation enthusiasts and visual novel fans alike. There’s a lot to discover in Fading Hearts, with each playthrough becoming its own unique adventure. I’d suggest trying out the demo before buying the game for 20 USD if you want to get a feel for the type of game that Fading Hearts is. It’s definitely different from quite a few dating simulation-styled visual novels that I’ve played. Overall, despite a few rough edges here and there, Fading Hearts is a decent game for Sakura River’s first foray into the world of commercial games.
You can buy and check out more about Fading Hearts from Sakura River’s product page.
- Beautiful Character Designs and Character Sprites
- Multiple Endings
- Solid original soundtrack
- Each playthrough is different – tons of things to uncover!
- Decent mix of RPG, Dating Simulation, and Visual Novel aspects
- Interesting approach to learn skills via reading books
- Opening Video – a nice touch to visual novel
- Character development, story, and/or plot may seem nonexistent or disjointed depending on what choices you make
- Bugs – EX: Glitches with certain images, broken “Call Friend” option, lack of capitalization on some items in interface.
- Rainbow outline, button colors, and other aspects of GUI design don’t seem to fit with game.
- Need to play multiple times to understand the whole story.
- RPG system – Gets repetitive, magic is hard to obtain, cannot escape unwinnable battles.