Game Review: Fatal Hearts

To continue my recent obsession with Hanako Games this week, here is a review of Fatal Hearts, a game that I would have reviewed a couple days ago were it not for…well, you’ll see.

Fatal Hearts is yet another visual novel, or, to be more specific, a visual-novel-with-puzzles. You play as Christina, a bored teenager on summer vacation who spends most of her time hanging out with her friend Lucy. When she inadvertently stumbles upon a murdered woman (one of many that have been cropping up around town) however, Christina’s life suddenly becomes that much more interesting as she is plunged into a world of magic, vampire cults, and werewolf clans.

Our MC, Christina

Now I know what you must be thinking: “Vampires vs. Werewolves? Again? Please don’t tell me this is an extended reference to Twilight the way Magical Diary is for Harry Potter?” Actually, that’s an interesting question. For now, suffice it to say that there were moments where the game definitely seemed Twilight-esque (and not just because of the presence of vampires and werewolves) but rest assured, this game is very different from Twilight.

For one thing, this game is great, and isn’t just an extended metaphor for abstinence (with stealth-Mormonism that’s about as stealthy as an elephant in broad daylight).

As far as gameplay goes, there are important decisions to make (just like in other VNs like Date Warp or Cinders) which affect which of the various endings you get (fourteen in total) but this time all that reading is broken up by clever puzzles. There are a variety of different puzzles in the game, which range from tracing symbols on the screen with the mouse to a Sudoku puzzle using rune-like symbols instead of numbers (which took me ages to complete). There are different puzzles to complete depending on which path you take through the game, so if you want to try them all, multiple playthroughs are a must. The puzzles range in difficulty from the ridiculously easy (searching a room) to OMFGs-I-want-to-tear-my-hair-out hard (a lock-picking puzzle that was so infuriating I actually had to look up a step-by-step walkthrough of it). It doesn’t help that some of the puzzles have pretty vague instructions, so you might spend more time trying to figure out just what to do than you will actually doing the puzzle. Fortunately for the sanity of everyone involved, there’s the option to skip puzzles on subsequent playthroughs.

But, in the end, I managed to get an ending, which I thought was satisfying. Depending on your actions, however, Christina may end up dying in interesting ways (it’s not called Fatal Hearts for nothing). I don’t think it’s to the same extent as Long Live the Queen, but dying isn’t out of the question. I will say that I found my ending to be a bit squicky (involving a forceful kiss and quite the age discrepancy between the couple, although I don’t really have anything against that sort of thing, it’s just, you know, vampires) but maybe that’s just because I couldn’t help but recall that joke about Twilight being the choice between necrophilia and bestiality.

Speaking of Twilight, I mentioned earlier that there are things about this game that seem very Twilight-esque, but could probably also be taken as a deconstruction of paranormal romance as a whole. The one character that strongly reminds me of Edward drives a nice car and has a habit of rescuing the heroine, but, well, let’s just say first impressions can be deceptive and leave it at that. There also seems to be a broader issue of class being discussed, but it was only mentioned briefly in my playthrough, so I’ll have to go back and poke around some more. My one quibble is that Christina seems rather passive, especially when compared to the more assertive Janet from Date Warp. On the other hand, she doesn’t know what the heck’s going on most of the time, and she does eventually stop being rescued and ends up rescuing herself through clever use of magic.

And, you know, there were no lesbians in that certain book series, much less the chance for two women to have a happy ending together.

Oh, and before I forget, there are runes in this game, runes, and gratuitous German. (Although, for some reason all the recognizable runes have odd names, Kenaz is ‘Fackel’ for instance). I have no idea why this is. Other “runes” in this game bear no resemblance to any of the runes I recognize (I’ve taken to calling the one “pigbutt” because that’s what it looks like.) The German, as far as I can tell, is accurate, but I don’t speak German, it was just very easy to plug into Google Translate, if you do happen to speak German, just be warned that some of the text may seem awkward to you.

In terms of graphics, the art is anime-esque and varies in quality. The pictures that wind up in the “gallery” are generally very well done, but overall, if you can’t stand anime, I’d recommend you steer clear of this. (But if you really can’t stand anime, you probably wouldn’t like Hanako Games’ stuff in the first place.) The graphics are most similar to Magical Diary, so if you liked that game, you can handle this, no problem. The in-game music is decent, but no music plays during the puzzles, which can either be annoying or a relief.

Oh, and there’s a same-sex romance in this game. I won’t spoil it for you, since I think you can figure out who it is.

Overall, the story is interesting, there’s a decent amount of replay value, puzzles are simple-yet-challenging, and it’s an interesting take on the vampires vs. werewolves thing. If you get really stuck, you can download a free strategy guide for the game if you sign up to Hanako Games’ forum. It’s $10, which I’d say is a good price for it, but as usual, if you don’t think you’ll love it (try the demo!) I’d wait for a sale.

Lastly, I’ll be looking at Spirited Heart. by Tycoon Games, and then it’s back to looking at more “mainstream” titles, provided Mirror’s Edge stops crashing on me.

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