Title: Fading Hearts
System(s): Windows PC (Also Mac and Linux)
Release Date: June 15, 2010
Publisher (Developer): Sakura River (Sakura River)
ESRB Rating: N/A, I’d say probably 12 and up, since there are two abusive relationships discussed in the game. No violence or verbal abuse is shown.
Pros: Beautiful character art, interesting use of books and manga, RPG elements added in, lots of secrets and twists, good mix of visual novel and simulation, multiple endings, good music, achievements to unlock and Alice and Mimi give hints as to what to different at the end for different endings.
Cons: A few minor spelling and grammar errors, “Call Friend” option will show up with no people to call. Sometimes a glitch keeps Alice’s image from showing up in the post-game review. Rainbow outline around the text box doesn’t seem to fit somehow. Need to play multiple times to understand the full story, which may annoy some people.
Overall Score: One thumb up, one thumb sideways; 88/100; B+; * * * 1/2 out of 5
Visual novels usually fall into two categories. One are strict visual novels, with images above and oodles of text. Players interact with the story only by choosing occasional responses, sometimes not even choosing responses at all. The other is a sort that can almost be considered an adventure game or simulation, tossing in other elements which effect what kind of interactions and endings you’ll see.
Sakura River’s first commercial visual novel, Fading Hearts, falls in with the later. It’s clearly a visual novel, but it’s also littered with simulation and RPG elements to help get the player more involved in the character’s lives.
Life, abusive relationships, manga, magical girls and shadow monsters.
Ryou, a Y2K orphan in Sorayama who also happens to be a high school student and well known computer technician, has a life that’s about to get complicated. He’s always been close with his two childhood friends, Claire and Rina. He’s had a crush on Claire, who has a boyfriend, and Rina has a crush on him.
He suddenly learns a number of things all at once. Claire’s boyfriend is reportedly abusing her. His otaku friend Alex is supposedly a womanizer. Rina’s suddenly ditching clubs and falling asleep in class. Not to mention there’s ordinary life and work to deal with as well. Ryou must build bonds and personal strength by interacting with his friends, so he can possibly find a happy ending for all of them.
Mesmerising, though glitches can be distracting
Fading Hearts is a balanced mix of visual novel and life simulation. You manage Ryou’s daily life, building up his personal strength and knowledge, by having him do things like spend time with friends, read books and manga, train, work for three different companies, visit locations and battle shadowy monsters. Depending on the choices you make during novel segments and the places you choose to visit, you can end up seeing different events and segments which make it easier to understand the whole story of Fading Hearts. There are many different events/dreams/endings/achievements you can trigger, many of which are contradictory. This gives the player lots of motivation to keep returning to the game to replay and see what hasn’t been learned yet. Thankfully, there are lots of save file slots, so you can make saves at crucial points and return if you see you aren’t heading towards the result you want. On the other hand, this may also frustrate some players, since you can’t play through Fading Hearts once and immediately make connections, or perhaps even read all the manga and unlock all the dreams.
The version I played was a patched, updated version with a rewrite patch applied. It added additional features like a rewritten script, scene viewers, at home email notifications and some assorted bugs and glitches. I’m unsure of how the script looked or things functioned before the patch, but the rewrite portion has yielded a decent script with fantasy elements. Dialogue is fairly realistic, with only a few spelling and grammar errors. The patched version also allowed the secret character Tracy to show up without issue, and achievements were easy to view and fairly easy to earn, provided you worked hard and followed hints from the post game guides Mimi and Alice as to what to possibly do on additional playthroughs.
I was distracted by the glitches that seemed to pop up throughout Fading Hearts. Trust me, you will encounter at least one. For example, during my first playthrough, the option to call someone started showing up in the Evening menu in early April, even when there was no one I could call, and never went away. This same glitch continued to occur and appear in all additional playthroughs. During my second playthrough, I decided to turn the Seen Messages Skip feature on, and began skipping. After I passed through the intro, I went into Preferences to turn it off, but found I couldn’t. I could just set it to stop skipping after choices and I’d have to wait until a choice game up for Skip Mode to end. Also,after my second playthrough ended Alice’s portrait mysteriously disappeared, but she was still assisting Mimi in giving post-game commentary. Thankfully, none of the glitches are game-breaking. They’re just minor, sometimes fleeting, distractions. An annoyance, but certainly not something that would deter someone from trying or buying the game.
A mystery that takes multiple playthroughs to solve
Fading Hearts does have minor issues. You may see one or two teeny bugs, like the phone call message, but none effect gameplay or enjoyment of the adventure. It has an interesting story to tell, which can be as realistic, convoluted or outlandish as you want it to be. You can go through one playthrough, just managing a normal social life and saving Claire from an abusive relationship. You can go through another, searching for truth behind the magical girl Mystica. Or, you could just sit and read manga every day. It’s up to you, and all actions will lead towards new experiences and greater understandings of the world within Fading Hearts. For Sakura River’s first game, it’s a fairly well-crafted endeavor.
Site [Fading Hearts]