Whoever said high school would be the greatest years of your life was a liar. So let’s go back and actually make it awesome.
You will be hard-pressed to find an Otome game that keeps its toes out of secondary education, especially the ones who wanna play more realistically. It’s supposedly the time when you meet your best friends (I did) and have all these magical moments you remember forever (“magical” isn’t the word I’d use.) Dating Sims and VNs like to play on this wistful view of 16+ and tell the High School Sweetheart story in all its splendor.
Contain your excitement
Our representative for this genre is a nice hybrid between both Dating Sim and Visual Novel. Heartstring Bugs, the story of Elly changing her life for the better or worse, simulates the high school experience without the acne and embarrassment to the tune of a rather sweet story.
Screen Shots from the developer this time around, because this game is very long and life didn’t give me enough time.
Nothing could be sweeter to the average player then shaping your high school career exactly as you wished, and Heartstring delivers. Elly is entering tenth grade, and plants to spend the next three years peeling away the mask she built for herself. How she comes out of her shell, and what she blossoms into, relies almost entirely on player input. Is she a studious sweetheart or a beautiful drop-out? You decide!
The matter complicates on her first day of class. She inadvertently rescues a small, digital creature named Vi from the clutches of a “scruffy” man and now it won’t leave her alone. He’s a baby alien working on a report for school, documenting human behavior and interactions. In exchange for Elly keeping him safe from the various outside forces, he gives her a H@X ability, allowing her to see people’s emotions and attempts at manipulating them. With this newfound tool, and new annoyance at her heels, it’s up to Elly to navigate the next most difficult three years of her life.
As mentioned, Heartstring plays as a VN/Dating Sim hybrid, where timing and stat management are everything. And while grinding may sound like the least fun thing to do in a game like this, the rewards come just fast enough to make it all worthwhile.
After naming yourself, you answer some questions that set your base stats for the game. One long introduction later you’re whisked off to the bedroom above to pick your activities for the week. Each activity, if successful, will increase your stats by a random number. Later on you have the option to join a club, and participation in that club will increase your relationship with a specific character who’s also in that club. Each activity will also increase stress, however, and you’re more likely to fail the more stressed you are. You have the option to rest during the week, but that reduces a random stat as well. On the weekends, you can do activities that reduce stress, work, or go shopping.
The VN part comes from cutscenes within the game that happen on certain days, as a real calendar is kept towards the top. On these events, some of which you have to prepare for, you make choices that impact your relationship with characters and how they perceive you at the end of the year. These events can result in all kinds of fun changes to the story. Didn’t get enough stats to pass your end of year exams? Time to go to summer school. Wanna go to your best friend’s Christmas party? Hope you run into your guy!
Make the right choice on the date, and pick a location closer to their interests, and you’ll earn more points. It also benefits you to save up for big school events, like Prom, a Halloween Dance, and a ski trip, because high enough points will net you important cutscenes. Make enouh good decisions, and you get a surprise ending after the credits.
Once again, we have some mighty impressive artwork on our plates. The art style here is just as crisp and colorful as our last entry, with detailed backgrounds and very pretty CG’s. We’ve leaned away from the professional looking color of the previous title, along with the Bishonen style, and opted instead for a simplistic look that feels a bit like a series of paintings. While everything still looks like it came out of an anime, it’s probably an anime aimed at a broader audience.
But I must criticize one point, and that is the character models. I can’t explain what exactly bothers me about them but something feels off model when I look at them. The proportions may be wrong, or maybe there’s a color issue, I don’t know, but the problem isn’t an eyesore by any means. I got over it real quick, as I’m sure others will.
Naturally the popular jerk is first on the slab, and what an interesting specimen he is. Cranky, cold, quiet and very judgmental, one has to wonder why the entire school of females hounds him… literally. And if you find an answer, please, let him know; he’d do anything to shake them off. You can’t blame him for being so angry when he can’t walk outside without being mauled.
That being said, Chase wins points for being protective, secretly sweet, and actually pretty sophisticated. I like to think he’s what Christian Grey should have been, with a plot twist that makes that comment absolutely hilarious.
This shy, geeky guy is a surprise to this veteran player. Sure, there’s usually the “exotic” option somewhere in most games, but this is the first Chinese love interest I’ve seen. That being said, I adore this smarty to itty-bitty pieces, and want to see more just like him.
When this rather cute love interest can stop stuttering, he’s rather good at saying these tiny, look-at-the-ground type comments that can make a girl all bubbly inside. Furthermore, when push comes to shove, this techno genius is actually pretty daring and will put up a fight for you. If you want a warm sweetheart who’s always in your court, dedicated and wonderful, then he’s your guy.
Every dating sim needs the easy guy, the everyday friend who’s easy to interact with… so easy he may as well not exist.
Dimitri was one of the ones I didn’t really bother with, as he didn’t spark too much interest with me. He’s a bit of a pervert and kinda fussy, a popular boy who’s laid back to the point of being super lazy. He earns points for being in the drama club, and having an interest in acting, but nothing about him really made me want to go forward. Dimitri is the safe option, to be sure, and safe usually equals boring. If I’m wrong, by all means, tell me what awesome twist follows his story.
Another one I didn’t finish, mostly because his personality just didn’t interest me.
Lucas is our first black entry into dating sims, and they did a good job of making him into his own. He’s confident, cool, and won’t put up with nonsense. Smart, athletic, and tells it like it is, he’s a good candidate for anyone who likes the strong leads. However, I also found him cloying and rude, something that very likely breaks down to my personal tastes. Wasn’t for me, but if you like ‘em tough and slick, he’s your guy.
Our last option is out “secret” or “unlockable” option, and one of my favorites. On the first new year celebration of the game your buddy Tamera will invite you to a concert for this singer everyone is going crazy over – Blaze Alexio. Turns out Blaze was the weirdo who tried to steal your digital buddy at the beginning of the game, and now he’s got his sights set on you. You get to date a rockstar, ladies and gents, a rockstar who dresses like a hobo/graceland reject and behaves like a child… and I love it.
No seriously, I do. The story itself is sweet and Blaze’s attitude will grow on you real fast. His sense of style is god-awful, but everything else just lines up great.
Heartstring Bugs is an addicting experience, with easy mechanics, likable characters, and great visuals. The hybridization between Visual Novel and Dating Sim work really well, with only one or two places where you will shoot yourself in the foot if you don’t know what you’re doing. I suggest you find the walkthrough, as it’ll save you some trouble.
Next Time: Magical Diary – Horse Hall
Did this one tug on your heartstrings, or do you claim H@X on this title? Feel free to comment below. And don’t forget to like, or click the follow button if you wanna see more content just like this.