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Published May 30, 2012

Okay, before we get into this review some explanation is needed because there is a reason I don’t follow a lot of otome or even straight-up romantic visual novels. Look, I’m not as vain as my massive ego would lead you to believe. I understand that there are some things in this world that aren’t made for me and that I will not enjoy if I attempt to get into it. I have knocked Twilight for its effect on Western media, but before I did I paid little attention to the series because I’m not a fourteen year old girl (or their Moms). In that same vein I understand that in the video game industry as a whole, not just VNs, there are certain genres that rarely change year to year. There is very little profit to be made experimenting with, for example EA’s Madden or even Activision’s Call of Duty. Every few years a major overhaul is done to refresh the franchise, however when you pick up CoD or any sports game you know what you’re getting into.

Those two points pretty much sum up my view on otome visual novels. A: They’re not made for me. B: It’s a franchised genre. I’m sorry to insult fans of the genre, but if you pick up something that says ‘Otome’ or ‘Romance’ you know what you’re getting into and it rarely matters what I or anyone else says about it: fans will like it. However, the unavoidable fact is that whenever someone thinks of English Visual Novels the first thing that comes to mind is Japanese high school romance and drama: for better or worse. That means that this site must delve into the otome world from time to time, otherwise I’m not living up to my end of this little arrangement we’ve forged.

With that in mind strap on a comfortable helmet and sit back as we dig into teeth-rotting, mind-numbing sweetness that is Studio Sprinkles’Heartful Chance.

STORY

There is no nice way to say this: this is the dumbest visual novel story I’ve read since I’ve started this site. I believe I can explain myself pretty well, but in advance I’m going to have to ask your patience and forgiveness if I run off on a tangent as well as how blunt I am going to have to be in order to make this point.

The story follows atypical schoolgirl Eimi Mitchell: average in every way as her school gets closer to…Valentine’s Day (Oh, the rainbows and woodland creatures that explode from the withered, hollow shell that is my heart just by the mention of that ‘day’). She doesn’t do her math homework so one of her friends allows her to copy hers for a favor (read: blackmail via tattling). That favor is…writing a love letter for her crush and putting in his locker for her so that he’ll be her boyfriend.

Believe it or not, I haven’t hung myself yet. It’s completely absurd but it was kind of interesting to watch the situation born from Eimi’s stupidity (I am going to use that word a lot in this review) spiral into a situation that should very well leave her up a certain creek. Cliché? Yeah but so far it’s hardly offensive. If anything, it gives promise to the direction the story could take.

The word gets out on little Eimi’s special skill and other girls beg her to write love letters for them. This inexplicably works and everyone hooks a guy which leaves Eimi to explore her own options: the aforementioned Kouhei and Henri…and we can now begin to properly ascend the K2 of stupidity that is this story. Now what do I mean by that? Let’s start with the basic premise of the entire VN: Eimi writing love letters for the girls in her class.

Okay this type of set up for one girl is a stretch, but not too ridiculous as I’ve said already. But any more than that and the problem hits home. You can’t just hand write something and pass it off as your own, especially if someone else signs the bottom of the letter! Only an idiot would look at the handwriting of these love notes and the signatures and think it was all done by the same person because everyone has their own distinct style of writing. It’s the basis of old penmanship classes and currently criminology.

Silly JP! Why can’t you look beyond this and see what’s really important? The letters were meant as a symbol of their loooooove! –Sparkle –

No. I’m sorry but that’s BS. Hallmark is all about creating symbols of love, but you know its Hallmark when you open the card. To have someone else write a love letter without any input from you, then sign it and have someone else deliver under the context that those are your personal feelings is not romantic: it’s dishonest and stupid.

This is further compounded when Kouhei asks for Eimi to write a love letter for him, which I’m guessing he figured out from the massive ‘Love Letter Princess’ rally these stupid broads held right in the front of their school. Kouhei’s knowledge of this implicates the male half of the school, because if one of the most popular males at the academy knows this: they all do. So the girls are dumb for this entire insane plan and, at best, all of the boys care about is getting with the girls regardless of any potential dishonesty. So it doesn’t matter what they think as long as they’re mindlessly in love with you? That’s an acceptable start to a relationship in Heartful Chance?

There’s your super-sweet otome VN ladies and gentlemen: populated with a bunch of hapless twits obsessed with relationships, even at the cost of their own personal dignity. And despite the high school stereotypes and my age, this sort of thing wouldn’t have flown in my day and I have to believe it wouldn’t fly in this one: if only to preserve my own sanity.

And speaking of personal dignity, I’ll admit didn’t know what to think of our main character as I started playing this. Eimi is a special brand of dumb: a kind of dumb you only see under the age of 18. Totally enveloped in herself, most of the humor in this title is derived from the massive disconnect between the real world and the world she’s spun in her own mind. That isn’t to say that it was a bad start for Eimi. Like the VN proper, it could have been used in an interesting direction. I may have never found her funny, but I would’ve love for her to recognize the difference between her fantasy and reality and how she addressed it. More so, I would’ve also just been impressed to see her remain comedic throughout: never truly recognizing her own faults but willing to fight for the things she wanted regardless.

However, none of those things happen. Throughout the entire VN Eimi is a self-absorbed moron happy to jump through emotional extremes the minute she thinks she’s not getting her way. More distressing than that is that we, the audience, are not only supposed to laugh along with Eimi’s hijinks but also empathize with her during the moments she’s pouting off in a corner. We’re ultimately supposed to relate with her and hope that she gets wants, but that hope flies right in the face of the ugly truth: she deserves to be alone.

As clichéd as the story was, to the point where even I as a otome rookie could figure out what was going to happen well before the ending and as bland as both male romantic options were, what made it ten times worse is the fact that just how bad Eimi is a protagonist. Eimi is a brat: a dumb, spoiled brat who stays a dumb, spoiled brat throughout the entire VN. And for this she is eventually rewarded by the world with her choice of boy. Both Kouhei and Henri add nothing to this title; especially Henri who literally had any potential to be at least an interesting stereotype ripped out of him between two scenes. They exist solely to be chosen by Eimi: that’s it.

 Oh JP; you’re missing the point! This isn’t some serious story! It’s a fun, simple tale about the power of looooove! Ohohohoho!

I don’t care if it’s about the power of rock. Bad characters, zero development and a nonsense plot DOES NOT make a good story. Now, in my version (version 2.0) there were also some serious grammatical errors, but Momma taught me not to through bricks from a glass house. Besides, the problems I’ve mentioned already dwarf any spelling or grammar issues.

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…..ARE YOU STALKING ME?

PRESENTATION & GAMEPLAY

If you are still reading this review, you will be surprised to see find that this thing is about to get very positive. Every failing in the story is oddly offset by a fantastic presentation. There is a cinematic feel to the entire game where CG events and normal gameplay intermingle very well. Toss in a few animated parts and some super-deformation add-ins and you have a solid VN presentation that eclipses many others in the otome category.

That doesn’t mean it’s perfect by any means. Studio Sprinkles revels in the sugar high that is otome games and the color scheme amply reflects that. Which means everything, everything is covered in a romantic shade of red, pink and white…everything. Buildings? Okay I can kind of see that. School uniforms? Eh, maybe? Every single room you enter? My eyes are bleeding now. And when you get to the choice graphics the quality drops hard as the block white lettering is almost impossible to read.

Also the characters themselves glued together. I’m thinking some serious paper doll art renovations were used to make the cast look as unique as an anime-inspired cast can look these days. Regardless of the character designs, at the end of the day there is little togetherness to them. Sometimes it works and sometimes it looks like a hairpiece and a uniform was slapped on a mannequin. I don’t mind recycling designs if that’s what happened here, but can we at least have them look like they didn’t paste on a toupee?

Overall you also have to keep in mind that this is only Studio Sprinkles’ second VN and the level of polish brought to how it looks and works is very impressive with their short history. Even the production music fit in well and creates an atmosphere befitting the story…weak as it is. There is a lot VN producers can take from the tone and use of the presentation and it is heartening to see some much care and time taken to ensure this level of quality.

Gameplay is a bit of a step down as there were some issues with bugs in my version that may or may not been fixed (I’m not downloading it again to find out). And the aforementioned color scheme issue can make certain choices much harder than they need to be. However, once you get pass those minor issues everything works well here. Those familiar with VNs already know what you’re stepping into with handful of key choices and other than that you’re left to watch the story unfold.

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IT’S NOT LIKE I LIKE YOU OR ANYTHING B-B-B-BAKA!

REPLAY VALUE

I’d like to say that there is zero replay value here, but I can only speak for myself on that one.  The story has two separate endings and taking my time I clocked it in around three hours to complete the entire game. I’m including in that estimate the times I had to walk away from my computer and rant, so in all likelihood it’s shorter than that: probably an hour and a half with a maximum of two hours.

That makes Heartful Chance excursion material more than anything. If you’re an otome fan girl who doesn’t mind the plot points I’ve already discussed, then you’ll pick it up and like it: though whether you play it again is in the air. For everyone else, I can’t recommend it because something somewhere will irritate you despite its length.

OVERALL

I started off this review giving my opinion on otome games and I did my absolute best to keep an open mind and enjoy this game for what it is, rather than what I like. The absolute truth about Heartful Chance is that it is a combination of extremes. The story is awful, yet the look and feel of the VN is terrific. And as any cook will tell you when you bring hot and cold together you’re not left with either: just something very lukewarm.

It’s not completely hate-worthy (despite my criticisms) and it isn’t inspiring outside of its artistic direction. It is, at best, an average VN focused on a forgettable romance story with characters you’ve seen a million times before. Fans of the otome genre not only have played Heartful Chance but they are probably preparing to rip me apart once this is published. But for everyone else, it’s barely something to pass the time.

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