You’d think I would’ve found a more elegant way to go about this by now.
I’ve tried writing this intro three times now and I have yet to properly get across what I want to say. I don’t consider myself completely inept but this game just confounds me. I may not be, and may never be, a die-hard anime or manga fan and I am certainly not the target audience for 70% of visual novels, but in the same vein I like to think that we can all agree on some basics that have become the foundation of this very website. That foundation is what separates all fiction across all genres between good and bad; regardless of personal preferences.
This brings me to Pyrite Heart.
Released within spitting distance of the celebration of the birth of Our Lord and Savior, Pyrite Heart is a title that is slowly infecting the larger EVN community. I’ve personally been flooded not only with requests to play the game, but also nominations for it in the 2013 Best Ofs with only a few days of exposure to its name. But popular response doesn’t answer the question that is the keystone of this site, ‘Is it good?’
Strap on a helmet amigos, because we’re not all making it back from this one.
Pyrite Heart is the story of Ahri Remono: the spoiled princess in an unnamed country that is pretty much Japan. In a series of contrived events, Ahri ends up going to a normal high school where she ignites a rivalry with Ryuu: a popular and intelligent love inte-I MEAN STUDE-I MEAN FANGIRL BAIT. Determined to prove her superiority, Ahri challenges Ryuu to a cook off at the end of the week and pulls one of the servants of the Royal House, Kenta, along for the ride.
And thus we have our plot!
While I know by now that you cannot tie any real standard to these kinds of stories, I’m going to try anyway because clearly I’m a glutton for punishment. Let’s start off with the crux of the entire story: Princess Ahri’s ego. She challenges anyone in front of her in a mad attempt to be the best at absolutely everything she puts her hand to. In fact the story begins in medias res with her accepting the challenge that leads her to becoming a typical high school student.
It’s a simple enough question that is never answered throughout the game and because of that the game never lets us connect with the character which is, believe it or not, a shame. I actually enjoyed aspects of Ahri’s character and I found her relentless drive charming. With proper care, it would’ve been great to watch her get fleshed out to explain not only how she got to this point, but why it is so important for her to keep challenging everyone around her. It wouldn’t have made her a deep character by any means, but it would’ve given the story a sense of balance that is desperately needed.
The fact that I’m saying it means that it doesn’t happen. Instead we are stuck between Ahri’s random and unexplained aggression versus Ahri’s abject stupidity. And I say ‘abject stupidity’ only because she’s never been in a kitchen in her life. That’s right folks: Ahri challenges a random bishonen to a contest she has no chance of winning. What do you THINK is going to be the result?
This is especially problematic since it means that the plot continues to reward Ahri’s characterization than grow it. There were several times when she was justifiably criticized and instead of being forced to defend herself, one of the boys would limp in and play White Knight for her. At that point it isn’t fun, because the game wants us to root for her and not just laugh at her antics, which I couldn’t do.
Not that the rest of the plot helps. There is no clear sense of story here as Pyrite Heart is content to check off every box on the Romantic Anime Cliche check list and move on to yet another attempt to induce fangirl squealing. From Kenta playing basketball in a jersey and short shorts to Ryuu (and even Ahri) in butler/maid cosplay, they know what their target audience likes and shamelessly delivers it with a saccharine smile on its face. I hate to be so blunt on it, but at the same time these scenes of visual fanservice are just lead-ins to emotional fanservice. It doesn’t give us any more than necessary and, because of that, it doesn’t connect anything in the story with the audience other than, ‘Hey isn’t this cute~?’
Finally we have the two male leads of which paths the story branches into: Ryuu and Kenta. Both have elements I like; mainly when they both embrace the ridiculous premise of the entire game and just go with it. I may not have found it particularly entertaining, but it could be a distraction more than anything else. And, to be fair, the romantic scenes involving one of the boys teaching Ahri the basics of cooking does have some romantic spark to them. However, both also have these moments that delve into melodrama to try and give the story depth and it accidentally shows just how shallow of an experience Pyrite Heart really is.
The biggest offender of this is Kenta: whose path isn’t just predictable, it’s hilarious as it tries to reach for your heartstrings with Hallmark Channel-worthy dialogue. This path also had potential since it threatened to split the two up before they could begin a relationship, but with Ahri always getting what she wants, guess what happens? Ryuu’s is also pretty bad, but of the two it spends as much time away from melodramatics as possible. Honestly neither story branch justifies a relationship between either of the two and Ahri, which means their stories end the way they end because that what the writers wanted; not because of a natural character arc.
But does any of that make it a bad story? No, it makes it a stock standard one. For all of the hype around the game, it interests me that no one is talking about the story in a serious way. And I think that’s because, at the end of the day, fans of Pyrite Heart can recognize what’s in front of them. That isn’t to say the narrative is wholly unlikable, but it is more concerned with being fun than delivering an understandable narrative. The result is a pretty bland and, at times, headdesk-worthy story that you have seen done at least a million times before.
PRESENTATION & GAMEPLAY
What brought Pyrite Heart to the dance is its presentation. And I won’t lie, it is very pretty artwork in the same vein of the glossy, rainbow-sugar nightmares that I often scream myself awake from when contemplating reviews. I kid it really is beautiful work. The backgrounds have a great feel to them and the character art, while not very different from every other anime-style in the EVN community, has a cleanliness and professionalism to it that makes it stand a little bit part from its brethren. It is also loaded with Event CGs that has a great feel to them and covers a decent range despite story line limitations.
However, the soundtrack is God-awful. It often out of place and so upbeat and bubblegum pop-esque, I ended up turning it off. There are plans to add voices in the future so, if necessary, I will play it again to give a review on their acting. But all signs say that won’t be until we’re deep into 2014.The gameplay showed a few issues just with grammar and setting, but at the same time I didn’t run into any bugs and it was relatively easy to navigate. The choices, however, were insanely easy save for one question during a ‘History Bowl’ that required knowledge of World War II and came right the Hell out of nowhere. I appreciate the attempt to ensure player involvement, but those who aren’t history buffs may feel it is out of place in this title. The lack of an Extras menu isn’t a strike against it, but it is noticeable with the amount of CGs they dedicated to the project.
There are six endings to gain here but only two that anyone really cares about: Kenta and Ryuu’s True (Romantic) Ends. Those two take just over an hour and a half to complete, with the entire game taking up roughly two to three hours depending on your speed. If this is your thing, then you’ll happily grind away at this to get all six endings. However, considering the weaknesses mentioned earlier, two or three play throughs is more than enough.
For me, Pyrite Heart has moments where I truly like the game. I found myself liking Ahri by most of the endings and I even laughed at a few of the fanservice scenes. There is a clear attempt here to give readers a genuine experience and I can appreciate the work that was obviously put into it to make it look as good, if not better than, many commercial EVNs.
But at the same time I have to judge the final product as a complete work and not just as a collection of the moments I liked. And, with that in mind, Pyrite Heart is a fun, but typical, otome story. Try as they might to jerk your tear ducts around in the second act, there is just not enough depth to the characters to make it feel like anything more than an exercise in Basic Romance 101. At the same time the larger plot is all over the place with no regard to connecting itself. It is the purest form of fangirl bait I think I’ve reviewed on this site: happily content with spoon-feeding its audience everything it likes and ignoring those pesky things like good characterizations, themes and development.
But since it and its audience are happy with it as is, I say let the hordes have their candy. The rest of us will gladly wait for something more than average.