Sep 19, 2013

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Sweet Fuse: At Your Side Review

Sweet Fuse: At Your Side Review

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Visual novels, though popular in Japan, haven’t seemed to caught on overseas yet. Which is a shame as there are lots of great titles. Luckily, Aksys Games has been localizing more and more titles in the genre. Their latest PSP/Vita title, Sweet Fuse: At Your Side, offers an interesting story and cast of characters. But is that enough to stop the game from bombing?

You play as Saki Inafune, the niece to one of gaming’s most iconic game developer Keiji Inafune. What begins as an innocent trip to The Gameatorium, your uncle’s new theme park, quickly turns into a hellish hostage situation. Seven days. That is the time frame given to you and six fellow ‘volunteers’ by the dastardly villain, Count Hogstein, to solve all his puzzles. If, and only if, you are able to complete them within the time limit shall the hostages go free and no one will die. Of course, this doesn’t mean Count Hogstein is going to go by the very rules he sets up. It sounds like a grim fate for our plucky heroine and her potential love interests.

Yes, you read that right. Even with the impeding doom of possibly dying due to the whims of the piggy-clad Count Hogstein, Saki can fall in love with one of the male volunteers. Each of the characters (other than the piglets whom silently work for Hogstein) have an unique look and personality. With the six males, there are pairs that seem to balance their personalities out. Two examples are the ever-so-flirty  #1 escort at the Ulysses in Ginza, Ryusei Mitarashi, and the really shy and mysterious Kouta Meoshi. You also have a no-nonsense detective, a relaxed fortune teller, an older gruff (and my personal favorite) freelance journalist, and young boy band member. This motley crew does seem to work well together for the most part as they combine their knowledge to solve each puzzle put before them. There will be the butting of heads between the group. Saki can remain calm during some of these heated conversations or she can let into the person(s) by asking, “What’s wrong with you?!” which reminds me a lot of the Phoenix Wright’s famous “Objection!” phrase.

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Each day, you and your partners are expected to solve a puzzle that has been set up in various locations across the theme park. Though it should be mentioned that depending on which male companion you attach yourself to, it’s possibly to miss out on a few of these. During each puzzle, you will be presented with multiple options. Make the wrong choice, and it could spell ‘Game Over’. Luckily, Saki can use her Explosive Insight to pick apart the information she has. You get to pick out three phrases that you think are key to the puzzle. Out of the different phrases highlights, only one is the correct choice. Choose the wrong one and you will have to face the consequences. Luckily, you’ll be able to start over from the beginning of the Explosive Insight.

Teamwork and utilizing each other’s thoughts are certainly valuable to solving the puzzles. But not every part of the puzzles require quick thinking. Luck, or rather your choice of who to team up with, play a role as well. Not to mention, you will be surprised at some of the solutions as they might have been the least obvious choice. The puzzles are not too difficult in themselves. In fact, I only received a game over once and that was because I wanted to see what happened if I didn’t pick the right word or phrase during the Explosive Insight. Once you beat the puzzle for the day, you are sent to a ship that docks long enough for you to board and then sails off to prevent you from escaping. During your stay on the ship, you are able to take a ‘Break Time’, a way to get closer to the male of your choice. This time spent, as well as choices you make during the daytime, can built up an affection meter that puts you on the path of the character with the highest level.

It’s very bright and colorful despite being a somewhat dark storyline. Those who have played the Phoenix Wright games will likely recognize the art style of the characters as they were designed by Tatsuro Iwamoto, artist for the Phoenix Wright series. The character models appear in front of a background image that depicts the area of the theme park you’re in. Animation in the game is limited to that of the blinking of eyes and movement of mouths. One important thing to note is that you will find some typos in the dialogue. I don’t think it hurts the game much but due to the fact that Sweet Fuse relies on only the Japanese voice tracks, the typos might bother some readers. As far as the music goes, I feel as if the music used really add to the game’s atmosphere and there are some pretty catchy tracks.

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Your playthrough can last from about five to ten hours, depending on factors such as how fast you read and whether or not you can solve the puzzles quickly. Once you’ve gone through your first playthrough, you can skip all previously seen text with the press of a button. It will then resume to the normal pace once you reach text that you haven’t read before. This is really helpful for those who want to just read the new dialogue without being burdened with that of the same parts over and over again. With 14 different endings (two per male character), there is plenty of reasons to go through the game more than once. You might recall earlier in the review that I said you are teamed up with six other guys. To unlock the seventh male romance choice, you need to beat the first playthrough. Each route that you follow to unlock the endings will offer more and more to the story which means that you will want to go for all the endings in order to get the most from the story and uncover just who Count Hogstein is.

Aksys Games and Idea Factory have presented a really great visual novel for the PSP (or Vita if you get the digital version). The cast of characters really shine and you can’t help but want to find out what happens next. Or who Count Hogstein really is. One of the reasons I’m a huge fan of Aksys Games is how they are bringing more and more visual novels stateside. If not for them, we would miss out on some quality titles. But one has to wonder: What other titles from Idea Factory can we expect to see come from Aksys Games in the future?

Sweet Fuse: At Your Side
Platform: PSP, Vita (reviewed)
Genre: Visual Novel
Release Date: August 27, 2013
Developer: Otomate
Publisher: Aksys Games
ESRB Rating: T for teen
MSRP: $29.99


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