Fading Hearts is part visual novel, part dating sim, and all good fun.
It’s fair to say that the visual novel genre is heavily entwined in the dating sim side of gaming, and this is no more true than in Sakura River’s Fading Hearts. A lengthy story of magic and mystery is provided, coupled with several girls’ heart that can be broken or adhered to.
Around a dozen endings are possible, with entirely different stories to find and plenty of decisions to make. The story can sometimes get a little confusing – and even go wrong at certain points – but the sheer number of possible paths makes this a worthwhile experience.
Fading Hearts puts you in the role of Ryou, a Y2K Orphan. The story goes that when the infamous Y2K bug hit, in this alternate world it caused devastation and brought whole nations to their knees. Ryou’s parents were killed during the chaos, but fortunately Kyou manages to find other orphans, and bring his life back on track thanks to his computer skills.
Ryou is now in an awkward position – he has fallen for his friend Claire (who has a boyfriend), while his other friend Rina likes him, yet he doesn’t have feelings for her. A dilemma indeed, and one that is interesting to watch and have input into. The lives of Ryou, Claire and Rina can be altered dramatically depending on the decisions you make.
At the same time, there is some strange stuff going on in a nearby forest, and part way through the game Ryou will start to learn magic, while having some peculiar dreams. You can choose to learn magic and take this path, or ignore it entirely and treat Fading Hearts solely as a dating sim.
This is the huge selling point of the game – there are so many different stories to follow and moves to make, you’ll need to play through the game at least half a dozen times before feeling like you’ve seen most of what’s on offer. With each playthrough clocking in at around 3-4 hours in length, Fading Hearts can potentially suck you in for a good few weeks.
It all feels really well made, too. Ryou’s dreams and magical capabilities slot nicely into the main dating stories, while building up your computer skills via reading and work is interesting to experiment with. There’s also a rewind feature, allowing you to scroll the mouse-wheel back through dialogue in case you make a decision and want to take it back.
While the story is worth following, it does show cracks now and again. The main problem is that certain bits of dialogue don’t stay consistent with the rest of the story. For example, I became Rina’s boyfriend early on in the game, and then broke up with her soon afterwards. I met with Claire in the park a few days later, where she talked to me about my feelings for Rina, as if I’d never been with Rina in the first place!
Later on, it became even more surreal when I met up with Claire and she acted as if we were romantically involved even though we’d had no such discussions – clearly I didn’t get the memo! Still, it’s easily forgiven, since I only found a few blips in an otherwise pleasing tale.
Fading Hearts will appeal to both visual novel and dating sim enthusiasts alike. There’s so much to see and do, and multiple playthroughs can reveal entire sections of story that you hadn’t previously encountered. If you’re looking to lose a dozen or so hours to some lovely images and – for the most part – carefully crafted dialogue, Fading Hearts will provide. A demo is available for those who would like to give it a try.