If you’re a big fan of stories in casual games then you won’t want to miss Fatal Hearts. From independent game developer Hanako Games (the makers of Cute Knight), Fatal Hearts features a deep choose-your-own-adventure story where the choices you make affect not only the ending of the game, but how you get there.
The story centers on fifteen-year-old Christina, a high school student who’s enjoying spending her summer vacation hanging out with her new best friend Lucy. Through text narrative and dialogue presented overtop of charming backgrounds drawn in the style of Japanese anime, you’ll soon learn that things aren’t exactly peachy in the girls’ lives. Lucy’s parents are behaving strangely, going out at odd hours of the night and carrying around a strange old book. Christina starts having vivid dreams featuring a young man and woman who are somehow familiar, she swears she can hear wolves howling at night, and, to top it off, there appears to be a killer on the loose who preys on young woman.
The story features some graphic images and scary situations, and for that reason Fatal Hearts is something that younger children should probably steer clear of. (The publisher gives the game a rating of "Teen.") However, older players will relish the chance to explore a mature story that explores themes of love, death and friendship with a supernatural twist.
One of the most enjoyable features of Fatal Hearts is that you get to control what happens next by making choices at certain key points in the game. After spending the day with Lucy, does Christina walk home or call her Mom for a ride? Does she go to the party hosted by the two strange boys, or reject their advances? Does she lie to her Mom after staying out late, or tell her the truth? Although these decisions might seem trivial at the time, they can set certain events in motion that will drastically alter the gameplay experience and send you down a path to one of fourteen possible endings.
The game might also throw a puzzle your way to break up the narrative and test your reflexes or problem-solving skills. These brain-teasers are each cleverly woven into the plot – for example, when Christina complains that she can’t think because of the spider-webs in her head, you’re presented with a puzzle to clear away the web by using the mouse to drag away the tangled strands. There are board games to navigate, locks to break, and several arcane codes to decipher based on clues that you will hopefully have picked up on earlier – or, if all else fails, you can hop onto the Internet and research the answers. One of my favorite puzzles is a turn-based battle reminiscent of classic role-playing games like Final Fantasy.
If you finish Fatal Hearts and want to play again to try for a different ending, the game makes it easier to do so by giving you the option to automatically skip the dialogue you’ve already read. You can also skip puzzles you’ve already completed if you don’t feel like attempting them a second time – but a new story arc will introduce new puzzles as well.
The game’s production values – especially the mechanics on some of the puzzles – do leave a bit to be desired. The visuals are appealing, but sometimes I found myself wishing that more of the action was shown instead of simply described. (For example, at one point Lucy and Christina spend the whole day at the mall together but all we ever get to see is the food court as the rest of their adventure is described through text.)
Then again, it all depends on your perspective. I found it best to think of Fatal Hearts as less of a game and more of an interactive novel with some great descriptive passages, cool illustrations, well-placed sound effects and atmospheric music. And the best part is that you can read it over and over again and it’s never the same twice.