Otome Is The Bomb

Guys and gals…I think I’ve been duped.

I thought I had played visual novels before – a genre of games that are much more reading than they are…I don’t know, jumping around killing dudes.

Games like Zero Escape: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors, Virtue’s Last Reward, Hotel Dusk, and the Ace Attorney series seemed to be examples of the genre to me. I’m sure there are those who’d argue they’re representations of some other book-ish genre, editing Wikipedia entries between our debates.

But maybe they were right all along. Sweet Fuse: At Your Side, released for the PSP early last week, is perhaps the very definition of a visual novel, leaning further away from the ‘game’ side of things than I’m accustomed to.

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Couple that with the fact that this is my first ‘otome’ game (a dating sim genre that is targeted at women), and Sweet Fuse becomes quite the pallette cleanser. An interesting experience to have between bouts of Rayman Legends, surely.

Sweet Fuse is about Saki Inafune, niece to Mega Man’s papa Keiji Inafune. In light of his recent announcements, any and all references to his importance in the game’s fiction ring especially true. Saki is invited to the opening of Unc’ee Inafune’s theme park, the Gameatorium. Things quickly turn sour as the dastardly Count Hogstein takes control of the event, forcing Saki and six others into a deadly game of…games. True to Keiji Inafune’s nature, the Gameatorium’s attractions are centered around seven fictional video games. This emphasis on gaming culture is adorable, and it’s basic plot even brings to mind Zero Escape: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors in a ‘is this an intentional nod?’ kind of way (7 People, 7 Days, 7 Attractions, would have been an appropriate title).

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The story has been pretty light hearted thus far, despite dealing with some heavy material like death and murder. This works well for me, and perfectly suits Tatsuro Iwamoto’s artwork (known for his work on the Ace Attorney series).

The interactive elements may be light, but they remain quite interesting. Dialogue options are your primary concern, and are most engaging when it comes to warming up to one of the six males dragged along on this adventure with you. It’s genuinely fun deciding on what relationships I’d like to pursue. My ‘heart’ has been a leaf in the wind, blowing from suitor to suitor as new acts of kindness emerge. There has been nothing pandering or embarrassing in my conversations, in fact I’ve even been surprised by being provided the option to stand up for ‘myself’ when Suki is dealt the “for a girl” card. There were a few moments early on where my gender led the male characters to take the lead in certain situations, which bothered me, as Saki seemed more than capable at handling the situation. When Saki was able to stand up for herself, I gladly took the opportunity.

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The only low point is the puzzles. They lack difficulty, at least as far as I’ve progressed. Things may change, but whether they do or not, my opinion of the game won’t be damaged. The story is what has hooked me, and the game works heavily to promote that. More so than any of my previous encounters with the genre, Sweet Fuse streamlines the experience. Quick saves and quick loads allow the player to experiment with their decisions, and players can ‘rewind’ to any portion of dialogue should the need arise.

Sweet Fuse is certainly a unique and enthralling game. I’m not one to debate what makes a game a ‘game’, all I know is when I’m having fun. And fun comes in spades with Sweet Fuse, and it’s an easy recommendation.

Sweet Fuse is available on the PSP at retail, and through PSN for the PSP and Vita.

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