Game: Sweet Fuse: At Your Side
Genre: Otome/Visual Novel
Developers: Comcept and Idea Factory
Publisher: Aksys Games
Release date: 2013
Considering how much I enjoyed Hakuoki: Demon of the Fleeting Blossom a few years ago, I approached the kind of similar--yet decidedly more modern--Sweet Fuse: At Your Side with fairly high expectations.
Which may explain why I initially, at least, found myself feeling a tad underwhelmed by this PSP "visual novel," despite the fact that I consider both its creative setup (it's a mystery that takes place at a video game-themed amusement park) and its colorful cast of characters to be far more appealing that the ones offered up by Hakuoki.
Thankfully, my indifference only lasted for an hour or so. After that, I was fully and joyfully involved with this game's plot--a doozie that involves saving game illustrator and producer Keiji Inafune and a few other folks from being blown to smithereens, along with the aforementioned theme park, by a porcine villain.
That's not to say the experience was all puppies and rainbows. There were times, for instance, when I just wanted the characters to shut up so I could move things along. (And by that, I mean so I could spend some more "alone time" with my main-squeeze-to-be, Ayumu Shirabe.) Granted, chattiness kind of comes with the territory when you agree to play a virtual novel, which tend to feel a lot like Choose Your Own Adventure novels in game form, but that isn't going to keep me from occasionally becoming annoyed by someone who's being just a bit too verbose.
Speaking of visual-novel standbys, another Sweet Fuse element that proved to be a bump in the road for me, from time to time, was the one that basically dictates that a player use a guide if he or she wants to end up successfully wooing a particular man in the end. (And let's be honest here: as much as this game is about solving a mystery and saving Inafune, it's also about winding up with a hot boyfriend.) I know this is a staple of the genre--that one or two missteps can keep you from finding love--but I really would've preferred it if the developers of this game could've found a way to make things less rigid in that regard.
Other than those two aspects, though, I found Sweet Fuse to be a thoroughly engaging and enjoyable affair. Like I said earlier, there's a lot to like about this game's cast--from its spunky protagonist, Saki Inafune (she's Keiji's neice), to its disparate band of potential paramours, to its cigar-chomping baddie, Count Hogstein.
The overall story here deserves praise, too. There are twists and turns, red herrings, dramatic confrontations and colorful dialogue--all of which are part and parcel of any good mystery, if you ask me.
And then there are the little things that conspire to keep players excitedly--or at least attentively--pressing their PSPs' X buttons, like the "Break Time" and "Explosive Insight" segments and the moments that prompt Saki to get pissed and scream, "WHAT'S WRONG WITH YOU?!"
Does all of the above mean I wholeheartedly recommend Sweet Fuse to anyone who happens across this review? Not entirely. Some folks just aren't going to enjoy spending 10 or so hours mostly clicking through text, even if that text is both witty and entertaining. If that doesn't bother you, though, and if you're even slightly curious about this game's concept, I'd certainly recommend giving it a try as soon as you can.