Garnet Cradle is bit different than the typical otome game. It was Orbit Soft’s first foray into the genre made by its Spica branch and about a third of it is more focused on the dream world of Miftaf rather than on having its heroine, Miku, hook up with some guy.
Miku Amahashi has it all. She’s from a rich family, has some really good friends, is a bright student on the Mifuta Academy school council, and is her class representative. She’s all set. In fact, you could even consider her an overachiever, since she’s just been chosen to play the Amira, the lead, in Mifuta’s traditional school play.
Here’s where the guys come in. Her senpai Rihito has confessed his love for her, but her mother has arranged for her to marry her other classmate, Touya. Not to mention she always has her self-appointed bodyguard and childhood friend Sou around her and has met another upper classman named Kiichirou who seems to want her attention. Even the animals love her, as Miku’s been seeing a strange black cat roaming around the school that has two different colored eyes. Plus, she has to worry about maybe disappearing, since her school’s nurse just happened to mention that the girls picked to be Amira sometimes vanish.
Miku starts reading the play, and all of a sudden starts appearing in a dream world called Miftaf at night. It turns out she’s the Azura Sayaraan (priestess) there, and must choose one of five princes to become the next king of the kingdom. Coincidentally, four of the five guys happen to be the guy’s she’s been interacting with at school. The fifth is a strange young man with two different colored eyes named Saliya. Every morning when she wakes up, she’s at home, but at night she’s in Miftaf. The events there mirror those in the play. Except, at the point where the play ends, Miku finds herself sent back in time to relive the events leading up to that point in both the real world and Miftaf. Miku then decides to rewrite the story and go for a different end to break the loop. Once she starts doing that though, events from the real world and dream world start influencing one another. It’s all quite mysterious.
Ambiance is a big part of what makes Garnet Cradle Portable so appealing. It sounds and looks pretty. The music features Arabian-themed tracks for the Miftaf segments, soothing orchestral instrumentals for the real world and there’s even a rather nice rock theme thrown in for good measure. I’d say it’s among the best I’ve heard in an otome game. The artwork is also absolutely gorgeous, produced by Carnelian and with Yukio Kumoya doing the character art. It all does seem very dreamlike, and there’s lots of detail in the portraits and CGs. I especially loved the costumes, in particular the school uniforms. (Though those would probably be a little uncomfortable to actually wear.)
The story itself is quite interesting, with both dramatic and lighthearted moments. If you prefer a more substantial story with drama and angst, then the Saliya and Rihito storylines are best, but those looking for something a bit more lighthearted would probably want to try for Touya or Kiichirou. Of course, even the more fluffy routes feature some dark moments for variety. The characters are also pretty well written, with Miku being one of the stronger Otomate heroines out there. Touya is also a rather hilarious tsundere, with a surprising number of CGs with facial expressions that are just plain goofy. Garnet Cradle Portable also has the distinction of being only the second otome game I’ve played with a yandere character (Rihito), which is fun. It’s always nice to have some crazy dude to spice up every character’s route.
There’s really only one disappointing thing about Garnet Cradle Portable, and it involves story pacing. It isn’t that it’s confusing (though it initially kind-of is), it’s that each route doesn’t tell you everything you want to know. If you really want to know the absolute truth, then your best bet is to start with Saliya’s story, since it explains the most. The other routes don’t always go into the same detail and gloss over some information about Miku, the other characters and Miftaf that’s rather important. For example, I went with Touya for my first playthrough, and there just so many plot holes. My second and third playthroughs with Sou and Rihito were much more informative. Of course, there’s probably another part of the story that may surprise some otome fans.
See, Garnet Cradle Portable has quite a bit of exposition. In most otome games, you’ll probably spend about an hour, maybe less, reading and making choices before one of the dudes starts falling for the heroine. Here, you’ll have to wait for quite a while. During my first playthrough, it took about three, maybe four hours before Miku and Touya started getting romantic. So even though this is definitely an otome game, it’s almost like it’s equal parts fantasy and romance. Which could make it more appealing to both men and women.
Fortunately, the non-romantic parts move along quite quickly once you get involved. It’s actually really interesting to learn more about Miku’s role and situation, and how she’ll find a way to create some kind of resolution in Miftaf. Besides, when the time comes where Miku chooses one of the bachelors to go for, it also works out rather nicely because then you’re locked into that route. You then get to see a relationship develop more naturally between Miku and her chosen guy than in other games, since the entire route focuses pretty much on the interactions between the two of them.
You’ll also always know exactly what path you’re on in Garnet Cradle Portable, thanks to the Garnet Chronicle. It’s a map of the entire story and every event that is able to be seen. It’s more than that though, it’s also a means of revisiting other parts of the story. If you want to relive a prior in-game experience, or follow another path, you just open up the Garnet Chronicle from the main menu and make it so. The whole node selection isn’t immediately available, but it’s quite a nice feature once you can access it. In fact, I preferred it to the standard page in otome games that would just show relationship levels with all of the characters. It just simplified everything.
The PSP incarnation of Garnet Cradle also includes additional content. I can’t tell exactly what, since I’ve never played the original Garnet Cradle though. Apparently, Spica did add some new CGs/events for each of the guys though, and endings have apparently had more added to them as well. All I can tell you is what I did see was well written and beautifully illustrated.
While Garnet Cradle Portable may require a bit of patience to deal with the repeating segments and different story-lines to learn more about what’s going on and earn the true ending for Saliya, it’s pleasant otome visual novel experience. Even the darker elements seem overshadowed by the fact that you pretty much just know a happy ending has to show up eventually. The fact that there are so many lighthearted, serious and adventurous moments make me think that it’s the sort of game that would appeal to a wider audience, even though it’s primarily a romantic adventure for women. Plus, it just looks and sounds gorgeous, which is practically a necessity in visual novel.
Food for Thought
- There’s full voice acting, which one pretty much expects from an Idea Factory visual novel.
- The voice actors for the bachelors are as follows: Saliya is Shinnichirou Tachibana, Touya is Riku Kondou, Rihito is Tetsuya Kakihara, Sou is Takuma Terajima and Kiichirou is Daisuke Hirakawa.
- The limited edition comes with a drama CD and some really nice post cards with character art on them. What makes the post cards really special is they’re bundled together in a little, mini, hard-cover book. I actually wish it had come with a soundtrack CD instead though, since the music is so good!
- Garnet Cradle Portable does earn its slightly higher Cero rating (C, 15+), since there’s lots of kissing scenes and some manhandling of Miku. There’s also quite a bit of violence.
- The menu options and such are all in English, which is helpful for people considering importing.
- Be prepared to make good use of the skip function found in all Otomate visual novels. If you want Saliya’s True ending, you have to go through every other guys’ routes. Also, there is the groundhog day effect, so you’ll probably be skipping through the seen dialogue.