I’m calling dibs on Ryusei Mitarashi. No disputes. It’s totally allowed. Mitarashi is mine. I’ve been playing Sweet Fuse: At Your Side like crazy the last week, have traversed Mitarashi, Meoshi and the “Secret Character’s” routes and I can confidentally say that Mitarashi is the one I want. Not only that, but I can also wholeheartedly endorse Sweet Fuse as the best otome game I’ve played in a long time. It has one of the best visual novel storylines I’ve enjoyed in a long while.
Sweet Fuse is the impeccably written and translated tale of one Saki Inafune. That’s Inafune as in niece-of-Mega–Man-creator Inafune. She’s an 18-year-old high school student who loves video games and wakes one morning, excited by the thought of being one of the first people to visit the Gameatorium. Keiji Inafune, her uncle, decided the world needed a theme park inspired by the best video games. (Sidenote: We so need a Gameatorium IRL.) A special preview event is going on and since she’s family, she gets the VIP treatment.
Except, this opening event turns out to be the worst one ever. During Keiji Inafune’s opening speech, a man in a grotesque hog suit appears on screen. He dubs himself Count Hogstein, takes everyone in the park hostage with his masked, Piglet accomplices, and says the fate of everyone’s lives will rest on seven people who will go through seven of the Gameatorium’s attractions in seven days. Each attraction will have three “tests” that must be solved between noon and 7pm. If the group fails, the attraction blows up with them inside, and the hostages die.
Saki does not like the sound of that, and isn’t going to stand by and be a hostage. She is the first, and only, person to volunteer for Hogstein’s games, and finds that she’ll have to work with six elligible bachelors to save her uncle, the innocent captives, and the park.
Before I get into how Sweet Fuse works and why it’s an absolutely fantastic game that every one of you, regardless of gender, should play, I have to explain why I love Saki almost as much as I do Mitarashi. (Remember, DIBS.) I’ve played a lot of otome games. Good ones, bad ones, Japanese ones, and ones from indie developers in North America and this is the first time I’ve had a heroine who sounds and acts just like I would. Sure, Quinrose is awesome with providing strong, female leads for their visual novels, but Sweet Fuse marks the first time I’ve seen a dating sim with someone who behaves and reacts not only as I would, but as my friends would as well. She’s a strong, intelligent girl who speaks her mind and isn’t going to cater to someone else’s desires.
Even her reactions to situations don’t have her changing her personality to meet the expectations of others. I was especially pleased to see the only way to get the “best” endings with both Mitarashi and the “secret character” is to be true to herself, and not behave in a submissive or overly girly way. Saki is strong, she will not tolerate your horse puckey, and if you don’t like it, shut up.
But again, I’m getting ahead of myself. Sweet Fuse is a typical Idea Factory Otomate visual novel, despite the prospect of puzzles. It’s 100% reading and choosing one of two or three possible responses or actions to move the story forward. Occasionally, the group will be stumped when in a situation, and Saki will have to use her explosive insight to pore over Hogstein’s clues and pick three highlighted words to see if she can divine a solution to the current situation by thinking harder about it.
Picking the wrong option usually leads to a bad end, which means it’s helpful to quick save, by pressing the left shoulder button, before any major decision. If you don’t see the love bomb icon on screen after making a choice, showing a guy’s affection for Saki has risen, or pick the wrong keyword, you can reload and try again. The game will even show which answer you choose last time, so you know which one to go with the second time.
The first three days proceed in a similar manner, no matter which route a player is going to pursue. Saki and the six guys visit an attraction, go through three tests, pass, have dinner at the park’s restaurant, then go to the cruise ship hotel for the night. Saki then can enjoy a brief break time segment with one of the six men. So no matter what you do, you’ll go through Samurai Fantasy VII (Final Fantasy), Alice Kart (Mario Kart) and Bloodstained Hospital (Resident Evil). It’s after the events of Bloodstained Hospital that the the path splits and the story changes, based on which bachelor Saki has bonded with.
Now, I’m biased. I think the Sweet Fuse story is fantastic, and Aksys has done an incredible job with the script, but I think Mitarashi’s storyline is the best. Hand’s down, he manages to be the funniest and kindest bachelor. He’s tops. Though, I will acquiese that every single story I’ve gone through is quite amazing. Meoshi’s is especially touching. While I initially went after him because he’s a creepy looking, gamer dude in a straight jacket coat, I was surprised to see how sympathetic his story is, and the strength and intelligence he shows throughout his story. It isn’t just those two characters though. Every character comes across as completely believable and realistic.
Most importantly, the way the relationships grow throughout Sweet Fuse are is believable as well. Though most of the story is a general thriller and adventure, romance starts to seep in on the fourth day. Given the whole situation, I wasn’t sure how Idea Factory and Aksys could make falling in love even seem plausible. Yet, they do. It works, and we see situations were affection gradually grows. Not only that, but we also see friendships developing among the other characters. These seven strangers come together and bond, each growing from their experience. It feels natural.
What really gets me isn’t the great story and engaging writing. Well, I suppose it does, since each night since I downloaded Sweet Fuse, I’ve been playing from about 10pm to 1am. Still, what’s more is how wide-reaching the game is. Yes, this is a dating sim geared towards women, but the story is so fantastic that I think anyone who gave it a chance would enjoy it. (Especially if they went for Mitarashi. Male escort FTW.) The romantic elements are so subtle and woven in so easily and naturally that it feels like a compliment to an alreadt strong adventure. It’s funny, touching, clever and thrilling, all at the same time.
Really, I can’t recommend Sweet Fuse: At Your Side highly enough. If you have ever been interested in a visual novel, this is the game to go with. If you’re a man, go ahead and play it anyway, going for whatever guy seems most interesting or entertaining to you, for an incredible story. If you’re a woman, enjoy the opportunity to swoon over virtual men and read a great story. Sweet Fuse is a great game for anyone with a PSP or Vita, and my greatest wish right now is that it does well enough for Aksys to agree to take more chances like this.
Food for Thought:
1. Go for a “good ending” with each guy, if you want a happy ending with him.
2. Save before having Saki “get mad,” as you can miss a CG in some cases. I missed one of the Mitarashi CGs because I had her get mad at him.
3. Replay at least once, going with the Secret Character, if you want to know Count Hogstein’s identity and his motivation for running these games.