Sweet Fuse: At Your Side is a more recent visual novel by Idea Factory, localized by the fine folks at Aksys Games for the PSP (and digitally on Vita). If you’ve never played visual novel games, they tend to be very text heavy and feature puzzles of sorts to help provide challenges between conversations.
Sweet Fuse is definitely a great visual novel, it does some things differently that set it apart from others that have been a mainstay in the genre. For one, Sweet Fuse is an otome visual novel, meaning you play as a female protagonist, Saki Inafune. That family name isn’t a coincidence, Saki is the niece of legendary game creator Keiji Inafune, a game creator who decided to make an entire theme park dedicated to games.
No, really that’s exactly what the story is about. Sweet Fuse starts out with Saki heading to her uncle Keiji’s theme park, the Gameatorium’s grand opening. The second thing that Sweet Fuse does well is that Saki Inafune is a very strong female lead, meaning she stays true to herself and doesn’t compromise for the guys, or anyone.
When Saki arrives at her uncle’s theme park, everything is peachy keen until the grotesque and tyrannical Count Hogstein takes the park management, including Keiji, hostage and threatens to blow up various parts of the Gameatorium. He goes a step further and threatens the very lives of the hostages if his games are not completed.
All seven main characters are stuck in Hogstein’s web of puzzles and challenges and if they fail, everyone dies. As mentioned earlier, Sweet Fuse is an otome game, meaning the protagonist is a girl, namely Saki Inafune. The entire game revolves around Saki’s journey to save her uncle alongside six bachelors, who you can pursue romantically.
The six bachelors are very unique and varied. they are as follows: Subaru Shidou the police inspector, Towa Wakasa the pop singer, Kouta Meoshi the recluse gamer, Ayumu Shirabe the hard boiled journalist, Kimimaro Urabe the famous fortune teller and Ryusei Mitarashi the male escort.
Each character has full voice acting and the actors behind every character really bring life to the dialogue. If you’ve been turned off from visual novels before because of their text heavy nature, I can assure you Sweet Fuse is pretty great. This is even just taking the voice acting into consideration, I haven’t even gotten to the actual dialogue yet.
The banter between characters is really interesting, especially with the different plotlines you can explore through your playthroughs. You will have to play through this a few times to get the really good ending, and of course, to get to know all of the men very well.
Honestly I think the characters are so well written that I kind of am upset that I’m done with the game. I really enjoyed learning more about each of them, like why Mitarashi is so hot tempered, how Subaru let all of Hogstein’s plans get passed his security, and so on.
Touching on how Saki is a very strong character again, she is a strong, intelligent girl who will very easily just say what she’s thinking, regardless of other peoples wants or needs. In order to get the best ending you will have to stay true to her nature and not be overly girly or a pushover. Doing this will only lead to the lame endings and won’t get you closer towards the real identity of Hogstein, and why he’s doing all of this.
The gameplay in Sweet Fuse isn’t really there, however. If you’re coming into playing Sweet Fuse thinking it’s something more like 999 or Virtue’s Last Reward, you have to peel back your expectations a bit. Sweet Fuse is definitely more of a straight up visual novel, meaning the game is almost entirely dialogue.
The only time you have to actually solve puzzles, if you can call it that, is when you have to help the other characters figure something out as a group. You do this by either helping decipher riddles or by using your own intuition to help probe answers out of the guys.
The whole insight thing is actually kind of fun, Saki pauses and thinks really hard for a moment, entering what the game calls “explosive insight”. This allows you to pick out various details from the current plight and try to use them all to hopefully ignite (sorry, had to use at least one pun) her intuition and key her onto a clue.
After you pass an entire series of puzzles or challenges in one particular part of the park, you’re rewarded with CG cutscenes that help ease off the tension from the very dark premise of the game. Coming from this, the actual game itself isn’t really dark at all, despite the very real fact that a lot of people including, you and all the guys you’re with, will die if you fail.
There’s another feature of the game that helps ease off the tension from Hogstein’s challenges – something the game calls “break time.” At the end of every day, after you successfully clear a section of the park, you can go rest with all of the bachelors who have joined your quest. You get to choose one who you want to spend some alone time with, meaning you can get closer to them and learn more about them.
Aksys Games should be commended for their localization of Sweet Fuse, they truly did a tremendous job. The writing is top notch and it really helped propel the story and character progression along. This combined with the previously mentioned voice acting, which is fantastic, makes a very, very fun adventure.
Despite the very grim premise of the game – a relative and lots of other peoples’ lives at stake, the game ultimately keeps things fun and fresh. Sweet Fuse does this all while not being too crazy or weird. Ok, it does get a bit weird at times, namely those super creepy Piglets, but they’re just mimes with Hogstein faces.
If you’re looking for a fun and unique visual novel on PSP and Vita, look no further. Idea Factory and Comcept have created an awesome experience that has been expertly localized by Aksys Games. I’m not a veteran of visual novels but Sweet Fuse definitely has me hooked. In the meantime, I’m going to try going after Ayumu, the journalist.