Yes, you read that title right. Now, I’m far from the demographic of your typical Otome game. I’m not a girl, which already eliminates most of that, and I also don’t have any particular interest in romantic relationships with men.
However, I do like cute love stories, regardless of if they’re meant for me or not. Who are you to tell me I can’t enjoy this game? I’ll use my time for whatever I want, thank you!
That was what I decided as I was perusing itch.io for more indie visuals novels I could talk about and found Heart À La Mode. I was looking at a few different VNs I could have played, but this one looked really polished, and I thought the Otome thing would be fun. I’m a simple man.
And really, I was right. It’s a lot of fun. I really enjoyed my time with HALM, as I’ll refer to this game. What grabbed my attention first was the entire thing, really. The itch page is really well-done. The art is cute. The writing was witty. The theme was perfect. This is all the more impressive when you realize that this project was only made by two people—kind of crazy.
It’s even harder to believe once you actually get into the game. Visual novels are very simple things, right. When you get right down to it, they’re just characters slapped on a background with some tunes playing as you read. What really separates a good one from a mediocre one is the very subtle details. Anyone can throw the pieces together, but not everyone can make them fit nicely.
Right off the bat, HALM has a tone of personality. It’s a story with characters absolutely obsessed with Coco, an adorable cat mascot. Do you know what the whole point of mascots is? To have personality, so you like them. The game has personality! It all comes full circle. Well, and they sell merch, but that’s part of the story too, at least buying it.
Maya has a really quite unhealthy addiction to all things Coco. Her room is Coco, her hairpiece is Coco, her finances go to Coco, and even the buttons on her overalls are Coco. The girl clearly has some odd interests, but the writing goes to town with this idea, and it really helps give the game its own unique charm.
I’m not lying. It really goes all in. The potential love interests are all met at a Coco convention because of their various involvements with the mascot. Whether that’s from working there or just being a mega-fan like Maya, they all lead to what I’m sure will be very interesting romance options if the common route is anything to go off of, but as of now, we only have one route. Robin’s route.
And I’m very glad that’s the case because god this route was cute. To be fair, I feel that I’m notoriously easy to please in general, especially for Rom-Coms, but Robin’s route really had everything you could ever want. Firstly, the dude’s quirky as hell, which is a general theme for HALM. Not every man with a successful career and that looks good in a suit also looks good in a Coco hat. It’s a major plus for the guy.
So, on the one hand, Robin is in some ways the “basic” choice for Maya since he’s almost like the male, exaggerated version of her. But what I really enjoyed was how multilayered the route was. You have the obvious Coco fanatic thing, for one, but the much more interesting focus is on Robin and Maya’s relationship itself.
See, they’ve actually known each other for a while now, but what makes things so interesting is that they had never met in person until the story starts. They only know each other online. They’ve texted, and that’s about as far as they’ve gone, but even so, they’re great friends.
So really, the route is less about two Coco fans and more about two online friends learning how to interact with each other in person, and it’s absolutely adorable. Very well done too. That concept is something I’ve thought about fairly often, and Robin’s route really covers about everything I could think of. I was impressed.
It’s fun and cute, and wacky, and witty, but it has a focus that’s actually super interesting with characters that help bring that to life. It’s a lot more than I expected, and I think that’s really the takeaway here. I expected a decent VN with a fun theme made for a game jam. And that’s what it is, except it’s better than decent and has a very bright future past the jam.
As of now, we have the common route and Robin’s route. If you go for everything there is to do, including achievements, the multiple endings, all that. I’d say you probably have around 2 hours to go through. And that’s two incredibly polished 2 hours. The music, art, dialogue, humor, endings, it’s all really good.
What we see in HALM as of now, even knowing the game still has a lot to go, feels like a finished product, and that really helps you imagine how everything will turn out at the end. If the rest of the game is half as witty, fun, polished, and charming as what we have right now, this is really going to be a VN to remember. Not every VN lets you shout about finding money every morning to unlock a secret ending.
I’ll remember it as my first Otome game, in any case. And I think it says a lot about the quality of HALM when I actually want to play more. If I can watch and enjoy Shoujo anime, why can’t I like my Otome games? I’ll take the role of a girl and seduce more men if I want! You don’t control my life!
In all seriousness, go check Heart À La Modeout. Also, check out the studio’s Twitter and show them some support in general. You can tell this game has a lot of heart in it, and that’s not just in the title. You can tell when people care about something they create, and that’s the type of stuff we need to support more.
Thank you very much for reading
What are some other indie projects you’ve been enjoying? I’m having quite a bit of fun trying all kinds of things, as you can probably tell.