I’ve been writing about video games for a while now and there always comes a time when I hit a wall. No matter how hard I try or how much I love the games I’m talking about, I can’t write anything worthwhile. Maybe I’m just too hard on myself, but whatever the case, 1bitHeart‘s review code dropped just as I was struggling with motivation. This might seem like an unnecessary excuse that I should save for my editor, but in reality, this recent creative block and the game developed by Japanese indie mystery ???× (Miwashiba) are correlated.
1bitHeart tells the story of Nanashi, a young shut-in who’s spending some time with his cousin Mikado. The reasons why he left school and stopped going out are awful—people just didn’t like him and told him he should stop going. Early on we learn that Nanashi, despite being overly cheery and positive, has a very low opinion of himself thanks to what others think of him. One day, as he makes plans for nothing, the boy finds a young girl lying in his bed. That’s Miasane, an amnesiac pusher who keeps forcing Nanashi to go out and make friends whilst solving a mystery regarding the registry network developed by Mikado.
As a shut-in myself, I found Nanashi and the people he comes across to be extremely odd—and I shouldn’t be so easily impressed since I have a long history with weird Japanese games, mangas, animes, and whatnot. There’s no denying that most characters are eccentric and the most normal ones feel as if they don’t belong in this strange future thought out by Miwashiba. There are moments when people seem alienated and others when they’re so aware of themselves that talking about their own suicidal thoughts is as trivial as making a silly joke during brunch. These interactions might be shocking or amusing depending on who’s playing, but one thing’s for certain: they’re thought out and made me uncomfortable enough to question my life—again. It would be ridiculous to blame a game for an episode of depression when so many external factors play bigger roles, but the themes explored and how they are presented served as a trigger.
Although the game’s introductory scenes are so rushed out that the dialogue between Nanashi and Misane feels unreal, what succeeds is properly paced and elaborate. 1bitHeart is an exclusively story-driven game with a focus on deduction and a bit of exploration. Living up to its friendship simulator premise, players are expected to learn details about focus characters (who are in a way or another involved in the overarching mystery) and present topics during conversations. It’s almost like playing a regular adventure game, except 1bitHeart will never tell you exactly what you can say and when. This mechanic and the fact that it follows a linear story regardless of the choices made may be frustrating to some who find the deduction aspect to be silly at times. I mean, why the hell can’t I present certain topics when the characters are discussing exactly what I mean to select? Following this linearity, it’s possible to play through the story with explicit hints that downright tell you which options you have to select, yet not when to do so. Because of that, these sections slow down the pace considerably, potentially hurting the experience if you struggle too much with how linear progression is.
Like previous Miwashiba releases (Alicemare and LiEat), 1bitHeart was developed by this person alone and made available completely free of charge. The version published by Playism on Steam and their official store has a few bonuses that help justify its low price point, which should play into what consumer can expect. Though boasting a beautiful art style that’s different from most Japanese titles, this is a simple game with barebone mechanics. For instance, exploration doesn’t offer any rewards and befriending NPCs not directly connected to the story doesn’t follow the same structure as those we meet during the investigation. All you have to do to make NPCs like Nanashi is play the minigames available in his computer, purchase gifts, and deliver them to the characters until a conversation starts.
I’ve spent less money with more intricate games, yet I would not have regretted purchasing 1bitHeart if I had I done so. Even though the game nothing impressive in terms of innovation and the story isn’t as compelling as other free-to-play occult classics such as Ib, but it has a charm that a lot of creators fail to accomplish. Those looking for a simple narrative with thought out eccentric characters will feel right at home, especially for $2.99. However, if you’re looking for something that will keep your attention for hours on end thanks to interesting mechanics and maps, better save those few bucks for more elaborate titles. It’s no surprise that 1bitHeart—much like Alicemare and LiEat—have a fan following, but that doesn’t mean regular gamers used to complex products will also find 1bitHeart interesting for what it is. Bottom line is, this game isn’t meant for everyone and it’s good at making that clear. Whether it’s worth what Playism is asking depends on who’s purchasing it, but at the end of the day this is a peculiar game meant for people looking for an interactive manga—and it’s good at that.