The amount of women I’ve dated in video games is almost uncountable. On the flip side the amount of men I have dated in games is almost non-existent outside of a few Bioware titles and indie games. There are a number of reasons for this, but thanks to Aksys’s recent localizations of otome games like Sweet Fuse, a genre focusing on romance and usually with a female lead, I am slowly but surely drawing closer parity with dating men in games.
Sweet Fuse is a 2012 PSP otome game made by Idea Factory (Hyperdimension Neptunia) and Comcept (Soul Sacrifice), published and localized by Aksys in 2013. It stars the fictional niece of Megaman creator Keiji Inafune, Saki. Saki is a strong headed girl who never gives up and and often solves problems through her explosive insight. That’s not the only thing explosive about her, when people do stupid things her rage is just as sudden. Sometimes she gets fired up and says “WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU” and you start to wonder if perhaps, while niece to Keiji Inafune, she is in fact daughter of Phoenix Wright.
She’s invited one day to the grand opening of her uncle’s theme park, the Gameatorium, a wonderful theme park inspired by popular games. However, at the opening something goes terribly wrong, the staff and attendees are kidnapped by the evil Count Hogstein, a man in a large pig suit, and his piglets. They will only be released if 7 people can solve the puzzles of the 7 attractions over 7 days, only having 7 hours a day to solve the puzzle. Saki volunteers herself to take on these puzzles and the other 6 are all randomly selected beautiful men. Sounds a little like 9 Hours 9 Doors 9 Persons, Virtue’s Last Reward and the recent release, Danganronpa, except with a lot more game references and men to romance.
Despite the premise implying a strong puzzle solving aspect to the game, Sweet Fuse flows much like a classic Visual Novel. You read, make choices, some of which merely change how a character feels about you while others can take you on different paths. The closest the game gets to traditional puzzles is Saki’s explosive insight, in which you pick from several words in her thoughts to try and work out the solution to the problem at hand. These are fairly simple although sometimes feel like trial and error. Watching the characters blunder around trying to solve the puzzles can be aggravating when the solution is terribly obvious and you wish the game would let you take on a greater role in puzzle solving like the games it’s clearly inspired by.
While the power of Danganronpa and so on is in their plots and intricate mysteries to unravel, Sweet Fuse is content to rely on it’s bizarre premise and incredibly strong characters. While Sweet Fuse’s video game reference filled world and larger than life characters would suggest something that it purely silly the characters Saki, the evil count Hogstein, and the various bizarre men you are solving puzzles with all take the events of the world seriously and understand that the lives of many people rest on their shoulders. It’s an interesting dynamic that allows the events of the world to be laughed at but also to give the story more weight than you’d expect and helps keep you wanting to know more and more.
So, who are these men? A fortune teller complete with mystical garb and crystal ball, a noble policeman who can’t let anyone die, a middle aged investigative journalist always eating snacks, a muscle bound male escort with a secret passion for theme parks, a pop star from a famous band no one in the cast knows and a shut in gamer with an S rank in rhythm action games. Each of which has their own plot and you can end up in a relationship with by the end of the game, along the way discovering more about their past and how they became the person they are today. In addition there is a secret route in which you will discover the true reason behind the take over of the park and why these 6 men had been ‘randomly’ chosen to be involved in the deadly games.
It’s these men, and both their interplay with each other and their well realized personalities, that make Sweet Fuse something special. I grew surprisingly close to them over the 4 or so hours each route after the first takes and that process felt very organic each and every time. While sometimes these games transition very suddenly from friends to romance Sweet Fuse paces itself, slowly, and naturally builds things up. For some characters it is faster, others slower, and many remarking on how they can’t believe during a killer series of puzzles in a video game theme park they were able to find someone as special as you. Each character’s route is substantially different as well, ranging from deeper closer tales of a character’s past to a zombie apocalypse.
These natural relationships are a pleasure to read though and the small level of input a visual novel allows to make you feel greater a part of it than simply reading a romance manga or light novel. As a gay man I’ve romanced a number of women, and while that is not in itself a bad thing, it is nice to find a game which helps balance this up somewhat. I feel much more in my element trying to appeal to men than women, even if I am playing from a female viewpoint. I’ve done much the same in other RPGs however Sweet Fuse from the ground up is a game about a woman romancing men, as opposed to other things with romance being a minor part. While hardly a ‘gay game’ it is rare to find a game that doesn’t feel like the male gaze was a considered factor. Possibly the only suggestion of considering that gaze is Saki’s androgynous nature which may have been to make the game more palatable to men, although I doubt this.
While Sweet Fuse may not set it sights on the gay male market, it’s certainly an appealing game for it. A combination of excellent characters and writing while being targeted for a male attracted audience at least make this title a little bit of a rarity. If you are looking for something a little lighter after Danganronpa‘s series of constant deaths but still a visual novel, it’s hard to go past Sweet Fuse. The game is only 14.99 digitally from PSN and works on Vita and PSP. It’s also one of the last physically released PSP games if that’s your thing aswell.