Review: If My Heart Had Wings
If My Heart Had Wings was a difficult game for me to start playing. But I’m glad I did. I’m no stranger to visual novels, and for the most part, I can’t say that I’m a fan of the genre. I generally tend to prefer stronger gameplay elements in my games. Occasionally however, one comes along with such an excellent story that you don’t mind the minimal gameplay elements, just because you want to see what happens in the end. If My Heart Had Wings is such a case, where a strong, well-written storyline overcomes the genre shortcomings and can appeal even to non-fans of the genre.
If My Heart Had Wings is a romantic visual novel. Quite a popular genre in Japan, not so much in the West. The gameplay is limited to clicking through dialog with accompanying scenes, with choices scattered about here and there. Ultimately, your choices do end up taking you on a specific “route” which leads to different endings. It’s very similar to the old Choose Your Own Adventure series of children’s books from the 80’s.
Since the gameplay tends to be so limited, Story takes precedence, and the game relies on its writing and visuals to suck you in. If My Heart Had Wings shines for the most part, and I found myself engaged for a majority of the game. The story centers around Aoi, a young man recently returned to his home town, and his participation with the Soaring Club, a high school club where club members make gliders to fly. Along the way, you meet various young women with whom you can choose to engage in romance with each girl leading you down to a separate ending, giving the game some level of replay ability.
The visuals, music and voice acting are crisp, clean, and expressive. The text, for the most part, is edited and reads well, although I did find the initial exposition of all the characters to be somewhat dragging, with lots of internal monologues that seemed just a little overdone at times. Thankfully, the game really picks up after a point, and it’s worth muscling through some of the earlier dialogue to get to it.
One small caveat was that there were also times where the writing simply didn’t match what is happening on screen. This was likely due to localization issues, as when originally released in Japan, the game contained several hardcore sex scenes which were edited out for the Western release. In a lot of cases, this seems to be where the irregularities tend to occur. For example, reading the text describing a girl’s eyes, when the camera and spoken Japanese are clearly focused on her breasts. However these parts are rare and few between, and actually had I not known that this was originally an eroge game I probably wouldn’t have noticed these areas.
As far as the girls go, they tend to follow typical anime tropes, and the selection of potential romances are all textbook waifu material. The childhood friend, the older senpai, the disabled tsundere. Thankfully the writing is strong enough to carry these tropes throughout the game, and there’s a lot more to the girls than their initial appearance. To be perfectly honest, I’m not generally one who enjoys romance stories, and I ended up squirming at some parts, but thankfully it’s that extra story behind these characters makes it palatable. Even if I was not romancing a particular girl, it was interesting to discover more about each of them, their motivations and lives, dreams and desires. And when you do decide to romance a particular girl, the characterization goes even deeper.
The story is a character driven one, and it’s the high point of If My Heart Had Wings. The central theme of the game, that of loss and the coping and recovery that follows, is a very strong one that I think just about anyone can relate to at some level. Each of the characters in the game have lost something, be it physical or emotional. The game explores a lot of the changes and dilemmas that those losses can inflict upon a person, ranging from simple things like having to give up something you love doing, or perhaps in just trying to act like a regular normal teenager. It’s insightful and empathic and makes you really care about the characters and relate to what they are going through.
The binding aspect that brings these characters really together is the Soaring Club, and the dream of flight. As a fan of aircraft myself, I was very happy to see how the game is able to capture the simple beauty and wonder of flying, and the game does a wonderful job of showcasing the sheer anticipative joy of the idea. For most of the characters, the Soaring Club acts as their way of coping with their respective losses, all for different, but all valid reasons. Admittedly, the game doesn’t do a very good job at actually explaining how flight works, and the game’s explanation of the physics of flight are all wrong, but again, I was willing to overlook that just because the story itself was so compelling.
The game is reasonable in length, it took me about 9 hours to get through my first play through. Thankfully, the game features a forward feature, so my subsequent play through to view the other paths and try other romances went on for about half of that each. Overall, If My Heart Had Wings is a great coming of age story that doesn’t do anything particularly new or different for the genre, but what it does, it does well. This isn’t a story epic in scope, but it is a very personal one that speaks to all of us in a little way. Highly recommended.
Reviewed by: Willem Den Toom Platform: PC
- Strong and Heart-warming slice of life story - Great visuals and sounds - Easy to understand interface
- Doesn't do anything really new for the genre - Some odd translations / scenes due to localization - Can sometimes get draggy with exposition and internal monologue
P.S. This game also features a duck with a top hat. You can’t go wrong with that.