I think it’s safe to say that just about everyone in this day and age has had moments where their lives seemed to be going nowhere but up only to have the rug suddenly ripped from beneath their feet. Honestly, it can be a hard situation to recover from both mentally and physically. That’s when you have to make a choice. You can let it defeat you, you can let it define you, or you can dig your feet in and move forward.
Vengeful Heart from Salmon Snake tells the tale of a woman who chose door number three and did it with a cybernetic heart and a belly full of fire. Josephine Lace had a bright future ahead of her not too long ago. She was a very successful engineer working for the biggest water supply corporation in the world. See in Josephine’s world water is one of the most precious resources and thus deserves a lot of fancy footwork on her part to make sure everybody, of all social standings, has equal access to it. So let’s do the math together now. A giant corporation plus a vital (and rare) resource, plus an intelligent yet naïve plucky young engineer in charge of it all. Yep you guessed it! It all adds up to a power struggle of epic proportions between gluttonous money grubbers and the rest of the population that already doesn’t have two pennies to rub together. Fortunately for them, what they do have is Josephine Lace and she’s more than willing to venture into uncharted waters.
I love that the artwork for this game is straight out of the 80’s with a very classic anime look from those decades, and of course a PC-98 inspired pixelated graphical style to top it all off. I thought the limited, yet vibrant, color palettes used in the game really gave all the backgrounds a unique feel, in addition to making the character art stand out in contrast. And can we talk about that soundtrack? A fantastic collection of atmospheric beats that seemed to mimic the main character’s mood depending on the situation at hand. Light, smooth, synth music played when she was enjoying herself or during brief reprieves from the chaos. While faster and lower beats accompanied Josephine whenever she found herself in trouble or in a foul mood. I thought that was a very nice touch and really added to the polish of an already impressively complex plotline.
There is no voice acting or cutscenes to speak of and the only animations to be found are when the characters blink their eyes or their mouths go from smiles to frowns and such. That’s to be expected though in keeping with the very old school vibe. There weren’t a ton of background changes and most of them were reused many times over throughout the story but again in keeping with the retro VN style, it makes sense. Honestly what you’re here for more than anything is the story so everything else is just icing on the cake.
Though this is a moderately long visual novel with a few different arcs in the plotline, there was only one dialogue prompted choice and it came near the end so there isn’t a lot of room for dovetails or even replayability unfortunately. The story is essentially a straight line where you just read along instead of participating. The writing quality itself was very well done. I appreciated the short yet detailed descriptions given for any of the scenery we weren’t able to view via background pictures. It all reads a lot like a manga or even a text adventure game which definitely hit that nostalgia sweet spot for me personally.
One of my favorite parts about Vengeful Heart was probably the colorful cast of characters. Josephine, for obvious reasons, develops the most from start to finish, but she was still a nice rounded main character that didn’t overshadow anyone else. Both love interest characters were unique and played to different tastes which is always nice to see. While Bob and Amy were slightly less prominent story-wise I think they made for good filler especially whenever they were paired together. Their polar opposite personalities made for both humorous and thought provoking dialogue. Francis on the other hand was the perfect villain. He was the typical charming, charismatic, and good-looking authority figure and in any other situation you’d swoon over him but once you know the truth, his ability to charm everyone he meets makes him all the more sinister. So despite his nefarious nature he was still a very likable character.
Since this was a cut and dried visual novel experience it stands to reason that there weren’t any real extra features to speak of either. So, no galleries or extra gameplay mechanics, or mini games to speak of. That being said there were some nice quality of life features that even modern visual novels occasionally leave out. Not only can you smoothly double click to avoid dealing with scrolling text but there was a very convenient back button that allowed you to go back as many panels as you wanted. And then you could skip forward with ease once you’re ready to get back to wherever you left off. This might not seem like a big deal but in a story where details and new information are tossed around constantly it’s nice to be able to scroll back and double check some plot points if confusion arises at any point.
Vengeful Heart is one heck of an entry into the realm of visual novels. I worry that the old school artstyle may turn people off from immediately jumping on it, but I can assure you that the story alone is worth the experience. The art wasn’t something that bothered me (in fact I rather liked it) but I can understand the conflicting opinions. But seriously, don’t sleep on this one. If you’re looking for a visual novel to kick back and enjoy, Vengeful Heart is a sensational story with plenty of adventure and suspense that you won’t be disappointed with.