[Edit, 16/08: Apologies for those who missed this yesterday -- it seems I composed an entry and then didn't publish it properly. I present it now, better late than never. As if you care.]
So I finally finished Sweet Fuse this evening and I’m very happy I did.
For those disinclined to look back over my previous entries about this game, here’s the quick version: it’s a visual novel for PSP (Vita-compatible) in which you play Saki Inafune, niece of Mega Man designer Keiji Inafune, as she gets trapped in a theme park at the behest of a terrorist dressed as a pig. Along the way, she encounters a selection of fine-looking gentlemen and, over the course of seven days, gets to know at least one of them very well indeed.
Sweet Fuse has an utterly ridiculous premise, but ultimately it’s little more than a gimmick or hook to draw you in to the game proper: the story itself plays itself admirably and consistently straight throughout, not being afraid to tone down the light-hearted humour in favour of some pathos or outright tragedy at times. Saki herself is at times a little ill-defined as a character, but such is the nature of the visual novel protagonist, whether they’re male or female: they have to be flexible enough to make the various routes through the narrative plausible, and also non-specific enough to make them identifiable with for a wide proportion of the audience.
The nice thing about Sweet Fuse’s story is that you don’t get the whole truth in a single playthrough. In fact, depending on which of the game’s cast members you choose to pursue, you might not get the truth at all. Follow the path for Towa Wakasa, young boy band idol, and you’ll have an enjoyably romantic little tale in which you find out a bit about Wakasa himself — and how Saki feels about him — but you’ll learn almost nothing about the motivations behind Hogstein’s hijack of the park and the deadly game he makes the cast play. (You do, however, get a tiny teaser which is easily missed if you’re not paying attention.) Conversely, play through the route for Subaru Shidou, detective originally intended to be in charge of the park’s security on its opening day, and you’ll get tantalisingly close to the complete truth without revealing absolutely everything. It’s not until you play the route for the “secret” character, which only opens up from a second playthrough onwards, that you get a full, final and complete explanation of what has truly been going on.
And, without spoiling it here, I was surprised at the nature of the truth. As previously noted, the expectation for Sweet Fuse, given its premise and setup, is for the story to be rather light-hearted in nature — and indeed, there’s a lot of self-consciously ridiculous stuff that goes on. But ultimately there’s a serious core to what has been going on — and it doesn’t feel out of place, despite the fact that the villain you’re pursuing throughout the narrative is almost constantly dressed as a cigar-smoking pig with a disco ball around his neck.
Ultimately, your response to Sweet Fuse will depend on how much you care for the rather “hands-off” nature of most visual novels: despite the premise of the game being somewhat akin to the Zero Escape series, there are no real “puzzles” to solve as such; the most you have to do throughout the game is pick the right choice when one comes up, or occasionally pick out the most important word or phrase from a monologue in order to proceed. In other words, the game is extremely light on “gameplay” and this may disappoint a few people — particularly given that the theme park that forms the game’s setting is supposed to be based on video games — but it works and, on reflection, is probably a sensible choice; breaking up the game with, well, “gameplay”, would break its flow and run the risk of you not being able to proceed due to, to put it politely, a deficit in your own skills. By handling it this way, anyone can see the story through to its conclusion, and thanks to convenient quicksave, fast-forward and rewind functions, going back to see other possible outcomes to various scenarios is quick and painless, too. I played through two whole routes in a single day today, albeit fast-forwarding through the first three “common route” chapters and just making the appropriate choices where necessary. That still left four unique chapters per character, though.
I’m glad I played through Sweet Fuse, as it ended up being really, surprisingly good. I was immediately intrigued by the premise — and I love seeing the face of people when I explain it to them — but what I found was actually rather different from what I expected, in a very positive way.
If you have a Vita or a PSP and are hungry for an interesting story-based game to while away some time with, you could do far worse than a copy of Sweet Fuse, then. Highly recommended.