Spirit Parade is a commercial supernatural romance English otome game from Lettuce Waltz. While the concept of the game is wholly original, many of the characters and themes featured in the game are taken from various Asian mythologies and legends. The game follows seventeen year old Nara (name changeable) a young girl who unwittingly stumbles upon a portal to the Spirit World. Unfortunately for our young heroine, the portal she used to enter the Spirit World won’t reopen until the end of a month long festival. After spending a month among the youkai and spirits, will Nara finally be able to return her old life in the Human World? Will she want to?
This game has been in development hell for about two years, and to be completely honest I thought Spirit Parade would never see the light of day. But, miracles do happen. Originally slated to be a full game release with five romanceable characters and full English voice acting, Lettuce Waltz decided to release the game per route (as routes are completed) without the voice acting (due to scheduling issues). While I’m fine with the per route release schedule, I will say I am a bit disappointed that the voice acting won’t be included in the initial route releases (though, you can still hear the voices in the demo version of the game) and the team has promised that an additional patch with voice acting will be included at a later date.
*There will be some spoilers…*
*Spirit Parade is available for Windows, Mac, and Linux*
As I mentioned earlier, this is a commercial release, and for those of you that missed out on the $10 dollar preorder price, you can still purchase the full version of the game for $20 on itch.io. However, because Spirit Parade will be released per route, you will only have access to the available routes, with free access to all subsequent releases and patches. Or, you can purchase the routes that you want for just $5.00 USD each, currently only Hayato’s route is available for purchase.
Of course if you just want to check the game out, you can always download the demo, which covers the entirety of the common route (over an hour of gameplay), from the Spirit Parade itch.io page.
“The story centers on Nara (her name can be set by the player), a cynical 17-year-old girl who mostly shut herself off from the world after contracting spinal polio at a young age and becoming unable to walk. One night, a festival is going on in town. Instead of going with her family, Nara wanders off alone, not wanting to slow them down. As she goes through the various stalls, things become hazier and gradually Nara finds herself surrounded by people with ears, tails, and horns…then suddenly her clothes and wheelchair disappear! After a run-in with a rambunctious kitsune named Hayato and a scary-looking dragon officer of death named Shuye, Nara finds out that her soul has left her body and has been transported to the Spirit World, where all the demons and spirits are celebrating a month-long festival. Until the end of this festival, she won’t be able to return home… Will Nara survive long enough in the Spirit World to go back in one piece? Will she be able to get over her bitterness borne from the past, or will she be engulfed in hatred and lose sight of what’s truly important?”
–Synopsis (Game Site)
Spirit Parade takes place over the course of one month (30 days), following Nara’s time in the Spirit World. In the final version of the game, Nara can choose to take up residence with either Hayato and his family at the Kitsune estate or live in the Underworld during the events of the game. Her choice will determine which romanceable characters she can pursue. If she chooses the Kitsune residence, Hayato’s and his older brother Mikio’s routes are unlocked. If she chooses the Underworld, Shuye’s, Haiyue’s, and Diaochan’s routes are unlocked. However, since the other routes aren’t available at this time, there isn’t an option for the Underworld (not that I saw during my FIVE playthroughs of the route). Hayato’s route consists of five unique endings: two Good Endings (one Stay & one Return End), two Bad Endings (one Stay & one Return End), and a Normal “friendship” Ending (see Ending List ).
Periodically, players will be required to make choices that determine the course of the story. Positive choices improve the relationship between Nara and her chosen love interest and ensure that the player will achieve one of the Good End, while negative/confrontational answers will lead to players obtaining the Bad Ends. The game doesn’t have a choice indicator, but there is a status page where players can check their relationship progress with their chosen love interest. As your relationship with certain characters improve their silhouette on the Status page will become more distinct (from shadowed out to black and white to full color), with the character’s expression changing to reflect their increased affection for Nara.
There are also a few choices that are integral to determining whether or not Nara stays in the Spirit World or returns to the Human World at the conclusion of the game. These questions are independent of the path based questions, but this usually isn’t apparent until day 29 when Nara makes her final decision.
Lastly, there are three extra features included in Spirit Parade: CG Gallery, Music Box, and Memories.
From the CG Gallery, players can view all CG images obtained through all playthroughs of the game whenever they want (including variations) and from the Music Box players can listen to all of the musical tracks from the game. But, the most important (at least for me) is the Memories page, here players can replay key events from each route and all of the unlocked endings without having to replay the entire route! There are even small summaries that accompany the endings.
Aesthetically Spirit Parade is a gorgeous game. The main cast is drawn in a traditional anime/bishounen style, though there are a few youkai characters that break the mold a bit. Shuye and Mikio are much more muscular than say, Hayato, who has a more traditional shounen protagonist build, thin with slight features. Like the game itself, the character designs are heavily influenced by Asian cultures, many of the characters sport distinct, stylized clothing and features, but with a bit of a modern twist that helps give the game a more otherworldly feel. The sprites while not animated, did have a wide range of facial expressions and poses that really helped add a bit of life to the characters.
Of course since the game takes place in the Spirit world many characters have a few non-human features (fox ears and tails or horns), but the main cast for the most part look human. Now, some of the side characters definitely have a much more distinct youkai vibe about them, but there really aren’t too many non-humanized youkai featured in Hayato’s route…which is a shame.
But, what I loved the most were the backgrounds and CGs. First, I am a sucker for lush, rich background art, since they are what set the tone for the entire game. I can’t tell you how disappointing it is to play a game with sub-par backgrounds, because it really detract from my overall enjoyment of the game, I need to believe that the characters are really in X setting, and Spirit Parade does an excellent job with the backgrounds. Each setting, whether it’s the brightly lit nighttime festival or the lush forest, there is an ethereal quality to the designs that really stands out, without having to rely on over the top designs or gimmicks, everything is grounded within realism, with a few subtle details thrown in establish that this is indeed a fantastical setting. The slowly falling, spirit fire wisp of the Spirit festival to the Asian styled homes and buildings, I really felt like I was in the Spirit World!
Last but certainly not least, the soundtrack, each track does a fantastic job of setting the tone for the overall game. There is just this grandness to the music that makes you feel like you took a step back in time to a place where magic and youkai really do exist.
Nara (name changeable) is a young girl suffering from polio, a condition that has slowly taken away her ability to walk and she must now rely heavily on a wheelchair to get around. As a child she was bright and friendly, but as her debilitating condition progressed, she became more disillusioned and withdrawn. Now, Nara is a recluse who spends most of her time alone in her room, that is until a trip to the Spirit World teaches her what it truly means to live.
I am usually pretty forgiving towards bitter otome heroines (see: Cinderella Phenomenon review), since I can usually understand their reasons for being so closed off to everyone around them and Nara is no different. At a time when she should be spreading her wings and figuring out the type of woman she wants to be, Nara is dealing with a progressively aggressive condition. She is reliant on her parents for things many of us take for granted and while they don’t outright tell her that she is a burden, she knows that taking care of her is not the ideal situation for anyone. It’s a heavy burden for anyone to bear, and given the circumstances I feel she is taking things better than could be expected (though not necessarily in the healthiest way).
Side Note: I have to give the development team props for handling Nara’s condition so well. It’s not often that characters with disabilities are featured in a game let alone an otome game (see: C14 Dating review), so to see something this complex dealt with in such a realistic way is worthy of praise.
Hayato is a young kitsune that befriended Nara years before in the Human World. Being a youkai, Hayato has a hard time comprehending things that are commonplace for humans, it doesn’t help that he has spent a great deal of time in both the spirit world and the human world, so the lines between both are a bit blurred. He’s a cheerful, friendly guy, but he has a hard time relating to the feelings of others often times coming of as self-centered and callous, though he’s not mean spirited by nature.
He is the youngest in a rather large family of kitsune, so he often ends up being the butt monkey for his older twin sisters, Sakuya and Asuka. While Hayato can be a bit outgoing, he display genuine maturity, though granted those moments are few and far between. He is a skilled hunter often tasked with securing food for the Kitsune household.
I used to have a rather biased opinion of childhood friend routes, since they always seem to follow the same basic premise: Friend A has been in love with Friend B for years, but never said anything because they didn’t want to lose Friend B as a friend. Meanwhile, Friend B is either ignorant of Friend A’s affections or also in love with Friend A and afraid of admitting that they see them as more than just a precious childhood friend.
Something akin to the “we hate each other so we love each other” model takes place and Friend A & B spend 95% of their time squabbling over nonsense.
And while I admit that Nara and Hayato’s relationship is much closer to the latter example, it’s also a bit more complicated than that. Yes, they knew each other as children, and yes, Hayato and Nara were indeed friends, and yeah, they spend the better part of the route trying to rip each other’s heads off (Nara more so than Hayato). It’s not as clear cut as it sounds.
Nara absolutely loathes Hayato at the start of the route due to an injustice he committed 10 years prior. She’s literally been holding on to a grudge for ten years and while I usually find petty stuff like this annoying, in this case, Nara is kind of justified given the circumstances. In short he is directly responsible for her becoming a bitter shut-in we know and love. When they were children he acted, well like a child, abandoning Nara in her time of need and leaving her exposed to the ridicule of the neighborhood children who spent years tormenting her because of her condition. I’m not going to completely forgive Hayato’s actions, because again, the experience was deeply traumatic for Nara and she has been living with that on her shoulders for ten long years. Unaware of how his actions in the past affected Nara, Hayato attempts to pick things right back up from where they left off ten years ago, because for him the years seem like only yesterday. Every time he shows Nara kindness, she hits him with the old cold shoulder or worse, she literally hits him… right in the family jewels. She still has an ax to grind against our poor hopeless Hayato, much to the poor guy’s confusion and later on frustration.
However, at the time of the incident, Hayato was a child, he didn’t fully understand the implications of his actions and as such shouldn’t be held wholly responsible for everything that occurred because of it. Hayato wasn’t being cruel for the sake of being cruel, he really had no concept of Nara’s condition nor how that condition effected her life, he just thought that she couldn’t play with him anymore, so he moved on to other people and things, much in the same way a child will discard a broken toy for a new shinier toy. While he understands that there are fundamental differences between humans and youkai, he doesn’t always connect the dots and winds up unintentionally saying something that upsets Nara.
Things like time and sickness are inconsequential, because as a youkai, they don’t hold the same weight. For him, 10 years passes in the blink of an eye and Nara’s polio is something that can be overcome, rather than a crippling illness. He means well, but many of his comments can come off as callous and uncaring, not because he is malicious by nature, but because he truly doesn’t know any better, which serves as the main source of conflict in the route. Hayato must learn to consider how his actions affect others, while Nara must come to terms with the things that happened long ago and learn to move on with her life.
While this is a romance game, the majority of the route is spent dealing with Nara and Hayato’s individual character growth. Any romantic undertones are subtle, a few blushes and awkward silences, and that’s because neither Hayato or Nara are ready for a relationship at this point in the story. Nara is still harboring feelings of resentment towards herself, her family, and of course Hayato. She is mentally stuck in the same place she was ten years ago. While Hayato is much too immature to seriously handle his changing feelings for Nara, or treat her as a woman, since he still sees her as the girl she was (because for him, it was literally yesterday). Both Hayato and Nara grow a great deal over the course of the route and are much better able to understand one another, sure their relationship isn’t what it used to be, they can’t go back, but they can move on together. By the end of the route, Nara is able to face the future with much more confidence than she started out with and Hayato is much more considerate of Nara and her feelings. It’s a genuine development for the pair and while it doesn’t reek with the usual otome super luv-luv vibes, it’s fitting for where they are personally. And before y’all start grabbing the torches and pitchforks, yes, they do end up together, it’s just not a babies ever after or a wedding ending either, it’s much more “open” than all that, while still giving their story a satisfying end.
Good Stay End (New Dawn End)– Nara decides to stay with Hayato in the Spirit World, she takes to her new life well, facing the future with a smile because she knows Hayato will always be there with her.
Good Home End 2 (Continuing Journey End)– Nara returns to the Human World and finally opens up to her parents about her feelings. Some time later, Hayato leaves everything behind and comes to live in the Human world with Nara. *This is my favorite ending*
Bad Stay End 1 (Eternal Parting End)– Hayate goes full out yandere and drugs Nara so that she misses the portal back to the Human World. By the time she wakes up, he informs her that 20 years have passed in the Human World and that her body is probably long gone, trapped and unable to trust Hayato, Nara contacts Shuye and asks him to let her be reincarnated.
Bad End 2 (The Dead and the Undying)– [Contains a Hayato POV scene] Hayato talks with Mikio about the situation with Nara and big bro drops some knowledge on his little bro, but Nara and Hayato are still avoiding one another, so the twins send the pair with Mikio to the festival in hopes of getting them to reconcile. But things get even worse, especially with a drunk Mikio to deal with so they decide to take a detour through the woods to sober him up before heading home. They are attacked by a ghoul and Hayato is killed trying to help a drunk Mikio defend Nara…
Normal End (Miss Independent)– [Contains a Hayato POV scene] Nara and Hayato more or less make up, but she ultimately decides to go home. Time passes and Nara is living her life to the fullest, with new friends and a renewed hope for the future. She even enrolls in a special university and moves on with her life, though a certain kitsune visits her from time to time.
I waited two years for this game, and honestly it was worth the wait. This was a great start to what promises to be an exciting trip into the Spirit World with Nara and the rest of the Spirit Parade cast (though I hope it won’t be another 2 years until the next route is released). It’s easy to become enraptured with the beautiful landscapes and dynamic characters of the game, they are just that good.
Saying that this game is just a supernatural romance doesn’t even to begin to scratch the surface of what is in store for you in Lettuce Waltz’s Spirit Parade. Romance takes a back seat to the phenomenal character growth of both Nara and Hayato, as the game weaves an intricate story of forgiveness and acceptance. There is rarely one side to a story and with Spirit Parade- Hayato you are given an in depth look at the events of the story from both Nara’s and Hayato’s perspectives so that the conclusion has a much more satisfying and inclusive resolution.
So, the final verdict: Hell yeah you should play this game!
Have you played any other Lettuce Waltz games? Have you played Spirit Parade- Hayato? What did you think about the game? Is there a route you are really looking forward too? Let me know what you think in the comments section. If you like what you see, LIKE this post or FOLLOW Nice Job Breaking It, Hero! As always THANK YOU FOR READING!!