Last week, Xand Arts released their debut title, Love Ritual, a richly imaginative detective fantasy that blends together the team’s seductive characters and designs with an immersive investigative narrative. Love Ritual follows Riilai, a young Ritualist hired on as a consultant for a local police investigation tasked with uncovering the truth behind an illegal summoning ritual. The police currently have two suspects in custody, a Necromancer and a Druid, both of whom have retained counsel to help prove their innocents. The two delegates, a suave Necromancer named Kalaseth, and a naïve good-natured Druid named Shanrae will do anything to get their clients off the hook. But, the deeper Riilai delves into the case the less black and white things become, and with two handsome advocates working so closely Riilai has a rough road ahead.
Xand Arts markets Love Ritual as an adult otome, and it’s easy to see why, with its captivating mystery adventure narrative and seductive character designs, Love Ritual delivers a sophisticated gaming experience.
Love Ritual blends together the immersive gameplay of a detective adventure game with the in-depth narrative of a traditional visual novel. Explore unique locals and interact with a diverse cast of characters as you assist Riilai in her investigations. One of the most striking aspects of the game are the visuals, Love Ritual is simply gorgeous, with its striking visuals, vibrant color palette, and beautiful character designs, which are only enhanced by the live2D animation. I’ve played a few games with live2D animation, and it can be a bit touch and go, but when done right, animation adds depth to a game breathing life into the usually static images.
In Love Ritual the characters and backgrounds are constantly moving, and while some may find this aspect of the game a bit distracting at time, I found that the animated elements helped make for a much more immersive experience. The characters are constantly blinking, breathing, shuffling from side to side, they are dynamic and life-like because they move in a way you’d expect actual people to move. As for the backgrounds, Love Ritual is set in a fantasy world full of magic and mysticism, this is a world full of wonder and excitement and while most of the locales are grounded in reality (cities and forests) the little details go a long way in giving the game a magical feel.
I’ve played my fair share of games over the years, and I won’t lie, visual novels in particular tend to suffer from predictable characters. Love Ritual does not have this issue, each of the characters in the main cast were an absolute delight, particularly the protagonist Riilai who managed to subvert my expectations at every turn. In visual novels and otome games, the protagonist usually falls into one of two camps: either she’s a blank slate self-insert character or she’s a fully realized character. Love Ritual‘s leading lady, Riilai is very much her own woman. Spunky, levelheaded, Riilai is very much the type of heroine I enjoy in my visual novels. While yes, the player largely determines her actions throughout, it is clear that Riilai isn’t merely a self-insert character. She expresses her own thoughts and feelings, which were often times at odds with my own and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. This is very much Riilai’s story, we may control the actions, but, she still retains a sense of agency in the events of the story. She is an active participant in the events and not just a damsel in distress waiting for her prince to save her. She can very well save herself if she has to.
The love interests were interesting, to say the least, both Kalaseth and Shanrae were a combination of a number of character archetypes, but like their leading lady, retained some minor quirks here and there that made them feel like wholly original creations. Kalaseth is a well to do Necromancer and a bit of a self-centered spoiled rich prick, and Shanrae is a sweet, slightly dense, but, surprisingly reliable Druid. The two are like night and day and due to the nature of their profession, butt heads a lot early on. In fact, they bicker like children when left to their own devices, though of the two, Shanrae is much more gracious. While I enjoyed both characters, I will wholeheartedly admit that Shanrae is my absolute favorite, he is just so earnest and sweet, whereas Kalaseth comes off as a bit of a prick early on, his false flattery and penchant for temper tantrums really turned me off to him. But, even still, I can’t say that I hate him, because he is a lot of fun and his bickering with Riilai is rather amusing, since she isn’t afraid to call him on his shit.
The story elements of the game were equally captivating, fantasy romance games are a dime a dozen and I can easily name at least five off the top of my head, but, what sets Love Ritual apart from the rest is the detective adventure elements. This is very much a romance game and a good bit of the narrative is geared towards that end, however, there is an added detective/investigative focus as well that adds a bit more meat to the story. In addition to the usual visual novel and otome game in game choices, the player is given the opportunity to explore the various locales and crime scenes in order to solve an ongoing mystery. Early on, Riilai is tasked with discovering the culprit behind an illegal occult ritual, however, rather than speaking directly with the accused, Riilai interacts solely with their delegates (Kalaseth and Shanrae), each of whom were hired to plead their clients’ innocence.
It’s up to Riilai to suss out the fact from fiction, a task that is proven to be more and more difficult the more she interacts with the delegates, so the large part of her job involves interacting with the different crime scenes. If you’ve ever played a detective/investigative game, you’re familiar with point and click gameplay. Each of the various interactive crime scenes will require the player to interact with items, by clicking on them to obtain useful information. This generally involves a lot of trial and error, since there is no hints system in place to let you know when your on the right track, which makes for a much more leisurely (and at times frustrating) gameplay experience. There were also a few puzzles, mostly matching items or selecting the correct runes from a book, that allow the player to have some agency in the overall course of the story. The puzzles and investigations are fairly easy to figure out, but, I will admit that a few of the later puzzles gave me a bit of trouble…so your mileage may vary there. There is also this cute cat themed scavenger hunt mini game, where you search for cat memes in the backgrounds of the game, its a fun little extra that really gets you looking at the backgrounds.
I should also note that Love Ritual does have some adult content, ie. nudity and sex, though those scenes are reserved for the latter half of the game. However, there is a healthy helping of skin, each love interest has their own sex scene, which you can opt out of and I especially liked that you are given the option at the start of the game to toggle between the 16+ version of the game and the 18+ version. So, if you are not interested in seeing naughty bits or sexual content, I highly recommend going with the 16+ version, though even in the 18+ version you can opt out of the sexual content without any consequence. Overall, the “adult” content is tastefully done and not nearly as graphic as some of the other games I’ve played, so you’re safe with either option.
Xand Arts has a winner with their first visual novel, Love Ritual balances the interactive detective game with the immersive storytelling of a visual novel and it works. This is a solid debut title, that is sure to captivate audiences, with it’s dynamic protagonist and gorgeous visuals, Love Ritual is a breath of fresh air.
I know I’ve said this in reviews past, but in Love Ritual you really feel like you’re a part of the action and not just watching the events unfold. It’s easy to get lost in the beautiful visuals that seemingly just pop off the screen, even without the dialogue, Love Ritual is more than worth the price of admission for the art alone.
But, you don’t have to take my word for it, check out the game’s trailer below and if you’re curious but not sure if you want to make the investment, check out the free demo!
Follow Xand Arts on their various social media channels… You won’t be disappointed!