In recent years, I have found myself more drawn to indie otome games than traditional Japanese otome games and that has a lot to do with the seeming disconnect I’ve felt with the stories. Don’t get me wrong, I still love my otome games—I’m absolutely looking forward to the upcoming English releases of Cafe Enchante and Piofiore: Fated Memories—but as a whole I’m not seeing too much variety in the types of otome games that make their way to the West (ie. story heavy action-y otome games). I get it localizing companies are pushing what they think will sell best on the English market, and I can’t fault them for choosing games that are most likely to have more “mass appeal”, but there is a distinct lack in lighthearted comedic otome game localizations, that I find to be quite sad.
In comparison, the indie scene doesn’t have the same restrictions, so there’s often much more variety in the types of games that are released. So if you’re looking for a more relaxed otome gaming experience, you can’t go wrong setting your sights on some of the indie games available—like Love Spell: Written in the Stars, the debut romance game from female led indie studio Great Gretsuki. Follow the game’s heroine, Luna, as she embarks on a magical journey, full of love, laughter, and just bit of adventure!
Love Spell: Written in the Stars introduces us to our hapless heroine, Luna (name changeable), a 20-something college student who is struggling to find some direction in her life. To make matters worse, she’s having the mother of all bad days, when as luck would have it, she happens across an older woman in need of help. She lends her a hand and the old woman reveals that she is in fact a powerful witch and as thanks for her good deeds, she gifts Luna with a magical book.
Any person’s name she writes in the book will fall madly in love with her, but there’s a catch—the magic only lasts for one month. Not completely convinced, Luna heads to the local bar to drink away her problems, and in a drunken haze she writes a name in the book… and so the wheels of fate begin to turn on this romantic adventure…
While, Love Spell is a “fantasy” romance, much of the story is largely grounded in reality, giving the game more of a slice-of-life feel. Despite the magical interference, the romance happens gradually, and in every route aside from Enix’s, Luna doesn’t even know the guy she’s supposed to be romancing. The love spell merely plants the seed for romance, but it’s the small interactions between Luna and her chosen beau that help it blossom into love.
Romance is ultimately the end goal, but Love Spell takes it’s time building it up, holding our hands through the natural progression of each relationship—in fact there were times when I was unsure that the love spell had even worked! In Jamie’s route he and Luna have an argument early on and they spend the better part of the route ignoring each other. It isn’t until a few chapters in that they make up and even then, they kind of tip toe around their feelings. Even in Enix’s route, where he and Luna have a preexisting relationship (and all the unresolved feelings attached), you still see them gradually rebuilding their relationship in the present—and that makes it all feel so much more believable when they eventually decide to finally pursue a relationship with one another. In Love Spell the journey is just as important as the destination and it’s nice to see a romance game that takes it’s time to stop and smell the roses before getting into the nitty gritty.
Luna’s life (for the most part) is pretty normal—she’s a student at the local university and her struggles (finding a job, paying rent, deciding a major) are relatable to anyone taking their first steps into adulthood. There were times when I was reminded (fondly) of my undergrad days and there were A LOT of similarities between Luna’s experiences and my own. Luna isn’t perfect, she makes mistakes, she lets her emotions get the better of her, and there are times when she acts selfishly—but what 22 year old hasn’t?!
I was genuinely surprised at how well written Luna was, often times the heroine is either too generic that she gets overshadowed by everyone else or she is too unrealistic that players can’t relate to her. Luna, strikes a nice balance—she takes the initiative in tough situations and she is not one to back down from a challenge, but she’s also vulnerable and flawed… she’s very human and I love her more for it. Luna isn’t afraid to speak her mind or take her fate into her own hands and there were more than a few moments of awesome from her throughout the game. I loved her best in Marcello’s route, because she was much more feisty, but I loved how she took the initiative with Florian…
I also want to note that while this isn’t an 18+ game, in each route Luna does consummate her relationship with each of the LIs. There are no mature images (the most you see is Luna in her bra and the LIs shirtless), but the writing is pretty sensual and it is pretty clear what’s going on. Luna is a willing and equal participant in each sexual encounter and there is none of that “virginal naivete” like you see with most otome heroines *cough* Cyrus *cough*, in fact, Luna initiates the sexy times most of the time and I am HERE FOR IT!
Right, so Love Spell is a romantic comedy so expect the characters to ham it up every now and again. There were some genuine laugh out loud moments, but as with most things your mileage may vary. Some of the jokes had me cackling, while others…were eye-roll inducing, but I really appreciated the lighthearted moments as the story gave way to some of the more dramatic elements. Luna is not above a sarcastic remark or a witty retort and I couldn’t help but smirk (and cheer) at a particularly well timed
Most of the comedy came courtesy of Philia, Luna’s pink, cheese loving penguin companion and the guardian of the Love Spell book. As far as animal companions go, Philia is largely relegated to the game’s go to comedic relief character. She’s always waiting in the wings to give our heroine a bit of tough love and support as she embarks on her romantic adventures… But, there is a genuine bond between them that is akin to sisters or even best friends and it’s nice to see a heroine have someone she can confide in while she navigates the events of the story.
Each of the routes in Love Spell generally hit the same plot beats—Luna meets Philia, we get a crash course on the Love Spell, Luna gradually falls in love with one of the LIs, and they must overcome [insert obstacle] before living happily ever after. But even with that same basic framework each LI is different from one another and there is rarely any intersection between the characters or their stories. Each route is unique to that love interest and the conflict that Luna faces varies greatly between stories.
Some were predictable—the usual misunderstandings, rivals, and communication faux pas—but then there was stuff that came completely outta left field and I’m not gonna lie, I quite enjoyed the dash of drama (even if it could be a bit heavy handed at times). The conflict in Enix’s route was definitely one of the more predictable since, that route was a more a by the book “romance” story so it made sense that the threat should be something that directly stands in the way of their happily ever after. But, the conflict in Florian’s route came out of nowhere! One minute we’re in a teacher/student romance, the next we’re jet setting across the globe to unearth a long lost anthropological discovery… don’t get me wrong, I loved it, but ease a gal into taking down an international smuggling ring why doncha. Marcello’s and Jamie’s routes also push the suspension of disbelief a bit, but again the writing did a great job of setting up the foundation for their routes, so when things diverge from the more slice-of-life storytelling it’s not such a jarring transition.
Yeah, no clever titles here, just the ickle nitty gritty features. Love Spell is a gorgeous game… and I mean GORGEOUS! The art is on point and as far as debut releases go, Great Gretsuki Studios knocked it out of the park! There are some nice animations (cherry blossom petals falling, rain, etc.) that give a bit of movement to some scenes and are three CGs per route and a final title card for when you unlock the best ending in each route. The character designs were very fitting for the characters—like Enix, a self proclaimed game nerd wears a necklace with a 12 sided die on it as part of his casual wear. It’s little touches like that, that really stand out to me.
The routes themselves are broken down into 11 chapters, with 1 bad ending, 1 good ending, and a special epilogue that can only be unlocked after achieving the best ending. Like any other visual novel there are several choices you can make throughout the story, however, they don’t seem to guide the story, so much as they affect the flow of the dialogue. There’s only one choice that really matters and that one occurs in chapter 11 and determines whether or not you trigger the good ending or the bad ending.
Unlike most games where you’re given a set number of save files, Love Spell uses a chapter by chapter replay feature—once unlocked you can go back and replay any chapter you want without having to fumble through save files. However, not having a quick save feature does mean that if you DON’T finish a chapter before shutting down the game, you have to replay that whole chapter over again from the beginning.
There were also some glitchy moments where text took a while to load or the transitions between scenes took WAY too long. Also, and I mention this because I’m still a bit miffed about this—but in chapter 9 of Marcello’s route the game froze and when I rebooted the game it had erased ALL OF MY PROGRESS. I don’t know if this was my own computer (which is most likely the case) or a glitch in the matrix, I don’t know. But, it’s worth mentioning—and I’m sure the team is working on patches for the game to knock out some of the buggy bits, so it’s not anything that should turn you off the game. Honestly, that aside, I really didn’t run across any deal breakers.
Hell yeah it is! Love Spell: Written in the Stars is an impressive debut game for Great Gretsuki Studios. Yeah, there are some kinks that need to be worked out (Quick Save and Skip feature PLEASE) and some story elements that didn’t always connect, but what newbie studio doesn’t have a few shaky bits?!
This game is a riot! I can’t remember the last time I had this much fun with a game—let alone shared screenshots on Twitter (you should totally follow my Twitter)! If you’re a fan of good stories, laughter, and romance, Love Spell: Written in the Stars is the perfect game to add a little magic to your gaming library!
P.S. Enix is still my favorite route, I am a sucker for adorkable nerds and destined love stories. But, lowkey, Marcello’s route if you’re looking for a bit more smolder *wink wink*
Thank you to Great Gretsuki Studios for providing me with a review copy of the game and a special thanks to Dakota from The Visualist Veranda for being so awesome!
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