I can’t get enough of Black run indie game development studio, Jellyfish Parade—I have been following the team since their release of PAIRS and I have not looked back. I recently covered the demo for the team’s upcoming fantasy romance game, Ocean Pearls: Kissed by the Sea (which spoiler alert, I loved) and now I’m back covering the studio’s first commercial release, Heroine for Hire—a high fantasy romance—and let me tell you, it is definitely worth checking out!!
The game follows Lyre Harmoniel, a young woman who can’t seem to hold down a steady job. After losing eight jobs in the span of just 2 months, Lyre is starting to get desperate—is it too much to ask for a gig that is both fulfilling and pays well?! Just when she thinks the perfect job doesn’t exist, Lyre sees a promising job listing and she thinks maybe, just maybe her luck has finally turned around…
Heroine for Hire is still in development, with only one of the two love interests available at the time of this writing—the second love interest’s route will be released as DLC at a later date. But, don’t let that discourage you from giving H4H a try, there is more than enough content to keep you entertained!
Most of the fantasy visual novels I’ve played like to kick things off by explaining a bit of the lore surrounding the story, courtesy of a brief opening narration sequence (or strategically placed exposition). However, Heroine for Hire is devoid of that, choosing instead to drop players headfirst into it’s fantasy setting and I will admit that the game kind of loses out on some great worldbuilding potential by not giving us any establishing information early on. There is clearly the framework for a vastly imaginative fantasy world filled with unique characters, but very little is explained about them at the start of the game. Instead, Heroine for Hire gives us bits and pieces about how the world of the game functions and how the various races interact with one another–the royal family is made up of dear/human hybrids and Lyre and her family are rabbit/human hybrids called Bunnels, but then you have Veris, who is clearly an Elf and Fai, who appears to be a fire elemental (?)—for the love of God tell me how this all works, my lore loving self needs to know…
But, that aside, Heroine for Hire isn’t really a massive high fantasy epic like LOTR, rather it’s very much a self contained story—Lyre needs to find a job to help support her family, but she just doesn’t seem to cut it at any of the regular jobs around town. At the start of the game she is working at a local bar, but when some of the patrons get a bit handsy, she teaches them a lesson in respect… and loses her job in the process. Discouraged and resigned to never finding a stable job, Lyre is just about to give up when here sister Lute tells her about a new job listing she saw for a squire postion up at the castle. Figuring this could be her lucky break, Lyre heads to the castle to inquire about the job and is hired on the spot. It’s a dream come true, serving as a squire under Sir Veris the Vaillant, Faunestra’s most acclaimed knight, unfortunately, he doesn’t exactly live up to the hype.
Not gonna lie, Veris is fine, like, dude has his own bishie sparkles and that smile of his would make any gal swoon—the perfect fantasy knight. But, when it comes to actually doing his job, let’s just say he has more in common with Howl Pendragon… and for the majority of the route, I didn’t know if I wanted to hug him or punch him in the face. He avoids training by hiding in his room and when he does train Lyre, he has her doing menial tasks around the castle, that may or may not be his actual chores. Not to mention his rather lax attitude towards being a knight—he is a strong proponent of non combative peace keeping—which frustrates Lyre, who wants nothing more than to get out in the field and swing her sword around. It’s this ideological difference that causes most of the conflict between Lyre and Veris. They butt heads quite a bit in the route, but in a cute 90’s rom-com kind of way and even though they don’t always agree, I do like that both Lyre and Veris have a mutual respect for one another (most of the time).
Lyre is definitely one of the more fun game heroines I’ve seen and strikes a nice balance between the self insert protags you see in most otome games and the much more engaging heroines you see in western otome games. She has an established identity, but, there are opportunities to kind of influence her personality…and some of the choices yield some hilarious results. There were more than a few times where I caught myself laughing out loud at one of her quips to Veris (and trust there are plenty). But, even someone as driven as Lyre can have moments of indecision and I liked that the story didn’t make Lyre overly aggressive, giving us a chance to see her softer side from time to time.
The characters and their relationship with one another is where this game really shines, I really love how fleshed out the side characters are in the story—it gives the world a sense of depth. It’s not an expansive cast, just the immediate members of Lyre’s family and some key members of the Faunestra royal court, but it’s enough to fill out the story and really give the characters their own unique spaces where they can be themselves. These are genuine relationships and it’s nice to see the characters other than the main pair getting some screen time! Special mentions for Princess Ivis for being such an absolute delight!
And, you guys knew this was coming, but I LOVE THAT THERE IS SO MUCH MELANIN IN THIS GAME!!! I will save you all from a lengthy essay on the importance of representation, but just know that I am always excited to see characters of color in my game, especially in the fantasy genre, where characters are meant to deviate from the norm—read: we need more representation in games.
If I had to point out the weakest element of the game it would be the plot, now hear me out—the romance was handled really well and I love the fantasy premise… unfortunately, the plot of the route wasn’t fleshed out as much as I would have liked. When the story is strictly focused on the budding relationship between Lyre and Veris it’s perfect, it’s only when the focus shifts to the other “stuff” that things get hazy.
There are references to an ongoing conflict between Faunestra and a nearby kingdom, and you think, what with Veris being a knight and Lyre training to be a knight, that this would actually have some bearing on the plot… but since we don’t really delve too deeply into the politics of the world at large (save a passing comment) that whole plotline is largely background static. This only becomes a problem later on in the route when suddenly the conflict is front and center and there’s a very real chance that Lyre or Veris might actually have to fight in a war. In fact the whole final act revolves around dealing with the conflict, but without any of the background details, it’s hard to be really invested in any of it… which is a shame, because I’d really like to know more about the inner workings of the two kingdoms and maybe see more of this plotline fleshed out…
So, my final verdict on Veris’s route and Heroine for Hire: I like it. The story isn’t perfect and I feel like there were some aspects of the story that could have been fleshed out a bit more (ie. the worldbuilding) that effects the pacing later on in the route… but, that aside, this was a fun game overall. The characters are really well written and the romance was cute. I’d love to see the story reworked a bit to give the world a bit more substance, but as it stands this is a solid game overall.
Where to Play the game: Itch.io
Thank you to Jellyfish Parade for providing me with a review copy of the game!!