A Pinch of Magic is a modern fantasy indie otome game developed by Crystal Game Works for the game jam, Nanoreno 2021. I’ve played a few Crystal Game Works visual novels before and I am always impressed with the creative stories and characters they create (even if the execution is a bit hit or miss), so I was definitely curious to see what the team had in store for us with A Pinch of Magic. In the game you play as Varsha/Varshan a witch tasked with saving their grandmother’s failing coffee shop. Armed only with your magic and a can do attitude it’ll take some serious work to save the family business—lucky for you there are two acquaintances waiting in the wings to lend a helping hand.
Varsha is a young witch who has just graduated high school. While their friends were off jet setting and travelling around the world, Varsha had to go back to their hometown Lynnsdale to take care of their grandparents who ran a small magic store. There were two major issues though: one, magic is strictly banned and two, their grandparents store is on the verge of bankruptcy.
Play as Varsha as you try to revive your grandparent’s store, avoid scrutiny by the authorities, and find love—all in one summer.
A Pinch of Magic Official Synopsis
Take on the role of Varsha/Varshan—you can choose between two different protagonist designs as well as your pronouns—a young witch visiting their grandmother for the first time in three years. Expecting to spend some quality time with gran and catch up with mermaid princess bestie, Kia, Varsha is surprised to discover that her dear sweet granny has run off, leaving behind a hastily written note and a failing coffee shop, Coffee Curiositeas. Realizing they’ve been tricked, Varsha decides to stick around and save the floundering shop. Things only get more complicated when an arrogant food blogger, named Mikhail, shows up seemingly intent on dealing the final blow to the shop by writing a scathing review. Lucky for Varsha, her childhood friend, Kia is there to lend a hand, but after all these years, the two of you aren’t kids anymore and Kia, now going by Kiana, has grown into a beautiful woman?! Now, Varsha has to navigate these complicated relationships while also trying to save her grandmother’s shop, there’s just one problem… Varsha doesn’t know the first thing about running a business! After coming clean about the situation with the shop, both Mikhail and Kiana step up to help out.
The game branches from there, Mikhail proposes you drum up new customers by giving the shop some much needed renovations, and it focuses on the two of you working to fix up the place while you keep your magic a secret from him. Both Varsha and Mikhail are extremely stubborn, so they tend to butt heads a lot, but after working together they come to understand each other better. Mikhail comes from a wealthy family, so he’s used to getting his way, but money doesn’t always buy happiness and recently he sees his family obligations as more of a burden. We only get a taste of that in the game, with most of the story focusing on the budding relationship between Mikhail and Varsha. It’s a pretty standard otome dynamic—think the Something There scene from Beauty and the Beast, but it’s cute seeing the arrogant Mikhail slowly develop feelings for Varsha. Seeing him blush is definitely a welcome reward for putting up with all his bluster throughout the route. Because Mikhail isn’t magical, Varsha spends most of the route hiding magic from him or using it to secretly mess with him (with hilarious results) and I will admit that would have been a much stronger conflict for the route than the one we get, but given the shorter development time, I understand going with simpler resolution.
In Kiana’s route, she suggests you reach out to the locals to revive the business and like in the previous route they set out to fix the place up. Kiana reveals that local companies have been polluting the oceans and it’s causing problems for her people, so she was given the task of convincing the city to do their dumping elsewhere. Unfortunately she isn’t really making much headway, so Varsha comes up with an idea to turn Coffee Curiositeas into an eco-café to help drum up support for Kiana’s campaign. It’s been years since the two of them were together, and with Kiana’s glow up they have a lot to catch up on, so they spend the extra time together to reacquaint themselves with each other. Despite all the changes, they quickly pick up where they left off and soon Varsha begins to wonder if it’s just friendly affection she feels for Kiana or something more. Friends to lovers is another common romance trope, but, the relationship between Kiana and Varsha is just so wholesome and cute, I couldn’t help but root for them. Kiana is a mermaid and while she has experience with humans, every so often she does slip up a bit, like she has this really cute quirk where she mispronounces words and she can be a bit naïve at times. Unlike Mikhail, Kiana is a magical being so she is well aware of Varsha’s abilities. We even get a bit of insight into what life under the sea is like for Kiana, though just like in Crystal Game Works’s previous mermaid themed visual novel, Memories on the Shoreline it’s not nearly enough (I read in a dev log that Kiana’s route was trimmed down due to time constraints).
As far as protagonists go, I really liked Varsha/Varshan, they’re headstrong and confident in their abilities both as a witch and in everything else. They’re very proficient in magic and I will admit it’s nice to have an MC that isn’t afraid to show off a bit—in Mikhail’s route especially they pull more than one magical practical joke. Their main conflict is tied up in fixing up the café, but I would have really liked to have seen something more specific to their magic since it is so much a part of their identity. Maybe something like, they lose their magical ability and they have to learn how to function without it, but I also understand that the devs were on a bit of a time crunch with the story.
Regardless of which appearance or pronouns you choose both love interests are available to romance, so A Pinch of Magic can also be considered a BL and yuri game. The romance is cute, everything stays pretty PG, but I’m totally okay with trading in a spicy romance in favor of actual character development.
Visually, A Pinch of Magic is a very polished game, the UI is beautiful—the purple and the magical runes are just *chef’s kiss*— and the sprite work is really good. The odango hairstyle on the female MC sprite had me flashing back to Usagi from Sailor Moon and I am always happy to see games centered around characters of color. Mikhail’s design kind of reminds me a bit of a more mature Yoosung, but the real standout is Kiana, she is absolutely gorgeous and her mermaid form is breathtaking! There are only 2 CGs that you get when you unlock the good endings for each route and for a Nanoreno game that’s perfectly fine. I do like that Crystal Game Works always has a gallery for fanart in almost all of their games and it definitely makes up for the lack of official CGs (and they’re all really good too)!
A small town coffee shop that caters to a magical clientele…hmm, reminds me a little of a certain other otome game that ripped my heart out not too long ago. But, that’s pretty much where the similarities end, A Pinch of Magic is very grounded and feels more like a slice-of-life story that just happens to center around a magic wielding protagonist. And given the short one month development time, that approach lends itself well to a much more intimate story and clocking in at roughly 2 hours long, A Pinch of Magic is just perfect for someone looking for something short and sweet to play.
Nanoreno, is an annual one-month game jam that is held from March to early April where developers are challenged to create a visual novel in the allotted time frame. The game jam is open to newbie devs and veterans alike and every year I am blown away by the submissions—this year there were 89 submissions ranging from romance to parody to everything else in between.
There’s a lot to get through, so throughout the month of April I will be covering as many of the submissions as I can, while giving special attention to indie otome and the romance VN titles.