For Otome lovers, there’s nothing better than a game that gets what it’s like to be a gamer. Enter Candied Hearts, an Otome game about being a young woman addicted to a cute, confection-based gacha game until one fateful night your player character gets sucked into the world of Sugar Rush itself.
After spending a good half hour in the world of Candied Hearts, I can safely say that the game is just as its name advertises: full of sweetly packaged heart.
Sugar Rush– Behind the Scenes
Written by Kristi Jimenez (Press Space to Jump Editorial Lead and Snowhaven Studio Narrative Designer) and Tempest Oona (game dev, journalist, and streamer), edited and voice cast by LegendEx Games (writer, indie game dev, and streamer) with illustrations by Summer Origins (game dev, artist, and quarter-time Vtuber), Candied Hearts came about through Otome Jam. Otome Jam is a yearly event where indie devs come together to create and inspire one another as they make new Otome games. As of June 26, Jimenez, Oona, LegendEx Games, and Summer Origins released a demo for Candied Hearts, which covers your character’s first day in-game.
In design, the color palette is pastel perfect. The lack of black outlines gives the art this marshmallow coziness, with the highlights and lowlights of each character’s natural palettes making their designs pop off the screen. The sound design is also light and sweet, just what you might expect from a romantic Candy Crush. As far as accessibility goes, the demo is also delightfully thoughtful. Before the game even starts you’re offered sound and visual captioning, accommodating players with a wide range of visual or auditory capabilities. A lot of games don’t worry about those kinds of details and it must be so refreshing for some disabled communities to be considered like that before the game even starts.
For More Visual Novels: Birushana: Rising Flower of Genpei Review
A Saccharine Story
In terms of the narrative, it’s simple but endearing. Your player character is a young, eager woman of color who, while you definitely get to make the decisions, still has a natural charm and wit to her. Similarly, her two prospective love interests — Peppermint and Lakritz — are plays on old tropes, but manage to feel unique and intriguing nonetheless. Laktriz is the age-old flirtatious rogue, but he’s also got a mysterious and nigh-villainous agenda you’ll have to learn more about. Meanwhile, Peppermint is a classic soft boy, yet he’s also deeply insecure and heartbroken and craves an adventure you might just be able to offer. As the story sets you up to have a whirlwind adventure with both of them, Candied Hearts leaves you in bittersweet anticipation for the full game.
The game also succeeds in showcasing a complex world that keeps spinning completely separate from you. In some Otome games, the setting seems to begin and end around the protagonist. Other characters barely interact or have outside relationships, making these kinds of games more about you and your love interest’s story. Candied Hearts truly built this living and breathing world with a lot of complicated relationship dynamics that you just happen to have landed in. You are not the center of all this world’s conflicts, but boy have you thrown quite a wrench in the mix.
Gumdrops and Good Vibes
Candied Hearts isn’t reinventing the wheel, but it’s charming and intriguing enough to be more than worth your time. Stir that in with classic internet/Webtoon “avoiding any risk of copyright” humor like calling Reddit “Freddit” or referencing a Drake & Josh joke, and you’ve got one hell of a fun little story.
Even though I normally get drawn in more by the Dragon Age: Inquisition style of adventure romance, this demo might make me pick up a few more Otome games. If you in any way love being swept up in a narrative romance, try out Candied Hearts’ demo and keep an eye out for the full game once it’s finished.
Candied Hearts is available on PC and the demo can be downloaded on Kristi Jimenez’s site.