"It's not a game that will satisfy expectations of intense drama, but it has an encouraging beauty to it that reminds us some dreams are worth pursuing."
Before I begin this review in earnest, I feel that it is worth commenting on the controversy surrounding the release of If My Heart Had Wings. During their localisation process, MoeNovel decided it was in their best interest to remove all adult content from the game in the hopes of opening it to a wider audience. It will likely come as no surprise that they received critical backlash from the gaming community for this move; a reaction I believe to be grossly unfair and misguided. MoeNovel have attempted to open the visual novel genre and make it more accessible to those who may never have heard of it. If successful, this could lead to more Japanese companies seriously considering localising their games internationally. That aside, the game stands beautifully on its own, even devoid of sexual content. Perhaps this is a controversial opinion, but if it will help globalise the visual novel genre, then I hope other companies will follow in MoeNovel's footsteps.
If My Heart Had Wings follows the story of Aoi Minase and his involvement in his school's Soaring Club, led by the "super repeat" student Amane Mochizuki. Retiring from cycling after an accident, Aoi returns to his home town after a long absence and is placed as the role of "dorm mother" (by his own mother who owns the dormitory) to a group of high school girls. Until Aoi and his friends join the club, Amane had been continually repeating her final year of school to finish building her glider: a plane-like contraption powered purely by the wind. She did this in order to fulfil the wish of her old friend Isuka to travel above the clouds during a natural phenomenon known as "Morning Glory." What follows is a story of friendship, romance and a charming tale of a group of kids working together to achieve a difficult goal.
The story follows a predictable plot arc of trials and success, and it fails to deliver any real emotional impact at any stage. That said, If My Heart Had Wings never tries to be truly tragic like many other games in the genre. Instead, it chooses to focus on positive experiences and friendships. The plot progresses slowly, but it's a relaxing ride. With the help of Kotori Hanabe, a disabled girl bound to her wheelchair, Aoi learns to overcome the restrictions and fears forced upon him by his cycling injury. Likewise, comedic elements such as a top hat-wearing duck, keep the game lighthearted, even through dramatic moments.
It will come as no surprise that character archetypes are found in abundance: Ageha the childhood friend, Amane the smart and clumsy girl, Asa and Yoru the twins with opposite personalities, and so on. They are a likable bunch, so it's easy to forgive the obvious stereotyping. I found only Kotori to be of particular interest, though she only narrowly avoids the tsundere typing. Her personality feels realistic and consistent throughout the game, though it suffers during her ending where things wrap up far too conveniently. Interestingly, Kotori's disability is rarely touched upon except during her story path. At first, I thought the casual treatment of it was a positive; that she could be treated normally by others. By the end, I wondered if it had been implemented as a gimmick by the developers to try and set their characters apart and not actually thought through in great depth. A more meaningful implementation of the condition would have been worthwhile.
It's easy to see what a beautiful game If My Heart Had Wings is. The artwork is stunning, and the backdrops seem alive. Watching the breathtaking wind turbines and grass of Windmill Hill is a joy, and it's obvious that great care was taken to draw each location just right. The entire game makes use of a light blue colour that seems to tie the story about reaching the sky together with the artwork and even the HUD. Every piece of the game feels like it's a part of the story. Character models are just as stylish, though the actual design does nothing surprising for the genre. Unusually, the game includes a number of 3D models and short animated sequences. Aoi riding his bicycle down a hill and the take-off of the glider bring life to an otherwise still game. The 3D modelling is far less impressive, and though it is used sparingly for the glider, it literally looks rough around the edges.
The sound compliments the visuals perfectly, delivering peaceful tunes throughout most of the game. The most commonly used piece is reminiscent of a sea shanty, which evokes a feeling of good-natured adventure in the sky. At no point was I tired of the score. The voice acting is solid and consistent. There is no English voice option, but the Japanese actors portray their characters well and only a handful of lines that feel forced. The male cast doesn't match up to the females in terms of quality, though this is rarely an issue, considering their minor roles.
Of all the areas the game could have innovated, adding new features to the controls was a surprise. During the game, by holding down the right mouse button and dragging either up, down, left or right, the player may access shortcuts to preselected actions such as save, load, quit, options, and so on. It speeds up menu-related mechanics and allows the player to spend more time in the game. In perhaps the greatest aspect of the menu design, the game even starts up at your last save point, bypassing the main menu and tiresome loading entirely.
It took me quite some time to play through If My Heart Has Wings. This was partially due to its length, but also because I fell into its relaxed pace. There are a number of different endings to see, though actual choices made during the game are sparse. It's not a game that will satisfy expectations of intense drama, but it has an encouraging beauty to it that reminds us some dreams are worth pursuing. Its presentation is outstanding in both music and graphics, and it's surprisingly enjoyable to just sit and watch the images. Don't let the removal of adult content put you off — If My Heart Had Wings is a game worth playing.