Demonheart: The Ice Demon is a new addition to developer Rolling Crown’s Demonheart series. The story begins with protagonist Shar taking her first steps toward a promising lifetime opportunity. Growing up, Shar trained under her powerful mother as a white witch specializing in the healing arts in their remote village. Correspondence with a skilled witch named Eniri S’yke paves the way for Shar to work as her apprentice. However, before her mother can divine the potential outcomes of the apprenticeship, Shar finds herself on the shore of Eniri’s faraway city, eager to take on her new role. However, things within the S’yke household are not precisely the same as what Eniri described in her letters, and Shar soon finds danger surrounding her. Away from home and her mother’s guidance, can Shar figure out a means to survive and hopefully escape? Or could the pulling of her own heart lead to doom?
While set in the Demonheart story universe, The Ice Demon can efficiently serve as a standalone title for series newcomers. Players take on the role of Shar as she learns of the infernal horrors that Eniri is using as means to gain further power for herself. This includes the imprisonment of the titular ice demon and Esmius, a crafty captive demonspawn who may or may not be said demon’s hybrid son. It turns out that Esmius has reasons for remaining under Eniri’s thumb, and it becomes apparent that many of his schemes involve Shar. Rounding out the blunt Eniri’s household is her brother Sirath, a rather dour yet arrogant man who first runs into Shar under rocky circumstances. Zhan and Nissa are two city residents that Shar meets and befriends, though there is decidedly more to Nissa than initially meets the eye. As the main character of an otome visual novel, depending on the player’s choices, Shar has the potential to develop deeper relationships with either Esmius, Sirath, or Nissa.
Speaking of its otome leanings, I give Demonheart: The Ice Demon credit that the characters and their potential romance routes are far more realistic than one might initially expect from the genre, to the point of being somewhat unsettling. The characters are all immensely flawed and often do frustrating things as a result. For example, Eniri is so power-hungry that she’s blind to the genuine danger she has allowed into her home. Esmius is manipulative and twists the truth simply because he can. Sirath is arrogant, admitting to several past foolish mistakes. Nissa is hiding a hurt that has warped into something dangerous and ugly below the surface of her seemingly friendly disposition. Honestly, Zhan is the only character presented as downright amicable, but he sadly doesn’t get nearly as much screen time as the others. The darker, more realistic tone certainly makes for exciting romances. However, at least in the case of Sirath and Nissa, their routes help shed some rather insightful development onto their characters. The enigmatic Esmius is an exceptionally unique case, though you still gain some insight into his mysterious character through his route and the others.
In a lot of respects, Esmius’ route is relatively interesting because to get a “good” ending, Shar makes some very questionable decisions. I admittedly winced at parts of his route, considering that, but its plot choices make a lot of sense, given Esmius’ character. Likewise, Nissa’s route is akin to a romantic friend’s, a notion that makes a lot of sense given her character. Sirath’s showcases a surprising amount of depth in and, surprisingly enough, development for everyone in the cast, including his sister Eniri. All three character romances provide intriguing glimpses into particular motivations and the VN’s fantasy setting. Ultimately, Sirath’s became my favorite because of its narrative scope and slightly longer length.
Shar herself is a great main character as well. She’s given a strong voice throughout the narrative while the game offers players plenty of opportunities to input their reactions to the events Shar finds herself involved in. Scrolling through the text until you reach a decision point is the crux of Demonheart: The Ice Demon’s gameplay, and, fortunately, decision-making opportunities frequently offer a surprising amount of variety in how they may alter a story scene or character dialogue. Unfortunately, the game doesn’t have controller support, but the controls are easily accessible with the computer mouse.
The sheer amount of player choice and narrative variation at play in Demonheart: The Ice Demon is perhaps its biggest boon and most significant weakness, as the game noticeably lacks any story map. I kept multiple saves but found that if you replay that way, the game doesn’t differentiate choices you’ve already made during previous play. Getting different ending outcomes means playing through various scenes again. Because there are so many ways for moments to play out, I sometimes accidentally selected the same or similar responses and repeated identical scenes before finally experiencing something different. Fortunately, the game does allow you to save at any time with the option to skip through the already-read text until the next decision point. However, some way to keep track of already-made choices for completion purposes would’ve been quite helpful. I could see the three character routes in around 6 hours by utilizing the skip feature. I appreciate that the game is short but still provides a compelling story, but others might not like that.
The story and programming of Demonheart: The Ice Demon is by Jovana Kujovic, the VN’s fantasy setting is nicely detailed and explored, and I love the overall plot and character insight in each route. The character art is incredibly gorgeous. Both it and the beautiful CG illustrations (some of which are somewhat spicy) were created by 6nii9, with the eye-catching detailed backgrounds created by Christian NC. At the same time, minor backgrounds were also the work of Jovana Kujovic. The script is primarily error-free and flows wonderfully, and I certainly appreciated the emotive work put into the partial voice acting, even though some voices may take some time to grow on you.
Overall, Demonheart: The Ice Demon is a more mature otome VN full of flawed-yet-realistic characters in a compelling fantasy storyline. I enjoyed the time I spent playing the game and found it to be both a surprisingly solid standalone title and one that has piqued my curiosity about the more extensive Demonheart series and its mythos. Fans of romantic VNs, in particular, should check this one out!