Romantic comedies and video games are not two things I put together very often, but that’s exactly what Serenity Forge has attempted to do with their latest effort, Half Past Fate. As an adventure title played in non-chronological order, the game follows the lives of six characters who are all connected in unexpected ways. Each of them walks a different path in life, but their decisions and stories lead them to meet each other and eventually fall in love. It’s a cute and simple take on the power of fate, but sadly, it falls short of being anything memorable.
The six main characters are Rinden, the vice president of an investment company; Mara, the CEO of an energy-conscious startup; Bia, a photography student who moved to America from Brazil; Milo, a Canadian who studies film at the same school as Bia; Ana, a business intern who enjoys drinking tea; and Jaren, a video game store worker who attends a tea festival for the first time. I want to praise Serenity Forge for creating a diverse set of characters who are all either immigrants or born to immigrant parents, and they’re not portrayed as stereotypes of their cultures. Their inclusion feels perfectly natural in the world, as it should be. These characters deserve to be in these kinds of games.
Because the game’s story is not told in chronological order, one fun thing is that you often see many of the same NPCs or main characters in other chapters, even when a chapter is not focused on them. Some chapters also foreshadow this happening. In the first chapter, for example, Rinden chats with Jaren while waiting in line at a coffee shop, and their conversation reveals that they first met a week ago. Then in chapter 4, which is set a week before the coffee shop chapter, you find Rinden standing around while playing as Jaren, and you can go up and talk to him. I really enjoyed scoping these characters out and talking to them to see how they were doing at different points in their lives.
Easily the best thing about Half Past Fate is its distinctive visuals. The game presents all of the characters as 2D sprites, while the environments are all in 3D, similar to Octopath Traveler. While Octopath relies on stylistic lighting, Half Past Fate embraces warm and soft colour palettes to create an inviting world. It does take a little while to get used to the camera, which initially makes the character sprites look a bit squashed, but the detailed environments provide ample distraction because they all look so lovely! Certain chapters are also lit in slightly different ways, depending on the character and time period; for example, Bia’s early chapters are bathed in a pastel orange, while Jaren’s have a gentle blue hue to them. It makes each chapter look and feel unique to the character being focused on.
The game is split into 12 chapters, and in each one you’re given a goal or task which you need to complete in order to move on. You do this by talking to and interacting with NPCs and objects in the area. This is alright at first, but every single chapter is like this, and most of the locations are relatively small with very few things that you can actually interact with. There are a few secrets hidden throughout the game, and they are worth finding because you get in-game achievements for seeking them out. I really like that you can look at what the “hidden” achievements are, rather than just guess at what they might be. It means players can make things as easy or difficult as they want. Even with these little secrets, I found the gameplay incredibly repetitive and got fed up with going back and forth between one or two characters multiple times over the course of the game.
I might have forgiven the lack of things to do if the writing in Half Past Fate was excellent, but it sadly isn’t. That’s not to say it’s bad — far from it, in fact — but rarely does the story or the writing rise above being just decent. For a game like this, the writing needs to be the star of the show, but aside from a few sweet moments of dialogue and a couple funny parts, the story is largely forgettable. The game fits its rom-com label to a tee, as it’s lighthearted and easy to play for a couple of hours, but I can’t see myself, or many others, going through the story multiple times. There are no branching paths and very few optional dialogue choices, and even when I could choose what to say, I was only rewarded with one or two additional lines that didn’t add anything to the story or characters.
Speaking of the characters, they’re also pretty lacklustre. Out of all of them, only Bia and Milo stand out because their stories take place over a longer period of time — eight years, as opposed to a week or even as little as a day for the other two pairs. Rinden and Mara’s stories suffer the most because they cover the smallest time period, and while both characters can be seen in other chapters, they’re given very little room to grow, and players just don’t have enough time to get attached to them. You can feel Bia and Milo’s bond grow tighter as you progress through their chapters, but the other characters feel more one-note and are much weaker because of the shorter time period their stories are given to change.
While Half Past Fate is pleasant, that’s really all it has going for it. There’s nothing bad about it, but it just doesn’t do anything to stand out. I’m always excited to see more diverse protagonists and better representation in video games, but I also want to be engaged by the characters and world through writing and gameplay. The fact that Half Past Fate fails to make any of these things consistently interesting is disappointing.