Congratulations! You have just won a one-month, expenses-paid summer vacation to the lovely tropical paradise resort of Subrosa! Seriously, it’s totally legit! You’re not dreaming here. Well, okay, before your purported vacation you dream of two lovely goddesses who bestow you with a quest. While in Subrosa, you must bond closely with five specific young women and uncover their deepest, darkest secrets in order to avert a fatal tragedy at the end of the month. Let’s see… fun in the sun, a bevy of beautiful people to make sizzling summer memories with, and a chance to play the hero? It’s an offer you shouldn’t refuse and the premise for visual novel/sim Hush Hush – Only Your Love Can Save Them.
This M-rated game is filled with sun, salaciousness, sin, scandal, swearing, secrets, suspense, and shameless self-awareness, and I loved every minute of it. Aside from the five main love interests, there are also a few additional people to pursue, including one girl’s flamboyant gender-fluid sibling who looks fabulous in either sundresses or tailored slacks. Anyway, the love interests are alluring and they all want you. Their vivid personalities shine via over-the-top dialogue dripping with obvious innuendo, yet they also have surprisingly emotional storylines that gut-punched me much harder than expected. Hush Hush offers a list of optional content warnings when it first boots up for good reason. Admittedly, some plot details require “because it’s anime, that’s why” suspension of disbelief on the player’s part, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying a wonderfully written escapade in a resort town that is as much a character as its denizens.
Most of Subrosa’s inhabitants come from Sad Panda‘s prior games Crush Crush and Blush Blush. Prior exposure to those amusingly addictive, free-to-play time sinks isn’t fully necessary to enjoy Hush Hush‘s plot, but it certainly enhances the experience. I first played the Hush Hush demo cold (meaning: with no exposure to prior Sad Panda games) and forced myself to uninstall it because I was playing it so often. I then started playing Crush Crush and have since invested more time in that than I care to admit. This is important, because as I progressed in Hush Hush, I picked up on several subtle references and inside jokes to Crush Crush and Blush Blush. Along with old friends from Crush Crush and Blush Blush, there are several side characters exclusive to Hush Hush, such as the sinister and smoldering Lilianna. She and all the other Hush Hush exclusive characters are intriguing and I wonder if Sad Panda will utilize them in other multimedia.
If you’ve played Persona 3 or Persona 4, then you’re certainly familiar with those games’ Social Links. Extracting the S-links from one of those Persona installments and packaging them as their own separate game is essentially what Hush Hush feels like. The quick and dirty of it is that you need to balance your time between pumping your personal stats, making money, keeping tabs on your text messages, and attending events at various locations that either move the plot along or offer bonuses depending on your actions. Increasing your stats in various traits (e.g., suave, tech-savvy) unlocks myriad aspects of the game. For example, a desired response in a dialogue tree may be greyed out unless your “suave” trait is at a certain level.
Hush Hush has a karma system wherein you can pump stats into light or dark traits, opening up different dialogue options during events and better job opportunities to earn money. For example, investing in dark stats (e.g., manipulative, violent) unlocks underhanded dialogue choices during events and shady jobs that involve illicit activities in exchange for higher payouts. Whether you choose to be a peaceful paragon, a ruthless renegade, or a balance of both is up to you. And, yes, your karma alignment affects storyline outcomes, endings, and overall play experience.
Some in-game events take up chunks of your available time and often contain triggers for main or optional storylines. Other events are freebies that possibly yield secrets or bonuses. The events you attend and the dialogue choices you make within them determine which of the game’s many endings you receive. If you double book yourself and leave someone hanging, their opinion of you will sour and winning their affections back won’t be easy. In some cases, it will be impossible. The “Schedule” icon is your best friend. With several endings (including a smorgasbord of bad ones, both serious and comical) and multiple paths to them, Hush Hush has solid replay value.
You can select from three difficulty levels and even easy mode can trip up visual novel veterans. The most sensible choices aren’t always the right ones and, in true visual novel fashion, the riskiest choices yield the most memorable dialogue. My first playthrough lasted about 8 hours and resulted in a premature bad ending. I needed to strategize in subsequent playthroughs to achieve longer play times and desirable endgame sequences. Hush Hush is tricky and even frustrating at times, but is less persnickety than something like Clannad in terms of achieving ideal outcomes. Every time I failed in Hush Hush, I wanted to go back (either to an old save or the beginning) and try again, much like how particular RPG fans enjoy the “try-fail-try again” paradigm in games like Dark Souls. Hush Hush does not autosave, so save often and save strategically.
Hush Hush‘s graphics employ the proverbial visual novel template of still backdrops with expressive character portraits atop them. The backdrops’ lushly detailed environments evoke a picturesque beachside resort anyone would want to visit. Some backdrops even feature subtle animations that make those locations feel alive. The expressive, anime-inspired character designs all have vibrant colors and delightfully over-the-top characteristics that happily lean hard into their various tropes. The striking stills for important cutscenes that get saved to the gallery are the most stunning pieces of art on offer. The stylish UI has an appealing color scheme and is user friendly to boot. Hush Hush also has above-average gamepad support, though the interface looks cleaner and feels smoother when using the mouse and keyboard.
I especially love when games sound good, and Hush Hush delivers. The venerable Dale North and a handful of other talented composers have created a sumptuous soundtrack to accompany your adventures in Subrosa. The prolific Pat Gann’s excellent soundtrack review echoes my sentiments regarding the fantastic music. Every single tune works well in its respective context and the varied compositions all coalesce together into a cohesive soundtrack. Not only does the music excel within the game, but several tunes stayed with me even when I wasn’t playing.
Excellent voice acting makes this sonic feast even more scrumptious. Hush Hush‘s actors delivered cringeworthy dialogue with gusto and their performances during emotionally charged scenes hit me like a sledgehammer. It’s hard for me to pick a favorite because they were all so good! I want to hear more from these rising stars in the future since they totally brought their A-game here.
Hush Hush – Only Your Love Can Save Them reminds me of the song “Coconuts” by Kim Petras. At first blush, both entities appear to be vapid, cringeworthy fanservice. But further glances reveal smart, self-aware subversion that’s more than meets the eye. Much like jamming the funky groove of “Coconuts” on my bass guitar, Hush Hush is fun to play yet surprisingly challenging to get just right. This game delivers everything I want in a “summer fling” with a little something extra that stayed with me. Hush Hush – Only Your Love Can Save Them won’t appeal to everyone’s tastes, but those to whom it does appeal will absolutely devour it as I did.