Sympathy Kiss


Review by · February 20, 2024

Work and love collide in the office romance visual novel Sympathy Kiss, but is this a work evaluation that’s satisfactory or poor? As for my assessment, I find Otomate and Idea Factory’s Sympathy Kiss a delightful visual novel experience. I’m pleasantly surprised by how endearingly heartfelt this otome is despite a few roadblocks and one potentially triggering story route.

Sympathy Kiss stars Japanese office worker Akari Amasawa, a design specialist for the news app company Estario. While talented at her job, Akari isn’t exactly thrilled by it. In her own words, it’s the type of work anyone can do, even her supervisor noting her seeming lack of drive during her latest employee evaluation. One day, Akari gets a surprising chance to prove herself. Estario’s first app, Estarci, hits rough times with a declining user base, so the company wants to give it another chance before officially pulling the plug. Akari and a small team of workers are assigned to breathe new life into Estarci. Will Akari find professional and personal passion and drive for herself as they try to salvage the app?

As the plot summary suggests, Sympathy Kiss is more of a slice-of-life story than a fantastical one. In many respects, it mirrors the situations one might face when working in an office and going about daily life. In that vein, the pacing and narratives are believably handled and conveyed. I appreciate how well the realistic story beats portray mature characters developing relationships with one another. Because this is a storyline centered around working adults, given the setting and character ages, it also makes sense that there’s a bit of spice in some of the later story scenes.

Several of the characters go out for some adult partying in Sympathy Kiss.
The characters are overall quite likable.

Sympathy Kiss plays like a traditional visual novel. You-as-Akari goes through the story scenes and dialogue until making a decision or a chance to react to the plot. Your decision points are often similarly worded binary options, but in other cases, the “Love/Work” System comes into play. At this point, multiple choices fill the screen, coded as a work or love response. Picking one fills that respective meter on the route status screen. Depending on how complete a given meter is at the end of a route, you’ll see a Work End or a Love End. I caught my share of both types of endings while playing. Like the Dramatic or Romantic Endings of the indie romance visual novel Trouble Comes Twice, neither ending approach is fundamentally worse or better by comparison, so you don’t have to worry about any bad endings.

There’s a third type of ending to be found in Sympathy Kiss. In this type of ending, depending on how you balance your decisions throughout a story route, you reach a “perfect” life/work balance. This third ending is arguably the best, offering even more story scenes. However, it can be tricky to achieve. I only managed to do it twice in my first route playthroughs while playing blind, relying on going back through the game’s helpful episode story map to finally see this third ending I’d missed beforehand for all the other routes.

Mitsuki and Oe discuss romance in the workplace in Sympathy Kiss.
A lot of the “water cooler” talk involves relationship drama.

Aside from the typical binary choices and the Love/Work decisions within the game, Sympathy Kiss has two other gameplay features worth mentioning. You keep in touch with other characters in-game via a phone messaging app called RiNG, helping to bring to mind how the game is a modern-day setting rooted in reality. However, the Emotion Select System is the most exciting gameplay feature. You pick an emotional response to a given question or scene at specific points throughout the story rather than just a dialogue choice. Emojis represent these responses. Say, for instance, you’re asked if you like a particular type of animal, and you can pick between a happy reaction and a sad/scared one. The game not only registers how you respond in that given moment but your choice can get brought up much later in the route in relatively exciting and amusing ways. It makes you feel your decision has a lasting impact when characters remember it and respond accordingly. I greatly appreciate that there are no “wrong” or “right” decisions in Sympathy Kiss, and the Emotion Select feature helps further reiterate that point as you don’t feel punished for following your gut or heart.

There’s also quite the collection of routes to peruse in Sympathy Kiss! Five “main” character routes are available to play through right away, along with three more “hidden” ones. I knew of one of these secret routes thanks to the game’s opening, but uncovering the other two while playing Sympathy Kiss caught me by surprise since I didn’t know either were actual story options. Truthfully, it’s an impressive amount of content for an otome title.

Usui and Akari run into each other in Sympathy Kiss.
Akari might not experience so many “meet-cutes” if she could just see through the hair covering her eyes!

For the most part, the characters and story routes are the game’s most vital points. I like most of the suitor characters, and seeing how their respective storylines play out is a delight. You get to see different sides to the characters thanks to small storytelling reveals throughout all the various routes, allowing you to experience them as fully realized and fleshed-out personalities. Even recurring side characters showcase different aspects of their personalities if they appear in multiple routes. I love the character insight we get into two of the “hidden” routes’ suitors in particular, to the point where those two romance stories became my favorites given how they develop two members of the cast who arguably appear just as supportive side characters in every other route.

Unfortunately, while most of the routes are surprisingly well-written and develop phenomenally, including one where I worried about a potential power imbalance at the beginning of the story that ultimately manages to evolve healthily, the third “hidden” route I uncovered left a sour taste in my mouth. I can only describe it as potentially triggering, given how it covers some heavy real-life issues like stalking that women often face. The route does cover how problematic and troubling these issues are but fails to do so in a believable manner. By the end of the route, I felt conflicted, and I would’ve preferred this route to be left out entirely. Still, it’s a testament to Sympathy Kiss that only one of its numerous routes resulted in such trepidations.

Kobase and Nori discuss rooming arrangements in Sympathy Kiss.
…He totally was!

Regarding graphics and visual presentation, Sympathy Kiss is a gorgeously expressive VN. The character art is lovely, and I like the differing expressions that flit across the characters’ portraits as the narrative progresses. The dubbing wonderfully coincides with the characters’ mouth and lip movements. My biggest issue with the art direction is that to have players more readily step into her shoes, Akari’s design is a nondescript blank slate. The game goes out of its way to keep her eyes visibly concealed, to the point where it looks bizarre in some CGs. It might be more of a personal preference on my part, but I like being able to visualize a character I’m stepping into the role of. Otherwise, the CGs are plentiful and have lovely detailing, which makes Akari’s lack of detail and features stand out.

Sound-wise, the Japanese voice-acting for Sympathy Kiss is phenomenal. I may not have liked one particular route for the reasons listed above, but even that route’s problematic character has incredible voice direction, helping cement it as a creepier route. The soundtrack is lovely and very fitting for the game’s atmosphere, and I grew particularly fond of the vocal insert track used during crucial moments of the plot. The English script translation is excellent for the most part, though there are a few grammatical and typographical errors on specific routes, which isn’t uncommon for games as text-heavy as this. I find it easy to course-correct these instances in my head.

Overall, Sympathy Kiss is an enjoyable otome experience targeting a demographic not often focused on when it comes to video games: adult women immersed in the workforce. Despite having issues with one story route being potentially triggering, I truly enjoyed the rest of the time I spent playing this game. The other character routes have lovely development! Those looking for a game to provide them with their slice-of-life romance fix should give Sympathy Kiss a chance!


Often enjoyable slice-of-life romance storytelling, phenomenal voice acting, expressive art for everyone except the main character, response choices have impact, helpful story map, no “bad” endings and lots of character routes to explore.


Can certainly get spicy in later scenes if that’s not your cup of tea, one route is potentially triggering, lack of detail in protagonist design appears weird in certain scenes.

Bottom Line

Sympathy Kiss is an enjoyable slice-of-life otome VN about working adults finding love.

Overall Score 88
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Audra Bowling

Audra Bowling

Audra Bowling is a reviewer for RPGFan. She is a lover of RPGs, Visual Novels, and Fighting Games. Once she gets onto a subject she truly feels strongly about, like her favorite games, she can ramble on and on endlessly. Coffee helps keep her world going round.