Heart Fragment | Book One: Fantasy Fragments | Game Review

Heart Fragment | Book One: Fantasy Fragments | Game Review

Determine your fate and find your happy ending in ‘Heart Fragment’ – a psychological otome game written and directed by Casper Swann of Starfield Gaming. Funded by Kickstarter, blood, sweat, and tears – this labour of love is a phenomenal visual novel, separated into three ‘Books’, with a compelling cast of creative, complex characters, who are just doing their best in a deeply intricate web of conspiracies that threatens to unravel at any moment, changing their lives forever…

Game Name: Heart Fragment
Developers: Starfield Gaming / Casper Swann
Publishers: Starfield Gaming / Casper Swann
Platforms: itch.io / Steam
Age Rating: 12+ / Mature
More information: Twitter | Kickstarter | Carrd.co

Ratings

Romance takes a backseat to the overarching mystery and non-romantic plot for most of the story, and there’s a mixture of romantic and platonic endings available.
Romantic endings climax with a confession and a kiss – the focus is on emotions, bonds, and relationships, rather than physical intimacy. This is an otome game you play for the plot.
Outstanding, truly unique character designs with complex, nuanced personalities and backstories. No one is a hero or villain – everyone is flawed and complicated in a realistic, relatable way.
Intriguing, multi-layered mystery filled with conspiracies and shocking twists, plus some fascinating symbolism. Sole critique: slightly slow pacing in some parts.

Premise

Heart Fragment is described as a ‘psychological otome game’ – with prominent themes around mental health – but it’s also a mystery visual novel, with a convoluted web of conspiracies that slowly unravels across three ‘Books’ (with a fourth, final ‘Book’ where you decide your endgame relationship).

I can’t help but marvel at the sheer number of plot points, symbolism, and allegories that appear throughout the game, and I have no idea how Casper Swann managed to keep track of – let alone weave together – all of these intertwining threads.

I particularly loved the ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ imagery, and how this was tied into the character designs and overall plot. This theme isn’t so prominent as in other games like Taisho X Alice, but it adds a little flavour to the story and enhances the general ‘creepy fairy tale’ vibes that are particularly apparent in the cinematic cutscenes and partially-animated flashback and dream sequences.

“Can you collect all the fragments to reach your happy ending? Or will your attempts only end in tragedy? Find out in this psychological otome game as you sort your way through the secrets & lies…”

– Synopsis from Steam Page

On the whole, the visuals in Heart Fragment are stunning. There are a few different art styles present – which is particularly noticeable in the CG’s – but this didn’t particularly bother me, especially as certain parts of the story are meant to be disjointed or disorienting. Plus, there will be a new options setting added with the release of Book Two, which will allow players to switch between ‘Style A’ and ‘Style B’ for the sprites and CG’s, so they’ll appear in a consistent style, depending on your preferences.

I loved the inclusion of cinematic scenes, especially in the opening sequence. There are also some ‘dream’ sequences where the text and dialogue will auto-play – even if you don’t have this option selected – as the scene is meant to feel like it’s rushing past, and the protagonist has no control over the events unfolding. Heart Fragment truly felt like an immersive experience and there are several features, like these sequences, that make the fourth wall a little blurry at times.

Due to the density of story and themes in the game – and the nature of the mystery genre – it’s difficult to describe the core concept of Heart Fragment in a way that both does it justice, and avoids spoiling the plot. All I can say is that every time I thought I’d gotten a grasp of the story, another secret would be revealed that added a whole new layer of depth to an already intriguing tale… and this is just Book One.

Content warnings: Heart Fragment has prominent, heavy themes around mental health and mental illness, however they’re handled with care, rather than demonization. There are also themes of violence and death, especially in the bad endings (also called ‘Dead Ends’), and there’s an in-game content warning in the opening sequence which states that the recommended player age is 12+ / mature.

Game Trailer

Don’t let tragedy be the only option…

Characters

Heart Fragment has an impressively intriguing collection of characters, all with their own unique personalities, flaws, and foibles. I love that there aren’t any infallible heroes or irredeemable villains – instead, the cast is full of people who sit somewhere in a vast expanse of moral grey area.

‘Book One: Fantasy Fragments’ contains routes for Kay and Clive, but more character routes will be added in Books Two and Three. As it’s a fairly lengthy game, I like that Heart Fragment has been split into three distinct parts, and that each Book has its own theme: Fantasy, Belief, or Despair.

Main Character

Name: Xani Green (Customisable)
Role: Protagonist / Main Character (MC)
Voice Actor: N/A – not voiced

At first, I found Xani’s personality a little off-putting, as I couldn’t understand why she was so negative and cynical. However, as the story progressed and I learned more about her past, my appreciation for her character grew immensely. Xani’s personality will also change over the course of the game, depending on the choices you make, so you can tailor your experience by directing your own protagonist’s character growth.

While Xani’s personality is customisable, there are some traits that persist. She’s kind – even if she has trouble expressing it – and deeply sensitive. She’s cynical and pessimistic, with low self-esteem, but there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation for this, and it’s incredibly rewarding to watch her grow into herself, and come out of her shell over the course of the story.

I particularly loved that the protagonist is a part of the ‘psychological’ theme, rather than an outsider coming in to heal the broken love interests with her pure, radiant heart. Instead of trying to change the other characters to become ‘normal’, she empathises with them and their struggles and does her best to help them, despite dealing with her own struggles, too.

The other characters also have to help her, (again, while dealing with their own struggles) and I loved that this dynamic went both ways. Plus, therapy isn’t treated as a dreaded last resort, but something good, and not shameful in the slightest – which is, unfortunately, something I haven’t come across in an otome game before.

Book One: Fantasy Fragments

“With strong elements of fantasy added to the story throughout this book, a lot of questions are raised and shocking reveals begin. Which path will you take to begin your journey?”

– Book One: Fantasy Fragments

Book One: Fantasy Fragments contains routes for Kay and Clive. There are 4 romantic endings, 3 platonic endings, and 9 bad endings in total, and it took me around 20 hours to clear all of these while using a guide and skipping through previously-read scenes.

Kay Jamison

Name: Kay Jamison
Role: Character Route
Voice Actor: Jacob Barrens

Sunshine and rainbows… until he’s not. Kay is a cute puppy boy with some intense secrets. His smile is described as being blindingly bright, yet MC gets the feeling there’s something hidden behind his cheery, easy-going demeanour. While I knew from the start that there would be some sort of secret in Kay’s route, I definitely wasn’t expecting such a shocking twist…

Overall, Kay is a sincere, kind, supportive type of love interest, and MC likes that she can rely on him and his selflessness. While Kay doesn’t define himself as being blind, I still wanted to note this part of his character design, as diversity in otome love interests is always a good thing, and I felt that Heart Fragment handled this part of his character well.

It came up often enough that it wasn’t just there for the sake of it, but not so much that it felt too important to his character – like it was his only defining trait, or a gimmick. The protagonist is largely ignorant in the beginning, but she always means well, and she has the opportunity to learn more (along with the player), as she spends more time with Kay throughout his route.

Kay wasn’t my favourite of the two Book One love interests, but I found his story fascinating nonetheless. Despite some of the hints that he was hiding something behind his smile, I was not expecting the twist, so I loved that his route continued to shock me as more of the mysteries were revealed.

Don’t expect the entire plot to be uncovered in Book One, but I definitely recommend playing Kay’s route to get a better understanding of the fundamental concept (or just to romance/befriend a sweet-hearted puppy with a bit of a hero complex and a compelling story).

Clive ???

Name: Clive ???
Role: Character Route
Voice Actor: Greg Arnold

Warning: cute, blushy tsundere alert. I adore Clive and his red hoodie, and his adorable embarrassed face, and his love of retro technology and his, well… everything. I personally found his character to be more relatable than Kay, mostly because of his tendency to excitedly infodump about his favourite interests and his general social awkwardness, particularly with making eye contact.

The overall tone of his route is a little more on the playful, teasing side (when compared to Kay’s route, which was more earnest and sincere). Clive is similar to the protagonist in a lot of ways, and I loved their childish banter and competitive games. Be prepared for a little bit of frustration though, as they both struggle to express themselves – however, once they realise they’re pretty similar, it becomes much easier for them to communicate with each other.

After playing Kay’s route, I felt like I understood the general premise, and some of the mystery behind the scenes, but I was still largely in the dark about the rest of the cast. However, after playing Clive’s route, I felt like I had a better understanding of the other characters and their motivations, so I’m now more curious than ever to play Books Two and Three.

The play order for Book One: Fantasy Fragments isn’t too important, and it largely depends on you personal preferences. Each ending contained different information about the plot – even including the bad endings – and playing through them in any particular order won’t dramatically affect the unravelling of the overarching mystery.

The official gameplay guide has Kay’s route listed first, followed by Clive’s, and this is also the order in which I played them in Book One. I personally preferred Clive’s character (and route, in general), so I’m glad I played them this way around, as I usually prefer to save my favourite character for last.

I felt that Kay’s route set up the core concept and premise well, as the whole ‘heart fragment’ idea is better explained in his story – however, Clive’s route exposes more of the personal connections and motivations between the characters, as well as some of the past events that I didn’t get to learn about in Kay’s route.

If I had to give a recommendation, I would say to play Kay first, followed by Clive, so you can establish the core concept first, and then learn more about the rest of the cast. But, as I said, I don’t think it’s too important for Book One, so feel free to just go with your gut and have fun!

Book Two: Belief Fragments

“Book two focuses on the reality of things at a surface level and deals with the true reasons behind events thus far. If you strip away fantasy and leave only belief in those around you behind, what answers will you be able to find?”

– Book Two: Belief Fragments

Book Two: Belief Fragments contains routes for Lana and Shannon. There are 2 romantic endings, 3 platonic endings, 1 family-focused ending, and 6 bad endings. Book Two is scheduled for release in Spring 2022.

Lana Kojima

Name: Lana Kojima
Role: Character Route
Voice Actor: Dottovu

Lana is the protagonist’s babysitter from when she was a child – although, they haven’t been in touch for a few years by the beginning of the game’s story. Lana’s in-game character profile has a video game controller where the ‘romance’ bar usually is, which suggests there will only be platonic and familial endings for this route.

I love what we’ve seen of Lana’s character so far, and I’m curious to know more about what happened during (and before) the 10 years they were apart. I get the sense she’s more involved in the overarching plot than she initially seems, so I’m looking forward to playing her route when Book Two is released in Spring 2022.

Shannon LaFae

Name: Shannon LaFae
Role: Character Route
Voice Actor: Nathalie Ferare

Best girl material – Shannon is the character I’m most excited for in future releases. Her bubbly, outgoing personality never failed to lighten the mood, even during some of the darker moments of the story, and I’m hoping there’s at least one romantic end available in her route.

Her social media posts are hilarious, and her over-the-top, high-energy vibe contrasts perfectly with the protagonist’s cynical, pessimistic attitude. She adores the main character, and their friendship is so wholesome and supportive that I quickly fell in love with her personality.

There are hints that not everything is quite so ‘sunshine and rainbows’ behind the scenes, and, as with Lana, I get the sense that she’s more involved in the overarching plot than she initially seems. I can’t wait to learn more about Shannon’s character – and, no matter what dark twists appear, I’m ready to go full steam ahead for her happy ending, so she can have the dream life she deserves.

Book Three: Despair Fragments

“Book three reveals intentions, motives, and more that have remained veiled in fog until now…”

– Book Three: Despair Fragments

Book Three: Despair Fragments contains routes for Jasper and Natalia. There are 3 romantic endings, 3 platonic endings, and 11 bad endings. After this, there is a final, endgame route where you choose who you end up with, and whether your relationship with them is romantic or platonic.

Jasper Finley

Name: Jasper Finley
Role: Character Route
Voice Actor: Arthur Tisseront

Antagonist? Check. Broody emo style? Check. Angsty and tormented? Hell yeah. Needless to say, I’m already head over heels for Jasper, and I’m waiting with baited breath for the release of Book Three. Neither of the ‘Despair Fragments’ characters have had too much screen time yet, but there were a couple of scenes in Book One that made me curious to learn more about Jasper and his motivations. I’m a sucker for a misunderstood villain, so if there’s any chance that he’s redeemable, I’m certain he’ll become my new favourite.

Natalia Winterfeld

Name: Natalia Winterfeld
Role: Character Route
Voice Actor: Amanda Parker

Natalia doesn’t appear much in the common route – or either of the character routes in Book One – so it’s difficult to comment too much on her personality at this stage. I love the aesthetic of her character design, and I’m looking forward to learning more about her further into the game, but, so far, my only impression of Natalia is: cute, awkward, and mysterious.

Story

“Mysterious characters entering and leaving your life. Growing bonds. Coming to terms with what exactly “humanity” is… Don’t let tragedy be the only option.

– Official Game Description (Kickstarter)

I’m still blown away by the depth and nuance of this intriguing psychological otome game. There are just so many layers of conspiracy that it felt like there was a new twist or turn around every corner. At the time of writing this review, I’ve cleared all the endings in Book One, and, even though this took me around 20 hours of playtime, I still feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface of what Heart Fragment truly has to offer.

The story initially presents a premise that seems like plenty on its own for a single game, only to then gradually build layer upon layer of further depth that turns Heart Fragment from a run-of-the-mill mystery visual novel into a completely unique tale of characters that feel deeply personal and unlike any that I’ve read before.

My only (minor) criticism of the story is that there were a couple of parts where I felt like the pacing slowed down a bit – and some plot points erred a little on the side of over-explanation – but it was never enough to put me off playing, and there’s a strong chance my impatience was just from dying to know what happens next.

Heart Fragment is a long game, and with so many different stories intertwining, there’s a lot to unpack and understand. You won’t be able to truly appreciate the game after only one playthrough, and there will be plenty of questions left unanswered by the end of Book One, as these are waiting to be addressed in Books Two and Three.

Note for 7’scarlet fans: Playing Kay and Clive’s routes felt similar to playing Hino and Isora’s routes in 7’scarlet. While still entertaining in their own right, you can tell that the overarching mystery is still largely unresolved, so you’ll have to wait to clear the game before you can truly understand what’s happening behind the scenes.

On the whole, it was fascinating to see the layers of each character get slowly peeled back, as more of their personality and past is revealed. Aside from my minor gripe of the occasional over-explanation, I can whole-heartedly say that Heart Fragment has a compelling storyline, with equally compelling characters, and ‘Book One: Fantasy Fragments’ will leave you dying to find out more.

Gameplay

Game Features:
☆ Hundreds of choices, with 6 main routes & 40+ romantic, platonic, and group endings
☆ 100+ unique CGs & your choice between two art styles
☆ In-game phone and optional mini-games for bonus content & CGs
☆ Skip to next choice / next unread line and quick-paced regular skipping mode
☆ Original Soundtrack of 40 tracks

Heart Fragment is a visual novel, so the core gameplay revolves around reading each scene, and making player choices that determine the story’s outcome. However, one of the things that makes Heart Fragment stand out is its extensive variety of player interactivity features.

Not only does the game contain hundreds of player choices, but these decisions also affect your main character’s personality (inner psyche). This ‘inner psyche’ further affects the options you can select later in the game, and even the way the protagonist reacts to any given scene.

I can’t begin to comprehend how complicated the system for all of these different choices and variations must be, and this is another reason why I think self-insert otome fans will particularly like Heart Fragment, as the extensive choices make each playthrough feel deeply personal and unique.

On the note of your protagonist’s ‘inner psyche’, there is a setting that determines where or not you receive a notification when your personality and/or relationship score is altered by a choice you make. The default setting is ‘off’, but I actually recommend turning this ‘on’.

These ‘configuration’ settings will appear at the beginning of your playthrough. Change the third setting to ‘YES’ to be alerted when your inner psyche or relationship levels change after making a player choice.

During my first playthrough, I left this setting ‘off’ – and I forgot to regularly check my personality via the phone feature – so I found it hard to keep track of what exactly was being affected by the choices I made. For my subsequent playthroughs, I changed this setting to ‘on’, and receiving these notifications meant I got a better understanding of the impact of my choices, which also helped me figure out why I was on any particular ending, branch, or route.

I also recommend checking the phone feature often, in general. You’ll receive a notification on the phone screen when a ‘Don’t Forget’ cut-scene or important text message appears, but there will also be intermittent social media feed updates that won’t necessarily prompt you to check your feed.

Even when you are prompted (often at the end of each in-game day), you will only be shown one social media post, not the whole feed. Sometimes these posts offer hints at what’s happening behind the scenes, so it’s worth checking every now and then to see what the other characters are up to.

Also, be sure not to skip through the text too quickly, so you can keep an eye out for a little icon in the bottom-right that looks like an eye inside a heart. This is a quick time event minigame that allows you to peer into the heart (or aura) of the person you’re looking at.

Deciding whether or not to do this (and how successful you are at it) will affect your inner psyche and sometimes relevant information to the plot (which will then affect the scenes you do/don’t unlock). If all of these features seems like a lot, then there’s no need to worry, as there’s an in-game tutorial, as well as a comprehensive gameplay guide to help you clear all of the endings, CGs, and achievements.

I did my first playthrough going with my gut choices (and got Kay’s Branch 2 Ending!), and then used the guide to clear the rest of the game. There are so many choices, branches, and CGs that it would have been too difficult to figure out what I needed to change in order to end up on a different route, so I’m grateful this guide is available.

Final Thoughts

I’m blown away by the complexity and depth of Heart Fragment, despite only having played the first third of the game. The huge wealth of player options lets you craft a truly personal tale, with a unique experience in each playthrough.

I did my first playthrough without a guide, and I recommend playing this way at first to properly immerse yourself in the story and build a protagonist that you personally enjoy. I also suggest turning on the notifications that tell you how your choices affect your inner psyche and relationships with the other characters, as this gave me a better understanding of the impact my choices had on the overall game.

After your first playthrough, it’s much easier to clear all the different routes and endings with the help of a guide, as there are hundreds of player choices – and seemingly insignificant options can unlock exclusive CG’s and dialogue.

Even though Heart Fragment is separated into three books (with only Book One currently available), I still recommend starting on ‘Book One: Fantasy Fragments’ now, rather than waiting for all three to be released. There’s also a free demo available, if you’d like to try before you buy.

Purchasing Book One means you’ll be able to download Books Two and Three for free when they become available, and it’s worth wrapping your head around the information revealed in Kay and Clive’s routes now, before proceeding with Book Two: Belief Fragments at a later date (due for release in Spring 2022).

Honestly, Heart Fragment is criminally under-priced, and I hope the money Starfield Gaming raised on Kickstarter helps boost these sales figures because there is a lot of content in this game, and the quality is incredibly impressive. I loved the emotional rollercoaster that was ‘Fantasy Fragments’, and I can’t wait to dive even deeper into this intriguing tale in Book Two: Belief Fragments, and Book Three: Despair Fragments, once they’re released.

You’ll like Heart Fragment if you like: immersing yourself in a self-insert otome game; compelling mystery stories that consistently flip the script and surprise you; creepy fairy tales and psychological thrillers; intriguing, unique characters with sensitive and compassionate depictions of mental health issues; LGBTQIA+ friendly otome games; and passion projects developed by indie teams that clearly poured a lot of love into their game.

Screenshots

Game Info

Game Name: Heart Fragment
Developers: Starfield Gaming / Casper Swann
Publishers: Starfield Gaming / Casper Swann
Platforms: itch.io / Steam
Age Rating: 12+ / Mature
More information: Twitter | Kickstarter | Carrd.co

Thank you to Starfield Gaming for providing us with a review copy of Heart Fragment!

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