Clover Heart's

      Disclaimers: please look at my recommendations score to see what my opinion is worth; meaning I'm usually easily pleased with a game; but then I'm mostly playing games upon hearsay of them being very good, so...

      Introduction: "Clover Heart's" is the first game made by ALcot and was released under Windows initially on CD on 2003.11.28, then on DVD on 2004.6.25. NEC Interchannel ported it for PS2 on 2004.8.26 under the name "Clover Heart's ~Looking for happiness~". The game reviewed is the original Windows/CD edition.

      Graphics: ultra-cute, borderline loli-type; it is somewhat implied the characters are in the 15-17 range, but they look a bit younger. It didn't bother me much though. Backgrounds are standard CGs; nothing exceptional.

      Music: I liked it, probably because I enjoyed the game, so take my comment with a grain of salt.

      Voices: full-voiced. No facial animation, but there are a LOT of different facial expressions (about 25 for the main characters), so it compensates IMO.

      Gameplay: one of the VERY good thing of "Clover Heart's", even if it pales in comparison of the story itself. The game is an ADV, and a pretty linear one. As such, you would think there's nothing much original you can do in matter of interface. "Clover Heart's" proves you wrong: it has probably the BEST interface an ADV could dream about and even manage to be imaginative about the matter.
      When you start the game, you feel something is different. Indeed, you get a starting window looking like a puzzle, with only grayed pieces and grayed menus. Then, like in a puzzle, as you play the game and solve parts of its story, the pieces will color and the menus will be enabled. And when everything is done, the puzzle will disappear, showing a new start window and now smiling characters.
      When some features aren't exceptional per se (i.e. other games have them as well), "Clover Heart's" has of course the point of having them all, all the little features you may want in an ADV: text display delay, skip delay, BGM, SFX and character voices independantly configurable. And add more. Thus, not only do you have the usual history feature, but you can even save that history between game starts and exists (something very few games do, but is very useful for you to recall what happened last time you played). Also, each character's voice can have his volume adjusted independantly from the others; but (and it's a very neat feature), the test of the volume has the character introduces himself.
      I also appreciated the full keyboard support for the actions you'd need: hiding the text, saving, loading, skipping, auto-read mode, fullscreen, etc.
      More is on the optimisation in the use of the displayed text and the window area. First, each character has his own text color (this feature cannot be changed -- as in "GreenGreen" for instance -- but IMO it's not important, because no one would probably would do so since the color used are readable and distinguishable enough). But better is how the text is displayed on the screen. "Clover Heart's" is an ADV and not a Visual Novel, so the story isn't displayed over the screen and read as a novel. However, it's not either displayed in a 'boring' window in the bottom of the screen. The protagonist has its speech (and thoughts) in the bottom of the window while the other characters have their speech in the middle of the screen, covering the whole screen from left to right, if they're facing the protagonist, in the bottom part if they're in the protagonist's back or centered on them if they're not directly facing the protagonist. With of course the stereo effect.
      As far as the omake are concerned, "Clover Heart's" respects its other features, offering everything you would want in an omake, with little additional features giving to all of them a touch differentiating them from such features in another game. First, you have the "Game Start", "Prologue/Epilogue" and "Diary" features, about which I'll talk in detail later. Then, three omake short stories; not one, three. The music gallery (with tracks appearing only when you complete the parts where they're used), the dress room (where you can see the characters with all their expressions and clothes), the CGs gallery and the Replay gallery, which manage to feel different, just by presenting their contents in an unorthodox way.
      Minor details, you'd say. And it's true. But added together, they give the game a wonderful refined touch. And it's not even the end of it...
      I talked about three features: the "Game Start", the "Prologue/Epilogue" and the "Diary" ones. To understand them, we'll have to consider that other neat feature of "Clover Heart's": the game's pace. In "Clover Heart's", you're playing two characters; to better make you feel the difference, the game allows you to switch from the one to the other (let's notice it's not a completely original idea, as C's Ware "EVE" series already used it long ago; but it's rare enough to stand o ut). Better, each protagonist's story is divided into four chapters... and each of them has its own Epilogue, OP (different, if only a bit) animation, main story, epilogue and afterwords (which is a look inside the affected girl's personal diary).
      Now, on the bad aspect, I would have prefered a 800x600 resolution to a 640x480... T_T

      Adult events: a lot (as far as the main couples are concerned), though only a few have their CGs (and there are still many ^^;;;;). It doesn't feel "too much" though, as they are completely understandable, very well integrated to the story (each shown adult event has pretty much a reason for being shown and there's enough story between two events) and in fact absolutely normal to the realism of the stories... Okay, surely at least one event could have been removed. ^^;;;;

      Story: Yang Sei Fu posted the background stories for all the characters (contains HEAVY spoilers), but as far as I'm concerned it's not really important and far from what makes "Clover Heart's" an enjoyable experience. It's true it gives the characters an interesting background which marks them deeply, but the enjoyment of the game is more about seeing their everyday life and how they deal with their problems. For everyone to further understand, I'll now present the...


      Why I enjoyed "Clover Heart's" so much...

      As I wrote previously, "Clover Heart's" is not different stories of the same protagonist, but one story of two different protagonists, two twins, living in the same house, meeting the same people, yet as different as day and night. That premise only makes the game interesting, as they consequently sometimes experienced the same event and thus, the game offers you the possibility to see said event from two different perspectives. In fact, I think the best experience is to switch from one protagonist's story to the other between each chapter, to enjoy the difference in pace, personalities and point of view (though the two timelines start to differ in the beginning of Chapter 4) -- and even, to start with Itsuki. Personally, I think it's the way the game is supposed to be played, as each chapter has its own prologue, OP, ED and epilogue and takes you back to the main menu afterwards, giving you the possibility to (inciting you to?) switch protagonists or start the next chapter for the same character.
      But trying to place the events from one twin's story into the other's is still only a small part of the pleasure I had to play the game.
      I bought "Clover Heart's" out of a whim, expecting a fluffy short comedy story. What I got instead was a messed-up mature family drama, where each character was reacting in such a realistic way you really felt their problems and story was written from a true one. What more is that the game is not only showing us the aspect of their life pertaining to the 'plot', but we get to live with them through their everyday life, through small insignifiant events, yet important to show the way they evolved little by little, because it's usually the sum of little events which makes us change and not the shock of a major one.

      Itsuki/Madoka/Rio. I don't really know how to qualify Itsuki, Madoka and Rio's story, except perhaps "complicated". To the difference of most ren'ai protagonist, Itsuki (and Madoka) aren't neophytes in the matter of sex are already engaged from the very beginning of the game in a deep love relationship... or so it seems. But the truth about the matter (no spoilers here, as it's revealed in the very beginning) has potential to hurt both of them, and that potential hurts Rio, who then tries to have them make their situation clear. Yes, contrary to most (all?) other ren'ai games, it is not the guy who involves himself with the girl, but the girl who does so -- when the guy refuses such an involvement, even! -- and tries to get the guy's story 'solved'... falling in love with him (and reciprocally) in the process!
      Since you're playing the guy, the story isn't about Itsuki learning about Rio (or so little), but rather about himself, about accepting what he is, what the others are, what a family means and perhaps about forgiveness.
      My favourite chapter for them is Chapter One, where Madoka and Itsuki take the lead as the most wonderful characters of the game, and Chapter Two, where Rio takes the relay and outshines the other characters.
      Note: the "bad" ending for Chapter Three is absolutely... STUPID and ABSURD, completely in discordance with the rest of the whole game. I cannot understand what it's doing here!!!

      Hakuto/Rea. It is said that once you hurt the one you love, are hurted by her and both of you learn to understand, forgive and reconcile, love changes and matures into true love. Contrary to Itsuki, Madoka and Rio's initial situation, the relationship between Hakuto and Rea seems so... easy; even more because both of them share a bright, optimistic view about life and try to enjoy it to its utmost. In contrast to the former love story, theirs is full of joyful moments, laughs and generally happy times. But underneath, a volcano was resting, waiting to awake.
      Hakuto and Rea's story can be viewed as the story of two young people falling in love, experimenting the initial passionate burst of love and finding its fragility and how it could hurt as well as please to finally end being in love, relieved from the clouds of passion. Contrary to Itsuki and Rio's story, theirs is a story of growing up and accepting the other as an equal to oneself. As such, it takes the opposite direction to their counterpart, going from happiness to crisis. I particularly loved Rea -- whom I started not liking very much because she was of the noisy immature and selfish type -- in Chapter Three, where she shines IMO above all the other characters, including Itsuki and Rio in their story; in a way, she grew probably more than any of the others.
      And, as in Itsuki and Rio's case, it's not the story of Hakuto "going" after Rea and make her fall in love with him, it's her getting an interest in him and both of them falling in love at the same rate.

      Rin/Yuuki/Chimari. One point which grates me in most ren'ai games is how the main character is surrounded by (cute) girls, with almost no male friend and how everyone save the girl he's 'after' soon fades out of the story. Here, again, "Clover Heart's" is very refreshing, foremost in the case of Hakuto (Itsuki being an asocial without friend by nature), who has two childhood friends of both sex -- Yuuki and Rin -- and act with them as friends should: they spend most of their free time together, they tease each other and even, extraordinary thing, they noticed when Hakuto has love problem and try to talk to him about the matter, without pushing him, and act as his confident according to if he needs a girl's opinion or a guy's opinion. Even in Itsuki's case, you can feel that point, with Rin teasing him and worrying about his relation with Rio, to the point to help them... her own way. You can truly feel how much they're close, how much they're truly friends.

      Robert/Kuon. A point ren'ai games lack even more than the previous two (not "going after" the girl and true friends who don't end as romantic interest) is the presence of grownups, truly present grownups. There, again, "Clover Heart's" surprises. If it's true the four main characters don't have parents and you could say Robert is just there as a present but invisible parent figure (as it's the case in many games which give us the rare parent presence), there's Kuon, Rio and Rea's theorical maid and in truth much more their older sister and even mother. What about her? Well, she doesn't limit herself at taking care of the children as far as food, clothes, houseworking, etc. are concerned: she notices their relationship, comments about it ("TEASE" would be a better word! XD) and even advises about the matter. Oh, and I HAVE to tell I want to marry Kuon!!!

      Recommendation score and final words:

      I gave to the game a 9, a score I only gave to games I truly enjoy ("21 ~TwoOne~", "Sister Princess", "Refrain Blue", "Triangle Heart's: Lyrical Box" and "Sentimental Graffiti 2"), not because the game's story is as wonderful (for me) as the one in those games, but because the experience of playing "Clover Heart's" should be equivalent. In other words, for the first time for a Visual Novel, I gave bonus point for the gameplay and the way the game is done.

      If I had to sum-up "Clover Heart's" in some short sentence, I'd say that, contrary to the majority of the ren'ai games, it's not a game about learning about a girl's story, it's a game about growing up, about maturing in order to fall in love or in order to learn the difference between falling and being in love, together with the girl.
      And it's also a game about a family, what it means and what problems it may bring: sister-brother problem, brother-brother, parents-children, parent-parent and even no family related people living under the same house.

January, 20th, 2005      
OLF, i.e. Olf Le Fol