Developer: Miwashiba (△○□×)
Publisher: AGM Playism
1BitHeart is an odd little adventure game about Nanashi, a middle-schooler shut-in with a self-loathing problem whose routine agoraphobic lifestyle is one day interrupted by a strange girl by the name of Misane, who in turn draws Nanshi into the outside world to develop his people skills and make some friends. While exploring this highly stylized futuristic landscape, the two wind up in the apex of a series of odd events happening throughout their city, sending them on an adventure to fight against a group of hackers who desire to fill this peaceful world with chaos.
What entails is a lighthearted and somewhat familiar story with shades of Persona and The World Ends With You among others, is heavily driven by a cast of cute and vibrant characters, and comes off as very heartfelt, earnest, and overall upbeat. For what it is, I actually really enjoyed seeing the story play out, and encountering more main characters as the cast balloons up as the adventure goes on. Though I must express some grievances with how the third act of the story is handled, introducing higher stakes that I feel are simply unneeded in what is meant to be a chill and low-key title.
As for how it is all structured, most of 1BitHeart is built around gathering clues, confronting suspicious people for more information, and then spending an interim period between chapters travelling around town and making friends. If that format at all sounds familiar, it is probably due to its similarities to the basic structure of the Danganronpa series, which the developers are very openly large fans of, as emphasized by how they spent months making the April fools gag Danganronpa Re:Birth. Which was actually successful enough to warrant a fan following in and of itself, weirdly enough.
The mystery solving and general flow of these investigations are fairly simple on paper. Follow the trail of evidence as it is brought up in conversations and talk to the right people before being thrown into the Nonstop Debate equivalent. A segment that could be called the core gameplay of this title that prompts the player to bring up certain evidence at certain points, ask for more information. However, it’s implementation is more deceptively simple than anything else, and despite at times showering the player with evidence to bring up, it often encourages the player to prod the other character for more information and then use that information as a point of contention for what they said in the same conversation.
Meanwhile, making friends is a seemingly straightforward process of greeting a character during free time and adorning them with various presents in order to unlock a up to four scenes with them. But, the entire process of obtaining and using presents is obtuse and whatever depth it tries to have is completely undermined. Presents are purchased from a digital storefront and currency is gained by playing Tetris and Puyo Puyo, with there being dozens of unique presents that are liked more by certain NPCs. Except there is a stupidly easy to way to max out money (just interact with a corner in the digital world), and all of the presents are fluff compared to Love Chocolate, which is the most convenient and economical way to make friends, with all other options being mindless fluff in comparison
During free time, the player is very strongly encouraged by Misane to befriend every possible person they can, with the grand total amounting to nearly 50 people, going from one to another as part of a process so dense and time consuming that it can easily be considered half of the game. It is not a bad half, but one that grows disinteresting as things can easily resemble a checklist after a while, not helped by the spectrum of intrigue held by these various NPCs. Some of them are endearing oddballs whose backgrounds and stories intrigued me, while the interactions between them and Nanashi were some of my highlights for the game. Others come off as more flat and generic, are based heavily in common Japanese pop media archetypes, and have no real relevance to the overall story, so they come off as just kind of pointless.
I found this to be very discouraging after a while, and as such, skipped over certain NPCs, which led to a number of passive aggressive interactions with Misane at the end of free time, much to my chagrin, as I went above and beyond the friendship requirements to facilitate the good ending. While I really like this concept, it lacks the pacing standard set by games like the modern Persona titles or Danganronpa, as there is very little benefit to speaking with these NPCs beyond the ending, and the time spent with them is so condensed and plentiful that it begins to feel more like a chore than a break.
As for the presentation, 1BitHeart serves as a dramatic evolution over previous Miwashiba titles. With far more detailed artwork, a vibrant neon fueled color scheme, expressive character sprites, and a well designed cast of characters who really do sell this world and represent a lot of this game’s charm. It is a slick and stylish approach that I found myself relishing, excited to see the full design of characters compared to their “overworld” sprites, and gels very well with the jazz and hip-hop infused soundtrack.
I really want to praise the soundtrack as well, as it is catchy, plentiful, and was so good that I bought the game’s soundtrack shortly into my playthrough, but it has a few drawbacks. Firstly, there are a good number of English vocal tracks included here that are overlaid during conversations and Talking Time instances, often only being applied to these specific sections. These wind up dividing the player’s attention between the lyrics and what they are reading. Secondly, a lot of the overworld music has a bad habit of being reduced to the first 10 seconds during regular play, as it resets after every interaction with an NPC, when that is really all there is to do in the overworld.
Thirdly, this soundtrack is mostly comprised of royalty free music samples that are not available as part of this game’s soundtrack, which actually only includes several versions of the few original songs featured throughout the game. Thankfully, the translator of 1BitHeart, vgperson, was kind enough to provide the sources for most of these songs, but it is still some of the most intensive work I’ve had to do to acquire a game’s soundtrack. Such a bother…
I might have buried the lead in pointing out its shortcomings, but from the storyline, visual style, soundtrack, overall gameplay (and presence of body swapping) 1BitHeart has the makings of something approaching a dream game of mine. But while I can haze my vision and see a truly glorious specimen before me, the execution often left me with a lot to be desired. With just about every aspect coming off as muddled or lacking in some way, and the core gameplay loop failing to be as enjoyable as it ought to be. It is discouraging in that sense, but it lays an incredibly promising foundation that I would personally love to see the developers build off of, and turn this flawed little gem into something truly excellent. Good thing they made a sequel!