Visual novels have gone from obscure non-factor in Western gaming culture to a known quantity. Unfortunately, much of what folks tend to associate visual novels with now is “weirdness.” Not every gamer knows about Danganronpa, but they sure as heck have probably caught wind of Hatoful Boyfriend, for example. On one hand, Love at First Sight does nothing to cast aside this awkward status quo. The game features a romance between humans, at least, but this time the apple of your eye has only one eye. She’s effectively a cyclops with extra-gigantic anime eye in the center of her face, and this is abnormal even within the game’s world. Folks have already snickered at the game because of the premise.
Although people have already begun writing it off as a joke, this title deserves a shot. After all, you probably want to know what the storyline surrounding such a unique girl is all about. I’m not about to spoil it, but here’s the setup. Protagonist Mamoru is your typical high school guy who only recently switched schools. Despite his semi-new student status, he immediately found friendship with an odd pair of not-quite-girlfriend/boyfriend Akemi and Tomoyori. They’re a great pair, contrasted by the non-stop exuberance of Akemi and Tomoyori’s stoic, deadpan attitude. In any case, one day when Mamoru strays from these pals after school he hears someone sobbing. Upon investigation, he comes upon Sachi — the aforementioned gal with one massive eye. It’s a design choice which definitely creeps out some players, but is actually a component of the story which makes sense.
After this chance encounter Mamoru simply can’t parse his feelings. He wasn’t terrified or shocked, but for some reason simply can’t stop thinking about her. Of course, readers are likely to catch right away that this near-obsession level interest is due to a budding romance (as if the title didn’t give it away already). From there, Love at First Sight progresses through seven acts of getting to know Sachi. Some of the moments are happy while others are surprisingly dramatic. Despite the wacky sort of setup, there’s a lot more seriousness at play than might be expected. This is because one of Sachi’s other most visual oddities is that her body is covered with bruises and scars. And yes, the tale does delve into who has been hurting her and why.
As surprisingly endearing as the storyline is, Love at First Sight may annoy some due to its price, length, and kinetic nature. It took me personally just under two hours to complete the game, and that was when I read at a leisurely pace. The exact time is dependent on everyone’s reading speed, of course, so some may clock in closer to the one hour mark while others take three or four. But this is also a kinetic novel. For the unaware, a kinetic novel is basically a visual novel without any choices.
Although developer Creepy Cute had wanted to add decisions and multiple routes, they simply didn’t have time (as the game was made for a convention in a short time span). So basically, you just read through the storyline like a novella with added animation and artwork but never once are presented with a choice of any sort.
There are some bonuses, and they’re interesting to look through. A few sections include untranslated Japanese text and others reveal perhaps a bit too much about the developer. No offense, but the game made it obvious enough what kinds of fetishes the designer might have… No one needs them spelled out. In any case, even checking out every extra feature only added about ten more minutes. For some folks the concept of buying a two hour visual novel for $10 is too much to handle. Really, it’s up to you to decide how much a cute and slightly creepy visual novel is worth. It certainly functions, although a few bits of its implementation are weird. For one, despite a text auto advance mode in the options there is no obvious button to press to start it. Similarly, once scenes end, they don’t transition into the next without you pushing a button to swap scenes.
For having been created in such a tiny timespan, Love at First Sight certainly offers quality artwork, writing, and an adequate soundtrack. The art style manages to twist typical anime visuals into something a bit darker. Also, it’s one hell of a feat to turn a cyclops high school girl into an adorable character whose eye quickly stops being the focal point. Instead, her personality is allowed to shine. There’s a handful of CGs of Sachi exclusively, and even a few brief animated sequences between acts. In all, it’s surprising to see the amount of effort that went into what many view as a “joke” game.
Whether you think it’s worth the cash or not, Love at First Sight proves to be a completely pleasant surprise. Throughout a brief two hour playtime I got to know the cast better than seems possible and enjoyed seeing the story unfold. Although there were a small amount of typos, a few Japanese lines inadvertently left untranslated and the like, it’s a lovely effort and the kind of visual novel that I’d like to see more of. Love at First Sight subverts expectations with its genuine tale of high school friendship and romance.