The Bell Chimes for Gold has a storied development history. Originally developer OTUSUN Club brought their otome game where you romance middle aged men to Indiegogo in 2016. Although they asked for less than $20,000 in funding, the audience just failed to find the title in time. As a result, they then took to Patreon to crowdfund its English release. Here, too, there was not tremendous turnout — but the team never lost hope. Finally, Sekai Project came in and even set their title as the very first release of their new otome sub-brand Maiden Voyage. After all that work, English-speaking gamers can finally try out The Bell Chimes for Gold for themselves. Was it all worth it? That depends on what exactly you’re looking for in your otome visual novels.
The storyline kicks off in a unique fashion. We meet Maria, a herbalist who has been dreaming of one day marrying her Master. Master Richard did previously shower praise on his disciple, but not because he actually had interest in marrying Maria. Upon revealing he’s marrying Maria’s best friend, he leaves her with the parting words that she could easily make enough money to buy any man she wants. Instead of reappraising her unhealthy obsession with Richard, she decides to follow his suggestion. She’s going to make mad money and flaunt it until men fall head over heels in love with her. It just so happens that there are five eligible bachelors in the town who all have serious money issues. Whether it’s because they spend their money frivolously, or are too kind and giving for their own good, all of them could benefit from a wealthy benefactor who absolves all their debts.
It may sound like an incredibly shallow concept, and it is, since being with someone for their money is hardly looked upon as romantic. However, The Bell Chimes for Gold manages to tell each of its storylines so they never come across as one person using the other. You get glimpses of the story that reveal the men don’t feel good about someone else taking care of their debts for them. Still, once freed of these monetary shackles, they start to grow as people and open themselves up to new experiences. It’s also important to note that Maria herself does easily make tons of gold – and makes that money partially due to each of the bachelors. As a herbalist, her income comes from synthesizing potions. She can only get the ingredients for these potions by exploring dangerous territories. Since she’s not a warrior herself, she hires mercenaries to fight any monsters in the way.
Most of one’s gameplay time comes in as players harvest for ingredients. In this RPG mode, players progress one step at a time down a linear, 100 step long dungeon. Moving forward may cause players to run into an enemy, find ingredients for synthesis, find status boosting items, traps or absolutely nothing. The end of any map is where the boss resides. Beat the boss in order to collect an extra special item which can in turn be used to boost your preferred bodyguard’s stats. Grinding is a bit tough, though, because in addition to health players must also attend to Maria’s stamina. She may not be fighting but she can only take so many steps in a day – just 25 to start. There are ways to temporarily increase her stamina as well as “fly” past multiple steps at a time. It doesn’t take long to get accustomed to the system and run through dungeons on auto pilot.
Unfortunately, The Bell Chimes for Gold does its best to make progression far more annoying than it should be. One simple but strange issue comes in the form of the game simply not appearing to register every button press the player makes. Stepping forward requires clicking a button – and sometimes clicking the button does not make you move forward. The same is true of other buttons in the RPG mode. It could be an issue of lag or loading the next element. The options menu suggests turning off auto save can resolve lag problems, but it did not change this annoyance in the least. In another weird move, certain items on the field cannot be picked up automatically. All herbalist-related elements can be set to auto pick up but not special items. Fail to click on them specifically because you’re mindlessly clicking the step button and you’ll miss a free health boost, for example.
Then there’s the fact that playing The Bell Chimes for Gold via Steam means that you’re getting an abbreviated version of the game. Sure, the gameplay itself is still much the same, but there’s a lot of story content and CG scenes that will be missed. For example, in the Steam version, incrementally paying off any man’s debt eventually ends in a lovely, chaste romance that feels a bit too quick. The version available from Denpasoft, by virtue of allowing 18+ content, is both more sexual and extends character interactions to flesh out relationships better. There also does not appear to be a patch available as a free or paid download to convert the Steam release. Anyone who expects to get the full experience should clearly turn to Denpasoft for their order.
Certainly there’s still something to like about the game beyond its imperfect RPG implementation. Most of the eligible bachelors are grizzled and hunky for those into older men. It would have been easy for all of them to have the same personality, but each stands out as quite different from one another personality-wise as much as they differ visually. The Japanese voice acting is also pretty enjoyable. Just don’t expect the same bishonen-style voices that you may be used to hearing in games with far younger protagonists. Despite the clear age difference between Maria and her love interests, the storyline is written in such a way that this usually doesn’t come across as strange. It works well and the translation deserves credit for keeping the storyline palpable for audiences.
In Japan, The Bell Chimes for Gold launched on both PC and mobile devices while here it’s only available on PC. The mobile-focused development is clear by the game’s tall, smartphone resolution as well as the large menu buttons. Although completely playable on PC, this is absolutely a game that would be more welcome on a smartphone. Dungeons are short and the gameplay loop of adventuring, synthesizing and paying off debts can be done in multiple mini sessions or in one two to three hour playthrough. On PC, it’s not nearly as convenient to quickly fire the game up to grind and pay down one debt. It’s also fairly annoying that on PC there are not many hotkeys to speed up progression. Instead, hitting those large buttons is absolutely required.
The Bell Chimes for Gold starts out as charming and fun to play. It’s once you spend more time with it that the problems with regard to unregistered button presses and certain items not being picked up automatically move from small annoyance to grating on the entire gameplay session. It also doesn’t help that the majority of the experience (exploring dungeons for items) is entirely repetitive. If the game were playable on mobile in English, this could be forgiven due to players having an easier time simply playing in tiny bursts. Watching romances unfold is enjoyable, but even that’s restricted for the Steam version in a way that harms each bachelor’s path. The Bell Chimes for Gold is cute but requires fine tuning before it can be recommended to otome fans.