Adventure Corner: Vengeful Heart
Welcome to Adventure Corner, a column where members of the RPGamer staff can give their thoughts, impressions, and pseudo-reviews for various adventure titles that don’t come under our usual coverage. Adventure Corner is aimed at delivering opinions on a wide range of titles including visual novels, point-and-click adventures, investigative mysteries, and so forth.
In this edition of the column we take a look at Salmon Snake’s cyberpunk visual novel Vengeful Heart on the Nintendo Switch.
What if you were told that you no longer had access to water? This question is the starting point in Salmon Snake’s Vengeful Heart. This kinetic cyberpunk visual novel has players embarking on a narrative that focuses on issues surrounding capitalism, resource hoarding, and corporate greed.
The world of Vengeful Heart is an uncomfortable one. In the early minutes of the game, players learn that humanity has destroyed many of the planet’s resources, resulting in groundwater that is undrinkable and plant life struggling to grow. Wealthy people have priority access to resources such as water, but the remainder are forced to ration water or may not have access to it at all.
Our story begins with Josephine Lane, a young hydraulic engineer who is set on climbing the corporate ladder. Her day begins with no hot water for a shower, and she soon learns that many of the residents in her building also have no water access. She soon learns that her building will be demolished for a new hydraulic plant, leaving everyone in her building homeless. When Josephine attempts to stand up to her employer on behalf of the residents, there is a bloodbath where police kill her former neighbours. Josephine barely escapes and ends up in a coma where she receives a cybernetic heart transplant. Awakening from her coma and having to adjust to her new heart, Josephine begins to exact her revenge on the employer that turned her life upside down and killed the residents of her apartment complex.
Vengeful Heart is an incredibly well-written, yet bleak, story. Much of the story has an overarching theme of hopelessness and destruction. The latter comes in multiple forms during the story, from the loss of natural resources and the deaths of the apartment residents in Josephine’s building to her own destructive actions throughout. The story does a great job showing how complex a character Josephine is, even with the lack of player decision-making. Josephine losing her heart and gaining a cybernetic one is both a motivator in her revenge, but it’s also a detriment as she has to be careful with how much pressure she puts on it. With the help of some friends and local sympathizers, Josephine is determined to take her former employer down and restore water access to those less fortunate.
There are a lot of interesting story beats, but the game struggles to give the narrative elements time to be properly examined. From Josephine having and losing her job, to everyone in her apartment building being murdered, there’s no moment of rest or pause for the player to digest what is happening. The speed at which events keep happening makes it difficult for players to keep track of every ongoing story thread, and the game could have benefitted from moments with breathing room between narrative points.
With the game being a kinetic visual novel, there is exactly one choice in Vengeful Heart, and it is based on which romantic partner the player wishes for Josephine to end up with. However, given how fast the story moves, it doesn’t feel like the player truly knows the cast of characters, meaning that this choice is based on what little information learned about the two potential partners. The game also includes the ability to view the status of Josephine’s cybernetic heart. Players can check how much time she has left before her heart fails, but this is just a static element that doesn’t serve any purpose at all. Since there’s no game over or bad ending, this feels so superfluous that I wish the developers had either done something to connect it to the gameplay or removed it entirely.
The art style in Vengeful Heart is reminiscent of old PC-98 engine titles, with a very specific colour palette that highlights the game’s cyberpunk setting. There’s interesting usage of pinks, greens, and purples that make the graphics feel muted in their presentation. There also isn’t a lot of variety in the game’s backgrounds, which is a bit disappointing. However, there is a nice amount of detailing in the character portraits, with a good variety of facial expressions. The synth-wave soundtrack, however, absolutely slaps and does a great job accompanying the bleak and grim moments of the game’s story.
Vengeful Heart is a game about capitalism, cyberpunk, and love, and I’d argue that it does two out of the three very well. While the romances feel like they needed a bit more time to simmer, they are not inherently bad by any means. In fact, even with the game’s brisk pacing, there is such a compelling story that does a good job of keeping players invested. If you are looking for a visual novel that is entirely focused on story rather than choices, and you enjoy a grittier story and world, Vengeful Heart easily fits that bill.