Nova Hearts: The Spark Impression

Lasting around an hour, The Spark does a good job setting up the story, setting, and protagonist trio, as well as its gameplay cycle.

Othercide developer Lightbulb Crew has gone in a different direction with its newest project Nova Hearts. Eschewing the black-and-white horror of Othercide, Nova Hearts is an attractively vibrant and colourful tale mixing superheroes, dating sim, and turn-based combat. Ahead of its planned launch on PC this summer, the developer is releasing its prologue — Nova Hearts: The Spark — as a free demo on January 25, 2024, and RPGamer was given the chance to check it out early.

Nova Hearts follows Luce, who returns to live with her mother in her home town of Vermillion after her previous year goes awry. Fortunately, her childhood friend Will and another former acquaintance in CJ are there to offer much welcome support and at least let her hit the ground running socially. During a party that the trio attends, where Luce can rekindle her connection with an old flame, a mysterious light suddenly appears. This is followed by the sudden appearance of hostile furry creatures; however, Luce and her friends also gain apparent superpowers that they use to fight back while the chaos goes on. Meanwhile, Luce receives a number of mysterious text messages seeking help that claim to be from someone from Luce’s past who has been forgotten by everyone. Lasting around an hour, The Spark does a good job setting up the story, setting, and protagonist trio, as well as its gameplay cycle.

Between main story events, Luce can use her phone to chat with acquaintances.

Nova Hearts plays out as a mixture of dating sim visual novel and turn-based RPG combat. Between story events, Luce can send and reply to messages from the people she knows, as well as use a couple of informational apps. Relationships will play a key part in the game. Lightbulb Crew promises players lots of freedom with potential entanglements, and that’s apparent early on as players are able to decide whether or not Luce seeks to revisit her childhood crush and/or express interest in other characters. Many of the responses offer a visual indication of how it might affect Luce’s relationship with the relevant character.

After the events of the party, the game introduces turn-based combat intro proceedings. Battles are entered into automatically over the course of story events. The prologue features a mixture of regular battles against fluffball foes, finally culminating in a boss fight against a more powerful story-related foe. Combat uses a timeline system with the party trio of Luce, Will, and CJ taking their own places alongside each of the enemies. Each member has their own set of powers to use; most of these have a cast time, but there are some more powerful abilities that can be cast instantly, such as Luce’s all party heal and CJ’s temporary shield. However, the instant cast abilities in the demo can only be used once per battle, adding an important layer of strategy.

Combat is turn-based, utilising a timeline system.

It’s worth noting that healing options, at least in the demo, are very restricted, but the party is fully healed after each battle. There are a couple of battles featuring a second wave of enemies, though the single heal on offer is still enough to get by with a decent strategy. Status effects and timeline manipulation look likely to play key roles as the game goes by, but the basics are intuitive and easy to get the hang of. The games provides relevant information for players to plan and potentially react, showing the planned target for any moves being cast, and players can choose to push back an action as they wish, which allows for special combos to come into play as well. For each battle won, the party is rewarded with experience points. These points can be spent upgrading one of the party’s abilities, such as causing more damage; in the prologue at least, new abilities are granted in the course of the story.

The visual presentation is pleasingly vibrant, with a bright palette that offers pleasing backgrounds, couple with nicely distinctive character designs. The battle effects use a limited number of frames to pull off an effective comic-style flavour that naturally blends well with the superhero theme. The UI fits well with the art style, and there’s a nice dichotomy between the story events and more chilled out phone-driven parts inbetween. There’s no voice acting in the demo, but the music is decent catchy and should hold it in good stead for the full release.

The Spark offers a useful glance into what lies in store for players. The relationship system looks to offer plenty of freedom for players to build their bonds in different ways, and there are plenty of mysteries lying waiting to be uncovered, from the personal to the world-defining. Meanwhile the combat is easy to get to grips with but offers enough strategy for players to keep their minds engaged. RPGamers will be able to experience Luce’s full story when Nova Hearts launches this summer.


Disclosure: This article is based on early access to a demo of the game provided by the publisher.


Alex Fuller

Alex joined RPGamer in 2011 as a Previewer before moving onto Reviews, News Director, and Managing Editor. Became Acting Editor-in-Chief in 2018.

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