If My Heart Had Wings is a visual novel developed by Pulltop, first released in Japan May 2012. Moenovel released an all-ages English language version on June 16th, 2013. For the sake of this review I’m covering the official, unmodded product as released by Moenovel.
After If My Heart Had Wings received a rough reception from western visual novel communities, I took it upon myself to check it out. My goal was to try and give Moenovel’s original release a fair shot with an open mind, and provide an honest review of my findings. I won’t be going into much detail about Moenovel itself; if you want to read my thoughts on their approach to the market you can find them here.
We start with Aoi, our protagonist, reminiscing about a terrible accident: he injured his knee during a race for the Cycling Club. Just like that his days as a cyclist came to an end. After moving back to his home town he met a young wheelchair-bound woman. Together they watched the skies as a glider flew overhead. Watching that glider set into motion events that eventually led both of them to join their school’s Soaring Club.
Aoi also works as the live-in dorm “mother” for an all-girls boarding house. Yeah, this visual novel is like that. Before you storm out, let me remind you that this is an all ages release, supposedly renowned for its storytelling! Truthfully, that storytelling comes on strong from the start. Sadly, it’s also littered with painfully awkward translations. It was hard for me to get past the poor English while diving into this visual novel, but before long I found myself beginning to enjoy the story despite its flawed localization.
If My Heart Had Wings is broken into two pieces. The first piece involves the protagonist becoming the dorm “mother” of The Flying Fish Manor. The young wheelchair-bound woman also lives there. Together they join the Soaring Club, and help restore the broken wings of their school’s glider. The second piece takes place the next summer, where Aoi begins a romance with one of five heroines. Three routes are accessible from the start and two more are unlocked by finishing another route. Completing Kotori’s route unlocks Amane’s route, and completing Asa’s unlocks Yoru’s route.
The choices are straightforward. Simply pick the heroine you want to spend time with. Some choices will end up unlocking other choices. For example, you could play through Asa’s route first if you wished, but you must spend time with Ageha at some point or some of Asa’s choices will be greyed out. This sounds complicated, but there are no more than five to six choices on any given route. Ultimately, you won’t have put much thought into it.
If My Heart Had Wings is a slice of life story about getting back up and moving forward with your life. It takes shape by providing a glimpse into the events of the Soaring Club and the daily lives of its members. The cast quickly fall in love with the sky after finding a beautiful photo taken by the Soaring Club around thirty years prior. The photo depicts a rare cloud formation known as the Morning Glory.
A brilliant student named Amane has spent years looking for an opportunity to experience riding a Morning Glory. In the past, a friend of hers named Itsuka promised to take her flying over one; however, before Itsuka could keep her promise, she vanished after becoming involved in a gliding accident while Amane was away in America. Cut off from Itsuka, Amane took it upon herself to complete that promise on her own. Now she works tirelessly to rebuild the glider so that she might be able to experience riding a Morning Glory and fulfill her friend’s dream.
Amane is a strange girl who has always had a hard time relating to others. Her goal of riding the Morning Glory is an opportunity to answer life’s difficult questions. Before she became friends with Itsuka, her world was black and white. Everything had a correct answer, and Amane found the world boring because of how easy it was to understand and predict. Itsuka’s friendship changed that and now the Morning Glory represents Amane’s last chance to find what she lost when Itsuka disappeared.
Aoi is moved by Amane’s story and her dream to ride the Morning Glory. He joins the Soaring Club along with his childhood friend Ageha and fellow boarder Kotori. Bound together by Itsuka’s dream, they restore the glider and go flying in hopes of seeing that cloud formation for themselves. Of course, no story is complete without a bit of drama. One of the teachers still blames Amane for Itsuka’s accident and disappearance from the school. Bent on ending the Soaring Club once and for all, he does everything in his power to stop them from flying.
Kotori’s story continues with the theme of finding something for yourself and getting back up when the world pushes you down. Kotori was crippled in an accident and has felt isolated since then. Normal everyday activities became impossible for her, and her old friends began to keep their distance. She was close to giving up all hope when she found Itsuka’s flight diary in her room. Inside was a record of Itsuka’s daily life and a checklist of things she wanted to do. One of the items on Itsuka’s list was to ride the Morning Glory.
Flying becomes a metaphor for Kotori, one for moving forward with her future and accomplishing something beyond her disability’s societal limits. If My Heart Had Wings does a good job of framing her disability as a obstacle to be overcome, and not just a crippling defect. She has given up on love after her accident, and even normal friendship is not something she expects. Her attitude and several years of isolation cause her romance with the protagonist to be cute and innocent one. The emotional hooks at the end of her route are well laid and pull at all the right heartstrings. Both tragic and heartwarming, Kotori’s route is a memorable tale of overcoming grief and refusing to give up hope.
Amane’s route follows her transition into adulthood and coming to terms with an old promise she made with a passed friend. Amane often refers to herself as an “idiot”, something Itsuka used to call her. Despite her intelligence, she feels stupid because she can’t easily understand the emotions of people. Amane’s “genius” allows her to get away with many things no one else could, but even she has her limits. Before she met Itsuka, everything Amane did was calculated and lifeless. Now, she tirelessly chases after Itsuka’s promise to show her a scene that would touch her heart, but can she find it before time catches up with her? The way Amane warms up to Aoi creates one of the cutest romantic couples I’ve seen in years. She brings a perspective to the table that is both wise beyond her age and uniquely childish.
Amane’s age is never explicitly stated, but judging from what we are told, twenty-eight to thirty years makes the most sense. Needless to say, she’s been a repeat student at her school for far longer than would normally be allowed. I found it interesting that this wasn’t really a point of drama for the romance. It was refreshing to see a romance with an older character that isn’t too cheesy or cliche. If My Heart Had Wings has many flaws, but despite those I am grateful to Moenovel for Amane’s route. Her growth from a brilliant, but passionless girl into a warm, passionate adult is a real joy to experience. For me personally, this is the best type of romantic experience you can get out of a visual novel.
Ageha is Aoi’s childhood friend, and the two of them were inseparable before he decided to chase his dream as a cyclist. Before he left, he confessed his love to Ageha and was shot down. Now, five years later, they have both matured, but Ageha still blames herself for pushing him away. She isn’t comfortable with entrusting her emotions to him or anyone else. Because of the gap this creates between her and Aoi, her story is a very physically involved romance. The two of them are clearly attracted to each other in a physical way, but any emotional bonding or development between herself and Aoi are things Ageha is afraid of.
Frankly, this is the weakest route of the visual novel. The story just kind of meanders after her route starts. Their relationship is very physical and equally shallow. Their physical “bonding” is established with a kiss and the plot jumps about dramatically trying to sell a story about trust. It feels unnatural and the relationship seems superficial and pointless. Ageha does get in some good emotional hooks toward the end of her route, but the middle portion feels like a disconnected mess. Despite likable characters and fun antics, it’s a chore to get far enough into Ageha’s route to reach the good bits at the end of her story.
Asa and Yoru
Technically, this is two routes in one. It might be be more accurate to say the visual novel has five-and-a-half routes, as this one has its own split. Asa and Yoru are twins who come to live at the Flying Fish Manor after the time skip, and they join the Soaring Club shortly afterward. They are first year students who come from a wealthy family, and their grandfather is the chairman of the local academy. Feeling out of place in a family filled with brilliant and wealthy people, Asa wanted to move away, and Yoru came with her because she couldn’t leave her twin alone. The two of them both have life lessons to learn from flying, and quickly become friends with the rest of the Soaring Club.
Asa has a cute romance with the protagonist, but everything it does is done better in Kotori’s route. The real excitement with the twins comes from turning down both of them. When Aoi blows them both off, Yoru comes up with a proposal to make everyone happy, and soon Aoi finds himself dating both of them! You might think things would get cheesy after that, but for better or worse their relationship is played out in a surprisingly serious way. Yoru is basically a mini-Amane and raises some good intellectual questions as she learns to enjoy flying; however, this just made it feal like a repeat of Amane’s route, only sillier and not as good. At the very least, it did introduce me to a beautiful piece of poetry: “Nothing Gold Can Stay”.
If My Heart Had Wings boasts 27 tracks, including the opening and ending themes. Thankfully, Moenovel translated all of the song titles in their gallery. There’s a decent mix of sounds, ranging from sad violin to funky drum effects to more uplifting electric pieces. Most of the music isn’t something I would listen to outside of the visual novel, but it’s great mood music. It never fails to enhance the emotion of any given scene, and thanks to the wide variety of sounds it never feels tiresome.
The best bits of the music are the tracks that are reserved for play in the glider; the music really comes to life when the characters leave the ground. My favorite tracks are 08 SUMMER-Time of life, 18 Open the Wind and 24 Morning Glory. I like the upbeat bits the best, but there is something majestic about track 24. The soundtrack is great because of the way it matches the scenes. It is something you are likely to notice and appreciate as you progress through the visual novel, even if you don’t want to rush out and listen to this music on its own merits.
Clocking in at sixty nine unique pieces of art, If My Heart Had Wings is nothing short of gorgeous. On top of the artwork included in the gallery, there are also many beautiful drawing of clouds and the sky. Characters are expressive and full of personality, both in the sprites and event scenes. Of particular note, I especially love the facial expressions. The background artwork is equally impressive, with little details like a teapot in the back of a garage helping the world to look full of life. This is easily the prettiest visual novel I’ve experienced.
The 3D CG effects are my one complaint. A glider full of jagged lines soaring though an otherwise beautiful sky can be a bit ugly to look at, and there’s no option to turn on anti-aliasing. I think it would have looked better if they had stuck with drawings of the glider instead of making a model, but this visual novel is so pretty I found myself forgiving of the issue. Even the shots of the 3D glider floating through the air managed to grow on me in the end.
Voice acting is one of If My Heart Had Wings‘s strong suits. Silly antics make up a good portion of If My Heart Had Wings, and the cast is a joy to listen to. Everyone aside from the protagonist is voiced, even the spriteless classmates and male friends. There isn’t a single weak voice in this cast. The audio quality is top notch and even the annoying male friend is well acted.
Special mention needs to be given out to the actresses of Ageha, Amane and Kotori. All three of them managed to pull off fantastically emotional and believable voices for their characters. Ageha’s bro-tastic personality gains a lot from her voice work, despite her route’s problems. Just hearing the scene where Amane tears up is enough to move me, and the way she calls herself an idiot feels genuine, instead of just a silly joke. Her enthusiasm for Aoi’s cooking also brings a lot of life into her character. The little nuances in everyone’s voices give an extra breath of life to their characters and help bring an extra level of immersion to the story.
The choices in this visual novel always directly relate to which heroine you will spend time with. There are only five to six choices per route and none of them unlock any special event scenes. The only real obstale you must overcome is deciding which heroine you want to get intimate with.
If My Head Had Wings has many more save slots than you could ever need and even includes multiple quick save and auto save options. The skip feature is fast and choices are infrequent. The only point where will you will need to spend time in the save menu is when you want to turn the visual novel off.
Excessively Romantic Content
The original Japanese release for If My Heart Had Wings was an 18+ title. In order to “reach a wider audience”, that content was cut and the original story was adapted into something new. Contrary to some rumors, Moenovel did not cut out all of the kissing. Lips are never shown touching, and sometimes they just fade to black, but characters do kiss on screen… Sometimes.
Honestly, as far as making a proper “all ages” adaptation goes, Moenovel didn’t cut enough. For example, the bathing scenes need to go. One is a silly scene where the girls sit around comparing breast sizes and guessing at which one of them Aoi has a crush on. The only impact this has on the plot is for Amane’s route, and it’s unnecessary because Amane tells Aoi about it in a completely straight fashion. The other bathing scene involves Kotori falling into the bath while somehow magically maintaining a towel around her body, even though the characters can clearly see through the towels they are supposedly wearing. At which point Aoi barges in to help her and asks another girl to bring Kotori… you guessed it, a towel so she can cover up.
Simply put, Moenovel’s use of the English language is not good. Their translation is extremely literal, and romance is lost in what were potentially good, poetic lines. The subjects of many sentences are placed at the end of long pieces of verbose text, forcing the player to read many sentences twice in order to understand them. Semicolons are used incorrectly, tenses are inconsistent, gender pronouns and honorifics are mistranslated, word choice is awkward, commas are abused to force sentences to work, and the whole thing is full of obvious typos. In Ageha’s route the English is sometimes so jumbled it might as well be a machine translation. This localization is so bad at points that it stretches beyond poor translation and becomes what I can only call bad writing. English is simply not meant to be used this way.
On the bright side, the removal of erotic content causes minor issues at worst. Ageha’s route does fall apart and that might be part of why it is so awkward, but the rest of them work moderately well without it. Amane and Kotori’s routes are adapted especially well, but while Asa and Yoru’s routes work decently enough, they feel a bit more disconnected from the rest of the cast and central storyline. I imagine the erotic content worked to keep their routes from becoming boring in the original, but it’s possible their story just wasn’t very good to begin with.
Despite its many flaws, I managed to enjoy my time with If My Heart Had Wings. There are beautiful, heartfelt stories to be found here, buried in an awful translation. In the end I don’t regret my purchase, and I hope others will give this visual novel a fair shot. I also hope Moenovel will bring over the fan disk, as I’d love to spend more time with this cast. More Amane can’t be a bad thing, even if I do have to wade through some Engrish to get it.