Exploring Visual Novels 7: If My Heart Had Wings

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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.

Hat knows what's up. No "mean" boys to be found... Only Aoi.

Hat knows what’s up. No “mean” boys to be found… Only Aoi.

First Impression

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.

I have to admit to being a bit jealous. I want a spiffy gardener duck.

I have to admit to being a bit jealous. I want a spiffy gardener duck.

Structure

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.

Which swimsuit looks best? That question has no good answer...

Which swimsuit looks best? That question has no good answer…

Story

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.

If you build it, they will come.

If you build it, they will come.

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.

I would be crying as well if someone translated my dream so poorly.

I would be crying as well if someone translated my dream so poorly.

Kotori

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.

Alas, Kotori has no time for love as she has already fallen in love with the sky!

Alas, Kotori has no time for love as she has already fallen in love with the sky!

Amane

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.

Amane actually has a warm personality, but isolation because of her own genius has kept her from realizing it.

Amane actually has a warm personality, but isolation because of her own genius has kept her from realizing it.

Ageha

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.

Ageha has a lovable personality, but her route is just a mess.

Ageha has a lovable personality, but her route is just a mess.

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”.

And then they all lived happily ever after.

And then they all lived happily ever after.

Music

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.

Next time I catch a flight I know what I will be listening to.

Next time I catch a flight I know what I will be listening to.

Art

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.

I would love to have this image as a poster on my wall.

I would love to have this image as a poster on my wall.

Voice Acting

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.

Cruising in style.

Cruising in style.

Gameplay

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.

This is probably more "exciting" in the original.

This is probably more “exciting” in the original.

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.

No lips are shown touching here, totally safe!

No lips are shown touching here, totally safe!

Localization

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.

This visual novel should come with a disclaimer: Many commas were abused in the making of If My Heart Had Wings.

This visual novel should come with a disclaimer: Many commas were abused in the making of If My Heart Had Wings.

Overall Value

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.

19 thoughts on “Exploring Visual Novels 7: If My Heart Had Wings

  1. I’m looking forward to playing If My Heart Had Wings…but i’ll be waiting for the fan retranslation before that ever happens. I’m not against removing adult content (Aselia the Eternal was fine, even excellent without it), but moenovel has gone a little too far with its changes in my opinion (or apparently not far enough in some cases XD).
    Still, it’s nice to know that the story is worth reading, since the graphic do look gorgeous.

    • I can’t blame you for waiting. This VN needs a patch pretty badly. It would be nice if Moenovel would fix it themselves. They talk about wanting to lead the way for visual novel localization and then give us this…

      • I think they have a great goal and I would fully support them if they were going to deliver complete, high quality products. If they want to go all-ages then that’s cool, but if they’re going to fully rewrite entire routes to do it then I won’t be buying from them. I’d love to try my hand at translating VNs, but I kind of need to learn to read Japanese first =P

  2. Ageha’s route is completely new content, which explains why it’s so weak. The original is rather charming and extremely well-written, as can be expected. It was definitely cut for being too explicit for an all-ages release, as the route focuses more on a friends-with-benefits relationship, and handles it extremely(?) tastefully. It’s just a shame to see such a terrible translation work on this gem of contemporary literature.

  3. Amane, 28-30 years old? Whoa, too much gap between her and Aoi there. We can say that she’s on the same age as An-chan. if both of them are new in their jobs, 23-24 years old should be enough.

    And I think Kotori’s route is irreplaceable. To me, Habane Kotori would always be Minase Aoi’s girl. It feels as if the whole story is for her sake, from the beginning. I almost succumbed to tears in the end of Kotori’s route. ;_;

    And now that you pointed it out, I know what’s wrong in Ageha’s route LOL Aside from all those “physical relationship”, one wrong aspect is Tobioka. In Kotori’s route, he’s this one ultimate villain, his acts are vile and spell a lot of trouble for the Soaring Club. He’s the one bloke you’ll want to brutally murder and mutilate until only the last of his atoms left.

    But in Ageha’s route, he’s too easy to get rid of. Even after taking the trouble of securing the crucial timing to disable the winch and coming to the secret base (at dawn) himself, An-chan stopped him too easily. Just like that. No significant aftermath. And Aoi won the argument with him too easily. And moments later the ending song began. And after that, the FIN sign appeared. *Areyouf*ckingkiddingme.png*

    • I wish I had kept my all math, but I didn’t and I can’t remember all the reasons why I came to that conclusion. There are a few funny quirks to the school. One of them is that it has 5 grades presumably starting at normal high school age. We can safely assume that it’s not a college because Ageha and the twins wouldn’t make any sense if it were.

      The other big age quirk is how long Amane stayed on at the school after she should have graduated. Then we time skip a year between the first and second part of the story.(and the real start of Amane’s romance) I know there were a few other reasons for pushing her age up that high, but I would need to reread it to remember them at this point. I will also admit that I could be wrong, ages are never explicitly stated. I should have kept my notes so that I could nerd out here better >_< Either way there is a moderate gap in age between Amane and Aoi. I can't really fault someone for finding that creepy at face value, but I thought there romance was pretty cute personally so I was okay with the age difference. Aoi acts older and more mature than he is while Amane acts childish when she isn't being all brilliant, it worked.

      I think it's the mark of a good visual novel when all of the routes work together to build up the same world and expand on its story. Personally I felt like Amane and Kotori's routes jived together like that. I am obviously a bit biased toward Amane, I really loved her route, but I enjoyed Kotori's story nearly as much.

      • As far as Amane’s age, if I recall correctly, in one of the route’s (I think it was Amane’s), it’s stated that Amane is twice Asa’s age. And since Asa is a 1st year, I think that’s equivalent to being an 8th grader here in the U.S.. 8th graders here, I believe, start the school year at age 13 (at around September?), and usually turn 14 by the end of 8th grade (which would be around June), or a couple of months after June. So, if we take what is said literally, then that would put Amane’s age at either 26 or 28.

        For some reason, though, it seems like it can’t be right, though, since I think it says in the story that she’s the same age as Hibari and An-chan. And I just find it hard to believe that An-chan is like 12 years older than Aoi, especially when it seems like they (as in Ageha, Aoi, Hotaru, An-chan, Ma-bou) all hung out together just 5 years before the start of the game. And when u think about it that way, that would put An-chan at about 21, and everyone else (except Hotaru) would be around 9 or so. Maybe it’s just me, but I have a hard time believing a 21 year old would hang out so much with a bunch of 9 year olds.

        Anyway, I could be way off on the Math here, and this is all assuming that their 1st year is like our 8th grade, and that Aoi was being literal when he said that Amane was twice Asa’s age. Maybe I’ll try e-mailing MoeNovel again, and asking? They did actually respond to the one e-mail I recently sent them on the same day or the next day that I e-mailed them. ^.^ If they answer back, I’ll post back with the shocking discovery! :p If u can call it shocking, anyway!

        P.S. I just completed all the routes, and right now, I just don’t know if I like Kotori’s, or Amane’s route the best. For me, they both had some epic scenes, especially towards the end of their routes. But Amane is easily the most charming for me, and thus, my favorite character!

        • If you hear back from them I would love to know! 26 to 28 made the most sense to me. That does make An-Chan a lot older than the rest of them, but I get the feeling he was always like an older caretaker type figure for their group which would make some degree of sense. Part of the problem with trying to make sense of things is that most of the info on him was in Ageha’s route which couldn’t even get their antagonistic teacher’s gender right.

          I’ve been told the main scenario writer covered Amane and Kotori’s routes and the rest were covered by other writers. Maybe the things said about Amane’s age don’t add up in the original either? I guess I wouldn’t be too surprised either way.

          I loved both Amane and Kotori’s routes. Amane’s wins out for me just because of how much I loved the heroine, but both made for a great story.

          • I apologize for necroposting here, but I’m just now getting back to the VN to try my TL tolerance again with the retranslation. They clearly say during the common route when describing the photograph, that it was taken 26 years ago before Amane was born. It’s in the CV voice lines as such so there isn’t really any TL technicality to dispute here. While i’m still reading and it’d be awfully premature to attempt to calculate an age — if nothing else, this seems to put a ceiling to educated guesses.

  4. Well, just saying that for me the BEST route in the entire game was Ageha’s. Played the Japanese Version and since the beggining this Route made me fall completely in love with her characther, who can be very interesting and lovely. And, besides that, her story cover a lot of Aoi’s past and this really worth watching;

    But, as 3pies said, if I’m not mistaken her Route was the one who receive the greatest part of the censorship, since it has a lot of dirty jokes (like she and Hotaru saying that Aoi only like girls with big “eyes”, if you know what I mean), and 7 differents H-scenes (in 3 moments) and if I can say, she was the Heroine that Aoi got “depper” in the ecchi moments. Unfortunatelly, her route is extremely dependable of these jokes and her relationship with Aoi to make sense, and all the cuts that MoeNovel had done just turn it into something poor.

    Saying that life, if you still have this game try to apply the Restoration Patch and play Ageha’s route again. I’m sure it’ll be a great experience.

    OBS: Sorry for the poor english, not my mother-language and I don’t practice it in years now.

  5. I just play IMHHW with restoration patch and I completely satisfied with it.

    Kotori’s route sure is the best route, her drama and climax surely well written. While Amane’s route is the most romantic route for me, the way their romance laid out was so different than any other routes and it made my sugar level increased sharply. Especially after playing the restoration patch, Amane’s cuteness was doubled (dat desperate confession just too much for my heart…)

    Thanks for your review of this VN and convinced me to chase after Amane’s route, it was worth every second of my life :DD

    • Awesome! Glad to hear you went back and enjoyed Amane’s route. She was a great heroine. I’ve been told that the same writer handled both of their routes and that makes sense to me considering how integral they both are to the central story. After having some time to reflect on the story I can say that Amane is one of if not my favorite VN heroine.

      • Wow I see, no wonder Kotori and Amane’s route is the only route that so different from the rest. Though I feel Kotori have much more love than the other casts but since Pulltop made Amane into such a lovely girl I guess I’m okay with it 😀

        Ahhh I wan’t to do something for you as a thanks for this review but I can only draw so if you want, you can ask me anything to draw, I will try my best to draw it xD
        Go contact me or visit my facebook page Saptra Studio if you interested, cheers! ^^/

  6. I’ve just finished IMHHW and its Japanese counterpart (still need to finish the added stories in the Sweet Love Patch) and I really enjoyed them. Ageha was my favourite heroine but my favourite route was Amane’s (she was my second favourite heroine). While the translation wasn’t great, it wasn’t horrible (I’ve read far worse translations). I’ll start Flight Diary when I’ve got the time and get Snow Presents when it comes out.

  7. This novel, Amane and Kotori routes leave the rest in the dust. After them was hard to play the others.
    I loved the restoration part! The cut content was very good. Amane 10/10

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