Romance is an oft-ignored subject in video games, especially as a major component and within the indie field. Sure, there are dating sims/visual novels that focus on everlasting love, but those are generally niche in demographic and don’t offer much in terms of gameplay. I’m alluding to more of a complete experience involving romance, and I can’t recall any good example in the gaming medium. This is part of what makes Half Past Fate so alluring, as it provides an indie touch to a rarely-pitched concept. Romance… except with gameplay!
The topic of romance is also something I’ve historically found myself captivated by. Even as a child, interpersonal connection of the highest caliber is something has that enveloping warmth that always makes an impact. All of the qualities were here: presentation, uniqueness, indie freshness, multiple controllable characters. What was left to ensure was whether it all came together to evoke that familiar passion of soul. Even if it should fail in this department, there should be plenty of ways this game could make up for it, right?
Per my own expectations, my priorities were set on two things: romance quality and gameplay variety. The “Story” section of this review will mostly focus on the former, while the later “Gameplay” section will cover the latter. This is not to insinuate that this is all I focused on, or that these are the only qualities that matter. It’s just that these aspects were what I looked forward to gauging when starting the game.
Half Past Fate primarily focuses on six characters, intertwined by circumstances that bring them together at regular intervals. Rinden, Milo, Bia, Ana, Mara, and Jaren are those that fate has chosen to play in Cupid’s game. To some extent, these characters actually have reason to be in each other’s lives, such as Bia and Milo beings friends with Mara’s sister. As such, these characters will overlap in various arcs dedicated to one or two such characters. Like a smorgasbord of personality that builds until one only sees themselves.
As far as I’m concerned, Jaren is the true star of this game. Half Past Fate and all of of its indie glitter is created on the back of Jaren’s sheer likability. His goofy antics and generally passive attitude on life suits the dreamy atmosphere of the plot better than most others. Especially nice that he is the character one sees most often (or am I looking too hard?) throughout the adventure. It’s only a shame that despite the well-paced build-up he goes through to rekindle with his fated partner (Ana) that it never feels as though they were meant to be. This would end up being an issue with a majority of the couples.
The story is split among chapters, where the player controls a specific character and experiences a glimpse of their reality within a given timeframe. One is an eight-year span, another is about a week, and the last is only eight hours. To provide spoiler-proof generalizations, the shorter the timeframe, the less effective the romance is. Of the three couples, those that have the shortest amount of time with one another have the least chemistry.
Rinden and Mara are especially confounding—I got absolutely nothing from them. They call each other cute, but are generally brought together by tension and frustration, with romance seemingly thrown in as an end point. Jaren and Ana don’t fare much better, as the two have one afternoon together, and then Ana goes M.I.A. for much of the remaining plot. Only Bia and Milo have any sort of romantic foundation, brought together one fateful day, allowing their relationship to boil over multiple years.
This does not always correlate to the characters on their own, fortunately. While I found Rinden rather dull, the rest have a particular charm to them provided by their demeanors and passions. Jaren, as noted, is clearly the best and brought a smile to my face with every cameo appearance. Yet outside of him, Bia and Ana (when she’s actually shown) also prove for likable leads, and a variety of minor characters also give life to an otherwise disappointing romantic venture. At the very least, I had a decent time connecting with their mindsets.
Half Past Fate‘s romance was something that took time to develop, though its indie-esque gameplay was almost immediately apparent. While not as limiting as visual novels, there isn’t much required to play through each chapter. Embodying these characters puts the player in their shoes, doing things they find paramount to each scenario. Of these scenarios, all roughly translate to a blueprint of “Talk to person → Find thing → Return to person.”
As a small, but relevant aside, I replayed Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door a few years back. In my revisit, I came upon the realization that, aside from the base combat system, that game relied very heavily on fetch quests. This amounted to every chapter seemingly blending together, only with different coats of color. Find the objective, fight some baddies, collect the stuff, return to base, battle some bosses, etc. If not for the satisfying combat system, I’d find the journey rather trivial. Half Past Fate‘s gameplay is basically this… without the combat system.
Expectations should certainly differ between these two games, I’m aware. This is an indie game that focuses on slice-of-life, while the other is a blockbuster title from one of the world’s largest game companies. Even so, with as repetitive as fetch-quest-central gameplay can be, it requires other aspects to hold up their end of the bargain (perhaps more so). This, unfortunately, does not do so, limiting the potential impact this could have by doing very little with the “game” vibe. Should this not thwart you, and Paper Mario‘s out-of-battle specifications are to your taste, this will definitely satisfy.
Graphics & Audio
Far and away the best part of Half Past Fate is in its graphics, especially impressive for an indie team. As a pixel-art connoisseur, I was blown away by the amount of detail in the environments and settings. Animated beautifully as well as constantly moving, a lot of commitment was placed into making this as life-like as possible. Of course, people don’t have lines for eyes, but that’s a small convenience I can afford them. This might be the best-looking indie title I’ve seen in years, in terms of sheer aesthetic detail. Even the oft-ignored penchant for diversity in people is noteworthy, which is always pleasant to see. While faults in the objectives frequenting the worlds may persist, it could be worth it to explore to the full extent to see what visual flair it has to offer.
With the auditory elements, it isn’t anywhere near as impressive. Of course, this experience doesn’t necessarily need a bopping, high-variety soundtrack. The essence of life and romance typically suits itself to more soothing, ambiatic tracks that calm or enrapture the mind. Half Past Fate does this adequately enough, just not in large spurts. I vividly recall one track that seemed to play throughout a majority of the game, while another more tensile track played during, well, appropriate moments. Otherwise, it didn’t seem to leave much impact on me. For what stuck, it was a decent mix of poppy exuberance and familiar rhythms that reminded me of Peach’s Castle, for whatever reason. Nothing groundbreaking, but passively gracious.