We are seeing a sense of growth, when it comes to Nintendo Switch otome games. The system is starting to find a niche for itself, especially with companies like D3 Publisher, Idea Factory and Digimerce porting over existing titles to the system. The OperaHouse and Digimerce titles are ones that may give some pause. If you play in Japanese and can understand the language, things are fine, but the English localizations range from adequate to difficult to understand. There are sometimes trappings left over from the mobile versions, such as a UI that relies on touch-screen controls or preset routes. But with Iris School of Wizardry: Vinculum Hearts, the company’s latest worldwide Nintendo Switch otome release, we are seeing some positive growth.
One way in which there is a bit of progress comes from Iris School of Wizardry: Vinculum Hearts’s story. The game stars a young woman who wants to be a mage and has her heart set on attending a prestigious school. She hopes that, in so doing, she will make her deceased parents proud and come closer to finding out who murdered them. While the “young woman attends a new school and suddenly every attractive male classmate is a love interest” concept is hardly new in the realm of games, the execution is handled well here. The heroine is not exactly a shrinking violet or always passive. She is intelligent, is not afraid to show off her smarts and abilities, and tends to act. There is a bit more agency here, which is appreciated.
We also have a bit more diversity among the cast. Our heroine’s roommate, Ashley, seems to be transgender. The script makes it seem as though she and the world around her are just figuring out her gender identity, as she notes the school still has him listed as a female for this year and she is assigned as the protagonist’s roommate as a result. However, she dresses as a man and suggests she is more comfortable in that role, while referring to herself with female pronouns. Our avatar is fine with Ashley being her roommate and even notes that she gives her butterflies in the same way that Clyde, one of the bachelor options, does. (Ashley is not a romantic option.) In a segment that appears shortly after Ashley’s introduction, class president Clyde does suggest that perhaps the heroine might feel uncomfortable rooming with Ashley, but it is quickly resolved, as both the heroine and Ashley are fine with the arrangement.
The voice acting direction also shows a level of care present in Iris School of Wizardry: Vinculum Hearts. The “main” character, Clyde, is voiced by Tetsuya Kakihara. This is an actor who has worked in anime (Natsu in Fairy Tail), video games (Jin Kisaragi in the BlazBlue series), and has released four mini albums as a singer. We also have people like Kazuyuki Okitsu, who played characters like Jonathan Joestar in JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Phantom Blood and provides the Japanese voices for Overwatch’s Lucio and Marvel’s Spider-Man’s Peter Parker. But what is especially notable here is, again, Ashley.
Ashley is not a romance option and is essentially a very prominent NPC, but a major voice actress named Mitsuki Saiga was brought into voice her. She is pretty much an industry icon at this point. She has been in anime series and video games, while also singing in the band Mitsuki Saiga feat.JUST. You might know her as .hack’s Tsukasa, Peacemaker Kurogane’s Souji, PriPara’s Hibiki, Xenoblade Chronicles 2’s Morag, the Bravely series’ Tiz Arrior, Overwatch’s Zarya (in Japan) and The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky’s Joshua Bright. Other NPCs have similarly famous actors behind them. Iris is voiced by Nobuhiko Okamoto, who also played Katsuki in My Hero Academia, Karma in Assassination Classroom and Daichi in Devil Survivor 2: Break Record. Atsushi Miyauchi, who voiced Demetrius, is not as well known his anime and game roles, but does Japanese voice overs for English-speaking actors in live-action movies, often taking on Mark Ruffalo’s Marvel Cinematic Universe roles for Bruce Banner and sometimes stepping in to provide the Japanese voice acting for Christian Bale and Karl Urban.
Like Ayakashi Koi Gikyoku, Iris School of Wizardry: Vinculum Hearts suffers from some translation issues. There are times when it is possible to understand what is going on. Sections with dialogue tend to be better. But, there are also moments where the translation is lacking and in need of a second set of eyes. It is easier to understand than Ayakashi Koi Gikyoku, where there are some moments where the localization makes it difficult to tell what is being said unless you can actually understand Japanese and understand what the voice actors are saying, but there are definitely moments that will leave English speakers flummoxed.
Iris School of Wizardry: Vinculum Hearts shows a sense of progression. There is a bit more care to the story, giving players a heroine who has a bit more oomph to her actions. The NPCs are a little more interesting, and they have stronger voices. The localization is even a bit better, though there are some times when it can falter. There is still room to improve and grow here, but it seems like the OperaHouse and Digimerce Nintendo Switch visual novels could be getting stronger.