Winner of several visual novel game awards, If My Heart Had Wings is a romance title centring around a high school glider club known as the “Soaring Club”. It is a touching story about loss, love and passion that grips you right by the soul from beginning to end.
Like many visual novels, a large part of the game is falling in love with and then dating the girl of your choice. If My Heart Had Wings is rather strong in this regard as it has a diverse and well-rounded cast. There is Ageha, the childhood best friend character who is transitioning from tom boy into a popular girl; Amane, an eccentric genius who has repeatedly failed her senior year in order to remain in the Soaring Club; Asa, the cute, excitable (and totally inept) freshman; and Yoru, Asa's twin sister and seemingly polar opposite.
However, the main girl of the story, Kotori, is by far the most interesting character in the cast. While in some ways a typical tsundere character, she -- like the cast of 2012's excellent Katawa Shoujo -- has a physical disability, namely the loss of the use of her legs. Much of the story centres around her dealing with -- and striving to overcome -- her disability while at the same time looking at the psychological effect on a teenage girl of losing the ability to walk.
The player character, Aoi, also has a physical disability (a messed up knee); and while it does not affect his everyday life, it does prevent him from pursuing his passion, cycling. It is through his understanding of their respective losses that he is able to get her to open up little by little.
Loss is the central theme of If My Heart Had Wings -- be it physical or emotional loss -- and each character is used to explore that concept in their own unique way. From there, the story looks at the dilemmas stemming from loss -- like the difference between “making a fresh start” and “running away from your problems” and the difficulty of finding a new passion in life.
Another strength of If My Heart Had Wings is how it takes an obscure hobby, in this case gliders, and over the course of the game educates you about it. You learn about everything from basic aerodynamics, to glider flight, to the actual process of building a glider. And along with the personal and emotional stakes of the story, these sections of exposition are not only interesting but also often serve as vital plot points as the story goes on.
Like many Japanese visual novels, If My Heart Had Wings had several explicit sex scenes upon its original release in Japan. However, all of these scenes have been cut wholesale from the game and additional nude or risque scenes have been heavily edited in the Western version.
Some of these edits result in scenes that seem silly in context -- like a girl inexplicably wearing a full body towel while bathing alone (and holding a separate bath towel) or describing one of the female character’s “big round eyes” while the camera and spoken Japanese dialogue are clearly focused on her chest.
Still, edits or no, the meat of the story itself seems largely unaffected by these cuts and its emotional resonance remains superb.
When it comes to the visuals, I generally enjoyed the overall art style of the game, but there was one glaring exception. For the most part, the game is told via a collection of 2D character models over 2D backgrounds. However, from time to time there is a scene of the glider flying -- and for some reason the glider is, unlike nearly every other model in the game, a 3D model. Simply put, the styles clash. But even more than that, because of the pixelated edges, the model already looks dated.
What's odd about this choice is that there is already a fair amount of clever animation in the game -- shaking the screen and changing the cockpit view during take-off or watching the dotted line on a road pass underneath you as you ride a bike, for example. So there's really no reason the glider needed to be an ugly 3D model.
But despite the occasional out-of-place 3D model or odd bit of censoring, If My Heart Had Wings really is an excellent visual novel. If you enjoy a good, romantic, slice-of-life story from time to time or have ever dreamed of flying above the clouds, this game won't let you down.
If My Heart Had Wings was released for the PC in English on June 28, 2013, and can be purchased at MangaGamer.