When I say “romantic comedy” or “romcom,” what do you think of? Movies about goofy guys trying to pick up a woman way out of their league? Maybe an overly serious dude being taught how to enjoy life by a free-spirited girl who drifted into his life?
Romcoms are a staple genre in film, often completely steeped in tropes, but still popular enough that they show no signs of slowing down. People apparently can’t get enough of watching two people meet each other in cute and hilarious ways.
But what about the video game medium? Sure, there’s plenty of games centered around romance (especially with the recent upswing in visual novels), but I can’t think of any that really stick to the tropes needed to be called a “romcom.”
That’s where developer Serenity Forge comes in. With their latest release, they have attempted to bring the romcom experience into a playable form, crafting a title they say is influenced by films such as Love Actually and You’ve Got Mail.
Developed by Serenity Forge and published by Way Down Deep, Half Past Fate was released on March 12th, 2020, for PC and Switch. The PC version was played for this review.
Tales as Old as Time
Half Past Fate follows the story of three couples, with each of their tales taking place over a different span of time. First up is Rinden, the VP of an investment firm, and Mara, the owner of an energy company, in a story taking place over 24 hours. Next up is Ana, the daughter of a family that owns a tea ship, and Jaren, an employee at a game shop, as we see their relationship develop over a few days. Finally there’s Bia, a photographer from Brazil, and Milo, a film student, who play a game of “just missing each other” over the course of eight years.
Each couple’s individual story is rather short, going from meeting each other to dating in about two real-time hours. However, the game interweaves each couples’ stories with each other, with the main characters of one tale acting as secondaries in another’s. I don’t want to give specifics, as finding out just how each character relates to another was one of my favorite parts of the overall plot, but I can say that they’re woven together surprisingly well.
All three of the stories also touch on romcom tropes and staples as well. Rinden and Mara’s tale is one of coincidences, silly accidents, and misunderstandings, and easily the one I had the most fun reading through. Their tale balances each of their viewpoints the best, giving equal time playing as both Rinden and Mara. Despite taking place over the shortest amount of time, their relationship came off as the most honest and believable.
Ana and Jaren’s tale, on the other hand, was honestly my least favorite. Most of the plot focuses on Jaren trying to find Ana after their first meeting, as he accidentally smudged Ana’s phone number after she wrote it down for him. We only get to play as Ana once, being put into Jaren’s shoes every other time their story comes up. As such, there’s little-to-no exploration of Ana’s thoughts and views, which makes their romance ring a bit hollow in the end.
Bia and Milo’s story takes a while to get going. As mentioned, their story takes place over eight years, and every time the game gets back to them, a couple years have passed. It follows the trope of them never being in the right place at the right time to date, and winds up being the most emotional of the three tales woven here. Unfortunately, these two get the least crossovers with the other couples, leaving their character development somewhat lacking, even if their story contains some of the game’s best moments.
From an overhead perspective, the writing here is extremely charming and cute as all hell. Despite the short run time, Serenity Forge has managed to write memorable characters for the most part, from the main players to recurring NPCs. Between cheesy jokes, silly moments, and some heartwarming dialogue, I had a big stupid smile on my face throughout my playthrough.
Looking for Love in Some of the Wrong Places
While dialogue-heavy, Half Past Fate is more of an adventure game than a visual novel. The game plays out as series of short vignettes, jumping between characters and years, tasking you with solving what is essentially a short puzzle in each chapter.
Each section opens up with some short dialogue setting a goal, ranging from “prepare for a work presentation” to “try and set up a photo with friends.” Accomplishing these tasks involves exploring the environment, talking to people, and piecing together what tasks you have to do and what order they have to be done in to continue the story.
Distilling it down, Half Past Fate‘s gameplay is essentially a series of fetch quests. Talk to this character, find out what they need, go find it, but oops you need something else to get that item, so go find who has that item, and so on. I realize describing it like that makes the game sound boring, but these quests are relatively short and often punctuated with charming dialogue, making the pill easier to swallow.
I admit, as I neared the end of the game, this gameplay style started to wear out its welcome. Approaching the climax of each couple’s stories, I found myself wanting the game to just get on with it – skip the whole exploring for items thing and just let me read the story.
Just as I started feeling this way, though, the game was done. Half Past Fate doesn’t overstay its welcome, wrapping things up just as the gameplay started becoming tedious. That, I can appreciate.
All things considered, Half Past Fate is an attractive game to look at. The talking-head sprites are nicely detailed, with the character designs matching the personalities of each character quite well. In-game character sprites are wonderfully animated and expressive, although they occasionally look malformed (like when a character tilts their head to the side and suddenly it looks like one of their eyes is sliding off their face).
The actual environments are a blend of 2D and 3D; character sprites and a smattering of environmental objects are crafted in two dimensions, while the rest of the world each character explores is in full 3D. It’s a unique design choice, but it creates some unusual-looking moments, like when a character is driving a vehicle (a 2D sprite) around the environment.
The soundtrack…well, it exists. It’s mostly bouncy and upbeat, but there aren’t any tracks that I found particularly memorable. There are a few moments when the music will just suddenly and jarringly change without transition, usually when a twist or “reveal” happens in the story, which made these moments feel somewhat unpolished.
Overall, Half Past Fate is a bit of a mixed bag that hits more than it misses. Whilst the individual stories here are of varying levels of quality, the overall plot and writing was still enjoyable enough to carry me through to the end.
The core gameplay does become a bit tedious near the end but, luckily, the game wraps up just as that feeling starts setting in. If anything I feel like the game (and its artstyle) would’ve lent itself better to a visual novel style, what with how I found myself wanting the gameplay bits to end so I could get back to the plot.
Its budget price at launch ($15.99 on sale at the time of writing) makes some of the shortcomings easier to swallow. If you’re looking for a cheesy yet endearing romcom romp, something to tide you over between heavier narratives, Half Past Fate deserves at least a glance.
Review copy provided by Serenity Forge for PC. Screenshots taken by reviewer.