Review: Sympathy Kiss

20 Feb 2024

One thing I like about video games today is their range. And by that I mean you can find titles that fully cater to adult players, and the themes found within these games can open you to new perspectives. A great example of this the game we are looking at today: Idea Factory’s new otome game, Sympathy Kiss.

Sympathy Kiss is marketed as an office romance with an inside look into Japanese work culture and seems to be Idea Factory’s step into a more realistic adult setting for their romance series. It is set to release on February 27, 2024, for the Nintendo Switch.

Developers of Love

Sympathy Kiss’ story focuses on Akari Amasawa (this is the default name the game gives the heroine but it can be changed if desired), a designer at an app development company called Estario, who is moved to a new department because of her outstanding designing skills. The stated goal is that Akari and her team are in charge of revamping “Estarci,” Estario’s namesake app which is currently at risk of being shut down unless it gets a serious overhaul.

However, despite Idea Factory’s attempt to push this as the main narrative, the game’s actual focus can shift a lot depending on which story route you choose to follow. That isn’t to say there isn’t overlap between Akari’s work and her love interests, but each guy has their own story that sort of takes center stage and, to be honest, the job aspect can feel secondary a lot of the time. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing as the shift to different focus points kept the routes from feeling repetitive. 

As far as the cast goes, it can best be described as generic and unique at the same time. This is because there are the usual otome tropes, but every guy’s persona is also specifically tailored to fit the environment Akari finds herself in. Their personalities are also quite fun despite being typical of what you would normally find in romance games. 

You have Mitsuki Saotome, the loudmouth, over-hyper menace with personal space issues. Kohei Minato, the man who literally gives you nothing…no, seriously, no words until he starts to like you. Yuji Kobase, the boss we all wish we had because he’s hot and kind of domineering in an “I’ll take care of you” sort of way. Rokuro Yoshioka, the princely rich-boy type everyone swoons over. Nori Tainaka, a homeless man/sugar baby (this one was a new one for me despite being an otome veteran). Shuya Usui, the owner of what appears to be the ONLY restaurant in town. And another mystery love interest I won’t mention for spoiler reasons. 

If I’m being honest, I found the writing in Sympathy Kiss to be rather bland in some areas. Initially, I was really excited to explore what life as a designer for an app company would be like and figured I would be able to resonate with Amasawa’s character as a person in tech myself, but that never came to fruition. Perhaps part of the reason for this is that Akari herself doesn’t have much of a personality. She reacts to her environment and is reduced to a person with no agency besides being useful to whatever guy she chooses to pursue. Her responses and drive simply aren’t there and, when they are, they are not expressed well. She’s also a doormat in most of the scenarios where she should be stepping up. The only thing consistent about her is that she is kind of a horndog, but even that is tip-toed around in the most childish fashion as if she wasn’t a fully grown woman. 

Akari’s character aside, the routes themselves can be a bit cliche and in some cases borderline problematic. They are generally about six chapters long but for most the story tends to drag on. Tired tropes are introduced that feel very childish for adults working in such a serious industry. Some can be engaging, like in Kobase’s case where his background takes center stage and the issues he deals with are very real, but in other cases I found myself asking why grown adults are behaving the way they were.

There was one route in particular that was BEYOND problematic and, honestly, jail for whoever wrote it. Especially because the only option given (to achieve a good/love ending) is for Akari to forgive the person involved and stay with them, which is absolutely not what should’ve happened there. I’m disappointed such a concept was even allowed to play out in this sort of game.

Despite my criticism, I wouldn’t say Sympathy Kiss is a bad game. It’s just a little lackluster compared to what it could have been. It does, however, shine in the things it does right. As I mentioned, the characters are fun and the group interactions between the team, particularly Saotome and Minato, always brought a smile to my face. The characters that I liked (like Oe, Akari’s best friend and the only other female member of the team) I REALLY liked. And the ones I hated and never want to see again, I REALLY hated. Overall, I just wish Idea Factory had actually explored the concept of an office romance more thoroughly and given the heroine a chance to be more than a cheerleader to her male counterparts. 

Sympathy Kiss’ gameplay is nothing new or groundbreaking. In fact, it’s pretty standard for an otome game. There are text choices to select from when prompted. Idea Factory did spruce up the presentation a bit by changing text choices to an emoji system but that felt more aesthetic than anything really engaging.

What I did like about this system is that, based on your responses during questions that involve it, the love interest will change their behavior to suit Akari’s taste. For example, at one point Kobase asks her if she likes her coffee black or with cream and sugar. You can tell him you prefer your coffee black by smiling or state you dislike it by frowning. If you say you like it, he will prepare your coffee black for the rest of the game. This is a cute way to show the love interests are thoughtful and care about you, but I feel a text choice could’ve accomplished the same thing. 

There is also a “texting” app called Riing where you can communicate with the guys via messaging. This is not at-will though and only happens when prompted by the story. It’s still a choice system where you pick between two dialogue options and doesn’t happen very often so I wouldn’t really consider this a different mechanic but rather just another aesthetically pleasing way to present your options.

The only other thing of note about the gameplay is the mode known as “switching.” It’s exactly what it sounds like. The story’s point of view switches from Akari’s to whoever the love interest is. You get some nice insight into each guy and their motivations. This happens naturally as the story unfolds but there are also hidden episodes which didn’t feel all that hard to unlock.

All the otome staples are present as well. There’s a gallery to view the beautifully animated scenes, a logbook to re-read conversations, and a few other QOL things like a dictionary for common terms and the ability to backtrack to whatever part of a conversation you want.

No Photoshop Needed

Sympathy Kiss is pretty. The character designs are gorgeous and the artwork is top-notch. I found it interesting that, despite the more realistic corporate setting, the men have a wide range of looks that come off as very anime. Still, I don’t mind the stylistic choices at all and really liked how everyone looked. Honestly, I kind of lived for every time I unlocked a new cutscene. Especially because they tended to be dynamic and have multiple variations to them.

The voice acting and soundtrack were also on point. Each character had a fitting voice and I especially loved when they became more soft-spoken when speaking with Akari. Kobase was a good example of this, as his harsh work voice softened over time the more he started to like her. The only thing I wasn’t a fan of when it came to the voice-acting was the fact that they chose to act out the kissing parts. There’s just something kind of off-putting about listening to someone slobber into a mic. 

I did like the use of the music, however. During crucial or beautiful scenes they overlapped some of the voiced songs with the dialogue and it always fit incredibly well. I was a big fan of these moments, as well as the opening and ending themes.

One thing I am disappointed in and feel compelled to point out is the grammatical errors I found throughout some of the routes. I was a little surprised because the game is overall extremely polished. Given how nice it looks and sounds, I didn’t expect to find spelling errors in the text, but there are definitely a few in there. Not enough to be a problem, but given this is the finished product I was beyond surprised.

This section still gets a pass though. Both aesthetically and audibly. 

Application Successful

Given that it’s my first otome game in a while, I am glad I got a chance to play Sympathy Kiss. It’s a good step into more of the mature themes I want to see in the romance genre moving forward. The characters are nice to get to know, if not a little cliche, and aside from one very problematic route I enjoyed my time with each of the guys I got to know.

If you’re a fan of beautiful artwork, good music, and good voice-acting, I would definitely pick this up. However, go into it with realistic expectations. The MC can be a bit bland and the writing can feel childish at times, but this isn’t to such an egregious point that you won’t be able to find enjoyment in the series as a whole. It also has great replayability with seven routes, each with multiple endings.  

I always become so happy when I get to play a modern otome game. It’s amazing how far the genre has come and I am absolutely looking forward to what Idea Factory puts out next.

~ Final Score: 7/10 ~

Review copy provided by Idea Factory for the Nintendo Switch. Screenshots taken by reviewer. Featured Image provided by Idea Factory.