1bitHeart is a sci-fi adventure game from △○□× (Miwashiba). Unlike their previous work, this one does not have a particularly creepy atmosphere. However, it still has a strong focus on story content. While the game was originally a free to play title, it is now available on Steam with extra events. As someone who enjoyed the developer’s previous games, I was looking forward to this one.
*Key provided by publisher.
Shortly after 1bitHeart starts, protagonist Nanashi finds a girl in his bed which had been empty mere moments prior. When she says she has amnesia, he volunteers to help her recover her memories. However, upon learning that Nanashi is a shut-in without any friends, the mysterious girl suggests that they work on that instead. Driven by his desire to please everyone, Nanashi can not help but accept this proposal.
Of course, there is more to the story than that. There are rumours going around that someone has been hacking BitPhones. As these devices directly interact with the user’s brainwaves, that poses a serious problem. It is also a rather odd occurrence as the Master Program should be protecting them, and this program should be impossible to hack. Naturally, it is not long before the pair discover suspicious activity and end up on the trail of whoever is responsible for the hacking incidents.
Outside of the main story, Nanashi can talk to the world’s eccentric denizens and try to befriend them. Every unimportant NPC has their own story that plays out over a series of dialogue events. Most of these events are rather silly, and since the game has a large cast, there is an impressive assortment of gags present. Every discussion manages to be entertaining and the stories are short enough that they never overstay their welcome.
While every person in 1bitHeart is unique, Nanashi is particularly odd. Not only does he remain cheerful even as he hurls insults at himself, he also possesses the ability to see the world as numbers. In addition to knowing things like the measurements of everyone he meets, this power also lets him read minds if he has the time to do so. For reasons no one can fully comprehend, Nanashi has trouble keeping friends for extended periods of time. Still, most of the writing remains fairly lighthearted despite the tragedy lurking just beneath the surface.
A certain character in the game speaks in a mix of Japanese and English. Most of the foreign terms have enough context that their meaning will be obvious, but there are a few that could mean anything if you are unfamiliar with them. Still, these lines are never important, so missing out on them is not a big deal. Aside from that, there are just a few typos in this translation. Since every character has a unique way of speaking, they do not feel out of place on the rare occasions where they pop up.
The outdoor backgrounds in 1bitHeart look clean despite the low resolution. These screens have layers, so certain objects will appear in front of the cast as they navigate the streets. Each area also has its own limited colour palette which gives them their own distinct look while also helping the characters stand out. During conversations, the backgrounds become more abstract while retaining their colour schemes.
Every character has a distinct appearance as well. All citizens have BitPhones, but these devices come in many shapes and sizes which allows them to show off their own sense of style.
There are not many animations in the game beyond walking, but certain scenes have short comic book style art showing action. Overall, the art looks pretty nice.
Most of the music in 1bitHeart is royalty free. These tracks cover a large variety of genres, including swing, funk, rock, jazz, hip-hop, EDM, and more. While the selection is rather eclectic, most of them are rather catchy and I enjoyed quite a few of them. However, the game has audio balance issues. Songs get quieter during conversations, but they all have different volumes. Some get so quiet that they are inaudible unless you turn the volume up high enough for the sound effects to become dangerously loud. Currently, there are no settings to adjust. The publisher said they will look into this, but for now, this may be the game’s biggest issue.
The game also has Japanese voice acting. Each character has their own voice and at least two full lines of spoken dialogue. However, most dialogue is either silent or has short reaction noises. Many of these clips are about as quiet as the music, so they can be difficult to hear.
The gameplay in 1bitHeart consists mostly of dialogue events. As Nanashi investigates the hacking incidents, he will occasionally have to question people. This requires players to present the right topic at the right time to steer the conversation in the proper direction. If the player reaches the end of a conversation without presenting anything, the game offers a hint and the conversation starts over with no penalties. After a certain point, Nanashi learns to ask for more details on the current subject. This can unlock new topics and there are no penalties for asking when unnecessary. If Nanashi brings up topics that are out of place, his mind takes damage and his heart will eventually shatter. For those who feel they are not good with logic, the game offers an easy mode which identifies the correct topic to present.
Once I figured out exactly how these discussions work, I realized they are fairly similar to other games, particularly those involving lawyers who investigate murders. However, the mysteries here are far simpler and less thrilling.
Between chapters, players can go around and make friends with every minor NPC. This requires giving gifts to raise their affection. Every character has their own preferences, though there is also an item that everybody loves. Once a certain threshold is reached, dialogue events begin. Nanashi’s heart grows stronger with each friend he makes, increasing the number of chances players have to question people during investigations. Friends are also necessary for reaching better endings and unlocking a special post-game chapter.
To obtain gifts, players need to earn bits. Normally, this requires playing mini-games. The game includes both BiTetris and PuyoBits which are obviously copies of famous stacking games. In BiTetris, players must arrange falling blocks so that they form lines that stretch from one end of the screen to the other. Doing so causes the lines to disappear and the game’s difficulty to increase. PuyoBits has players arrange falling blobs to form chains of four or more of the same colour. The payout for each game increases along with the player’s score. However, there is also a secret spot hiding in the game that maxes out Nanashi’s supply of bits, making these mini-games optional.
I encountered a few bugs in the game. The game’s sprint function was unreliable. I often had to press it multiple times before it would finally engage. It may also be worth mentioning that neither sprint nor text skip appear to be bound to any gamepad button by default. I also got stuck during a side quest. During an optional friend event, players have the choice to explore part of a creepy house. I walked the entire length of every room multiple times but never found a way out or the item I needed. Since the game allows players to save anywhere, there is a risk of locking yourself into this area. Fortunately, you can still make friends without agreeing to venture forth.
I enjoyed my time with 1bitHeart. The audio levels have balancing issues and the gameplay is not especially exciting, but the writing is excellent. There is quite a lot of good comedy mixed in with the mysteries of the main story. The side stories are all entertaining as well, and there are plenty of them to go through. I would recommend this title to anyone who enjoys a good read, though those seeking engaging gameplay may want to look elsewhere.