Recently my editor asked me to review Bionic Heart 2, either because she really enjoyed my review of the first game or actually hates me with a passion, possibly because I’ve started coming over to her apartment 5 out of 7 days of the week and encouraging her fiancé to steal her socks. I told her I’d do it in exchange for alcohol, and then remembered that she’d oh so kindly bought me a jar of moonshine just the week before. Well if ever a game deserved something above 30 proof to play, this series was it, so I broke out the ol’ shotglass again, downloaded Bionic Heart 2, and gave it a shot (literally and metaphorically, if you’ll pardon the pun). Dear editor, I hate you, and you owe me another quart of moonshine for this.
Bionic Heart 2 begins with Tanya the psycho cyborg locked up in police custody, which frankly after the events of the first game is probably the best place you could put her. She reviews the events of the past few weeks, which I’m reasonably certain was the “true ending” from the original visual novel (VN) that I never got around to playing because Bionic Heart was awful and should be crucified for the dishonor it brings to the visual novel community. Apparently Julia Storm (the other murderbot from the last game) was, in the true ending at least, sent to seduce Tom, Luke’s best friend (a difficult feat, since Tom was apparently sleeping with Luke’s girlfriend Helen in multiple routes of the last game and had a crush on her in the others). Julia was supposedly killed by Tanya, and then Tanya bought several I.D.s on the black market and stuck Luke, Helen, and Tom on a secret spaceship to a super secret space colony on Mars (why no one questions a space shuttle leaving the planet with passengers and overshooting the moon each flight is a mystery for another time). Tanya is captured shortly thereafter, presumably around the same time that Helen is on the shuttle and being drugged by Luke and Tom so she can’t fight being taken off Earth. Moving to the sequel, Tanya begins the game by breaking out of a police station, and from there things really go to shit.
Let’s start with some of the improvements to the game, because Winter Wolves deserves some praise for the changes they implemented in Bionic Heart 2. The music works, has multiple tracks, and is pretty good. There is no voice-acting at all, so I don’t have to complain about that not working. The backgrounds look sooo much better. There’s actual detail to them now, they’re numerous, and I feel like the artist spent more than 15 minutes doodling them. The sprites are also much-improved; the women look like women, and both men and women have detail and shading now. However, similar to my complaint with the first VN, many of the characters only have one sprite, who is occasionally flipped over in a mirror image to change its pose slightly (not good enough, Winter Wolves!) The only characters who merit additional sprites are the women, presumably so that the artist could show off how much they’ve improved at drawing skimpy outfits and cleavage. Regardless of gender, their faces are flat as a pancake, and the expressions on them are copy-pasted from the first game (much like Othello the cat’s one and only sprite). Also, whatever bogus language they used to translate “New Athens” as “Atina Nea” was an insult to anyone who understands Latin or ancient Greek (like this reviewer).
See how quickly the list of improvements devolved into complaints? That should tell you something about this VN. Three hours of playtime into Bionic Heart 2 as a reviewer felt like being a medic on a Civil War battlefield three days into the fighting, having been constantly bombarded by the stench of misery and howls of human suffering throughout the entire experience, and now having to decide which gangrenous limb among thousands deserved the first cut of my hacksaw after the whiskey and ether had both run out.
The writing is, once again, shit. The first scene of Bionic Heart 2 involves you playing as Tanya, handcuffed in the police station with Rob and Tina, the officers from the first game, trying to interrogate you. You insult Tina, and then somehow manage to convince her that a suicide from a year ago was really a murder. Suddenly a fire breaks out in the archive room (how, in a futuristic society where nothing can be recorded on paper since real trees no longer exist on Earth?), and no, the game never revisits this issue. The plot-device fire leaves Tanya alone with the other cop, Robert, who naturally assumes that since she is a woman and he is a man, sexual attraction can save her. Tanya seduces and then headbutts him before making her escape, and the scene ends there. If you think for half a minute the writing improves after that episode, you’re sorely mistaken.
Honest to god though, I can see that they at least tried with this story. The reader constantly switches from character to character, bouncing between London and the Mars colony as Luke’s group tries to stay hidden, Tanya tries not to be captured, and officer Tina tries to figure out what the hell is going on. Plus rather than focusing entirely on Tanya, nanotech, and advancements in robotics within a single company, now there’s a whole angle about how the advanced technology of Mars could fix Earth but the Martians don’t want to, so you get into questions about human nature as well. On paper, that sounds like an awesome way to keep the story exciting and introduces some natural points at which to pause the visual novel for the day each time the POV switches.
But frankly, the writing is boring, bogged down with characters bitching to one another about how they can’t trust each other for this or that, and as always is laced with Winter Wolves’ not so subtle suggestion that all men are misogynistic pigs who suck at understanding loyalty or female emotions, and most women are overly-emotional things who need men to protect them and/or calm them down. SPOILER: I kid you not, at one point Rob tells Tina, his capable and brilliant partner of god knows how many years, that he took a bribe from Nanotech so that he could marry her and have her settle down to stay at home and raise their kids. And this scene was meant to be romantic. If there is a stronger phrase for that than patronizing sexist bullshit, please, dear editor, find it and type it about a dozen times here in all caps, and you’ll get a rough idea of how insulting I found that scene to be. End spoiler
But the biggest issue is that the writing just comes across as juvenile. At least in the first Bionic Heart you could write off the central plot issues as just one asshole running one evil company, and the characters you met might have negative character traits but still possessed at least one redeemable quality. In the world of Bionic Heart 2, all corporations are bad, all rich people (especially the ones on Mars) are murderous sociopaths, the colony on Mars very obviously drew its design from Rapture in Bioshock, as in:
- everyone living there was hand-picked to join the secret colony by its founder, who
- felt that his government wanted him to give them for free what he’d invested his own money into, and
- if you’re not a brilliant cutthroat entrepreneur with a massive superiority complex who openly hates welfare programs, then you’re the scum of the human race.
Also, the vast majority of the characters are one dimensional with only one or two character traits. It’s like someone sat down and laid out this great story about cyborgs and intrigue and murder, but lacked the skill to execute it in a good manner and tried to draw on ideas from other sci-fi and romance stories they’d grown up playing or hearing about. Again and again while reading, I kept thinking that I should be drawn into this story (and a few times I really was), but most of the time I had to force myself to keep going. It just didn’t interest me.
Speaking of good concepts but poor executions, apparently just giving Bionic Heart 2 a variety of dialogue choices wasn’t enough to hook the average visual novel reader, so now they’ve added these segments that, I shit you not, are called social boss fights, complete with spinning title to announce their presence every time you initiate one (though I think you can shut that part off by turning off the hint system). Basically, you have to pick a series of correct actions or dialogue options within a limited timeframe, either to fill up a meter in so many steps or complete your task before the full meter runs out, and often in a specific order. The big issues with this mechanic is that it was clearly intended to add suspense to the story by forcing you to guess and make your choice, but it fails to add anything to the VN but more frustration.
Previously I’ve complained that Winter Wolves’ games are awful about letting you know as soon as you make a dialogue choice whether it improved or damaged your relationship with a character because of the relationship meter. In the social boss fights (my god, who thought that was a good name?), if you make the wrong choice, you can just scroll up with the mousewheel and use process of elimination until you figure out the right order. There’s no suspense because you can immediately rewind and correct any errors you make. I was able to seduce Rob at the beginning of the game by just rewinding my choices until I’d figured out the proper order necessary to make him grope Tanya. Why bother? As a final complaint, the game crashed on me ten seconds into my first playthrough, and from then on I was saving after every choice like someone was paying me to do so.
Overall, I did not like this visual novel. The art and the music improved (somewhat), there were more characters (but often appearing briefly and one-dimensional, sadly), the story was longer and had more variety to your options (no real complaints there), but that wasn’t enough to save a VN with a heavy-handed message, weak writing, and the fact that most plot problems seem to have been ironed out with cold-blooded murder. Maybe it seems like I’m being overly critical of Bionic Heart 2, but that’s because it’s an original English language visual novel, or OELVN. I’m one of those people who loves Japanese visual novels; I squealed for joy when the Grisaia series and Clannad got adequate Kickstarter funding for a proper English translation and release. The best way to make sure that more Japanese VNs get translated and sold here is to show that there’s an interest in VNs in the U.S., and often that means seeing how people respond to already accessible OELVNs. Frankly, it wouldn’t surprise me if people whose first experience with an OELVN was Bionic Heart 1 or 2 chose to condemn the entirety of visual novels as boring and obnoxious. These VNs have to be held to a higher standard, which stories like Juniper’s Knot or Rising Angels: Reborn either meet or come close to meeting. Games like the Bionic Heart pair just give other VNs a bad reputation.
Bionic Heart 2 was picked up in the same bundle that gave me Bionic Heart, so I have no idea what the game actually costs. I don’t care what it sells for, and I will not tell you who sells it. Don’t buy it. It’s not so bad that it’s good, it’s just bad. An open mind will not make this VN better. Six shots of moonshine will not make this VN better. Nothing would help this series except a new writer and a fundamental overhaul of how Winter Wolves perceives character depth, plot development, and gender relations. Please dear reader, just walk away.