Review Visual Novel

Dear Mom: My Letter to You – Demo Preview

Currently on Kickstarter until mid-October, Dear Mom: My Letter to You is a slice-of-life social sim and romance visual novel by indie developer Mangoku418. It follows the story of Ayame Kawasaki, an 18-year-old high school student who lost her mother to suicide one year earlier. After having shut herself away during her year-long absence from Yamada Hoshi High School, she now braves her first step to reintegrate back into society and rebuild friendships.

Dear Mom: My Letter to You, initially known as “Kawasaki Project”, has been in development since 2020. While I never tried the October 2020 alpha demo, I had the opportunity to take a look at the current Kickstarter demo.

A Promise of a Heartfelt Story

Topics such as the loss of a parent to suicide, mental health, and bullying are central to the story in Dear Mom: My Letter to You, so it would be advised to play with care. The demo begins with a disclaimer of the game being a work of fiction, and while this segment is surprisingly fully narrated, an additional list of applicable content and trigger warnings could have been more informative than a rather out-of-context “do take care of yourself” advice. 

For this short demo featuring the first eleven days of Ayame’s journey, it is too early to say how well the serious topics are handled. Nevertheless, I find the depictions of Ayame’s anxiety when she has to face people again after a year-long social withdrawal to be quite relatable. Her nightmares are twisted, a powerful albeit disturbing reflection of the worries and past events that continue to haunt her. But something that really made me uncomfortable is how Ginta’s encouragement for Ayame at the beginning sounds like he was downplaying her anxiety. I get that Ayame’s brother means well, even through his frequent sibling teasing, but I worry that toxic positivity may eventually manifest with the current way his dialogues are phrased. Another thing that I am concerned with is whether the game would further expand on the professional help Ayame had during her hiatus from school. From the look of things, Ayame has yet to completely come to terms with her mother’s suicide. While supportive family and friends play a pivotal role on her road to recovery, it is also kind of idealistic to depend on only them.

Humor is often sprinkled in the writing and is generally funny and appropriate. Scenes flow naturally and conversations between characters feel authentic, though some events and dialogues have a more dramatic flair to them. This mix of serious and goofy moments is fitting for Dear Mom: My Letter to You that has a high school setting and a character cast of mainly teenagers. Still, at times, the writing gets a little over-the-top and ends up making some parts feel slightly more forced than natural. For example, the few pieces of dialogue Ayame had with her childhood friend, Perrine, after the latter received a text message and subsequently excused herself are spelling out to players concretely in a rather excessive manner that, yes, something is up with Perrine.

Even though the writing has aspects that could be further improved, friendship events showcased in the demo are well-written. From the initial encounter to subsequent meet-ups, there is a natural, gradual development in the friendships observed. Especially when it comes to Ayame’s friendship with Miso, who has more events shown in the demo, I can sense it is going to bloom into something beautiful. If a memorable emotional story is the goal, then Dear Mom: My Letter to You is on the right track so far.

Living the High School Life

Dear Mom: My Letter to You is a social sim at its core with romance included. Both male and female love interests (LIs) are available for the female protagonist to pursue, and if the demo is any indication, there are going to be more female LIs than male Lis.

Romance is not shown in the demo where Ayame is just beginning to befriend people again. With each character’s individual friendship status with Ayame, though, it is going to be interesting to see how each pair would grow from friends to lovers. I have good feelings about Miso who is so bubbly and sincere about being friends with Ayame, but I am also curious about Miamo whom Ayame has a rift with.

Moving on, the game mechanics implemented in Dear Mom: My Letter to You are similar to games like Persona 4. Set in modern-day Japan, the game has a schedule that follows the Japanese school year. School days are from Monday to Saturday, with each day split into morning and night. Classes take up the entire morning of a school day by default. But otherwise, Ayame can choose from several activities to do throughout the day. After school, she can choose to borrow a book from the school library or walk home with a friend. At home, she can take a shower, read manga, water plants, and so on. Ayame can invite a friend out on Sundays too. So far, I am satisfied with the number and range of available activities placed in the game. Certain activities are accompanied by new dialogue each time, like how the librarian specifically chats about whichever book Ayame is borrowing, and this keeps each repeat of those activities refreshing.

Apart from her bonds with friends that she can strengthen via interactions, Ayame has character stats she has to build before she can gain access to certain events. For example, in order to be able to talk to her classmate Chip, Ayame has to ensure her charisma level is at least “Appealing”. Naturally, these stats are raised through doing specific tasks available to Ayame throughout the week. Clear tips and hints are provided at appropriate times too, so players do not have to guess too hard which specific stat they have to work on to progress past a juncture.

In terms of stats-raising difficulty, it falls on the easier end, which is nice as I would think Dear Mom: My Letter to You is supposed to bring tears to players’ eyes through a touching story instead of a frustrating stats-raising process. Currently, the stats-raising seems quite fair in its required effort and corresponding reward given. As far as I can tell from the demo, a visible effort is needed to raise Ayame’s stats to unlock friendship events, but not so much that it becomes a sad situation where Ayame kept giving and giving but got peanuts in return.

Nice Visuals but Terrible Font

Just as the writing reminds players of its setting in Japan through its regular use of Japanese terms, such as senpaikouhai, and kotatsu, the art brings people into the setting too. From Ayame’s home that contains a few Japanese-style furnishings to Yamada Hoshi High School’s school gates surrounded by cherry blossom trees to the students’ uniforms, there are so many details dropped inside the art that it would be difficult to forget the story is taking place in Japan.

Character sprites may not have animated eyelid and mouth movements, but they have a decent range of facial expressions, poses, and outfits. I especially appreciate the characters having a different outfit to wear outside on non-school days. Also, it has been absolutely entertaining to see Miso bobbing up and down as she laughs and Chip shaking like a leaf when he is thrown off guard. As for CG, there is just one in the demo, and I like the smooth coloring of the skin as well as the jewel-like eyes.

Dear Mom: My Letter to You has a user interface (UI) design that is clutter-free and generally pleasing to look at. The use of polka dots and stars in many parts of the design, including transition screens, bring about a sense of youthfulness. School is the other obvious theme in the design. Sub-menu screens are designed like a notebook, the iconic item associated with student life, and I love those colorful sticky note strips sticking out at the left side for jumping to different menu screens.

Another aspect of the UI design that caught my eyes is the conspicuous visual cues for indicating how much a selected choice has increased a character’s mood points. They appear as a cute icon of the character’s smiling face together with upward-pointing arrows. And very intuitively, the number of arrows correspond to the amount of mood points raised. On top of the abovementioned aspects, two other notably beautiful visual designs as seen in Dear Mom: My Letter to You demo are the mobile phone screen and the isometric location maps.

In spite of my overall good impression of the UI design, I find the default font used simply awful. It may fit the “school” aesthetics with its resemblance to handwritten words but it is terrible to read. More often than not, I thought the “i” was an “l”, so Ginta became Glnta and Pompeii became Pompell. I also mistook “w” for “v”, especially when the letter is in bold. Furthermore, there is no option to change the font; even Ren’Py engine’s built-in accessibility panel for changing fonts has been disabled.

Audio Aspect

Besides the Title Screen music, there are approximately 10 music tracks in the demo. Nothing in particular stands out to me, though I enjoyed the track that filled several scenes with a heavy ominous fog, and the other that bounces along to silly situations like a clown with good cheer.

Partial voice acting is featured in Dear Mom: My Letter to You, and I love how expressive every voice is, especially Miamo’s. Players can tweak the volume for each voiced character’s voice individually or turn them all off at once with the master voice volume slider. Those individual volume sliders have been pretty helpful as I have indeed found some voices to sound somewhat louder and therefore piercing to the ears than the others.

Sound effects (SFX) are sparse in the current demo, but the few that are used have fulfilled their purpose in creating the relevant audio experience to complement the written text. I am definitely expecting many more SFX to be present in the full game, though.

Final Thoughts

If there is any big reason why Dear Mom: My Letter to You may not be suitable for everyone, it will be due to its story that revolves around several heavy topics. Otherwise, the demo has shown promising elements, particularly in its groundwork for a steady build-up to a heartwarming tale and its fun social sim mechanics. These make Dear Mom: My Letter to You worth checking out.


Platforms: PC
Support: Kickstarter

Enjoy visual novels? How about checking out our reviews of Kinkoi: Golden Loveriche, Making*Lovers or Sugar * Style?

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