Fureraba ~Friend to Lover~ is a little unusual for a visual novel. With mechanics closer to a dating simulator in some ways, NekoNyan’s first published title tells four romance stories of friends to lovers. But while each heroine’s route is on the same theme, they all start in very different places.
Dreaming of a Beautiful Romance
Our nameable protagonist, Kyousuke by default, starts the story by stating his wish for a girlfriend. He even makes a public declaration to that point. Unfortunately, as visual novel protagonists often are, he’s an unremarkable specimen. With average looks, average grades, and no confidence, his chances of finding love don’t seem too high. It probably doesn’t help that he’s an overly dramatic goofball who hangs around with a loudmouth idiot and a pretty boy with a lizard fetish.
But it all starts with that decision. There are certainly some lucky coincidences, but he decides that he will find a girlfriend and he starts spending more time talking to the girls nearby after that.
There isn’t much in the way of a serious plot in Fureraba ~Friend to Lover~ though each heroine has a storyline. It’s primarily a slice-of-life romcom with frequent silly events and time spent on dates. It does have the odd serious moment, but more often it’s jokes about Kyousuke’s fetish porn collection, the student who can only say ‘Mochoppi’ chiming in, or one of the protagonist’s friends getting insulted. The jokes didn’t always land well with me, being a little too over the top. Instead what kept me invested was the scenes of that slow transition from Friend to Lover that this visual novel does so well.
Rina – The Classmate
Rina is perhaps the most obvious example of starting as friends. She’s been classmates with the protagonist for years and they get along well. At the start, he almost thinks of her as one of the guys in some ways, even making jokes about porn and trading video games. She gets along well with everyone though, being quite outgoing and popular.
As time goes on we do get to see a more feminine side. Rina’s route shows that even though the protagonist has known her for a long time, there’s still plenty more to learn. It’s also the only route where we see her thoughts on the protagonist’s relationship with another heroine.
Rina’s route felt like it was the one that stayed on the title’s theme the most.
Himari – The Long Lost Childhood Friend
The small and cute Himari was the protagonist’s childhood friend, but they’d lost contact due to certain events. While feeling quite awkward around each other after suddenly getting into the same class, both families want to push them together again. Though with them both being useless to the point of it being dangerous when cooking, their future meals may suffer.
This route had some rather sweet moments about that shared history and connection remaining, even if they hadn’t spoken in a long time. While it started with them feeling like it’s been so long they don’t know what to talk about, I enjoyed seeing little moments that showed that as they became close again. At one point Himari managed to shock the protagonist with something from their history, which caused him to reevaluate his own feelings. The storyline connected to it did have a couple of minor twists, but it was fairly straightforward.
Yuzuyu – The Sudden Encounter
After a chance encounter, the protagonist meets the beautiful and kind Yuzuyu. Unfortunately, he ruins his first impression by coming off as a pervert and she shows that she’s actually quite aggressive and foul-mouthed. After she joins his class, he soon finds out that she’s quite aggressive towards everyone and not well-liked in class because of it.
I liked Yuzuyu’s character development at first as we got to see her slowly open up. Her storyline involves mentoring an enthusiastic younger girl in her swimming club, despite just wanting to swim alone. As we get to know her, she lowers her barriers somewhat and starts to fit in more, which I enjoyed seeing a lot. That said, near the end, she seemed to change from a lively and harsh heroine to a far more soft-spoken girl in love, which felt a step too far from her original character.
Misaki – The Mysterious Beauty
Misaki is a rather interesting one and my personal favorite. Soft-spoken to the point of being meek, her signature move is poking the protagonist to get his attention rather than speaking up. She’s an upperclassman, but quiet and adorable.
It’s possible to never meet Misaki when playing Fureraba ~Friend to Lover~. Not only is she the only heroine in a different class, but her friends actively try to stop the protagonist from meeting her. One wrong choice made and it even cuts off the possibility.
Her route involves how people see her in a certain way and coming out of her shell somewhat. She’s very much the attached loving type who finds friendship very important.
Following the Formula
One downside of Fureraba ~Friend to Lover~ is that it is somewhat formulaic until getting onto a route. This is mostly due to the gameplay, but it also does reuse several similar ideas such as free tickets to take someone on a date and a visit to the water park. The structure is the same throughout too, with a common route generally followed, but the chance to trigger several special heroine events by getting closer to the heroines and daily conversation events until the chance to confess your feelings appears.
While the gameplay itself contains standard visual novel choices, the way to get closer to the heroines is through the conversation system.
For each conversation event, you can choose from any of the available heroines to spend time with. This lets you choose a conversation category and topic twice per event. So for example, you might choose hobbies, then ask what they think of recent TV shows. This could be received positively or negatively. Occasionally it offers follow-up branches too.
Heroines often have specific areas they’re interested in mentioned in the story. Yuzuyu for example loves swimming. That said, not every swimming-related topic will be a hit with her. The way the system works, that category won’t refresh with new topics until all topics are used or a heroine event has happened though, so sometimes choosing an average or bad one is helpful to open up more. There’s no real way to know which are good sometimes. If only trying to open up one heroine’s route at a time, it’s reasonably easy even with some wrong answers anyway.
While formulaic, this system does recreate those little often unimportant conversations between friends. As you get closer new topics open up too, which helped add to that feeling of deepening the friendship.
Fureraba ~Friend to Lover~ is the oldest of SMEE’s titles that NekoNyan has localized with the original Japanese release in 2013. This does show in a few ways.
Unlike more recent SMEE titles such as Making * Lovers or Harem Kingdom, it’s missing some convenience features such as skipping to the next choice or next event. In the conversation system, it’s also not possible without using the backlog to go back from a category when selecting it and finding no topics you like, which seems like an oversight. It also has a plain start-up screen without those nice extras like the characters appearing.
That said, the options are good overall. There are quite a few options around text, including font choice, color, and so on. Some fonts occasionally cause text to be cut off but that’s expected considering that it lets you choose even non-standard fonts. Individual character voice volumes are included too which is always nice.
Fanservice and More
Fureraba ~Friend to Lover~ can be bought on adult storefronts such as Denpasoft for the full experience or via Steam and then a free 18+ patch applied. That said, there’s also a DLC fandisc that isn’t available via Steam.
It contains the occasional fanservice scene with wet t-shirts and panty flashes, but most of the lewd content is in the sex scenes themselves. It’s primarily vanilla scenes, though one scene did involve a non-standard act involving a certain heroine’s long hair.
In one case, I liked that it showed the MC not just as consumed by lust, but actually putting his partner’s needs first when she wasn’t ready. It handled it in a rather sensitive way for a moege, especially one where the protagonist’s porn collection is referenced more than his feelings.
There is no mosaic censorship in the adult or patched version.
Graphics and Sound
With approximately 80 CGs not including variations, there is quite a lot to see throughout the four routes. The majority are adult ones, so anyone playing the censored version will be missing out on most. There were a few times I was a bit iffy about how characters look at certain angles, but there are some beautiful CGs in there too. Sprites come with a variety of expressions and naked variations too. There’s even a hairstyle variation which you can choose later on.
There are 27 audio tracks in Fureraba ~Friend to Lover~, including the vocal OP and ED. It was fine, but I can’t say anything particularly stood out here. It felt very generic for the genre.
The visual novel is fully voiced aside from the protagonist. Voices generally fit the characters well. One thing that did stand out here is Yuzuyu’s voice seemed to change quite a lot when her personality softened, almost to the point that it felt like someone different. It does make sense with how she changes herself so much though.
With much of the time spent on that transition period from just friends whether new or old and the conversation system simulating it, Fureraba ~Friend to Lover~ feels like something a little different than most visual novels. Even if the comedy doesn’t always land, I think most will enjoy spending their time getting to know these heroines and becoming more than friends. If nothing else, Misaki is just precious — play this and you’ll fall in love with her.
FURERABA ~FRIEND TO LOVER~ IS RECOMMENDED
Many thanks go to NekoNyan for a PC review code for this title.
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A gamer since the days of Amstrad and DOS and someone who has dabbled in a variety of professions. He enjoys a wide variety of genres, but has been focusing on visual novels and virtual reality in recent years. Head Editor of NookGaming. Follow him and the website on @NookSite.