Love Flute is the latest visual novel with casual simulation gameplay from Korean developer TALESSHOP to get an English localization. TALESSHOP first hit my radar when I gave their previous entry, The Blind of the New World, a try. I quite liked that, and so I was eager to see what their newest game would offer. Let’s take a closer look.
A Ghost and a Goof
Love Flute opens with broke university student Hanseol (you can change his name if desired) contemplating selling his prized keyboard for rent money. Hanseol used to regularly busk around the university campus, but never found much success and is just about ready to hang up the ivories for good. But then he hears a mysterious voice: “don’t sell it…” And on the heels of the voice, a strange girl with a flute materializes, floating in midair! The ghostly flutist, Yae-eun, explains to Hanseol that he can’t sell his keyboard because they must perform together. It’s the only way to fulfill her han—settle her lingering regrets—and allow her to move on to the afterlife.
While Hanseol is understandably skeptical of this sudden interloper, Yae-eun doesn’t give him much choice in the matter. Hanseol soon relents, but the pair find fulfilling Yae-eun’s han isn’t as easy as they had hoped. In the meantime, Yae-eun becomes a fixture of Hanseol’s daily life, following him around to work and school. There’s never a dull moment with Yae-eun. Whether trying to be helpful or entertaining herself by causing mischief, she’s the type to dive in first and figure things out as she goes. Yae-eun can lay it on heavy with the teasing and be quite petulant at times, but she also has an infectious energy and it’s easy to see why Hanseol finds her inspiring and captivating.
Besides Yae-eun, the other major character is Yeonwoo, an oddball girl with her head in the clouds and a disturbing love of puns. (Major credit to the localization because wordplay is hard to translate and her puns are impressively cringe-inducing in English.) She first appears before Hanseol claiming that he’s in danger and needs unspecified “help”, and proceeds to stick to him even as he at first tries to brush her off. Despite her weirdness, she’s actually quite sharp and quickly catches on to the fact that something unusual is going on with Hanseol. Yeonwoo’s low-key demeanor provides a contrast to the more rambunctious Yae-eun yet still has a quiet expressiveness that makes Yeonwoo fun and memorable.
Hanseol is your usual everyman protagonist. He attends university, works a part-time job, and seems average in most regards. His defining trait is his connection to music—his initial frustration over his lack of success and, in time, the bonds he forms with Yae-eun and Yeonwoo over their shared experiences. He’s not the most interesting guy, but he works well as a foil for Yae-eun. A great deal of their relationship evolves from how their experiences as musicians are similar or different, and this connection pushes Hanseol to take action when the chips are down.
Facing the Future
Once the characters have made their entrances, Love Flute’s early scenes focus on slice-of-life. Yae-eun and Yeonwoo might visit Hanseol at school or work, go shopping with him, or busk together on the local streets. It’s lighthearted and silly, full of jokes and situational comedy that shows off the girls’ charm. And I thought that’s what Love Flute would be: a light, fluffy slice-of-life experience built around a pair of cute girls. So I was surprised when the second half turned out to have some serious drama. There’s more to Yae-eun than her carefree smile, and the story delves into her history and how the truths within will test our band of friends. It wasn’t what I expected, but in a good way. I was impressed by how much emotional weight Love Flute brought to its climactic moments.
Love Flute has four possible endings. The true, good, and normal endings branch from the final climax. Both the true and good endings provide fitting conclusions to the story and thoughtfully consider the implications of the different paths the characters might take. I suppose “true” here suggests canonical, but the choice could just as well be left to the reader’s imagination. The normal ending didn’t go the way I expected based on earlier foreshadowing and was surprising in a strange way. There’s also a bad ending that can branch off at any earlier point if you completely fail the simulation portion of the game. Because the bad ending can occur at any time, it feels generic and suffers from a lack of place. However, it’s difficult to do poorly enough in the simulation portion to reach the bad ending unless you actively try.
My one complaint about the story is that it tends to fall back on worn tropes when it focuses on music itself. Music is a process of practicing to hit the right notes and then feeling the right way while performing. True art can only come from pain. Music is a form of emotional communication. Love Flute has little to say about music beyond the usual cliches. Music isn’t always about feelings. It can be about focus, money, challenge, intellectual pursuit, or any number of other concepts. Yet in Love Flute we get none of that nuance. The use of music in the story serves the drama well enough, but Yae-eun’s struggle and her connection with Hanseol could have had more impact if the vision of music weren’t so one-note.
Not So Tough Crowds
Love Flute includes casual simulation gameplay that follows the group’s busking career. Between story episodes, you busk to earn money, and you can spend this money to purchase room upgrades that increase your busking income or instruments that increase your subscriber count. You also need money to unlock story episodes, but not very much, especially compared to the cost of upgrades. You only have 60 busking sessions, and in theory you could fail to earn enough money to buy all the story episodes. If this happens, you trigger the bad ending. However, in practice, it’s almost impossible for this to happen unless you try to fail.
The busking simulation has almost zero depth. Every room upgrade has the same small effect regardless of price, while the effects of instruments differ only in magnitude. It’s one of those situations too where you busk for money to spend on stuff that lets you earn more money busking. The minigame is a closed loop besides the small sums you occasionally pay for story episodes. You do get to see the various room upgrades decorate Hanseol’s living space (and it’s kind of funny that he throws so much of his stuff on the floor), so players who like the collecting aspect may find some enjoyment. And you do need a nontrivial number of subscribers to unlock various side stories about the band and the true ending. But most of your growth in the busking simulation comes from choosing to perform higher level songs, and these are unlocked automatically as you hit certain subscriber or story milestones.
I don’t think the busking simulation is substantial enough to warrant its central placement in Love Flute. It is so easy and mindless that you can mostly ignore it if you want. However, sometimes story episodes end at climactic moments, leaving you hanging until you click through the busking menus enough times to earn the money you need to start the next episode. Since there’s no challenge or strategy, this just serves as unnecessary downtime that hurts the pacing. I think the busking simulation would have worked better as an optional minigame. Players who enjoy decorating Hanseol’s room could focus on that. It could also be tied to the side stories so there’s some incentive to tempt story-focused players into giving it a try. The main story stands just fine on its own, and the busking only serves as an annoying interruption.
Art and Sound
The art and sound design in Love Flute mostly focus on fleshing out Yae-eun and Yeonwoo. Both have detailed sprites, and I especially like the generous use of lines and shadow effects that give the art a sense of depth and texture. There’s a good amount of event CGs too, but they tilt heavily toward Yae-eun, so Yeonwoo fans might feel slighted. Hanseol even has a face which is always nice to see. Though it only appears in one CG.
Yae-eun’s and Yeonwoo’s lines are all fully voiced. Both VAs did great work, and I particularly enjoyed the subtle playfulness of Yeonwoo. Yae-eun’s voice fits her character too. Her lines have a mercurial, catlike quality to them. I didn’t have strong feelings about the music, though it is fun to pick out the various BGM tracks in the busking minigame once you unlock them. It would have been nice to have something with a little extra kick for the big performance scenes, but I wouldn’t say the music is bad. The one thing I didn’t like was the sound effects. These are often used to punctuate jokes but come off as tacky.
Love Flute is a short visual novel that focuses on its cast of three characters. It took me about 5 hours to finish the main story. There’s nothing wrong with this. Love Flute is the right length for the story it sets out to tell, and the $9.99 price is fair for what you get. I do think a few additional touches could have made Love Flute feel more like it looks at a small slice of a larger world though. For example, Hanseol’s boss at his part-time job is just called “Manager”. Why not give the man a name? Presumably Hanseol knows his boss’s name and giving him a name makes him feel more like a real person in the story world who has his own life going on offscreen. “Manager” makes him sound like he’s there only because he has to be for the scene to make sense.
Love Flute tells an intimate character-driven story that has more to it than you might think. The simulation gameplay lacks depth, but if you like collecting things you might still enjoy it, and if you don’t, you can mostly ignore it. If you’re in the market for a short visual novel I’d recommend giving Love Flute a look.
LOVE FLUTE IS RECOMMENDED
Many thanks go to TALESSHOP for a PC review code for this title.
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A veteran of Oregon Trail and Battletoads, Wes has been playing and talking about games for as long as he can remember. He’s down to try almost anything, and he especially enjoys games with gripping narrative experiences.