Release Date: October 11, 2018 (North America)
Developers: OperaHouse Inc.
Publishers: OperaHouse Inc., DIGIMERCE
Platforms: Nintendo Switch
ESRB Rating: T (Teen)
Fun Fact: The Nintendo Switch version for Iris School of Wizardry ~ Vinculum Hearts was initially released on August 2, 2018 (Japan). But the game has been around since the year 2014 as a mobile port.
STORY (from Vndb):
The Iris School of Wizardry, also known as ISW.
A school where girls and boys blessed with intelligence, talent, and economic fortune gather.
They say, getting into this school is exceptionally difficult, but those who graduate are promised a sparkling future as elite members of every important institution in the country.
The protagonist’ Aria’s parents died when she was a child, she spent her days taking care of her parent’s old rare bookshop and wishing she could someday become a fine magician like her father was. Then one day a letter came to her.
It was permission to enroll in ISW.
After the disastrous machine translations of Ayakashi Koi Gikyoku, I was so afraid this game will suffer the same treatment. ALRIGHT! SO…luckily, they didn’t do machine translations this time… However, the English subs were still faulty and I noticed some translation inconsistencies where in some routes you can technically understand each sentence while the others were left iffy and ridiculously awkward.
Edit: A recent patch update was released fixing the game’s English translations.
ART AND MUSIC
If you’re like me who’s a total sucker for gorgeous, shoujo manga art. You will love this game’s art style. ISOW Vinculum Hearts’ artwork was done by illustrator/mangaka Fujinami Mari. You’ve probably stumbled on some of her works such as “Erto bengoshi wa dokusen yoku no kakusanai” manga (エリート弁護士は独占欲を隠さない) and the recent R18 otome by A’sRing, Furue Yurayura to.
The game’s trailer had an OP song called “The Promise of the Beginning” performed by seiyuu Nobuhiko Okamoto (*´▽`*). It’s not available in the game itself, but if you want to listen to the song, a sample track is available on iTunes, or you can listen to the full track below!
Tetsuya Kakihara “Clyde King” – Victor Frankenstein (Code Realize), Karasuba (Psychedelica BB), Isora Amari (7’Scarlet), Shin (Amnesia)
Tomohisa Hashizume “Matias Archibald” – Ryoshi (Taishou x Alice), Liam Miller (Ren’ai Princess)
Yuuta Kasuya “Cyril Grundy” – Piece (Shinkyoku Soukai Polyphonica), Tomohiko Tachibana (Duel Love: Koisuru Otome wa Shouri no Megami)
Ryousuke Kanemoto “A-Jay Blackford” – Yuzu (Gunka o Haita Neko), Trias (Captain Earth)
Kazuyuki Okitsu “Keith Knight” – Kyrie (Ozmafia!!), Ray (Ephermal), Motofumi Mashiko (Nil Admirari), Tatsukichi (Yoshiwara Higanbana), Caster (Fate/Extella)
Nobuhiko Okamoto “Iris” – Hiroya (Period Cube), Manabu Souda (Collar x Malice), Hansel (Code Realize), Yang (Piofore no Banshou), Akira Kougami (Nil Admirari)
Mitsuki Saiga “Ashley Curtis” – Sakuya (Norn9), Dantalion (Tokyo Babel)
Atsushi Kakehashi “Lee Fitzwilliam” – Axel (Ozmafia!!), Miyanomori Susumu (Hanayaka Nari, Waga Ichizoku)
PLOT AND SETTING
Since the story’s setting revolves around “the fantasy world of magic” I couldn’t help but notice a few similar elements from Harry Potter. One example was distinguishing purebloods from the half-bloods and
mudbloods humans. In this game, the purebloods are called “almus” while a half-blood is called an “ultio”. “Hide Street”, the dangerous alley of Fonnue city (a place where the heroine grew up) was described rather similar to Knockturn Alley and a “summoning animal” was akin to a patronous…
MAIN CHARACTERS AND ROUTES
Almost all the routes follow through the same plotline. “The heroine starts her new life as a student of ISW, partners up with her love interest during their midterm exams, spends time with him on their summer and winter break (Christmas Eve), and eventually ends up becoming King and Queen during graduation day”. I have to say some routes were alright while the others were just “meh” (shrugs). ┐(‘~`;)┌
(IMO) The story is best enjoyed when played in the route order below:
Clyde — Matias — Cyril — Keith — A-Jay — Secret Route. I’ll try my very best to keep the spoilers to a minimum in my posts below but keep in mind to still read with caution.
Clyde is ISW’s student council president. He’s a very smart & talented young lad who’s magical abilities surpass other wizards of his age.
In his story, Clyde and Aria became number one in their class rankings after partnering up together during midterm exams. As a treat for the heroine’s hard work, Clyde takes her out on a date to Fonnue city. During their date, Aria opens up to Clyde by telling him how her parents died when she was ten years old and that she’s been living alone ever since. Clyde then promised her that from now on, he’ll be her other half and that he’ll take half of her pain and sadness in life and make sure she’ll never be alone to endure them.
(Fast Forward) During their Christmas break, while Aria was getting presents for all the society members, she recalls a special memory of the day she lost her parents and was crying all alone in the streets of Fonnue. There was a mysterious “prince-like” young boy who approached her and gave her a special white flower, stopping her from bawling her eyes out. Since then, Aria has treasured the flower dearly and now she’s finally decided to give it to someone she holds special in her heart. In the later parts of this story, it was revealed that Clyde was all along with the mysterious boy who came to Aria’s aid when she was young and he was waiting all these years for her to remember. Aww. In return, the heroine took the white flower to Clyde and told him she has kept it preserved all this time and now she wants to give it back to that special boy who’s provided her happiness when she needed it the most. There’s more to this story but I didn’t want to spoil too much about it.
I did Clyde’s route first since I haven’t heard Kakki’s voice in a while (laughs). His story was somewhat predictable but it was kinda cute from start to finish (discounting the daddy issues in one scene). There’s good chemistry between him and Aria and their romance didn’t feel forced at all. There were some dialogues that were a little awkward but I guess I sort of just chalked it up to the bad translations.¯\_(ツ)_/¯ Overall, I think it was an OK route to start the game at least.
Matias is a member of ISW’s student council who’s known to be very cold upfront. His dream is to become a member of the Imperial Chilvaric Order after graduation. Matias is also Clyde King’s best friend, and they’ve been inseparable since childhood.
In his story, Matias and Aria became partners in their midterm exams which landed them in second place, while Clyde (who partnered with Ashley) still first. After the exams, comes the school festival, and everyone agrees to hold a masquerade ball for one night. During the event, Matias who dressed up as a knight approached Aria and stretches out his hand as if telling her to come with him, Aria blindly follows and they eventually arrived at a room which resembles an underwater view (through Cyril’s magic). Here, they exchanged words not by talking but by waving their wands to form words in the water with magic. Matias went first by telling Aria she looked like Juliet and she responds by telling him “You’re like Romeo then” (I swear I actually love the heroine’s forwardness in this route! lol). After exchanging sweet nothings as if role-playing the characters, Romeo and Juliet, both of them ended up kissing each other as Matias pulled Aria’s mask away revealing her face. Aria, not being a total dummy MC knew she was with Matias all along but she still took the liberty to ask him his name one last time after their lips parted. She never got the answer as her knight began to skedaddle the moment their kiss ended. Pffffft! As cheesy as this was, I fully admit that I’ve shamelessly enjoyed this scene! lmao (*/ω＼)
(Fast Forward) Before Christmas break, Matias and Aria went on a date to the city of Fonnue, and Aria was surprised to see a ‘megane’ Matias lol! During their date, both of them opened up to each other. Here, Aria tells him how her parents died and how she’s been living alone since she was ten, and Matias in exchange, tells her about his eye problem which is his current hindrance to becoming a member of the Imperial Chivalric Order. It was also revealed in the later parts of his route that it’ll only take a matter of time before Matias goes completely blind. (╥﹏╥)
Matias, I believe was one of the better routes of this game. His story offered great character development for both him and the heroine. This is also the ONLY route where the heroine gets into a *cough* physical relationship with her love interest. (//▽//)
Cyril is the youngest member of ISW’s student council. He is a bright, intelligent, competitive young boy who possesses an abnormal sweet tooth.
After Aria partners up with Cyril in their midterm exams, they ended up still second to Clyde and Matias despite doing their very best. This, however, didn’t stop Cyril from trying harder, not just from studying but he does his ultimate best every day as if it’s his last. In his route it was also revealed that Cyril has no sense of direction, so he bothers the heroine all the time to help him find his way around the school grounds.lol
(Fast forward) November 17th was Cyril’s birthday and the heroine decided to give him this pegasus feather which was believed to improve your abilities in flying. That night, as Aria hopped skipped her way to see her man, she found Cyril staring at the sky at the House of White Rose’s balcony. (The “House of White Rose” is the name of their student council house.) Here, Cyril tells Aria he’s always been fascinated every time he looks at the stars & asked her how farther up does he need to go so he can reach them. Aria responds and tells him, someone’s probably thinking the same way on the other side and Cyril says he’ll let her know when he finally gets there. Now, this dialogue was kind of an implication of how SAD this route’s about to turn out because what happens next was freakin’ heartbreaking! Before Aria gets the chance of handing her gift, Cyril began to collapse on the floor and abruptly started clutching his chest. Aria panics and tells him she’ll call a doctor but Cyril shook his head and painfully spoke out of breath that he just needs to take his “pills”. After helping Cyril take his meds, he finally calmed down as he rested on the sofa. Aria on the other hand curiously took Cyril’s bag of medicine and was at loss for words when she read what’s written on the package. It was medicine for severe heart problems. (ಥ﹏ಥ)
Cyril’s route was probably the saddest in the game. Don’t play his route unless you’re ready for angst from start to finish. I also felt his relationship with the heroine was more of like a little brother rather than a love interest. Not really sure how I feel about his story either. His good and bad endings were pretty much the same. (ﾉД`)
A-Jay is an easy-going member of ISW’s student council who unexpectedly has a knack for solving some of the school’s darkest mysteries.
In his route, A-Jay invited Aria to his villa in Campanula during their summer break. Campanula is a place known for its expensive beach resorts where rich families own most of the luxurious villas in the area. There, Aria was introduced to A-Jay’s loving family who welcomed her wholeheartedly with open arms. The next day, Aria takes a stroll with A-jay by the beach and here she tells him about how his family made her reminisce the days back when her parents were still alive, she also told A-jay how she’s been living alone ever since her parents passed away. Her confession, for some reason, made A-jay tear up (his manly tears slowly gushing down his cheeks lol) and he tells Aria how he admires her for being so strong.
(Fast forward) One day, while Aria was on her way to get dinner, she stumbles on a mysterious door in one of the school corridors. Rather than entering, she decides not to and walks away to look for A-jay to ask him if he knew anything about the mystery doorway she just recently came across with. While approaching A-Jay’s dorm room, she noticed his door was open and decides to playfully surprise him (ಠ_ಠ) (because why the hell not?! lmao!) She stopped herself when she sees A-jay in the middle of changing and accidentally saw a scar engraved on his back which she recognized as a symbol for dark magic. Because of this, Aria became conflicted with her feelings for A-Jay and grew distant of him for several days. This little conflict was resolved (during the last chapters of his route) when A-jay confessed to Aria his dark but heartbreaking secret. In his confession, he explained how he got the scar on his back and how the experience haunted him his whole life until he met the heroine.
I liked A-Jay’s route because although it still followed the same usual plotline, it branched out completely different from the others. I also find A-Jay’s character depth to be quite contributing to the game’s overall plot, although I wished they would’ve delved deeper into his past as his route had a LOT of plot holes that needed some definitive answers (E.g. Cyrus). I’m glad his route’s happy ending was really sweet (ﾉ´ з `)ノ(It was nice and fluffy!) though I also find his bad ending…..er, quite interesting ^^; (chuckles).
Keith is the cold commanding leader of the Imperial Chivalric Order who’s also a guest teacher at ISW for the year.
I expected Keith’s route to be interesting
because y a..know! teacher x student relationship is always amazing! hahaっಠ‿ಠ)っTo my disappointment, his story turned out very bland and predictable.
In his story, Aria partners up with Ashley in their midterm exams. They eventually came in second place in the rankings while Clyde who partnered with Cyril this time was first, and Matias & A-jay settle in third place. Besides being a full-time teacher, Keith was also gathering information regarding the upcoming “Thousand Year War”, where rebellious dark wizards are on the move, started by
Voldermort Gillian Griffiths, their chosen leader. For the most part of Keith’s route, it was all merely fluff fillers where he gets to warm up with Aria and his backstory was never mentioned until the last chapters of his story.
(Fast Forward) During their graduation, Aria and Ashley became “class queens” after successfully finishing first place in their final exams. Aria also learned from the headmaster, Demetrius that it was actually Professor Keith who paid for her scholarship so she can get into the school. Keith eventually admitted to ghost paying for Aria’s tuition fees when she confronts him about it. Later that night, he takes Aria to the forest and calls out his summoning animal, a giant phoenix (ಠ_ಠ). Both of them hopped unto the phoenix called Ignis, and they flew in the night to Keith’s villa in Campanula. Here, Keith tells Aria his past story. How he’s an ultio (half-blood) like her and how he was raised by his grandfather in poverty after being abandoned by his parents. He also tells her of his grandfather’s death wish which was to get revenge on Alan Griffiths, the dark wizard who’s responsible for all the misfortune that’s befallen them. Keith vowed to fulfill his grandfather’s wish but when he became the commander of the Imperial Chivalric Order, Alan Griffiths was already dead, so now he’s chasing after Alan Griffith’s son, Gillian – the current leader of the dark rebellious movement who planned on waging the ‘thousand-year war’ in the kingdom of Clarius.
Alright, I have so many complaints about Keith’s route. There’s just so much stuff going on! There were scenes that I believe weren’t necessary and are only creating plot holes after plot holes. I recall a scene where Keith mentioned “Aria could end the thousand-year war” but after finishing his happy ending I got totally confused since there WASN’T any war nor any kind of fighting going on. I want some intense wand action dammit!!!
Then I unlocked his “Endless ending” (Bad Ending) and this is where I got completely baffled, as this one made more sense than the other! (ノ°益°)ノIt was in his bad ending that Aria was able to somehow stop the so-called “thousand-year war”. At this point, I just couldn’t wait to end my suffering and finish the game. lol
I stumbled on Iris’s secret route while doing A-Jay’s route. When Aria sees a mysterious door in one of ISW’s corridors, instead of turning away from it she enters and gets magically warped into a whole new bizarre world. Here she meets a strange boy who calls himself Leonore. Although he acts really childish most of the time, Aria started warming up to him, and they both spend a lot of time together in this little strange ‘enchanted’ place. However, every time Aria brings up wanting to go back to ISW and the real world, Leonore gets disturbingly upset and shows a totally different personality, turning into a sadistic murderer with a massive thirst for blood. I’m getting Amnesia Ukyo flashbacks here!
I was totally not expecting a secret route in an OperhaHouse game so this one took me by surprise. Iris’s complicated character was also explained in detail during his story and Nobuhiko Okamoto did extremely well as his VA. Although I thoroughly enjoyed his happy ending, just like Keith’s route, his endless ending had most of the answers regarding some of the plot holes in his story. (E.g. his wing-shaped necklace) *shrugs*
ARIA AUSTIN (Main Heroine)
I actually like this heroine a lot. Aria has proven capable all throughout the routes of this game and was totally not a doormat. In the prologue, she challenged Cyril to a magical duel because she couldn’t take being talked shit at as an ‘ultio’ (half-blood). I also like that even though she knows most of the students in ISW are talking behind her back because she’s a commoner, she literally shrugs them off and goes “whatever, I’m just thankful enough to get into this school so I don’t care what ya’lls think of me”. lol (๑˃ᴗ˂)ﻭ She’s one very talented wizard whose special ability is to easily remember everything she sees and read in detail.
This sassy heroine can walk the talk!
Ashley Curtis – Aria’s androgynous (lady) roommate who’s rather flirty it’s almost cringy! Ashley was a great NPC, though I couldn’t care less about her character. I’m sure there are others who’d probably enjoy her and wishes for an Ashley route but ehhhm! Her character’s forwardness and Ashely’s aggressive flirting towards the heroine every chance she gets made me uncomfortable for some reason! (ಠ_ಠ), (Oh well!).
Demetrius Bishop – the headmaster of ISW with a jolly personality but has a few secrets up his sleeve. Demetrius was alright. He has his own eccentric way of entering a scene like when he slid down that rainbow to announce their final exam (Clyde’s route), or when he magically goes through walls lol or sometimes, even dramatically falling off the sky Mary Poppins style. (ಠ_ಠ)
Professor Lee Fitzwilliam – one of the teachers in ISW who used to be best friends with Keith Knight. His backstory was only introduced during Keith’s route.
The game’s play length was a bit short. With each route only having five full chapters plus their ending epilogues, you can probably finish one route in two hours sitting (or less). In terms of story, I’ve actually enjoyed a few routes (Matias, A-Jay, and maybe Iris lol). Some elements in the story may seem like a cheap rip-off of Harry Potter but after finishing the entire game, I didn’t really feel any kind of HP vibe as far as how its overarching story ended. Comparing it to OperaHouse’s previous selections of otome games, I’d say Vinculum Hearts probably stands out when it comes to its story elements. The secret route definitely caught me off guard so I’m giving them kudos to that, and the feisty heroine definitely took this game up a notch. (^ω~)
In terms of localization, I’m not going to sugarcoat this one. It was extremely awful the first time it came out in the eshop. It’s definitely an improvement from what they did with Ayakashi Koi Gikyoku but is it good enough for its full price? Nope. The English translations were still faulty which was a shame since the story was definitely NOT bad at all.
Edit: The good news is that the game publishers recently released a patch fixing the translations for ISW Vinculum Hearts. I can honestly say, the English subtitles have greatly improved, so kudos to Digimerce for professionally taking action on this matter!
Do I recommend this game? MAYBE
The fact that the translation errors were fixed, I’m delighted to say, the game is actually playable now. If you enjoy themes such as magic and romance with a few darker plot twists, I’d say ‘give this one a chance’.