2019 has been a decent year for visual novels so far. With that statement short of any pertinent examples, I haven’t found many issues with any of the titles I have already finished and covering a wide field of genres and interest, happy to pick up a majority of them. Some more than others, of course. For English speaking audiences, developer Harukaze finally has one of its prolific entries make landfall: Nora to Oujo to Noraneko Heart or The Princess, the Stray Cat, and Matters of the Heart. Receiving some high praise and awards from the country of origin, this is one visual novel that does seem to live up to some of that acclaim.
Title: The Princess, the Stray Cat, and Matters of the Heart (Nora to Oujo to Noraneko Heart)
Genre: Romance, Comedy
Length: 35-40 hours roughly
Other Info: VNDB Page
Following the of Nora Handa, a young man living alone with his adopted companion Shachi Yuuri, life has been bearable even after the passing of Nora’s mother. Enjoying his idyllic life with his other close friends, Nora happens across a girl named Patricia. Claiming to be the princess of the Underworld and on a mission to grant death to all living things, the two form a weird relationship that begins to lead Nora’s life to unexpected places. Having all the necessary storytelling tools at its command, The Princess, the Stray Cat, and Matters of the Heart (henceforth Nora to Oujo) is a very comfortable comedy, albeit a very bizarre one that works well off its own merits. Having the writing to support it both in the gag department and more sentimental moments, it is stronger on the comedic end. That being said, where there are plenty of antics and moments of sheer hilarity to be found, I would say that the characters themselves play a large role in that happening than the actual jokes. Arranged with the standard cast of tropes and archetypes at the table, the characters compliment and play off each remarkably well for some nice moments during the duration of the novel. One of my favorite interactions is between Nobuchina and Koki, two of Nora’s oddball friends that are constantly at each other’s throats for one reason or another. Coupled with Nora’s own idiosyncrasies and enjoyable common route that helps illustrates this; Nora to Oujo finds itself to be a very palatable experience. Of course, having a snarky narrator that also jumps indirectly in the fray is a plus.
The heroines themselves strike a balance between keeping their own routes fairly entertaining as well as highlighting the unique relationship they share with Nora. Where most of the routes focus on the circumstances of the girls that delve deeper into their own personal backstories and Nora trying to manage his own feline misfortune thanks to magic gone awry, it is hard to say one particular route is interesting than the next and falls down to reader preference of the heroines. Personally speaking, I found Shachi and Yuuki’s side to be the most appealing in terms of character and story where Patricia and Michi were probably my least favorite in terms of content and overall direction. Given the fact that there is no clear and set order, I will recommend that you might want to save Patricia for the end as that one is quite long unless you want to blow through it before all others. Sadly, I was expecting a Lucia (Patricia’s older sister) route, but that is saved for the sequel. With the Steam release seemingly based off the console version, there is nudity and the like keep intact for the most part, but no sexual content or HCG scenes.
For a title that released during 2016 and the usual expectations for visual novels, the production values are actually of high quality. Not saying a whole lot, the artwork is vibrant and crisp making the character sprites and CG scenes standout in the face of average character designs. One of my favorite and more expressive designs comes from Nora’s cat form: the facial expressions when he gets angry or annoyed being of the most eye-catching for the range and making use of the artist skills. The music is also another area of unusual detail, many of the tracks covering a wide range of styles and pleasant to listen to either in-game or standalone tracks. In terms of the system, nothing too noteworthy stands out as all of the functions and options that most visual novels have are present. For some of the longer reading sessions, I do like the suspend function that allows the game to be set in stasis and when opening the game the next time, picks up where the reader left off completely getting rid of the need to set through the title cards or load saves.
Having played a variety of Japanese visual novels this year, Nora to Oujo is another one that belongs in the pile of those that I could say I enjoyed without having to think twice. Where it could be a little weak and wordy in presenting the jokes or not the smoothest in moving to one plot point to the next, the likable cast and timing of events seal the deal in making it irrelevant in comparison to the joy to be had from the whole experience. Wishing there is at least some chance to find out if the sequel is a go for more of Nora’s misadventures and hijinks, this is one rom-com that will suffice quite well.
Final Verdict: Filled with an ensemble of memorable characters and absurd humor, Nora to Oujo is a delightful romp for fans of romantic-comedies spiced with a little fantasy. Not all of what I would call swinging the pendulum in either genre direction to great effect is nothing short of an enjoyable read all the same.
Disclaimer: In no way, shape, or form was I compensated for the composition or publication of this review. This is by my own volition. A review copy of the game was kindly provided by Fruitbat Factory.