Disclaimer: As part of Steam's Curator Connect program, the reviewer received a steam code from the developer for the purpose of writing a review for the game.
As a child, the kind of stories that would be read to us in class or before bed were ones with a happy ending. At the end of a particular tale, you’ll find the protagonist able to achieve whatever they wanted to back at the start of the book. It makes sense to be exposed to these kinds of stories at a young age because, while they’re incredibly idealistic and romantic, it fuels children’s dreams and inspires them to chase their goals and aspirations.
If you’re reading this, chances are you’re already acquainted with the bitter reality we live in. There’s no fairy godmother that will give you pretty dresses and magical carriages, nor are there items you can collect to grant any wish that you can imagine. All that’s waiting for you as an adult is a life of chronic boredom from a repetitive work life (if you’re able to even get a job) and sleep.
I’ve heard the saying that the death of your inner child happens when you finally become an adult, but I find that way of looking at things is a very reductive. It’s true that people change, but your inner child is every bit as “you” as the adult you currently are or are becoming. Perhaps something that would help us come to terms with that child that continues to dream is reorienting what these stories mean to us as a whole: what does wish-granting look like when we strip it of its magic?
Sugar Sweet Temptation is a moege released by Recette and published by Love Lab on July 28th. Recette is an imprint of Clear Rave, the parent brand of recognizable publishers such as Palette (Mashifoni, SakuSaku, the 9-nine- series), Smile (Chiganai, Koikuma), and Sweet & Tea (Kemomusu, Nekotsubo). Similar to its fellow imprints’ games, it primarily features incredibly cute girls, which the reader can choose to pursue a romantic relationship with.
Shugaten’s story is set in Fueya, a small town known for its legend about the “Night of the Fairies.” Once a year, the town experiences a phenomenon where diamond dust falls from the sky. It is said that the diamond dust is a result of fairies using their magic on the winter sky, fulfilling wishes and spreading happiness to people who are lucky enough to witness the event.
The town is home to Forkroll, a Western-style pastry shop known for its excellent cakes. For generations, the shop has singlehandedly satisfied the townspeople’s demand for exquisite-tasting pastries, making it a household name for Fueya’s residents. However, with its elderly pastry chef being hospitalized from an injury, the shop’s continued existence becomes uncertain in the face of another entity’s interests in the area.
As Forkroll’s fate remains unknown, two girls approach the Night of the Fairies carrying their own respective wishes in their hearts. On this fateful night, they encounter an amnesiac man named Yamada Crow falling off of the shop’s roof. Without anywhere to go, Crow ends up working at Forkroll. To everyone’s surprise, Crow actually knows how to bake cakes and becomes the replacement pâtissier for the shop.
With time running out for Forkroll, Crow and his newfound friends work together to prevent the shop’s closure. Will Crow eventually remember who he is and why he was in Fueya? Will they be able to save the shop? And more importantly, will he be able to handle the wishes everyone has put on his shoulders?
This is Sugar Sweet Temptation, a sweet tale of friendship, determination, and chasing one’s dreams.
The VN is your typical click-to-advance story-focused game that presents you with a scenario to read through. You get to know more about the story’s setting and its characters simply by advancing its dialogue and progressing through the routes.
At certain points in the story, you’ll encounter prompts that lead to choices. These choices determine the direction the remainder of the scene will take.
Speaking of routes, the VN doesn’t make it hard for readers to pick which one to pursue. You’re sent into a Character Select screen at the end of the common route, featuring the three heroines you’ve encountered. This means that for the most part, the choices you make in the common route don’t matter when selecting the heroine route you want to pursue.
The choices you make are thus inconsequential for the majority of the story. They function mostly as options that lead to alternative scenarios in an enclosed scene. In some cases, it can reward you with variations for certain CGs featured in particular scenes.
The art can be described as “diabetes-inducing.” It reminds me a lot of the series featured in the “Kirara” magazines published by Houbunsha, which usually feature a lot of cute-girls-doing-cute-things manga. That’s exactly what most of Shugaten is—cute girls in slice-of-life scenarios dealing with their own respective struggles that, while dramatic in some notes, is mostly light, fluffy, and just downright adorable.
Fans of VNs will find the art familiar, as the artist Shiratama had lent her talent for another moege available in English, Cabbage Soft‘s Amairo Chocolata series. Shiratama is known for her work in the Vtuber scene as well, being the artist for well-known liver Emma★August of NIJISANJI, recently retired Muri of VirtuaReal, and for her own stream. In all of these ventures, Shiratama is able to capture that essence of moe so well that even her depiction adult characters retains a sort of “loli-ish” vibe. Of course, whether that’s good or not depends on you as the viewer but, for the heroines in this VN, it works incredibly well.
As for the music, I find it particularly outstanding. I do feel like it’s a good fit for the VN though, as most of these tracks are lighthearted. There are 14 tracks in total; 16 if you include the opening and ending songs. The tracks are all named after pastries or things related to them, such as my personal favorites Eclair! Dacquoise! Baumkuchen!
(I have no idea what these even are) and Tender Tarts.
The opening of the game is sung by Chata, who’s probably someone you’ve already heard if you’ve played literally any VN with adult content that’s available in English. She’s sung for a lot of eroges, like a lot. Yurika lends her vocals for the ending song. (Editor’s note: OP slaps.)
After clearing the game, an additional entry in the Gallery called “Stand” is unlocked. This mode allows you to play with the game’s assets such as sprites, background, and textbox to create a custom scene. It’s a pretty creative way of introducing ways to appreciate its art assets without directly giving out the files in the game. With the inclusion of naked sprites in its adult version, you can even make incredibly self-serving scenarios that are only really limited by your imagination.
Speaking of naked sprites…
Were you expecting an H-CG? Pervert.
The H-scenes are pretty standard fare. Each heroine has around 3 H-scenes (4 if you count scenes that remotely imply sexual interest) that feature unique H-CGs. While not animated, the scenes are accompanied by sound effects that are there to enhance your, erm, immersion. Whether they actually help or not, though, is something to be debated on.
I’m not a fan of some of the sound effects they used for these scenes, but funnily enough, I became even less of a fan once I heard my girlfriend refer to some of them as “ketchup sounds.” This sealed the deal for me and I couldn’t look at them the same way anymore.
As I mentioned earlier, the game features three heroines that Crow can pursue romantically. Depending on the heroine, the timeline of the VN might change in length or just not reflect events that might have happened in another heroine’s route.
In essence, each route is essentially self-contained in its importance and implications, which is why you could probably read through the routes in any order and end up with the same amount of enjoyment.
For the purpose of this review, I’ll be going through each heroine route in the order that I chose to read them in. Some of my expectations are determined by this order and might play into how I enjoy the routes, so take my opinions with a grain of salt.
Kōri, or Ori-chan as Meru calls her, is the cast’s voice of reason. While being the youngest of the three heroines, she naturally assumes the “wise older character” role because of the other two heroines’ lack of capability to do so. In a VN so focused on pastries, Kōri is the first piece to a two-part puzzle of why Forkroll can’t get out of the rut it’s stuck in without Crow’s help—she’s too clumsy in the kitchen. So clumsy, in fact, that characters think she’s more helpful being outside of the kitchen! Because of how this clumsiness contrasts with her normally capable and composed demeanor, Kōri ends up being a heroine that is conscious of how out-of-place her weakness is in a patisserie setting, which invites a lot of cute and funny scenarios.
Thankfully, because of her rational and methodological line of thinking, she’s actually pretty good at brewing tea and coffee! This makes her an important asset for the VN’s signature tea time and Forkroll’s identity as a café. Ironically though, she doesn’t seem to like sugary foods and beverages despite her job. She does seem to like chocolate… Is there something we’re missing here?
Kōri’s route was actually really refreshing as a moege route. While still retaining the overly sweet atmosphere that most VNs like this have, the route tries to introduce the source of Kōri’s rational view on a lot of things the characters encounter in her story instead of pegging it as simply a character trait. Using the chocolate cake as a comparison, Kōri’s route dwells on the sweet idea of dreams and miracles and the bitter truth behind them. What does it take to fulfill one’s dreams, let alone cause a miracle? In addition, what does it mean if you fail to achieve this dream or miracle? Kōri’s route is a story about the struggles of reconciling these ideas.
Honestly, I didn’t expect to encounter the kind of subject matter this route had in this VN. The story doesn’t shy away from shoving the cutesy aspect of its assets into your face in most situations, so to come face to face with a main conflict that’s not exactly lighthearted is like a sucker punch that’s been waiting to hit you behind the corner. Going past the shock value of its subject matter, the route actually does a pretty good job of presenting its message regarding the realism of miracles. It makes it apparent that the choice of the subject matter wasn’t simply one made to surprise us as readers; it’s a deliberate effort to reinforce dreams and miracles as something that we can concretely hold in our hands, such as the gift of life. Satisfyingly thought-provoking without compromising what makes it a moege in the first place.
The use of the chocolate cake was a pretty crafty way of painting the sensibilities necessary to paint the theme of dreams and miracles in a realistic manner. While there is the emphasis of magic being behind these phenomena, it doesn’t readily dismiss the realist perspective and expands upon it through Kōri’s experience with miscarriage.
Miscarriage as a topic is obviously not a cute subject to discuss, but is something that accompanies the miracle of life as a very possible outcome. As a child, there’s only really so much you can do in the face of a natural consequence of life and in Kōri’s case, she wished to the fairies. Wishes, however, can come as a double-edged sword, because as much as you can wish for a particularly good outcome, there are times where you wish the opposite for someone. And if the alternative bad outcome is the one that manifests, what should a child like Kōri make of it?
This is why I think despite being short and brief in its discussion of the topic, Kōri’s route paints a pretty satisfying situation where a person is forced to confront the reality behind what we call miracles. Are miracles real because of how it makes the impossible possible, or are they non-existent because of the extent to which they apply? The interaction between human agency and the supernatural is explored through the two subjects of miscarriage and C-sections and it’s pretty rewarding as a read.
If Kōri is composed, that must mean that Meru, the heroine she’s constantly paired with, is the opposite. Meru is the impulsive half of the Forkroll duo, going for anything that looks like fun and stubbornly pursues it much to the chagrin of the other cast members (Kōri in particular). Cakes, cookies, tea, snacks, playtime—all of these are Meru’s playthings, and as the granddaughter of Forkroll’s elderly pâtissier, she’ll make sure she gets all of them. These (and a number of other silly antics that happen throughout the story) are part of Meru’s so-called “77 weaknesses,” the focal point of what makes her such a charming heroine. Ditzy and childish, if you can’t reign her in, what other choice do you have besides humoring her?
Despite these slander-sounding descriptions, Meru does have a good understanding of what it will take for Forkroll to remain afloat in its predicament. She’s still the acting manager for the shop, after all. However, understanding what it takes and actually doing what’s necessary are two different things. Sometimes people just have to accept what their strengths are and lean towards it. Perhaps her cheerful and bubbly personality makes her a good fit for customer service?
Meru’s route focuses on her relationship with Kōri and explores its transformation with the addition of distance, or at least it should have. It tries to introduce the possibility of a souring friendship by using a strawberry shortcake as the pastry of choice, but as if not wanting to commit, it completely backpedals on exploring the sweet and sour patches by opting for the simple yet happy ending for its conflict. This makes the second half of the route fall short, as the opportunity for Meru’s own character development and introspection that the events set become irrelevant. A saving grace is that it successfully portrays how the tanginess of something can bring out the sweetness that accompanies it better, a representation of their friendship.
Meru’s route is exactly what I was expecting to read in a moege—something short and sweet. While there is a bit of drama in it, it’s not exactly significant enough to deter the overall carefree atmosphere the route has. This in itself isn’t a problem, but as a reader, I wanted to learn more about Meru and how she would fare given this situation she sees as a crisis. With how it backpedals and ends in a positive note, it undermines what could have been an additional layer to Meru as a heroine. It makes her end up as something very two-dimensional, as if they were scared to make Meru anything outside of a happy-go-lucky kind of girl.
Our third heroine, Chocolat, is the support Crow desperately needed as the pâtissier of Forkroll. With Kōri having negative points in cooking and Meru’s inability to stay still, Chocolat balances out the cast by specializing in cake-making. This makes her incredibly helpful for the shop in the long-run, allowing Crow to grow past his apparent genius in baking and develop into a pâtissier that can hold his own against the Forkroll elder.
As a heroine, Chocolat is sweet and considerate. Although she shares similar traits with Meru grounded in their natural affability, Chocolat is shy and easy to embarrass. Perhaps coming from her foreigner trait, she is incredibly curious about a lot of stuff as well. This leads to pretty funny scenes that end up with her stranded in different places. Overall, Chocolat is a pretty likeable heroine that respects characters’ personal spaces while still remaining very friendly.
Chocolat’s route is one that deals with literal layers. Compared to the mille-crepe and later the Everest Cake, a person’s dream isn’t something that stops with just the dream itself. What fuels this dream and what gives it substance are all equally important, as they give insight into who the dreamer is as a person. Hence, the route explores layers of who Chocolat is as a person—her dreams, her insecurities, and her inspirations. Using the town of Fueya and its history with wish granters, Chocolat’s story explores the topic of the human desire to pursue dreams, to “grant wishes” left unfulfilled across time—even if it takes one’s entire lifetime to do so. And in Chocolat’s case, maybe even help her cross the bridge she’s been wanting to cross all this time.
Although it sounds like a grand adventure, the route is mostly a practice of historical analysis under the guise of a scavenger hunt. As a reader, it was a fun read because the more we learned about Fueya’s story, the more I’m able to think about how the legend of the “Night of the Fairies” came to be. I like how they introduced insecurity to Chocolat’s character. It’s a nice contrast to the normally relaxed demeanor that she sports, giving a lot more depth to who she is. It’s what I wanted from Meru’s route but didn’t get.
Because of the length of the route, however, I think that the general idea about dreams wasn’t really explored as well as it was in Kōri’s route. The ideas make sense, but its execution left me wanting something more. It’s a nice capstone to the VN by providing an explanation to the legend itself (and by extension, Crow’s origin), but for Chocolat’s own character, I find it a bit lacking.
Meru > Kōri > Chocolat
Kōri > Chocolat > Meru
The VN deals with its themes through introducing pastries that reflect the intended subject for each heroine route. The complexity of meshing chocolate’s bitterness with sweet pastry, the tangy-sweet characteristics of strawberries, and the multiple layers and pieces of mille-crepes are all paired up with the heroine’s views on wishes, miracles, and their own dreams. While it’s possible to dismiss these pastries as just incredibly sweet, the kind of care that comes into crafting each of their flavor profiles is the sensibility that needs to be present when we try and define what these very abstract ideas mean to us. It’s an endeavor that’s not really easy, but if done with enough consideration and effort, rewards us with sweet satisfaction from better understanding ourselves.
Where does the idea of wish-granting place itself in this, then? Wish-granting, in this particular VN, serves the purpose of a convenient parallel to hard work. There’s no real wish-granting diamond that can be found in the legend of the “Night of the Fairies”, nor is there a gold coin that magically gives us what we need in real life. Each wish that was granted in the heroine’s routes are results of their own hard work in granting the wish they kept close to their hearts, and if there’s any magic that’s doing work here, it’s the magic of friendship that lends you the hand you need; never mind the fact that it sounds so corny when you put it into words.
On the topic of the “Night of the Fairies”, the game actually has an epilogue after completing all the heroine routes that expands upon who Yamada Crow is. It’s actually inconsequential for the VN’s overall message, but it’s a pretty funny revelation because of what it implies. Definitely read it as your form of closure for the in-game universe’s legend; if you haven’t figured out our MC’s identity at this point, they’ll tell you there.
Shugaten explores the subjects of wishes and dreams by using pastries as its symbolic base, making each heroine’s route its own unique story of finding satisfaction in their wish-granting journey. As much as I liked the idea behind it, it falls a bit flat in exploring its themes in some routes because of either their length or just the progression they decided to take within the story. Instead, they end up focusing on revealing bits and pieces of the lore to help readers piece together who Yamada Crow is, which admittedly, is a pretty funny activity in and of itself.
As a moege though, it does its job well. With very cute art and a bouncy kind of atmosphere, the characters feel ever so charming within their respective backdrops. They never really feel unbearably annoying, and mesh together pretty well as an overall cast. I enjoyed reading through it, and that says something given that I’m predisposed against VNs like this.
And with that, my score for the game is as follows:
Story (Routes): 5.5
Personal Rating: 6/10