NEKO-NIN exHeart Review — The World Needs More Ninja Cat-Girls
NEKO-NIN exHeart is a visual for those who are fans of ninjas and cat-girls, perhaps you might be a fan and just not know it yet.
So what happens when you take ninjas, one of the coolest things in the world, and combine them with cat-girls, one of the cutest anime tropes ever? Well, besides an interesting evening with some adorable ninja cat-girls, you’ll probably get Japanese game developer Whirpool’s new comedic romance visual novel, NEKO-NIN exHeart.
The story premise revolves around a promise made between humans and demi-humans hundreds of years ago. The two main demi-humans in this story, being half-human and half-beast, resemble an otaku’s dream: a cross between a girl and cat. In addition to their looks, they are skilled in the ninja arts and have sworn to protect their human masters through thick and thin.
Players assume the role of Haruki, an average high school student who has no idea his life is about to change. Two ninja cat-girls, Tama Fuuma and her sister Yura Fuuma, appear at his front door to let him know they are there to serve him. Feeling sorry for the girls, Haruki hesitantly hears them out, but still ends up distancing himself from them. However, these girls are very persistent and force their way into Haruki’s life.
In the first two hours it’s clear that these three have a very strange relationship. Haruki isn’t the easiest to read as he continually pushes these girls away with bogus excuses and these girls keep coming back. I’m not saying Haruki is a bad main protagonist, but the beginning of the story makes him out to be an inconsistent mess. Being a romance, I’m sure it’s known that these girls will inevitably end up hooking up with their master, but I feel like the execution felt too forced.
Haruki’s feelings in the beginning of the novel are all over the place and it’s hard to guess what he’s going to do during each interaction with the girls. Often times he just comes off as annoyed they are around, so ends up running away only to feel sorry for how he treated them later on during the day. With that said, there are some hilarious scenes that occur as the girls try to get the attention of their master. Tama especially has a well written personally that creates some of the more enjoyable conversations throughout the story.
Inevitably, Haruki’s haphazard moods towards the girls changes conveniently after the first romantic scene. I was disappointed with how the story handled their relationship up until this point because, if you asked me, Haruki’s personality didn’t seem very compatible with the girl’s persistent nature. That said, he became easier to like once he connected with the girls physically rather than emotionally.
NEKO-NIN exHeart has some great character designs and a wide variety of CG scenes and backgrounds. I was impressed with the amount of scenery changes that occurred throughout the story when I’m used to visual novels constantly reusing the same three backgrounds.
However, characters are represented as still illustrations, with the only thing moving are their ears from time to time. Although their illustrated expressions change, I prefer animated characters over static images. I’m sure there are some fans of the genre that don’t mind this approach, but I feel like animated characters add to the immersion of the story.
There are very limited amounts of player interaction throughout the game, I counted a total of two branching dialog options during my playthrough. So it’s safe to say this visual novel is almost kinetic and will tell the same story every time. The good thing about NEKO-NIN exHeart’s story is that it really picks up after the first two hours, so I wasn’t really worried about branching paths or interacting with a certain character for most of the time, I just enjoyed where the story was going on its own.
I should mention that I reviewed the 18+ version of the game with no mosaics. I can say that these scenes are not necessary for the story, so the player could play the all-ages version and have more or less the exact same experience as someone who played the adult version. However, the scenes do offer a chance to see just how much love these characters have for Haruki and that may be what some players are looking for to fully get immersed in the game.
In the end, NEKO-NIN exHeart’s comedic approach saved it from being forceable and predictable romance where the main protagonist gets all the girls without even trying. There are some pretty interesting twists in the second half of the story that adds a dose of drama and keeps the pacing fresh. I must say that for the $9.99 Steam price, there is a good four to six hour story here that won’t let fans of adorable cat-girl illustrations down. I only wish that the first half of the story was as good as the conclusion, but as whole this a decent visual novel.