Honey*Honey*Honey! is a romantic comedy visual novel set in a world where men and women are required by law to remain six feet apart unless they have dating permits. Using the concept of social distancing as a jumping-off point for commentary about dating and gender relations seems like a premise with a lot of depth to explore. Unfortunately, the idea feels underdeveloped here, but the quality artwork and presentation make up for some of the weaknesses in the storytelling.
I didn’t go into Honey*Honey*Honey! expecting highbrow literature or anything, but the lack of development of the setting was still a disappointment. The first obvious issue is in the art direction: except for a couple of brief moments, there’s no attempt to create a sense of space between the characters by placing the sprites further away from the screen. Additionally, typical physical comedy tropes like accidental boob grabs are just played straight, with no sense that they have extra weight in this setting where touching is technically illegal.
Given the original Japanese version’s 2020 release, I would not be surprised if the idea of social distancing was a late addition to a game that was already in development, a gimmick to help it stand out a bit more in the crowded eroge market. Especially with the frame story of the protagonist Shun as a transfer student to a new school, Honey*Honey*Honey! would make just as much sense as a story about a particular school with unusually strict dating policies rather than distancing between the genders as a society-wide legal mandate.
On the upside, though, the comedy is good lighthearted fun full of over-the-top moments, and the love interests have different enough dynamics with the protagonist to keep things interesting. The three-character routes (separated by a single choice) are Tsukasa, Shun’s childhood friend; Arika, an outgoing underclassman, rebelling against gender segregation; and Miyuki, Shun’s homeroom teacher and former babysitter, who’s been obsessed with him for years.
Tsukasa feels like the central love interest since she’s most connected to the main theme. As president of the love audit club, Tsukasa is in charge of reviewing student applications for dating permits — but she’s hilariously sexually repressed and rejects every application, reading perverted intentions into the most innocent of romantic descriptions. Her route centers on her figuring out what falling in love and being in a relationship is really like and finally understanding others’ feelings.
Not all of the comedy hit the right level of ridiculousness for me; in particular, a lot of Miyuki’s route never quite pushed past just kind of uncomfortable. But that’s, of course, a “your mileage may vary” sort of thing, and I felt like Tsukasa’s route hit the perfect balance of being exaggerated enough to be funny while still grounded enough to be relatable.
But even though the individual scenes are enjoyable to read, the story as a whole feels rushed and insubstantial, with conflicts in all of the character routes wrapping up almost as soon as they appear. Each of the routes has a post-credits scene as well as three bonus H-scenes with the adult patch, so they do not lack in content, but the disjointedness of the extra scenes only emphasizes the pacing problems of the main story.
I also wish we had gotten more interaction between the love interests on their routes, like the cute moments on Miyuki’s route where Tsubasa and Arika catch Shun and Miyuki at the beach together and where Arika cheers on their forbidden student/teacher relationship.
The artwork in Honey*Honey*Honey! is definitely a highlight, with cute character designs by Oozora Itsuki, the artist behind Marco & The Galaxy Dragon. In particular, the thick outlines are an interesting style choice that gives the characters a rough, hand-drawn feel and helps make them pop from the background.
The presentation is very polished, from the art to the voice acting to the variety of UI options, including the option to change the resolution from 16:9 to 4:3, which places the textbox underneath the background instead of on top of it rather than cropping the sides of the artwork. I’m not sure how many people will find that useful, but it’s a cool throwback. I just wish as much effort had gone into the story of the game as went into its appearance.
Honey*Honey*Honey! doesn’t make the most of its premise, and the tacked-on bonus scenes don’t make up for a rushed plot. Still, the over-the-top comedy and quality artwork make it an enjoyable enough read for lighthearted high school romance fans.
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