Love Flute Review – Conjuring Up Some Good Tunes

    Title: Love Flute
    Developer: Talesshop
    Release Date: October 26, 2021
    Reviewed On: PC
    Publisher: Talesshop
    Genre: Visual Novel

Love Flute, the latest release from Korean visual novel developer Talesshop, is a ghost story about finding connections through music. As the story opens, protagonist Hanseol (name changeable) is a music student who earns money through busking and is about to sell his keyboard out of frustration when a ghost, Yae-eun, stops him.

Yae-eun says that she must fulfill her han, an unresolved goal or trauma that keeps spirits trapped in this world after death, in order to move on peacefully to the afterlife. If she fails, she’ll become an angry, vengeful ghost. She believes her han is to play her flute in a musical performance with someone else, but so far she’s only managed to scare off potential performers with her ghostly music.

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Hanseol agrees to help Yae-eun perform, but of course her han turns out to be a bit more complicated. With the help of a fellow street performer and medium, Yeonwoo, Hanseol tries to figure out what Yae-eun’s han really is and helps her overcome her fear of moving on, and in the process rediscovers his own love for music.

Developer Talesshop primarily releases visual novels on mobile platforms in Korean, many of which have been ported to other platforms and translated later on. Love Flute was released on PC and mobile at about the same time, but oddly, it’s the first game of theirs I’ve played that felt designed for mobile, with a story broken up into bite-sized chunks that need to be unlocked by earning points via a repetitive task. The gameplay involves earning money through busking, but with the lack of strategy or interactivity, it might as well be the typical mobile idle game waiting or ad watching for all it adds to the game.

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Aside from feeling pointless mechanically, the simulation game part of Love Flute doesn’t fit in with the main story. The premise that the group is recording their busking sessions and uploading them to a YouTube analogue to gain internet fame and earn more money is disconnected from the goal of fulfilling Yae-eun’s han, and the scenes unlocked as you reach follower goals don’t fit into the timeline.

(For example, you can unlock a friendship scene between Yae-eun and Yeonwoo before they even meet in the main story.) The endings feel somewhat underwhelming, as well, since you unlock them with money from the minigame instead of based on choices in the actual story.

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The music itself also feels disconnected from the story. It’s all very adequate visual novel background music, mood-fitting and unobtrusive but not particularly interesting. However, the narrative seems to describe the characters not only learning how to play together, but how to improvise together. That sort of musical style might stick out too much or not loop well enough to be fitting as BGM, but it could’ve added some variety to the simulation game and tied it together better with the themes of the story.

Setting aside the issue of story/gameplay integration, though, Love Flute is a lighthearted but surprisingly dramatic visual novel, well-paced with a good balance of comedy to drama and enough unexpected twists to stay interesting. Both Yae-eun and Yeonwoo are fully voiced in Korean, which really helps the characters’ playfulness come across, emphasizing the contrast between Yae-eun’s sharp, mischievous teasing and Yeonwoo’s deadpan dad jokes.

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The English translation reads smoothly, even when it comes to the notoriously difficult-to-translate puns. The contrast between the soft-toned 2D art for the main story and 3D animated chibis for the minigame is a neat stylistic choice, and the presentation and UI feel polished. And despite my feelings about the simulation game as a whole, unlocking flavor text for the items you can buy to decorate your room is a fun little extra feature. (The extras also include some bonus voice files, which unfortunately aren’t subtitled.)

Despite the title, Love Flute isn’t heavily focused on romance. Although there is a romantic connection between the protagonist and Yae-eun, it’s inevitably temporary as she prepares to move on, and it’s less about true love between them and more about a symbolic connection to the life she’s lost.

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You can’t romance Yeonwoo, either, which may disappoint some players. At one point she even tells the protagonist to call her “unnie,” an honorific used by women for their female friends, and while I’m sure I’m missing some cultural nuance, that feels like hardcore friendzoning. But I think that kind of relationship fits with Yeonwoo’s personality and is one more way to highlight the differences between her and Yae-eun, so I didn’t feel like I was missing out on a romance route.

Love Flute‘s gameplay is dull, and the lack of connection between a story about music and the music in the story feels like a missed opportunity. Taken purely as a visual novel, though, the good balance of slice-of-life comedy to heartfelt dramatic moments, driven by skillfully voiced characters, does make for an enjoyable short read.

A review copy of the title was provided by the publisher for review purposes

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Amy Scholl

Fan of unusual visual novels.