Thoughts on Sweet Fuse, Part Two: Sincerity as Strength

(Part two deals with Mikami’s route, and thus contains heavy spoilers for the entire game. It discusses how this path impacts the rest of Sweet Fuse, and how it ties together the whole game to deliver a powerful statement in favour of human connection.)

With the first part of this argument behind us: let’s talk about Makoto Mikami, and the final route, and why it’s so important that Sweet Fuse lets you romance him.

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It’s worth a quick digression before we start to note that there’s a fair amount of evidence within the game to suggest that Mikami’s ending is the “true” route. Most notably, there’s a conversation with Meoshi in his path where he discusses the fact that many games won’t allow the player to reach the true ending until their second playthrough – and, when you start a new game in Sweet Fuse after finishing a first run, there’ll be an additional scene near the beginning where Saki bumps into a stranger on the train platform. This is, of course, Mikami, although you won’t learn his name unless you follow his path.

If you answered correctly during this initial encounter, the game sends you off on a slightly altered version of the common route. Saki encounters Mikami trapped inside an animal suit towards the end of the first day; he’s a worker at the park who has seemingly managed to escape Hogstein’s notice, yet is unable to leave because of the rules of the game. As neither a hostage or a participant, he’s free to snoop around and try gather information, so he spends the rest of the common route doing just that. As with almost all the other love interests, though, once his route splits off he and Saki wind up separated from the rest of the group. She peels off from the party on day four to go attend to the injured Mikami, but winds up captured by Hogstein and is taken to his lair. The major reveal comes on the fifth day, although the player is almost certainly supposed to have guessed it already: Mikami is the mastermind, responsible for this entire twisted scheme.

Things you know about the culprit before this point, assuming you’ve played all the other routes: they go by the handle M2 online, and used that name to tip Shirabe off and lure him to the park’s opening ceremony. They have been waiting more than a decade to destroy Urabe’s father, who runs a construction company and has cut all manner of unsavoury deals in order to rise to the top. Urabe counts M2 as his only friend in the world, and when he learned of the plot to destroy the theme park his father built, agreed to be their accomplice. And, like the rest of the major characters, they have some connection to a bus accident which occurred twelve years ago.

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From hereon out, having already explored the rest of the main cast’s involvement, the plot focuses on Mikami’s psychology and reasoning for the death game. He claims his motive is to punish those responsible for the crash, yet that statement is starkly at odds with the malice and intricacy of his plan: why act to avenge an event which has been largely forgotten by society? Why move so vengefully against so many people when he himself has been so deeply marked by loss? And, most importantly, why set up a death game for the six others impacted by the crash when they’re as much victims as he is?

When Saki asks as much, Mikami levels accusations at the rest of the cast which point towards their culpability, and argues that they must be punished on behalf of the dead: Shirabe published a slanderous article which hurt the families of those killed in the crash. Shidou’s partner had been helping Mikami gather information, yet he left them to die. Meoshi was the sole eyewitness yet refused to come forward and speak, which meant there was insufficient evidence for it to be treated as anything more than an accident. Despite being the only survivor from the bus, Wakasa recently made inappropriate comments about the crash on a TV program which were widely publicised. Urabe’s father had deliberately caused the accident in order to eliminate a potential threat, and his son continued to ignore his knowledge of this and live comfortably off family money. And Mitarashi changed his name after the death of his parents, consequently choosing to turn his back on his past.

This doesn’t really fly with Saki, though, and of course it hardly sits much better with the player. Mikami’s claims feel simplistic and wrong after six playthroughs and hours spent learning that these men are good and honest people. Not only that, but the player’s well aware that they have also been scarred by the crash and its aftermath in a number of different ways.

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In order to counter his argument, Saki calls up the others on speakerphone and asks them about these allegations in the hope that their sincerity will get through. And, one by one, they step up and admit to their mistakes. Shidou’s impatience did arguably lead to his partner’s death, but his guilt over it has made him incredibly devoted to ensuring that nobody else will die on his watch. Shirabe’s well-intentioned article about the crash was twisted into sensationalist rubbish by his editor, and he continues to be feel responsible for the fact it was published in his name. Meoshi claims that his failure to testify was because he was intimidated by all the adults, but acknowledges that he still feels terrible about coming forward too late to help. Wakasa is too young to remember the crash, but is fully aware that it’s no excuse for having made those insensitive comments. Mitarashi only changed his name because he was taken in by his maternal grandmother, and pseudonyms are common in his line of work anyway. And Urabe, of course, has been destroyed by his guilt over his culpability for both his father’s and M2’s crimes. And all these revelations are supported by what the player learns of the cast in their individual routes; Mikami’s ending may be the closest thing the game has to a “true” path, but it means very little without all the information and character work from the previous six. Your faith in them has been built up across the entire game, so it makes sense for you to believe in them now and trust that they’ll make themselves vulnerable – nor is there any real question that they will.

In a game which cared any less about its characters, this kind of moment would come across as unbelievable and anime-esque. I’ve talked before about the way in which a lot of otome games use tropes rooted in manga as shorthand to quickly build up rapport between the player and her potential romance options, but Sweet Fuse refuses to have a bar of it. The game works hard to distance itself from the usual complacent fanservice of the romance genre, and this break with convention is best embodied through its romantic leads; not only do they have character designs which differ sharply from the usual bishonen aesthetic, but their personalities and arcs are comparatively understated, and both these factors work in service of establishing them as people rather than archetypes. Wakasa is the only one who wouldn’t feel entirely out of place in a more ordinary otome, but while his route is easily the game’s weakest, that’s no real indictment and it still compares favourably with the rest of the genre. Similarly, Urabe’s route fits quite neatly into the yandere tradition, although the character himself is a good deal more complicated than the archetype alone would suggest. Most notably, as I touched on before, Saki herself is an especially unconventional otome heroine; not only is she smart and resourceful and unafraid to stand up for herself, but she’s not particularly feminine or beautiful and thinks of herself as “round”.

The game wants you to think of its cast as people, not collections of tropes. It wants you to build up a real faith in them that simply wouldn’t be possible otherwise so that, by the time of the final route, there’s no question you’ll keep believing in them. In fact, almost all your opportunities to gain affection with Mikami are predicated on proving your faith in either your teammates or the man himself despite your doubts. Granted, this is because choosing these dialogue options make Saki appear selfless and optimistic enough that Mikami believes she might be able to save him, but he winds up being wrong on that account. In the end, Saki alone doesn’t redeem him, as a weaker romance game might have her do; the trust and bonds established by the six other men enable them to reach out to Mikami, and this helps to change him almost as much. His entire self-construction is rooted in the idea that he has been deeply, unshakably alone ever since his family was killed in the crash – but, as we’ve learned across the course of the game, the incident and its fallout have served to isolate the other six too. The real battle isn’t to overcome Hogstein’s puzzle challenges, but to drag Mikami out of the patterns of toxic thinking which led to all this, and to show him that there’s still hope.

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Sweet Fuse has a fundamental faith in people and the relationships between them which really shines through despite its goofy setup: not only does it believe in its cast’s ability to trust each other in order to triumph over adversity, but it also believes that the player can do the same. Mikami is a thoroughly twisted individual and the game doesn’t really shy away from that, but his madness is always presented as the result of isolation and grief rather than being inherent, and this means he never comes across as a lost cause. In the end, all he really wanted was for someone who understood his pain to save him, to have an honest human connection with someone who knows all of him and sticks around regardless. For all his talk about punishment, that’s the real reason he set up the death game for the other victims of the accident: in the desperate hope that one of them could try to believe in him and his worth when he’s long since stopped believing in himself.

Saki might play a more reactive role in Mikami’s path than she does in most, but she’s arguably at her most powerful there too. Her strength across all the routes comes from a genuine faith in people, and the knowledge that opening yourself up to someone can be the hardest thing you’ll ever do. And this is why Sweet Fuse got to me: because a really good romance game is just an earnest appeal for human connection in a world which has no respect for sincerity and what that means. Again and again, Saki makes a deliberate choice to yield and be honest with people, and is rewarded with honesty in return – which is incredibly big of her, considering that opening up is inseparable from the possibility of complete rejection. But Sweet Fuse tells us this is a risk you have to be prepared to take, and that having a little faith in someone else may be scary, but it’s also brave and worthwhile and important. We are, after all, so much less without the people around us.

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One Response to Thoughts on Sweet Fuse, Part Two: Sincerity as Strength

  1. Pingback: Thoughts on Sweet Fuse, Part One: The Female Power Fantasy | Girl from the Machine

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