From developer and publisher Visual Saga, Wildfire – Ticket to Rock comes in high-energy and fun with a story about teens forming a band. The absent-minded Hanako is stuck in a rut. Preferring to spend her days at the arcade, she’s only working at her father’s cafe to earn extra money to go to a music festival. When a series of miscommunications gets out of hand, she finds herself at the center of a new, interesting challenge: forming a band to play at a yearly rock festival in their city. Along the way, she makes new friends, challenges herself, and learns to face conflicts head-on.
A review copy of this game was provided by the developer.
The sprites are mostly solid with a definite “traditional” feel to them. There’s a lot of movement and expressiveness to them with different poses and costume changes giving them a more organic-to-the-setting quality. There are a lot of characters, all in school uniforms, and they do a pretty good job outside the main cast of girls with fun character design elements. The main girls, however, have a little bit of same-face/same-body syndrome going on, so you really have to lean on the wacky hair colors to tell them apart from each other easily. It’s not a huge deal, but it does flatten otherwise fun characterizations a little bit. Some of the anatomy is a little weird in some of the sprite work. Some of the characters feel a little hunched over, and some of their uniform collars interact with their heads and necks strangely. It’s a minor technical flaw, but it’s glaring enough that it’s difficult to ignore it for the sake of the rest of the game.
The backgrounds are a little harder to pin down. In some of the backgrounds, I feel like I’m seeing evidence of pre-rendered models (like the guitar and drum kit in the practice room). This is fine in and of itself, but it’s part of a bigger aesthetic issue with the backgrounds. They don’t feel done. There’s competent line work and coloring, and they’re very technically accurate. They’re flat and flavorless, though. There’s no sense of style or oomph to them.
The CGs are generally okay. A few also have some wonky anatomy, but most of the stage and crowd shots are really vibrant, high-energy, and well-constructed. The overall not-quite-but-almost-cartoony aesthetic works well with the overall mood, tone of the story, and designs of the main girls (though it’s a little strange on some of the older side characters). Generally it looks great, even if it doesn’t have a very strong aesthetic style.
The writing is fine. The characters are fairly strong as well as fun and generally likable. They interact in a very realistic way, making their growth as people and bandmates very effective storytelling. There’s a little bit of understated teen romance. The story takes a little bit to get going, but overall it’s perfectly serviceable teen drama. Nothing that really stands out negatively or positively, and really, it’s just a nice little coming-of-age tale about forming a band and making friends along the way.
It does happen to be one of those games where the choice to give the characters Japanese names feels like it was only done to ape Japanese visual novels specifically. This really only stands out so much to me in this particular game because the way they describe the rock festivals and stage events in the game feels very American. Not that Japan doesn’t have these sort of events (they do), but from the perspective of an American reading a game in English who’s been to many a rock music festival in their day, that’s my first cultural read on the whole thing. So borrowing that Japanese facade to place on top of everything creates this low level of inauthenticity.
Where it really shines, though, is in its music—as it should, considering the content. The incredible music is extremely well done with some incredible vocalists and instrumentalists. It’s sort of a hard pop-rock sound with a little bit of J-Pop thrown in there for good measure that’s just a lot of fun and matches the main characters perfectly. When paired with the rock instrumental backing tracks, it’s a very unique sound for a visual novel that really stands out from the crowd.
Wildfire – Ticket to Rock is a fine game. It’s got interesting characters that are grounded while still feeling a little fantastical. It’s a fun idol semi-fantasy with a rock twist, and a really great game for someone who wants something light and fun with a sweet aftertaste.