Winter is here! During these times, some of us will go outside to enjoy the beautiful, chilly snow, while others prefer to stay inside and read a good book while drinking their favorite hot beverage. Regardless of how you may spend the season, I thought it would be fun to create a top 10 list of visual novels that not only take place in winter but give you the same feeling you would have when wearing a nice, cozy sweater: some feel-good warm, fuzzy feelings. But I can’t guarantee that you won’t have feels as well!
Note: This list is in no particular order!
Platforms: Windows, Mac (itch.io)
Megumi Shimizu’s daily routine is the same: wake up, go to school, deal with the tasks she has as the class leader, go home, and sleep. Then, the cycle repeats. The game begins with her dreaming that she’s laying in a pile of snow, unable to move, and commenting on how she’s just a single colored dot in a white, cold world. Given how monotonous her life is, her viewpoint makes sense. She has no friends, and she seems to just get through the day doing the same thing over and over. She doesn’t really see how exciting and colorful both the world and life can be. It’s sad, really. Although it may be a bit dramatic for some, especially considering Megumi is only eleven years old, I thought this opening perfectly set the mood for our main character and the transformation we’ll see her go through.
She meets a new girl named Mikami, who begins to bring some warmth into her life. Although Megumi’s classmates tell Mikami to stay away from her, calling her awful and cold, Mikami sees her differently. She sees her as nice. The two begin to hang out more, eventually bringing Megumi out of her mundane routine and exposing her to how life can be special: by being with people who care about you and letting them care about you. As a result, we get to see Megumi change for the better. She realizes the mistakes she’s made and tries to become a better person, even later in life during the game’s climax.
The art may not be everyone’s couple of tea. Sometimes the CGs look odd and the adult characters didn’t quite fit with the style, but as a whole, I found the art really cute! Overall, warm is a short but cute kinetic novel whose story warmed up my little heart.
You can also check out VN Game Den’s review of warm for more information.
9) Heart of the Woods
Price: $14.99 (Steam/itch.io), $19.99 (Switch)
Heart of the Woods is something special, which is fitting given the magical world it portrays. In this fantasy yuri visual novel, you follow Maddie and Tara, who go on an investigation to the mysterious village of Eysenfeld. Without spoiling it, Maddie and Tara discover that there’s more to Eysenfeld than they thought there would be, including two girls named Abigail and Morgan.
As they figure out more about Eysenfeld, our two main characters find themselves getting closer to the two mysterious girls. Everyone in this game is endearing so you can’t help but fall in love with them all, which is rare for me because I usually do end up not liking someone! Everything about this game is absolutely beautiful: its story, the writing, the music, and the art.
There’s also a ton of great accessibility options that really help make Heart of the Woods stand out amongst the rest of the crowd. It’s certainly an example for all devs to follow if they wish to make their games more accessible.
If you haven’t tried out Heart of the Woods yet, I highly recommend that you do. It’s a fantastic yuri title that you won’t regret purchasing.
8) The Flower Shop: Winter in Fairbrook
A sequel to The Flower Shop: A Summer in Fairbrook, The Flower Shop: Winter in Fairbrook follows a similar formula to its predecessor. You play as Natalie, a college student who nearly flunked her first semester. Although she craves a break, her parents tell her that she needs to become more responsible. To top it off, Natalie’s roommate gets her a job in the town of Fairbrook for the winter break. So much for a break, huh? As I said, the story is similar to the first game, where our reluctant protagonist is sent off to this small town in order to learn responsibility, and as they do, they may find themselves falling in love with one of the residents.
There are four romance options: Ryan, Trent, Jacob, and Steve, the last of whom is the protagonist from the first game who ended up staying in Fairbrook. I ended up liking Steve the best and found him to be the most well-rounded out of all the bachelors. Since he was in Natalie’s shoes once, he’s able to give her advice and relate to her on a deeper level in a way the others can’t. He’s mature, but will tease Natalie and joke around with her.
My biggest issue when it comes to any Winter Wolves title is the stat-building, which can be hit-or-miss with me. You’ll need to manage the flower shop, raise your stats, and build up your affection with one of the guys. It can be tough to manage and you may find yourself looking at a walkthrough in order to get the best ending. Not to mention that if you want to get a guy’s best ending, you’ll have to focus on two stats.
The Flower Shop: Winter in Fairbrook is a cute game that I had a good time playing and I recommend it to anyone who doesn’t mind stat-building.
7) Rose of Winter
Price: $8.99 (Steam), $10 (itch.io)
In Rose of Winter, you play as Rosemary, who left her family’s farm a year ago to pursue her dream of being a knight. Although she’s been doing odd jobs to get by, she’s recently found luck at a tavern at the bottom of a dangerous mountain known as Mount Needle. There are four Princes, all of whom are looking to get to the city of Starlight, but have to cut through the treacherous mountain in order to get there. That’s where Rosemary comes in! This game is a hilarious and cute visual novel that I had a great time with.
I found Crow to be the most enjoyable out of the four. He is such a smooth talker, and the addition of the munchkin Prince, who added comedic value both through his dialogue and look, makes for a really enjoyable route. The rest of the routes are fantastic as well. However, if you’re looking for romances that have a happily ever after, you won’t get that here. First love, just like in real life, is bittersweet in a way. You figure yourself out and have happy times, but for the most part, your first relationship doesn’t really work out. However, in a lot of cases, you’ll still look back on that relationship with fondness. That’s how I can summarize the romance in this game. Yes, although the endings may not all be super happy, Rosemary becomes a better person because of them, and overall, she’s happy that they happened.
If you’ve played Pillow Fight’s other titles, such as We Know the Devil, Heaven Will Be Mine, and my personal favorite, Later Alligator, you’ll find the same level of quality with this Rose of Winter.
6) War of the Lilies: An Eons Lost Story
Platforms: Windows. Mac, Linux (itch.io)
In War of the Lilies: An Eons Lost Story, you play a theater group in a historical play that reenacts how the nation of Odessa came to be. While it’s a play intended for children, the ambassador of the neighboring country of Unica is in attendance, which makes some of our actors nervous, as Unica was occupied by Odessa for centuries. Will the play be good enough to avoid offending the Ambassador and mend relations between Unica and Odessa?
I loved the writing for this game. It’s quirky, snappy, and fun. This is one part due to the play being made with children in mind, so the humor has to be kicked up a notch for them to enjoy. But it’s also in part due to the behind-the-scenes stuff that the in-game audience doesn’t see, such as the director Nyambe bringing in four random people off the street to fill in last minute, and finding out that they’re not even actors, they’re just people who lost their way home before getting tied up into this nonsense, is hilarious.
War of the Lilies is missing standard mechanics you would expect to see in a visual novel, such as quick buttons, text history, an in-game menu to save, and similar. There is also this weird visual issue that I’m not sure if it was intentional or not: during some scenes, such as the beginning, one of the sprites will turn but look as though half of the sprite has been cut off. This only happens when the characters are turning around to look and talk to the other characters. When it does happen, it takes me out of the game for the brief time it wis on-screen. Thankfully, the story is able to reel me back in.
Overall, War of the Lilies is a nice, short title with a lesbian romance that begins to unearth itself as the story goes on. If you’re looking for something funny to sink your teeth into this winter season, this title might be what you’re looking for.
5) Snow Angel
Platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux (itch.io)
You play as a lonely protagonist, whose name and pronouns are chosen by the player, who wishes they had someone to wake up to and enjoy life with. Although this game is about an hour long, writers LunaMakaio and Crystal do a fantastic job at making us feel for the protagonist and understand the overbearing loneliness they’re feeling. Their wishes for a partner are answered in the form of the angel Raphael. Unlike the customers they have to deal with at work, Raphael is calm, patient, and extremely understanding. He’s essentially everything that the main character needs and wants in a partner. It’s extremely nice to see them open up to Raphael and feel the weight they’ve had on their shoulders get lifted.
The writing can be summed up as gentle and beautiful, which perfectly matches the presence of the angel-like Raphael. It also perfectly captures the warmth that the main character feels when they finally fall in love with someone, and the excitement and also the longing they feel when they find out about Raphael’s position as a higher being and how relationships with humans aren’t allowed.
Snow Angel is a perfect title for anyone who is looking to play something with tooth-rotting fluff. As I mentioned in my NaNoRenO article earlier this year, it’s a perfect palette cleanser after you’ve played something very emotionally taxing.
4) Code: Realize ~Wintertide Miracles~
Price: $49.99 (PlayStation 4), $39.99 (Switch)
I’m usually on the fence with fandiscs. While I always love more content for my favorite games, they sometimes don’t really add anything worthwhile, and having too many of them can bring an overall great series down. I’m happy to report that isn’t the case with Code: Realize ~Wintertide Miracles~.
There’s a lot of content in this fandisc: the First Christmas Alternate Stories, three side stories (Finis’ epilogue, Cantarella, and Sholmes’ epilogue), the Triangle dates, and Beach episodes in the Switch version which I didn’t play since I don’t have a Switch copy of the game. To get full enjoyment out of this title, you’ll have to obviously play the first game and its first fandisc. It’s a lot of time to invest, given how long the first game is, but I do think it’s worth it. Finis’ After Story is a nice conclusion to his story and he ended up being one of my favorite characters from Code: Realize.
The First Christmas Stories, as you would expect, cover Cardia’s first-ever Christmas with the boys. These stories are filled with fluffy romance that I can’t get enough of. The Triangle dates have Cardia spending time with two of the romance interests instead of just one. For fans like me who have more than one favorite in the original Code: Realize game, this is a nice extra to have in there so I can spend time with two of my favorite characters, Lupin and Van Helsing.
For those who loved Code: Realize and its first fandisc, Future Blessings, this is a great addition to the series and makes for a perfect treat this winter.
3) Candied Carols
Price: TBD, currently in development
Platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux (demo available on itch.io)
A complete departure from their previous title Dead Wishes, VIOLET brings a joyful and lighthearted experience with Candied Carols. The protagonist, whose name, appearance, and pronouns are determined by the player, finds themself in the magical Land of Sweets, a place they’ve heard of from their grandfather’s stories. While the land is filled with wonder, hidden behind that is tension between the three kingdoms of the land. Will you be able to solve the current political dilemma in Land of the Sweets and find love along the way?
At the current moment, the game is in beta, so the full version isn’t out yet. However, from what I’ve played so far from the game, I’m liking what I’m seeing. Although I liked Dead Wishes in terms of how dark it can get and the themes that were tied to each route, I felt like I never got to truly connect to the various love interests. That could be because of how long the routes are or because there are so many different characters to juggle that some of them get left by the wayside. However, Candied Carols so far is showing promise in the area of character development. There are a couple of kinks that need to be worked out technically, such as the main character portrait still being viewable when hiding the textbox, typos that need to be fixed, and the overwhelming number of characters on screen. It can be hard to keep track of who is talking, so I think the game would benefit from highlighting the person speaking.
An aspect I enjoyed that I also found with some of Dead Wishes’ characters is the character designs. I think it’s important to have your cast stand out amongst each other. Candied Carols, in my opinion, hits it right out of the park.
At the moment, the project has been put on hold, but I’m eagerly looking forward to when the game is completed!
2) First Snow
Platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux (Steam)
You play as Allison, a young adult adjusting to college life where she’s surrounded by strangers instead of the warm comfort her family provided her when she was back home. Her quiet personality has made it even more difficult for her to find friends in this unfamiliar place. That changes when she meets Eileen, an inspiring artist who comes off as a little intimidating when she first meets our protagonist.
The art style is perhaps my favorite aspect of this game. Its soft, papercraft look is entirely unique and fits perfectly with the cute, heartwarming story. Speaking of the story, I loved it. Written by Suriko, one of the writers of Katawa Shoujo, First Snow is ultimately a coming-of-age story, as both Allison and Eileen learn more about themselves and try to navigate their budding relationship, which eventually turns romantic. Like with any relationship, we see them having their shining moments, but we also see them argue when problems begin to arise. Seeing them trying to navigate through their issues while also trying to understand the other’s point of view on the situation is an incredibly realistic but hard thing to do that many young adults struggle with. To summarize, First Snow is a great coming-of-age queer story that everyone should play.
1) The Warmth Between Us
Platform: Windows (Steam)
We play as Nine, a young man stuck working as a game designer. Although he sees this as a great way to get closer to his dream, in reality, his passion for the job has died and he feels like he’s further from his dream than ever before. Although he has a harsh take on life, he still believes that there’s hope and that tomorrow could bring a better day. So, he continues to work hard at his day job while working on a script for his own game. One day, while people-watching, he spots a lonely girl reading a book on the cold winter night. He’s immediately intrigued by her. She eventually comes inside and talks to him, which starts their unusual relationship. They both see something in each other that intrigues them, so the two agree to see each other again.
The Warmth Between Us is a story about moving forward. In order to do that, we need to have the strength to do so. But you don’t suddenly get strength. Sometimes, you need people to help you muster it. The support and, as the game’s name suggests, the warmth that comes from the bonds we have with people helps us become stronger and gives us the will to move forward. Tina is supportive of Nine’s dream to release a game that touches the heart of its players, while he is willing to help her through what she’s going through, which I won’t spoil here. As they spend time with each other, we see Nine working harder on his script and pursuing his dream more than ever while Tina slowly opens up about herself. Their relationship gives them the strength to move forward and see what else tomorrow may hold instead of just staying stagnant.