Love’s Sweet Garnish is a dating sim and visual novel centered around Asaki, a young man still in school who travels to a new town to live in his ill grandmother’s house, and subsequently ends up reviving her aging cafe, which he quickly renames to Tea Parlor Caramella. Players will have a chance to choose between the game’s two routes through two choices, one of which feels like a shot in the dark with how little it describes what’s going on. The background art is charming, the UI is advanced, and the atmosphere is peppy, but that’s about where my enjoyment ended.
While the characters are all written fairly well, the voice acting for the girls is so… skeevy. Four of the girls sound like they’re meant to be six years old, not high schoolers, and the number of high-pitched gasps and breathy exclamations had me cringing. The art for the characters is all slightly sexualized, which I suppose isn’t too surprising for a dating sim with a $3.99 patch introducing 18+ content, but is still a negative for me. I spent nearly every “romantic” scene leaning back in my seat, groaning in pain.
All the characters are likable. That’s where they succeeded, and at times I did find myself caring what happened to them. Unfortunately, it also felt like they were good people trapped by their malevolent creators distasteful whims, forced into unsavory situations. The characters constantly tell each other that they’re trying to avoid being weird or improper, but are unable to help themselves. Early in the game Asaki walks in to find one of his romance options, Rira, in the midst of changing into the cafe’s uniform. Cue the fanservice.
The gameplay itself is acceptable: I had no problems saving, loading, or advancing through the text. Clicking the left mouse button brings up the next screen, and the right mouse button removes the UI, should you wish to take screenshots of nothing but the art, which I can see people doing for the 18+ version. To each their own – you get what you paid for, I suppose! The route options themselves felt limited, while there were three characters I felt would be romanceable, only two of them turned out to be. The third displayed active interest in Asaki, but ended up only being in a few scenes and ended up being a red herring.
Ultimately, I just can’t give my approval to a visual novel which spent so much of its time creeping me out. There’s certainly a large demographic that Love’s Sweet Garnish will appeal to, and I’m not one to judge. But having spent time with other dating sims I didn’t want to reel dramatically away from, it’s not for those who desire a little more class in their novels.