If My Heart Had Wings is a romantic visual novel that follows the main character Aoi in his life after he returns to his hometown after years away. It's a very, very textbook visual novel plot that happens to have just the right amount of refinement to become something special.
The majority of the novel's plot is driven by the adventures of the "Soaring Club", a school club dedicated to piloting a glider that the club has built themselves, as they journey skyward. Along the way, Aoi crosses paths with a number of women and old friends, and from there we are brought along on a dramatic story that never gets too dark or too happy, but always stays optimistic.
If there's one thing that If My Heart Had Wings does marvelously, it's the execution. The art style is crisp, stylish, and pretty while the writing is refined and the editing is top notch. It manages to pace itself well while still making me care about the characters and the overarching plot.
The Beauty of Flight:
Besides being a fan of Japan, I'm also quite a fan of airplanes and the like. I've never been particularly interested in gliders, but If My Heart Has Wings captures the essence of why flight is such a beautiful concept, particularly in Kotori's route.
A Diverse Number of Aesops:
Each route focuses on a particular takeaway from the story. Each one, in my opinion, is handled with fair tact and manages to feel quite peculiarly real. You won't necessarily leave this visual novel feeling like you've gained something absolutely spectacular, but you'll probably walk away very satisfied with the message each one delivers like I was.
The Waifu Bait:
I'd be lying if I didn't say this whole cast was textbook visual novel waifu bait. You've got the happy childhood friend type, the tsundere handicapped girl, the Senpai, and the twins. It's literally as textbook as you can get, but it's just so well executed that I enjoyed it. They're a great cast of diverse and well developed characters.
There's just something about the opening in If My Heart Had Wings that I love. It fits the visual novel perfectly and it has nice production values.
MoeNovel, a new company that licensed and produced the English translation, made some questionable choices here. This was an eroge game until MoeNovel gave it the all ages treatment. To be honest, I'm absolutely fine with cutting to a point, but they might take it a bit far. Basically everything remotely sexual in nature (from innuendo to the scenes) is either downplayed or cut.
Ageha's route was heavily based around this, so it ended up being rewritten to accommodate her character development without the innuendo or related subject matter. This is a subjective change and, while I disagree with the scale of the changes, it's an acceptable (though disappointing) decision.
Mixed Character Motivations:
Although the writing is good, they tend to rely on the adults of the story being a bit... unreasonable every step of the way. At least three routes are based around adults trying, in some matter, to force the main characters to do things they don't want to. It's a passable break from reality, but it can be jarring.
Doesn't Do Anything Particularly New:
At its core, this dating sim is just that: a dating sim. It has a bunch of girls, a basic plot, and it's all based on the drama surrounding the main cast. Despite its genuine moments of heartwarming and good writing, it's not exactly the sort of visual novel that you'll gush about later on.
As much as this visual novel got gliding and flight mechanics right, it also failed miserably at describing how a plane is supposed to fly. I will not let this go because of handwavery, they are just wrong. The visual novel is propagating the very incorrect myth of "equal transit-time". This explanation of flight incorrectly assumes that low pressure areas form above the wing due to the air moving across it faster to meet up with the lower velocity air on the bottom of the airfoil. This is wrong due to the shear number of assumptions the theory has, and because it blatantly violates Newton's third law of motion.
It's pretty good with everything else, but they'd have been better off copping out and using a Newtonian explanation of flight instead. It's about as easy to understand and, while still technically incorrect, is better than equal transit.
If My Heart Has Wings is rather worthy of the awards that it has won. It's a well-executed visual novel that does exactly what it sets out to do. The writing is sharp, the characters well developed and well explored, and the plot is enough to keep even the most monotonous parts at least interesting.
As with many stories out of Japan, it is far more interesting than it has any right to be, and I find myself perplexed as to how to sum up my thoughts about the whole thing. It's just a very well done story that isn't exactly groundbreaking. It's one of the rare instances of a romantic visual novel done just right.
While I'll never praise If My Heart Has Wings as one of the greatest visual novels I've played through, I'm comfortable saying that it'll probably stick in my top ten for a few years to come at least.
You can get a second opinion from Kotaku's Richard Eisenbeis here.