There’s been a dry spell of boy’s love visual novels, but within the drought, a dessert blossom has bloomed from Spanish developer, Ertal Games. Inspired by the 1001 Arabian Nights and 13th-century Persian poet, Rumi is an enchanting middle eastern harem fairytale called My Burning Heart.
My Burning Heart tells the tale of Adnan, who is caught stealing food from the market and sentenced to a decade as a slave. He is bought from a slave market and put to work as a harem boy for the Sultan. Clumsy, crude, and foul-mouthed, Adnan openly hates his punishment, cursing the Sultan, and the Vizier to their face, right from the start. However, between the choice of living life in the palace (being well-fed and even educated) or sent to the work fields where he’ll be shackled, he quickly makes every effort to become more presentable under the eyes of the nobility.
Between learning honorific etiquette, dancing, and his literacy education, Adnan bitterly continues to seduce the Sultan night after night. Yet when the Sultan chooses him in favor of other boys or girls from either harem, Adnan begins to question his own feelings for his position, for the Sultan, and what will happen should he manage to live out his entire sentence as a harem boy….
My Burning Heart doesn’t waste time with a lengthy introduction, showing the protagonist being flung from normal life and into conflict like every other visual novel we’ve reviewed this year. The game kicks off with Adnan being brought into the palace and his situation being laid out before him, and thrusts him right into the Sultan’s chambers for “initiation.” After having spent hours reading in Togainu no Chi or Enzai before getting to the first player-choice, the speedy introduction is a god-send. What’s more, My Burning Heart isn’t shy in giving the player plenty of moments to select route-determining dialogue.
While most BL games are written from a first-person perspective, My Burning Heart stands out a little. It’s entirely in third-person, disconnecting the player from the protagonist. It may be just a small change, but in doing so, we’re reminded repeatedly that Adnan is his own character, and in turn, many choice-points in the game might include all options that we don’t necessarily agree with, ourselves. However, that’s because My Burning Heart doesn’t give the player a story to insert themselves into, but instead tells Adnan’s story.
Only three love interests are up for grabs, resulting in five endings. These possible mates include Halim: the feminine but friendly fellow harem boy. Then there’s Rashid, the Sultan: a kind nobleman who is still clouded by his own ignorance of sexual slavery. Finally, there is Harun, the Vizier: a harsh and vile snake who makes every promise to claim Adnan as his own.
Through the story, Adnan works to win back his freedom while his love interest’s own conflict intertwines with his. Whether it be faith in their future prospects, blindness to the outside world, or power-starved corruption, each character provides a balanced and unique story for all routes.
My Burning Heart is only lacking in the amount of content it offers. With five endings, the game can be completely finished in only six, maybe seven hours. There is also the matter of a somewhat minimal CG gallery, most of which is unlocked in the first two hours of the story.
Despite this, My Burning Heart still sets our hearts ablaze. Adnan keeps us entertained for 1,001 Arabian Nights. It’s a diamond in the rough among indie games and surely puts Etral Games on the radar to keep all eyes on during the coming years. Available now on the JAST USA webshop.