Smersh and Akabur are making Broken Heart Bordello, a visual novel where you play a man on a path of vengeance, sex, and handball.
“Now my revenge can finally begin…”
The sentence above is pretty much one of the most noir things to come out of a character’s mouth. You imagine him saying it while smoking a cigar, drinking whiskey and staring off into the distance with a glare that could melt steel beams. Lines like that are no stranger to Broken Heart Bordello. It’s the story of a man returning from a city he was once exiled from to get vengeance on his family’s killers. That means one can expect to see monochrome shots, men with stubble gazing upon things with their dark eyes, rough, violent fucking with worn-out whores, and — surprisingly enough — kooky sports tournaments?
Yeah, this title is a weird one. Broken Heart Bordello is a visual novel by two Russian devs: writer Smersh and artist Akabur (the same Akabur who made Princess Trainer and Witch Trainer). This game started before Akabur struck it big, and he and Smersh are apparently childhood friends. The whole thing is based on an odd webpage-based online interactive story the two made some time back, which — for any Russian readers interested — is still up today. The way the story would move was based on the choices the readers made. Years later, the two decided to turn it into a visual novel. This is all important for two reasons: firstly, the strange nature of the original story is probably the cause of many of the game’s stranger points. Secondly, from a mechanical standpoint, the game plays like Akabur’s other games and clearly uses large segments of the Princess Trainer code.
The game presently has five chapters available, but hunting for them through Smersh’s Patreon can be a chore, so I included individualized links at the end of this preview. Chapters are divided so that each chapter is essentially a different game. All of them use Akabur’s classic mechanical system of clicking around town, talking to various denizens and making progress on various quests that the game assigns you. This is especially true in later chapters, where the UI becomes basically identical, with even the same system of quest subdivision. There is a significantly teensier whore training element though, so almost all of your time in the game will be spent advancing the revenge plot and talking to people. In Broken Heart Bordello, the aesthetic and the narrative are king.
If that aesthetic has one thing going for it, it’s that it oozes tone. The fantastic dark score that accompanies the whole thing; this rougher, monochrome version of Akabur’s familiar style; the fact that everyone is wearing cool hoods and talking in dark, terse sentences with swear words peppered in liberally. It’s on the nose, but I’m a sucker for consistency of tone. This consistency is why it’s so fucking strange when it breaks tone so often.
Most of the time you spend playing the game centers on talking. These conversations can run for hours, without any sign of sex in sight. Now, some of this dialogue is really interesting, and if you’re playing this game, you should know that Smersh is not hit too badly by the transition to writing in English. That said, it can drag a bit at times. Altogether, the five chapters make for about 10 to 15 hours of playtime, a good 30% of which is going to be pretty boring.
Artistically speaking, there are lots of black and white images. Akabur’s linework here is a lot rougher than usual, helping make the world of Broken heart Bordello feel genuinely rough and tumble. What art is present is top tier, helping the infrequent sex scenes to really pop. Problem is, much like those sex scenes, there just isn’t enough art. With maybe twenty pieces at most per chapter stretched out over hours of content, the game is oddly bland to look at in its current form.
Of the small portion of the game that’s accompanied by art, an even smaller percentage is accompanied by erotic art. We’re talking maybe one sex scene per hour if you’re lucky. If you are coming to Broken heart Bordello first and foremost to jack off, you have made a huge mistake. It is distinctly a revenge story with erotic elements, not vice versa. Though when the porn does show up, I personally wasn’t disappointed. The art really shines in these few segments and the writing does a good job of selling the sexuality of the moment.
If the game is to rely on this aesthetic and this narrative to make it work, then we’re going to have to bring back the kooky sports tournaments, because the narrative here has a pretty big problem: it can’t fucking maintain a consistent tone. It’s less prevalent in the early chapters, but it’s sometimes just really bizarre, with silly narrative choices like deciding to have the MC walk around, calling himself “Master” as his proper name. It’s almost like a parody of something “grimdark,” but shit like this keeps on happening as the story advances.
By Chapter 5, the entire adventure is vacillating wildly between serious and silly, with much of the chapter being built around a handball tournament. Now, the idea of putting dumb shit like that in a moody noir thriller is kind of hysterical to me, but the problem is that it doesn’t really fit with the unironic, over-arching narrative about finding revenge for your family. You can’t expect anyone to get invested in the noir story that you just mocked relentlessly for thirty minutes of in-game time, and you can’t expect anyone to play through hours of a dark, gritty drama just to get to a deconstructionist parody of said drama. One’s first impulse would be to ask Smersh what he is doing here, but I don’t think he’s actually the problem. I suspect this is all just residual tonal failure brought upon by the original version of the story being an audience-driven clusterfuck. Letting readers pick what direction the story goes sounds like a much better idea before they tell you to name your main character Master.
Which is basically where this entire preview is stuck. It’s a porn game without much porn, a moody atmospheric piece that flagrantly breaks mood, and a screwball comedy with hours of straight-faced intrigue. Yet, crazily enough, it’s one of the clearest aesthetic statements I’ve ever gotten from an H-game. It’s a game with exceptionally high-tier artwork that barely has any artwork. In short, the experience of playing Broken Heart Bordello is fucking weird and worth it more for the novelty than for its legitimate quality. The strange thing is that I was actually quite charmed by the whole thing. Who knows, maybe Smersh and Akabur will work on another game once this one is done; perhaps one a tad more focused.
And Smersh, for the love of Jesus, include links to all the chapters on the front of your page.
You can check out Chapters 1 through 3 of Broken Heart Bordellohere , with Chapter 4 located here , while Chapter 5 is here . If you want to support Smersh, you can find his Patreon here , and if you are interested in supporting Akabur, his Patreon can be found here.