“Reader, I married the gross creepy dude to prevent a war.” This is probably how my crown princess' diary would end. Also, she would say, “I am proficient at military strategy and swording people in the gut.”
This is a fantasy political intrigue spreadsheet where a number can kill your cursor; a sly and intriguing visual novel that weaves political narrative with stat skill-ups and assassination attempts. In other words, it's Football Manager for people who prefer death-prone royalty to accident-ridden athletes.
Starting as teenage queen Elodie after the death of your mother, you take control of the Novan empire, settling disputes, learning mystical powers and taking classes in how to Be A Proper Badass.
At first I looked at the game with suspicion. The art is very girly, and looks like a thousand Japanese dating sims. It's nice to play something that doesn't stink of locker room towel-whippings, but I'm not keen to be smothered to death by hearts and pink ribbons.
The core of the game is your education: you take daily classes in physical, intellectual, social and mystical skills in order to negotiate the tumultuous narrative and survive until coronation. Over time you level up each of the many skills and skill subsets that will make you a royal success – be it court manners, battlefield medicine or ciphering. Mood is essential: choose an action during the narrative that makes you afraid, and you can't train in swordplay efficiently; accidentally get lonesome and you can learn to decorate a dress like motherflippin' Donatella Versace.
This game of thrones can end very abruptly: on my first playthrough I died by roadside bandit on the way to a birthday party. On the second I ate poisoned food sent by some pissed-off foreign confectioner. The third time, I died by the sword of a mop-headed nobleman who surprise stabbed me at a tournament. All were preventable: I could have avoided the events – or I could have trained myself in reflexes, poison, or magically burning the bollocks off Eton-educated ponces. The only way to learn what to learn is through trial and dying, though.
It's refreshing to play a game that emphasises the difficult and complex lives of the lost heroines of history. There's a Progress Quest-esque thrill I get from seeing those skill bars fill up golden, bringing my princess wisdom and grace. If you can get past the cliché gender-pandering veneer, it's a good yarn and very satisfying to advance.
It's like looking at the partial skeleton of a much bigger game, a sort of primitive Civ, though replayability is limited due to the set narrative and dialogue choices. The only lasting niggle was the penetrating piano music, so I replaced it with Dizzee Rascal's Fix Up, Look Sharp and bodypopped my way through the history books to become the hip hop queen of Nova.
◆ Expect to pay: $12.30 / £8
◆ Release: Out now
◆ Developer: Hanako Games
◆ Publisher: In-house
◆ Multiplayer: None
◆ Link: www.hanakogames.com