Review: Cinders (PC)

Cinders
Developer: MoaCube
Steam: https://store.steampowered.com/app/293680/Cinders/

Primary Interactive Element:
– Click/Spacebar

Mechanics/Elements:
– Text with minor vocal sound effects
– Multiple decision points
– Character development through choice.
– Strong narrative thrust

Review:

I’ll admit from the get-go that I am not a veteran of the “visual novel” (VN) style game.  They have always been on the periphery of my experience, but few have seemed like something I was interested in playing (the proliferation of dating-sim VNs has kept me warry).  And so, as one that is less familiar with the style, I am very pleased to talk about my experience with Cinders.

Cinderella as a story has been explored to remarkable length through a variety of media.  This iteration places you once again in the perspective of our scullery maid protagonist.  The expected characters are present: Two nasty step-sisters, a worse step-mother, the vacancy of a dead father, a prince, and a “fairy” godmother (more on this later).  In addition, we have a childhood-friend-turned-merchant, a shady vagabond, and a loyal captain of the guard.  It has the makings of the traditional story, but from here on out the game diverges.

The game plays out over the course of several “days.”  As the days progress the player is given many choices with which they craft their Cinder’s character and relationships.  Many scenes have segments that are determined by these past choices (indicated by a ding and a rose that grows in the top right corner of the screen).  The events ultimately culminate in a final major decision with one of four possible endings.  The endings are fairly mundane in and of themselves (marry the prince, reclaim your inheritance, run away and start a new life, or kick the bucket).  What makes the endings fascinating are the variations.  Based on how you crafted your character and the kinds of relationships you built through your choices, the endings can vary wildly.  Will you be a kind and demure queen or a ruthless and tyrannical ruler?  Your choices throughout the game will determine this.

The other characters deviate from their simplistic fairy tale counterparts and turn out to be quite complex.  Could the step-mother have good motives even if they are carried out in cruel ways?  Could the prince truly have the good of the people on his heart but need to pursue subversive methods to accomplish this?  Are the step-sisters cruel to their core or just reacting to their home lives?  Are the fairies benevolent friends, or cold wielders of fate?  The variety in the characters will require more than one playthrough to see all sides.

The “fairy godmother” is a particularly interesting deviation from the original story.  You are actually given two choices:  A “witch” named Madame Ghede who represents individuality and free will or the forest fairies who offer a Faustian deal for their aid.  This choice also adds another layer of depth to Cinder’s character and impacts the final variation of outcomes.

The artistic style is intricate and attractive.  There isn’t much in the way of animation.  Most characters are given two or three static poses, though each character’s eyes shift back and forth continually.  The visuals benefit greatly from subtleties:  Lighting to indicate the speaking character, shifts in daylight, varied expressions.  One particularly helpful integration is the use of varied text output.  Without the aid of voice actors, the text speed adds a layer of “voice” to the dialogue.  It was subtle enough that it went unnoticed until about halfway through the game but does a lot to communicate how a character is reacting.

Much care was put into the story and, though it can’t quite avoid feeling a little clunky at times, the team behind Cinders has crafted a fresh take on this world.  It’s definitely worth picking up and MoaCube is a dev team to keep an eye on.

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