Series Breakdown Rating:
Spoilers: Not really?
Audience Assumptions: Some familiarity with video games (specifically Democracy 3)
Long Live the Queen
Part One: Do You Like Democracy 3 But Wish It Had More Anime Princesses? Buddy, Have I Got Some Good News!
Here’s a list of three random things I don’t really like: romanticized medieval and post-medieval monarchies, magical girl anime and manga cliches, and the color pink. You know this game has to be solid to win me over with plenty of all three on the cover.
Long Live the Queen is one of the most peculiar little games I’ve ever played and it’s more gripping than its story or mechanics have any right to be. It’s no grand achievement in game design but its simple conceit and the lengths it goes to wring as much out of its gameplay as it can makes this little choice-based strategy game worth a look.
Not that there’s much to look at, mind you. I’m not entirely sure what single genre this game fits, if any, but its functionality works much like Democracy 3 and other strategy games where the tension derives from stats going up and down and simple narrative story progression. It works almost like a board game with branching and anastomosing pathways, and because its mechanics are so simple, it only really provides three different screens or so. Basically, you control a princess in a fantasy kingdom and try to keep her alive until her coronation (this is much easier said than done). In the morning, you have the option to select classes for the princess to attend that grant her points in two of several dozen skills, then in the afternoon, the plot progresses and those skills come into play.
The story is non-randomized and always starts with the same conditions, so you might rightly imagine that reaching a particular ending is merely a matter of gaining the right skills at the right times. The plot progresses based on the number of turns, though certain actions can delay a particular event a few turns and give you more days to train the princess. To add a small but significant complication to the gameplay, you also have to manage the princess’ mood by going to particular places in the afternoon, as her mood gives bonuses and penalties to certain groups of skills the next day. It’s easy to pick up how the game works, but it has just enough depth that you can become engrossed in finding the most efficient way to build whatever princess you like – or whatever one you think might have a chance of not dying horrifically. The custom save system is also a nice feature.
Part Two: FUCK YOU I DIDN’T PRACTICE ECONOMICS ENOUGH – I’M A GODDAMN PRINCESS, I SHOULD HAVE ACCESS TO MY OWN TREASURY!
The game has a lot working against it to get players invested, but it manages to find a good balance of quality that makes for a fun and engaging experience. The plot is straightforward to begin with, but it has just enough secrets and twists that you feel less like it’s a standard visual novel and more of an expansive world you’re exploring piece by piece. I was pleasantly surprised to learn when trying a completely different build I had access to new story components that were wildly different than the ones I had encountered in my first run. There are events that always have the same outcome and events that can be resolved in different ways without really affecting the plot, as in any game with branching pathways, but unlike recent Telltale and other similar choice-based games, this one is particularly expansive. The addition of the skills and mood modifiers makes it impractical to just replay every event with different conditions, but still allows for a lot of flexibility to incorporate strategic choices. If you know, for instance, that you either need to learn divination or local history to overcome a mid-game obstacle, you can try to figure out which skill you can learn most easily alongside ones that are crucial in more circumstances or earlier in the game. Each time your princess fails something, you get a clear notification of which skills you needed to have higher to overcome something, which means that you learn each time you start a new game or go back to an earlier save point.
The consequence of the story being tied into the skills is that you care about your princess’ success. The writing isn’t anything exceptional – it’s decent and just a bit clearer than average for a typical fantasy game, which can mean a lot on its own – but what really brings it together is how the customization of the skills makes each character build play and feel different. It’s not just “Elodie the Princess” who’s trying to defeat some witch in a throne assembly – it’s “Elodie: Vanquisher of Bandits, Expert in Polearms and Falconry.” You start to become kind of invested in the character, especially when perfecting some dumb skill like naval strategy or meditation finally pays off. Because there are multiple strategies to get to any given ending, you rarely feel confined to putting your time into only a few given skillsets.
On the flip side of that, of course, you will always have certain skills checks that you fail, because these are built into the game. The skill checks aren’t just cardboard villains though, like you might encounter on the fringes of the first level in a bad platformer – even though you can’t be hurt by these obstacles early on, they can still be overcome individually under the right circumstances. Succeeding an early skill check doesn’t always have an effect, but it can sometimes open up a completely new pathway that changes available options from then on.
Part Three: You Should Definitely Buy This Game for Your 4-Year Old Niece
I wouldn’t say this game is especially deep, but the depth it does have far exceeds its appearance. The gameplay is simple and can get repetitive, and a few small quirks of the mechanics can make them frustrating when they do something unintuitive. For instance, if all of the mood points are even, certain moods are prioritized over others. That can be exceedingly frustrating when you end up having to take an extra unwanted turn just to get the princess in the right mood to learn military skills. Many of the events can feel unpredictable, and there are certain skills you can’t get by without – combat training and magic use, for instance, are a necessity unless you find the narrow way to avoid having to learn them. It’s difficult to learn the magic skill unless you take the time to make certain decisions early in the game, which means that no matter how effective your princess is otherwise, you’ll likely run into a late-game encounter you can’t get past without magic. Deaths that require unforeseen skills can be especially disheartening.
Have I mentioned how likely you are to die in this game yet? It usually won’t happen early, but this isn’t an especially easy game.
In all, Long Live the Queen has a creative format and a good bit of potential. I wouldn’t be opposed to looking at other games with similar skill trees combined with branching story paths, and a game with more content or even random encounters could be a good way to shake up the RPG genre. While I wouldn’t want to take away beautiful creature designs or the combat that makes this genre (Western or JRPG) both frustrating and comforting, the format Long Live the Queen uses trims a lot of the fat and delivers an experience that is gripping without feeling like it’s wasting your time. There’s an idea here that could be ideal for those interested in creating story-based games but lack the skills to deliver on the exploratory graphics we so often associate with the medium. At the very least, it’s worthwhile if you’re into fantasy games.