First Impressions: “The Royal Trap” Demo

I’ve been waiting for this game to come out ever since I bought Magical Diary and found Hanako Games’ forums. As you may know, I’m a big fan of Hanako Games’ stuff, so, in the interests of giving Hanako and co. more exposure and because I get $5 off this game if I blog about it, here are my first impressions of the demo, which you can download here: http://www.hanakogames.com/royaltrap.shtml (You can also go there to purchase the full game.)

First things first, The Royal Trap is a visual novel. You play as Madeleine Valois, valette (er…valet, but the closest female equivalent doesn’t sound badass enough) to Prince Oscar. Her job is to guide and advise him, as well as keep him out of trouble, with the end goal of helping him land a royal bride. What she is not supposed to do is let him get caught in a web of court intrigue, and she is especially not supposed to fall in love with him.

Things…don’t really go according to plan.

In all honesty, even though I’ve loved every other game that HG has put out, at the time I wasn’t sure if I would like a “pure” visual novel (ie. one with no gameplay apart from the text-based portions). Of course, since then I’ve played and loved VNs like Cinders and Date Warp , so I must conclude that I should just stop worrying and enjoy every game Hanako comes up with.

But, for those of you who want concrete reasons why you should pay $20 for a game (don’t start about VNs not being games, srsly) with no gameplay, here are some good ones:

The Art

The art is gorgeous. Full stop.

In a visual novel, where your task is to entertain an audience via text and visual alone, the art (IMHO) is very important, and The Royal Trap‘s art delivers. There’s plenty of eye candy in this game, and it’s not just for lovers of either bishonen or outrageous costumes (although there’s plenty of both). Bright colours predominate, particularly jewel tones (appropriate for a courtly setting), but I was particularly impressed with the scenic art, which was simply eye-popping. The character art is similarly well done, from the dark-haired, mysterious Nazagi to the very flamboyant Gaston (that HAIR!) to Princess Cassidy’s pink….everything, it all looks very nice and, most importantly, very consistent (as I believe multiple artists were involved in creating the art). The only area where the art suffers are the backgrounds, which I thought were quite plain in comparison, but that hardly matters when you have characters that look like this:

Prince Gaston and his glorious locks…and sparkles.

The Music

The music is an eclectic mixture of JPop-ish tunes (the trailer theme/main theme), slower instrumentals (stringed instruments are predominant), to an adrenaline-pumping guitar riff that was completely unexpected and plays during tense or more action-oriented scenes happen. I didn’t expect to be this impressed with the music, but this is honestly heads and shoulders above HG’s other offerings.

The Shut Up Factor

There is probably an official name for this, but I’m going to call it the “Shut Up Factor”. In a nutshell, the SUF is the point where the characters shut up and either let the player do something (such as make a choice or play a mini-game) or something happens that increases the tension and gives the player a break from more ponderous exchanges between characters (or internal monologues). If the characters go on past a certain point, I become bored and my interest in the game plummets. A great example of a VN where the characters don’t know when to shut up is Aselia the Eternal, where characters not only will not shut up, their dialogues take the form of a made up language that isn’t translated for the player’s benefit until the protagonist has heard enough to learn it. You might see this as a realistic portrayal of what being immersed in a language is like, but in practice it’s pretty annoying, and this is from someone who loves to read. Seriously, if your visual novel can manage to annoy a prolific reader, your VN needs work.

Fortunately, The Royal Trap has a good mix of dialogue, internal monologues, tension-building scenes and just plain stopping and letting the player make a choice to hold my interest. It helps that the writing is great (as usual for HG) and the characters are interesting and all appear to have their secrets. Madeleine herself is a very down-to-earth protagonist, raised to be a “proper” lady and always in her older sister’s shadow. Romance, courtly intrigue, dual-wielding daggers, all of this is in the demo, but there’s also the persistent theme of the “gilded cage” of a society where people (even nobles, especially nobles) are given a role to play and certain expectations to fulfill, and I don’t think it’s a stretch to say it will probably be examined more closely in the full game.

I was a dummy and didn’t take a screenshot from the demo, so here is one from the official page.

Bottom Line

If you like stories with adventure, romance, and courtly intrigue and don’t mind a lot of reading, this might be for you. I’ve played most of Hanako Games’ other games, and the production values in this one are nothing short of impressive (especially for a small indy game studio). If you try the demo, and like this but wish there was more gameplay, I’d definitely check out Long Live the Queen, by the same company, which has courtly intrigue (and a bunch of ways for your character to die horribly) wrapped up in a raising sim, or Date Warp, also a VN with a bit of gameplay and more of a modern/sci-fi feel.

Once again, if you would like to try the demo, the link is here: http://www.hanakogames.com/royaltrap.shtml

Oh, and for those of you who are concerned about replay value, I’ve heard from Hanako that the game is seven chapters long, the first four are shared between all the possible “routes” (which, I’m assuming, depend on which of the four princes you decide to chase) but the last three are completely different depending on which route you’re on. Considering that other HG titles tease you mercilessly with questions that remain unanswered until you play a different route, I’d say you’ll probably want to play it more than once. Thankfully, there is a “skip” option, so it’s not like you’ll need to wade through mountains of text to get where you need to be.

 

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