[rape tw, incest tw, abuse tw, NSFW]
You know what’s better than a visual novel? A free visual novel, and two free visual novels happened to come out on the same day on Steam. Free visual novels are a mixed bag, as you might expect. I’ve played some good ones (Who is Mike?, Seduce Me the Otome). Heck, some of them are better than some games I’ve paid actual money for.
Cupid is a dramatic horror/romance visual novel with an interesting twist: the player plays as a third party: Mother, an entity who can only influence the main character’s actions. Naturally, your decisions can lead to one of five (four regular, one secret) endings. Do you console or berate your charge? Are you seeking justice or revenge? It’s an interesting place to position the player, and, of course, the protagonist has a will of her own, so if you’re not careful, she could turn against you.
The plot revolves around Rosa, who is taken in by the Perride family, including musical prodigy Catherine and her sister Emilie, along with their noble patron, a Marquis named Guilleme. When Catherine dies under mysterious circumstances and Rosa suspects that Guilleme is not what he seems, it’s up to her (and the player) to ferret out his secrets and enact sweet revenge.
What follows is probably one of the most twisted, fucked up games I have ever played. Cupid pulls absolutely no punches with its subject matter, having not one, but at least two rape scenes, one ending explicitly involving incest, as well as physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. At best, the player character, Mother, is cynical and physically and emotionally abusive, although she does want to protect her daughter, however twisted her love may be. At worse, she’s constantly berating the main character, and it’s heavily implied in one ending that she sexually abused her. The closest the player can get to playing a “nice” Mother is to choose options that aren’t outright abusive, but there’s really no way around it. Mother is not a nice character, and the players aren’t supposed to identify with her. (Although, it might be, like Undertale, a take on the player’s godlike ability to affect the world.)
It feels weird to say that a game that includes rape is about love, but the many different kinds of love (from storge to agape) play a major role in the story. Unfortunately, the game’s messages are often lost in its less than stellar writing. It’s a shame that the writing wasn’t more polished, as I feel like a lot of the waxing philosophical could have made a bigger impression on me had there not been so many grammatical errors. I also hated how the story was delivered one line at a time, which was such a hassle to click through on my first playthrough, and the game is surprisingly long for a free visual novel.
Admittedly, part of me likes this hot mess of a game just because it’s that fucked up, which is, yes, a pretty shallow reason for liking a game. There’s a real soap opera feel to watching these characters deal with horribly traumatic experience, and in some ways it reminds me of We Know the Devil in its embrace of the monstrous, only in this case the monster is actually monstrous.
Unfortunately, due to the subject matter, I would hesitate to refer to the queerness in this as true representation. Rosa’s feelings for Catherine are apparent, but the one intimate scene they have is while drunk, during which Catherine makes Rosa feel very uncomfortable and Catherine is obviously horrified in the aftermath. Guilleme apparently had male lovers, but his diaries seem to indicate that he was raped at one point by a priest (although I found the text to be ambiguous), and that’s not even taking into account his (graphic) assault of Catherine, which to me places him squarely in the Depraved Bisexual category, and that is also in addition to the incest in one ending. Perhaps the most positive example is found in the bonus epilogue, a dialogue between two men, but there are no images accompanying this segment and it’s likely non-canon.
This is very definitely not everyone’s cup of tea, and if you’re looking for a more positive philosophical game that also deals with the monstrous, I’d recommend We Know the Devil. I feel like Cupid is one game that could definitely have benefited from better writing. There’s an interesting idea in there, but the game’s sensitive subject matter and adherence to some pretty biphobic tropes bring it down. Still, it is free, so all you lose by playing it is time.