Review: Long Live the Queen

What is Long Live the Queen? It's a lot of things — a visual novel, a stats-management sim and a survival game with a deck aggressively stacked against you. PC-gaming blog Rock Paper Shotgun aptly called it a "Sansa Stark Simulator."

In Long Live the Queen, you're foisted into the role of Elodie, a 14-year-old princess who, having recently suffered the loss of her mother, must train in the art of ruling while overcoming her grief. Not to mention that the young princess must avoid deadly traps set by usurpers, power-mongers and the occasional poor, misguided suitor. Long Live the Queen, which benefits from a well-paced and highly replayable story, succeeds at presenting a creative, original and deeply engrossing narrative-sim hybrid experience.

But before we go any further, let's be clear about one thing: This game isn't for everyone.

From courtly manners and athletic ability to military aptitude and economic shrewdness, it’s all in a day’s studies for Princess Elodie

From courtly manners and athletic ability to military aptitude and economic shrewdness, it’s all in a day’s studies for Princess Elodie

Everything in Long Live the Queen is text-based, from the dizzying number of numerical stats to the reams of clue-laden dialogue. So much text means you should come in with a desire to slow down and digest the nuances of the realm's allies and enemies. It's tricky to keep a current mental map with all the hereditary and diplomatic ties connecting the families within your kingdom, although a handy pop-up window outlining a character's royal affiliations can be summoned during any conversation to remind you of their place in the world. You need an affinity for stories that do a lot of world-building within the periphery of the core experience to fully appreciate this game. Fortunately, the writing is top-notch and concise, meaning you won't slog through tedious nonsense.

Your main method of progression — and really, your primary control mechanic — is the princess' class schedule. You can choose two classes to attend during the week, and each one will improve a specific skill by a fixed amount. Investing time in multiple subjects within a related field yields efficiency bonuses later on: for example, studying Trade means you'll learn Production and Accounting faster because they all fall under the Economics umbrella. The only catch here is that Elodie's mood governs whether you gain bonuses to learning speed or suffer penalties to other subjects.

Elodie has the run of the castle on her weekends, and each activity available to her—whether it’s attending church services to calm her Anger, subserviently attending court to improve her Yielding score or rebelliously sneaking out to improve her Willfulness—has a dramatic effect on her studying ability in the weeks that follow

Elodie has the run of the castle on her weekends, and each activity available to her—whether it’s attending church services to calm her Anger, subserviently attending court to improve her Yielding score or rebelliously sneaking out to improve her Willfulness—has a dramatic effect on her studying ability in the weeks that follow

The game strikes a consistent if somewhat shaky balance with its class system. You're tasked with not just managing Elodie's classes, but also ensuring her current mood provides bonuses to your chosen fields of study. What results is a sort of balancing act between controlling a 14-year-old's demeanor — and all current and former teenagers know that's a Sisyphean effort — and ensuring she has the right skills to overcome deadly challenges further along in the narrative. Unfortunately, the game does a poor job of making moods discernible from one another: the bonuses and penalties associated with each mood are ambiguous, and there's no clarification on how the game determines which of your eight possible moods is the dominant one. That becomes especially confusing when two stats appear to be tied together, but only one is chosen as Elodie's current mood. The good news is, in spite of the awkward system, you'll adapt to Elodie's moods with patience.

Now, I have to mention something: You're going to die in Long Live the Queen -- a lot. And if that wasn't enough, the game forbids reverting back in time to change your decisions at those critical, do-or-die moments. As a partial means of compensating, there are 10 autosave files and dozens of additional manual save slots. The idea is to empower you to test potential future actions without worrying about juggling between a handful of save files.

Even if you're judicious in creating multiple saves, you'll probably wind up starting over from the beginning several times. The reason being that your princess might get stuck at an impasse in the story because you didn't invest in the right skills at the right time. Nothing's more frustrating than dueling with a rival and, despite the game telegraphing the multiple skills necessary for success, inevitably finding yourself stabbed, poisoned, drowned, torched, magicked or otherwise generally murdered.

This game is stuffed to the brim with pink, flowery imagery contrasted with sudden, painful and almost sadistic death. So, um…plan accordingly.

This game is stuffed to the brim with pink, flowery imagery contrasted with sudden, painful and almost sadistic death. So, um…plan accordingly.

All that being said, if a lack of gameplay transparency and frequent death don't dissuade you, digging into this game is quite a lot of fun. The machinations of Elodie's world are complex, opaque and captivating, and if you enjoy games of influence and diplomacy you'll be surprised by the depth of strategy here.

One last thing: I don't think there's anything wrong with a text-based game that requires multiple playthroughs to win. However, the biggest flaw in the design of Long Live the Queen seems to be its reliance on memorizing a specific order of events, and the factors that affect their outcomes. A savvy player would keep a notebook handy and create a timeline in order to apply proper strategy each new game. But don't fret: things move at a brisk pace, and there are enough alternate solutions to each scenario that the game never feels entirely unfair.

Surprisingly engrossing, intricately balanced and darkly comedic, Long Live the Queen is an ingenious evolution on the visual-novel and simulation genres.

Recommended for:

  • Avid readers eager to learn the intricacies of a rich, detailed and unforgiving feudal kingdom
  • Number-crunchers eager for a fresh take on stats-based simulation who can tolerate some relatively opaque systems
  • Anyone with a wicked sense of humor

Not Recommended for:

  • Simulation purists looking for an extraordinarily balanced and fair system to play within
  • Critics of the visual-novel genre, as they may find the lack of diversity in decision-making dull or frustrating

Long Live the Queen was developed and published by Hanako Games. The reviewer purchased a copy through the recent Humble Leading Ladies Bundle and played for five hours on both Windows and OS X, earning 11 of 39 possible achievements and dying many, many times.

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