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Published August 23, 2012

Another game that has been on the back burner here at the HQ is a little title from Hanako Games called Long Live the Queen: released a few months ago. Now, in a bit of total disclosure, this particular game was passed along to me and I’m reviewing it mostly because it was requested. Why? Well, remember Loren the Amazon Princess where I talked about mixing RPG and Visual Novel elements? Hanako Games enjoys mixing those elements just as much as Winter Wolves does.

So, where does that leave this one? Let’s dig in and find out.

STORY

Long Live the Queen puts you in the shoes of Princess Elodie of Caloris who is recalled to her home from boarding school after the untimely death of her Mother, Queen Her-Name-Escapes-Me-Right-Now. Since her Father married into the family, our young princess is the next in line to the throne. But getting her to her coronation won’t be the easiest task as enemies outside and inside of her kingdom would love to see her six feet under well before then. And of course, that says nothing of the dangers she inherited from her own bloodline. With threats circling her every day, it may be only a matter of time before our future queen ends up on a cooling board; that’s where you come in.

I love this story despite itself…and I’ll explain that in a minute. As I’ve stated before my field is in Political Science and I also have studied History and Foreign Affairs most of my…I know I’m a geek shaddup. Anyway it’s an oddly personal way of saying that Hanako Games got the political and real world nuances involved in a constitutional monarchy correct. It’s easy to go for trivial ‘politics’ such as courtships and romances…and that’s there in a way. But the undercurrent running through LLtQ are all issues and policies based on the real world. It is a minor thing story-wise, but for those that know do appreciate the effort.

The same goes for Princess Elodie in fact. She fits what you would expect from someone suddenly shoved into the spotlight. In the beginning, she’s still very much a little girl not fully aware of the responsibilities that will govern every waking moment of her life. Watching her evolution through the VN is not only enjoyable but also well-paced and frankly dark that it’s hard not to feel a little crushed when your inevitable failures lead to her untimely demise. That isn’t to say I’m going to pull a Rosenburg and say that you as a player will want to ‘protect’ Elodie from the constant threats against her life, but I did reach a point in playing LLtQ where I didn’t want to fail her. Elodie is definitely a well-developed protagonist so kudos to Hanako there.

That isn’t to say it’s by any means perfect. In fact, in an odd sense the story is LLtQ’s biggest weakness. The deeper elements of the tale are interwoven with its RPG elements, so it’s not only easy to overlook the first time around, the more you play LLtQ the less you’ll care about it. I’m not trying to be snide or downplay the work I mentioned above and there are plenty of narrative twists and turns to keep you involved. But the honest truth is that if you want to get what Hanako Games and Spiky Caterpillar is trying to do, the overall story is more of a tool to help you get from Point A to Point B rather than something to be savored and enjoyed on its own merits.

This isn’t necessarily a bad choice as I’m not sure that LLtQ would’ve been nearly as fun as it was if the story didn’t eventually take a back seat to the obsessive gameplay. I’m also not going into a lot of detail here for obvious reasons that I’m sure many people will point out to argue against my opinion of the overall story and chances are that I’d agree with them. I did like how well it was all put together, but it’s still sobering to sit through this and blow through what are decently developed plot points without a second thought.

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YUP. SHE’S DEAD.

PRESENTATION & GAMEPLAY

The Presentation will disarm you immediately and not because it’s perfect. The character sprite palette is bright and Elodie is more often than not draped in cute, colorful outfits more suited to a magical girl or some warmer otome EVN than this. While this sort of art style certainly fits in with the look of other Hanako titles like Date Warp and Magical Diary, it can be jarring to mix in pink-haired cutesiness with morbid book ends before you inevitably restart.

It’s actually a bit odd how it all works out because with the muted backgrounds, you can see a different, more subtle art style working fine here and fitting in with the more mature storyline. On the other hand, after playing through LLtQ so many times I can’t imagine Elodie or the rest of the cast looking any different. Overall I liked it, but if Hanako Games is serious about these more mature EVNs, it might be time to experiment with artists.

Now for what you’re really waiting for I’m sure: the gameplay. Both Hanako Games and Spiky Caterpillar are not new to this sort of VN/RPG hybrid, but for my money this is where the duo truly shines as they’ve created a complex to master, yet easy to understand system to get our young Elodie from the classroom to the throne. It’s basically a symbiotic raising simulation that requires you (yes, you) to take into account both her psychology as well as her lifestyle. Now, this means you basically you have two vital screens to keep in mind. The first is Elodie’s mood chart. Everything Elodie does directly affect her mood, which in turn affects her ability to learn. If she’s too stressed or depressed, she won’t be able to pick up on the lessons she needs to possibly avoid a fatal poisoning and, yes, her untimely demise. So it’ll be up to you to manage our Princess’ emotional well-being throughout the week and especially during the weekend: which will have the biggest impact on her mood outside of her classes.

While keeping her mood high, you’ll also be preparing her to be Queen with her weekly classes. Hear me when I say this; this is where this game will kick your ass.  Allow me to make this absolutely clear right off the bat: do not go into this expecting to get everything right. You won’t. LLtQ is the Dark Souls of English Visual Novels: you will die, you will die a lot. But it isn’t a masochist kind of thing where it’s seeing just how much you can put up with before you either beat the game back or throw your controller through your TV. This is about getting you to change your approach: basically to apply the Scientific Method to an EVN. You start off with a hypothesis; you test that hypothesis and then use the results to put together a theory that will get you to the end of the VN. And when you look at it that way and accept that failure is as much a part of science as twin clones of Hitler…or, you know, mass, then you can enjoy the challenge Hanako/SC throws at you.

That is a very fancy way of saying a familiar cliché: there is no right answer here. There is no definite, one-way path to victory. There are plenty of ways to make Elodie Queen; it’s just on you to figure out what those ways are. Hopefully by saying that, no one will download LLtQ and repeatedly pick classes at random. To be fair, it is fun the first ten times to just throw stuff at a wall and see what happens. But eventually, if you’re still playing, you’ll begin to realize a lot of the opening events don’t seem to change and begin to pay a bit more attention. LLtQ has several chains of events, but they’ve all got a linear struck so once you’ve played through a scene, you know what problems will occur that week. With multiple save slots to work with, it won’t take long for your mind to begin mapping out what classes you’ll need to solve the puzzle, because at the end of the day that is what this is: a Rubik’s Cube using a little girl and political intrigue rather than colored squares.

And I loved every freakin’ minute of it. I think it’s mostly due to my nature that the gameplay appeals to me because I cannot turn down a well-crafted puzzle. But I have to believe that even if puzzle games aren’t your thing, playing LLtQ long enough will have you thinking the way it wants you to. In that way it reminds me of Portal where if you play long enough you eventually start seeing how to escape from the room, instead of the obstacles blocking you. Even with the particularly dark tone as the VN progressed, it was incredibly fun trying to get it right.

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SHE KNOWS THE CORGIES ARE STALKING HER

REPLAY VALUE

Long Live the Queen is available for download for the low, low price of $12.95. Usually with commercial visual novels, this is where I question whether or not the price is worth what you’ll get out of the VN. On this one, however, I’m happy to report that you’ll definitely get your money’s worth if this is your thing. Not only will you replay it again and again the first time around…since you pretty much have no other say in the matter, but again since there’s no one way to do it, you will get a kick out of testing new ways that you wouldn’t have thought of before. For that, the EVN has an Achievement board to track your decisions and successes.

But I slightly digress. This is well worth the money and if you haven’t picked it up yet, it would be a fantastic time to do so.

OVERALL

Now for a bit of honesty. I was e-mailed this shortly after its release earlier this summer. I thought it would be an easy sit through and I would be able to review it in short order. I was really, really over-confident a few months ago, wasn’t I? And considering what’s happened with everything in the past few months, I do want to publicly apologize for this review taking so long.

As for my final thoughts on the EVN itself, this is far from a perfect game and in a way it’s barely a visual novel. The story is often secondary at best and the presentation can be hit or miss. However, its gameplay is a step above most life simulators integrated into this particular medium and, despite its flaws; the story hangs on long enough to tie everything together at the end.

If you get frustrated easily or you’re a massive fan of the usual otome fare the artwork makes it look like, you will be fine skipping it. Don’t waste your money or time on something you’ll regret. For everyone looking for a bit of challenge and a little fun along the way, Long Live the Queen is a solid way of spending a night or two…or five.