Hey everyone! IT’S STORY TIME WITH JP!
Years and years ago there was a website called MangaBullet. On that website, there was a writers group headed by a young woman called OokamiKasumi. Her goal was to provide aspiring writers with the tools needed for them to grow. She was not alone in this goal, however. OokamiKasumi had an acolyte; someone who studied her advice and contributed idea of his own. That acolyte’s name was R. Zeitgeist.
After a time, OokamiKasumi released a project in a format R. Zeitgeist did not recognize: a visual novel. And although Zeitgeist was well aware of his master’s love of erotica, he wanted to know what a visual novel was and decided to take a look. And for those of you who see where this is going; that’s right. The first visual novel that I ever played, the one that started this insanity, was technically pornography. Let the irony of the situation sink in.
So I walked away from that with my face looking like a tomato BUT also with a new genre of gaming to investigate. I decided to try something decidedly less erotic and was even willing to put up the $15 necessary to play it because I’m a sucker for mystery games. Again, most of you probably figured it out but for the new readers of the site that game was SakeVisual’s Jisei. The rest, as they say, is history.
Considering that history, it was probably inevitable that Master and Acolyte would one day reunite, but the circumstances are extraordinary. From my understanding, Morgan Hawke AKA OokamiKasumi has stuck mostly to her erotica: which isn’t exactly in my range of reviews. However, recently she has delved into some less…er…tantalizing works which makes this reunion possible. So what does The Adventures of Prince Ivan have in store for us? Let’s all find out!
There is a thief in the land stealing the Tsar’s prized golden apples. The thief has eluded the Tsar’s guards; leaving nothing but radiant feathers after its crimes. Determined to save his precious golden apples, the Tsar sends his sons out to capture the thief with the promise that whoever succeeds will inherit the Tsardom…except for one. The youngest son, Ivan, is considered too delicate and dim for the task so he is required to stay at home while Papa finds him a nice young Princess to marry. Insulted, Ivan sets out to prove his Father wrong by capturing the thief himself: a phoenix that won’t be easy to obtain.
The Adventures of Prince Ivan is a mostly faithful adaptation of the Russian fairy tale; Tsarevitch Ivan and the Grey Wolf. Because of that it there are some things that should be taken into account: mainly Deus Ex Machina. A lot of things just work out for our intrepid hero because that’s the nature of folk tales, but at the same time it is never over-done to make things too easy for our hero. Prince Ivan fills the classic Trickster role to a tee: marrying an incredible lack of ambition with the desire to live his life on his own terms. His journey isn’t a complicated one, but is a complex one that manages to not only gives his character three full dimensions but also invests the audience in his adventures.
At the same time, what makes Ivan so much fun is the cast around him; specifically Princess Elena. Elena is the intelligent, no-nonsense Valkyrie Bi-Girl that finds her own quest entangled with Ivan’s. Most of the game’s dialogue is between them and if it wasn’t effective the story would have collapsed. Their banter and growing attraction over the course of the story is rooted in the story’s reality and it helps anchor the rest of us who aren’t used to seeing cottages hatch from chicken eggs every day. I also appreciate that Elena isn’t treated as a love interest during the course of the story and, similar to A2~A due~ earlier this year, a romantic relationship doesn’t materialize until both characters have developed separately as well as together.
That isn’t to say that Ivan and Elena always win out as the narrative conveniences start to stack up. This is what I was talking about earlier in the review about the prevalence of Deus Ex Machina, but to the game’s credit it doesn’t take the resolutions to the early uses of magic and the triplet Tsars and other resolutions handled with the wave of a hand seriously. The insanity is dealt with in a very tongue-in-cheek fashion that lets the audience have fun with it and connects the larger plot together without heavy eye-rolling up until the third act. I will go into the third act momentarily, but I did want to point this out and show a little appreciation for how the fairy tale aspect is handled; as any other way would’ve been met with serious head-to-desk meetings.
This also goes into the larger journeys as Ivan’s ambition grows from just pleasing his father to getting a lot of new, shiny things for his own benefit. This, admittedly, can get a bit grating as you realize by the third Tsar that Ivan’s methods are pretty one-noted. It would’ve been great to involve other options for Ivan to get what he wants, instead of the same two options that leads along the same path. Because this is so character-driven it doesn’t take too much away, but at the same time it doesn’t fully realize Ivan as a Trickster. Instead he becomes more of a damaged hero whose journeys and time with Elena, along with the Great Gray Wolf and Baba Yaga, adds the dimensions that make him so fun and interesting rather than how he constantly gets over everyone around him.
Also the story itself doesn’t take too many liberties outside of making the fairy tale much more entertaining and the characters better developed. In that sense, the main story itself follows a fairly well-worn road. The end is never in question and neither are the complications to that end if you are familiar with classic folk tales. The story does try to deviate a bit with different endings concerning the Great Grey Wolf that joins Ivan as an accomplice throughout the story as well as the different ways Ivan can confront his brothers. But in the end, save for one that was hilariously dark, they felt unnecessary.
It isn’t a negative for Prince Ivan; just the reality that you can only take an adaptation so far before the tether snaps. This is why the third act works so well because the core is Ivan and Elena’s relationship and their separate character plots being fully realized. It is an enjoyable ending that allows the audience to see the two characters we’ve grown closest to get what they’ve earned through the game. It doesn’t leave your breathless or anything, but it closes a fun tale on a good note.
PRESENTATION & GAMEPLAY
The Presentation for this one is okay. The artwork is different from most of Hawke’s work as it employs a fairly standard anime style that doesn’t lend a lot of distinction to any one character. However what makes these designs work are their expressions. One of the interesting notes here is that the characters go through a range of expressions without any lines: which, to the best of my knowledge, is a first for this branch of the medium. Most character expressions change to punctuate dialogue. Here, the expressions change as a reaction to the events of the story or another character. This is seen mostly with Elena whose reactions shift constantly with what Ivan does. Her moments of frustration, wonder and even when she is impressed adds to their relationship and deepens the conversations that serve as the backbone of the narrative.
Mixed in with the character art are Russian paintings used mostly as backdrops to the story. I will admit when the art and the characters are on the same screen, it can clash just because of the mix of styles. But ultimately it does keep the game connected with its inspiration. Outside of that the backgrounds and UI carry a heavy Eastern European aesthetic that is hammered home with the game’s sole soundtrack: Stravinsky’s The Firebird Ballet. I am not sure how others will react, but as a fan of classical music I enjoyed it and felt it added to the overall feel of this being a Russian tale.
Gameplay is, well, a hell of a lot of fun. The typical dialogue options are mixed with riddles as well as a maze section. Of the two I enjoyed the maze section as it allowed for some old-fashioned guess work and patience. It also occurred at the point of the game where a switch-up was necessary, so it didn’t feel out of place: although I am sure some didn’t approve. That I can understand because, while fun for me, this section isn’t necessary to the plot proper. But, at the same time, I cannot imagine Prince Ivan without this section so take from that what you will.
The Adventures of Prince Ivan clocks in roughly around three hours to complete all four endings. This is all a free endeavor for those who care about such a thing. And while it is short and focused on pretty much one set story, I can see myself playing it again down the road. Old stories have that familiarity to them, I suppose. And this particular tale, while not shattering the foundations of the Earth, is still solid enough to warranty repeating playthroughs when I’m in the mood for a good folk tale.
So this isn’t the full-on party of a reunion I expected it would turn into, but playing through this visual novel reminded me at just how good Hawke is and why I joined her group years ago. It doesn’t stray too far, but it delivers a fun experience with well-written characters that makes what could have been a confounding journey into Russian folklore into an enjoyable ride. I would definitely check this one out if you’re looking to adapt a fairy tale of your own and while I cannot promise the author will be featured again here because the OokamiKasumi I remember would never give up her erotica, I am glad The Adventures of Prince Ivan turned out so well.