Circus Reviews - Long Live the Queen
Long Live the Queen is not a new game. It's been out since 2012, and while it's not a household title or anything, I'll gather that a fair number of you have heard of it. But what is new is content - specifically, the recent content patch that added new plotlines, new character faces, new choices, and other fun things. So in honor of the new content, I'm here to take a retro-esque look at Long Live the Queen: a sweet and cheerful-looking princess game in which you try really hard not to get stabbed, shot, blinded, poisoned, or forced into a marriage you don't want.
For those of you who actually haven't heard of the game, I'll give you a brief summary. You play as fourteen-year-old Elodie, Crown Princess of Nova. You are pulled from boarding school after your mother's sudden death, and have a mere forty weeks to prepare for the coronation that will take place on your fifteenth birthday. But forty weeks is a short time to learn everything you need to know to be a ruler, and nothing slows down for you in the meantime. You're responsible for judging criminals, adjusting taxes, commanding the military, and more. You're required to arrange a marriage for yourself, since the throne needs an heir and the crown needs a good political alliance. There are deadly plots going on all around you, and a lot of nobles who may treat you politely, but have their own agendas to fill. Trying to survive your weekly classes is one thing; trying to survive your own assassination is another entirely.
Gameplay is based on skill checks and decision making. You raise your skills via weekly classes, and how well you do is affected by your mood, which you can change through story events or weekend activities. During the story, skill checks are raised against your skills, and whether you pass or fail determines what happens next. Failing a skill check can mean insulting a noble you don't want to upset...or it could mean your untimely demise. You also have choices to make that guide the story, but often times all the choices aren't available to you unless you pass skill checks to unlock extra options. Save for some unlockable outfits that will boost all skills in a subgroup, your weekly classes are the only way to raise your skills, and there's no possible way to be up to par in every skill, which means you have to pick and choose your skills very carefully from day one.
This makes the game very much a trial-and-error experience, one that almost requires a walkthrough if you want to get anywhere on subsequent playthroughs. Random events pop out of the woodwork, like bandits on your way to a birthday party or a very angry noble who wants your head. Skills that you never thought to train will leave you failing a skill check that kills you. The sheer amount of information about the secrets and plots of the nobles around you is overwhelming, and it will take you many runs through the game to learn everything. On one hand, this gives the game a great deal of replayability that doesn't feel like 100% completion grinding. On the other hand, I would almost say that this is a game that requires a walkthrough; without one, you're going to have a rather tough time, and I can see where that would be really frustrating to some players.
The gameplay mechanics themselves mostly work well, although the design of the bedroom menu that you spend a good deal of time on is a bit questionable. There are separate screens for your skills, your mood, and your classes for the week, and sometimes it gets a bit cumbersome to switch between the three, which you'll be doing a lot in order to determine the best classes to pick. There's also another screen for your outfits, and this may be nitpicky, but the indicator for a new outfit that was added with the latest patch just doesn't fit. It looks ridiculously out of place with the art around it, like a sticker that was just kind of slapped on. I recall reading that the indicator was put in to make it more obvious that you had a new outfit, but honestly, it feels like it could have been implemented better.
Character development varies slightly, since different characters will receive different amounts of screen time depending on the route you take, but the game as a whole handles its characters well, especially the leads. One might wonder why a crown princess less than a year away from the age of majority starts out with zero skills in everything, including things she would be expected to know simply for being nobility, but as far as age-appropriate behavior goes Elodie is pretty spot on. And the occasional absentmindedness of Joslyn, her father, might raise some eyebrows, but then you might recall that he just lost his wife (and it's implied that he never fully recovers from this) and is having to deal with his daughter growing up a lot earlier than he expected. Most of the nobles share a dastardly, "I am plotting your downfall" air about them, while the characters closer to Elodie's age, like her cousin and her classmates from boarding school, are more friendly and innocent about the world.
The story is complex; as mentioned previously, it will take several playthroughs to get to everything. Every noble seems to be hiding something, and every family has secrets. You may wind up gaining knowledge of a noble's secrets and then carrying them over to a playthrough where Elodie isn't in a position to do anything about it. And, of course, you have to be careful with what you do with your knowledge...Most people don't like being accused of something, and they may decide to retaliate.
Which brings us to deaths! There are a grand total of eleven deaths, each with its own cute little chibi art rendering. They don't necessarily match with the rest of the art style, but they do add well to the general tone of sweet, sugary despair. And that's not including the non-lethal ways to end your game, such as being dethroned or being forced to flee the country. And that's also not including all the depressing variants your endings can have, such as the outcome of your marriage, whether your father remarries, whether any wars have depleted your army, how the commoners feel about you...The list goes on. There are lots of ways to end your game, and as best I can tell, it's not possible to have a completely happy ending.
It is, however, possible to avoid drowning at sea. Maybe.
The best description I've heard for this game is "Princess Maker meets Game of Thrones". It presents a cheery front at first, but the facade falls away pretty quickly to reveal the starkness of the world your character is preparing to rule. You have a long way to go to be the queen, and an infinity of choices to make on the way. Will you be a kind-hearted ruler? A cruel dictator? Who will you align with, and who will you alienate? And most importantly...can you even live up to your own game's title?
Final verdict: A few design flaws and an occasionally frustrating difficulty level don't deter from an absorbing story and intriguing characters; this is an extremely well done entry into the raising sim genre, with plenty of visual novel touches to make it even more interesting.
Long Live the Queen is developed by Hanako Games and Spiky Caterpillar. The opinions expressed in this review are my own. I was not compensated in any way for this review.