Circus Reviews - Heirs and Graces

Now that I think about it, I don’t think I’ve ever played a game where you play as a male and can only romance males. It feels like an underrepresented genre to me, so Winter Wolves' Heirs and Graces, which launches today, is a welcome release. Their latest stat-raising dating sim follows a young man named Marcel, who spent his life growing up in poverty with his mother after his father, a noble lord, abandoned them. In order to meet his father without imposing demands or making things awkward, Marcel applies to work in his father’s home as a servant, but his plans go awry when his father recognizes him. Still, it seems to work out, as Marcel’s father is willing to give him a chance to prove himself worthy of being the house’s heir, and Marcel himself finds plenty of interesting folk around the castle to occupy himself with…

I haven’t played a ton of Winter Wolves games, but from the ones I have played, stat-raising seems to be a signature feature and it makes a return here. I have certain issues with stat-raisers in general, most prominently in Always Remember Me. I do wish that there was more upfront explanation in regard to what stats help with which relationships, and I also find it a bit confusing that the stats page includes characters that you haven’t necessarily met yet (obviously this is only a problem in the early game, but still). Even with these flaws, though, there are some improvements. The days are occasionally broken up with events featuring romanceable characters that help refresh the pattern, and somehow it feels like slightly less of a grind. The characters are all memorable, and probably the strongest point of the game. Despite what you might call a standard fantasy setting, neither Marcel nor his potential love interests fall into stereotypes, and all of them are interesting. Serious butler Vincent, ex-gladiator Kamal, doctor Borges, and elf lord Eloy are your options, and though I normally tend to sway for one love interest or another, all four of these guys appealed to me. (And to Marcel, of course.)

Despite my praises for the writing and characters, I’m afraid I can’t always say the same about the art. The sprites feel very pale and washed out in comparison to the backgrounds, and their expressions don’t always match what they’re saying. The backgrounds themselves are fine, and the GUI is functional. But the sprites, being at center stage, can distract. There are also points throughout where little details that could have been fixed or tightened up, but weren’t, detract from the overall experience. As previously mentioned, naming characters that I haven’t met yet in the stats as if they should be familiar to me doesn’t quite work for me. There is a help feature included on the page, but it doesn’t include all the information I want, like what stat goes with which character. It also didn’t volunteer the information I really needed. I feel like something like what Long Live the Queen does with its tutorial, and giving the player a choice to play a tutorial, might have worked better.

So I have my clear and obvious problems with the game, as you can see. And yet, I really enjoy it. Not being told I had to pass skill checks frustrates me, but I want to go back and do them over anyway. The characters may not look fantastic, but they’re very well-developed, and the writing is ultimately strong enough to draw your attention in. Also, I got to tell an elven lord that I hope he dies alone and this somehow made him like me. Always fun. Would I have preferred a more polished experience in places? Absolutely. Am I unhappy with the experience I had? Not at all! I’m quite pleased to call Heirs and Graces the best Winter Wolves game I’ve played to date, and I really hope they keep it up with their future releases.

Heirs and Graces is available on Steam or directly from the developer. Final verdict: While the sprites aren't fantastic and there are quality-of-life details that could have been fixed, Heirs and Graces is kept up by its compelling writing and fantastically written characters. Heirs and Graces is developed and published by Winter Wolves. The opinions expressed in this review are my own. I received a free copy of this game in exchange for my review. This review was originally written for Power Gaymers, a website that is no longer online.

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