Cinders by MoaCube is a visual novel set in the world of the classic Cinderella story. For those unfamiliar with the genre, your primary goal is to enjoy a game almost exclusively through its narrative. The twist is every playthrough will progress differently based on the choices you make through the story. A huge plethora of choices offer a variety of deviations and weave them into a fully fleshed out panoply of storylines.
Cinders, the titular protagonist, is a girl subjected to the selfish whims of her stepmother and stepsisters. She dreams of a day where she will finally be free of her fate as the house drudge and, as the story plays out, finds herself subject to the good will of friends and fairies.
Sound familiar? Yes, this story is, at its essence, Cinderella. However, the story is focused on more mature and, at times, philosophical themes. While fantasy is an option, you can also choose to participate in, say, the intrigue involved in the true ownership of Cinder’s father’s estate. You can also choose to amend the relationship with your stepsisters and stepmother and have them accept you as the rightful heir.
Alternatively, you can choose independence and become a vagabond, or for the traditionalist, you can seek succor with the local fairy population and win over the prince. All while debates between determinism and free will take the fore as Cinders struggles with her place in the world and how she chooses to make the best of her life.
The choices are virtually endless, and the story reacts and molds to your choices in subtle, nuanced ways, reflected even in Cinder’s personality. You might be surprised at first by the almost contemptible nature of a story played as a petulant, selfish protagonist. In another session, you may be impressed at the stepsisters’ ability to call you out in your attempts to turn them against one another. It may even be oddly satisfying to fill the role of an evil, manipulative heiress who can, if played properly, turn the whole kingdom on its head.
By far, the most brilliant part of Cinders is its ability to take an old, classic story like Cinderella and present it in a much more interesting light. It gives you a chance to see new sides of all the characters involved, and even grant a chance to empathize with each one in turn. It’s easy to be skeptical of its depth at first, but there really is a great deal to explore in an otherwise familiar narrative. This combined with the stunning, quasi-Elizabethan artwork and tastefully dramatic score make Cinders a refreshing utilization of the visual novel format.
Naturally, visual novels are not for everyone. If you’re expecting pulse-pounding second-to-second action you’re better off with, well, anything else. The first playthrough of Cinders will be about 3 hours long, and depending on your use of the skip function, subsequent playthroughs will last about an hour and a half.
The story itself is well executed, but whether it’s the effect of using a well-known story or simply a lack of focus, the characters seem a little flimsy at times and their motives are brutally transparent. The only saving grace in this case is the use of some really fantastic humor that may seem out of place for the setting, but manages to cut the doldrums in some otherwise lengthy exposition.
There’s a lot to collect as well, which can either be a good thing or a bad thing. An awards screen in the menu will tell you which endings you’ve seen in addition to the percentage of all variants to each ending. Compulsive collectors may find this tedious at best, and recommendations to truly complete the game could only go to the hardcore visual novel pathfinders.
Really, though, if you’re looking for a good interactive novel, or nostalgically crave choose-your-own-adventure books and wish they had more beautiful illustrations and a soundtrack, you should absolutely pick up this game. Seeing a classic fairy tale told with contemporary interests at its core is a worthwhile experience in itself, and this game is also a fantastic demonstration of what can be done when you take a dated concept and reformat it for a modern audience.
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