If I may ask an honest question, why are visual novel games not dirt cheap? They are a niche genre that, in the grand scheme of things, are the easiest type of game to make from the perspective of programming and the sort. I mean, I think $15 for a game from people with no references is a bit hard to swallow, but when it is $20, made as an interactive story above all else, and can easily be cleared in 3 hours with multiple endings not adding much to replay value, I am honestly baffled. Why am I bringing this up? Because I got this in a Humble Bundle and thought it was originally $10.
Platforms: PC(Reviewed) and Mac
I trust anybody who stumbles upon this has some degree of familiarity the title is providing a “mature” adaptation of. A young woman is made a slave in her own home and is treated poorly by family she has no biological relation to, but is under the custody of, and desires greatly to break free of them after much abuse. The main difference here is that the game is a three hour long visual novel with player choices that shape the overarching narrative, which surprised me at first by being unlike the examples of the genre I dabbled in by lacking a branching path that could be encompassed well with a flow chart. Instead, certain responses cause alterations in certain scenes, which partially play out the same regardless of the player’s decision, an idea I am fine with on paper, but when it comes to multiple playthroughs, my opinions grow a bit negative.
Perhaps I am in the idiot camp on this opinion, but when creating a game with traceable and unlockable content, I believe it should be enjoyable collecting every piece of it, and use of external sources in order to obtain such details should be largely unneeded. So perhaps somebody is not intended to unlock every ending in Cinders, but I must ask why they are so plentiful as a result. While having four core conclusions, most of which can be done based in a single playthrough, the game also has a large number of variants that can be uncovered by the player’s actions that alter their conclusion, the problem is that it implies that the player should try and discover all of them and will in the missing pieces, which would only be fine if the game was enjoyable to play through multiple times, which it really isn’t.
The structure of scenes and the manner in which skipping through them works makes so much as going through the game’s climax more than once a bore, with the disjointed insertion of new content hardly leaving a fraction of the impact it had before. Although, that is due to how, while sharp, clever, well written, and so forth, I noticed a very prominent use of degrading or insulting other characters’ intelligence and worth. This makes sense as the main character is a clever young woman who regularly deals with a string of criticism spewing women, but when it became apparent that these scenes were the primary thing that differed based on the player’s actions, my desire to see the story to its end once more degraded. It simply was not compelling to see relatively minor changes to the script occur as I took a different route, as so much of it is minor and difficult to understand its impact in the big picture of the collectible ending hunting.
Perhaps that is truly what the game is not about, but its nature as a visual novel does imply interaction from the player being a notable part, even if it is choosing between A, B, or C, when deciding to experiment with that only lessened the enjoyment I received from the game, making the first playthrough, which I thoroughly enjoyed, seem like a massive high point the game was getting away from. Or in other words, I don’t think it benefits from the gameplay much if you want to get your money’s worth and play it multiple times, as going through two playthroughs was enough to nerf my interest to being null, to the point where I ceased juggling my saves after getting the unanimously bad ending. Oh, but the writing I was provided certain was of quality, more so than my own, as in addition to adding a nice veil of complexity and realism to such a simple tale, Cinders does so with a level of verbal talent and cunning banter that I can only hope to emulate while writing stories of my own.
However, visual is also a word that is in Visual Novel, and Cinders looks to be going along the very easy route of putting on a pretty face in a pretty backdrop, and hopes all the masses rave about its gorgeous painterly art style, as it does indeed look like a painting, with the visual and lighting effects thrown in to create an image that looks to be moving and simultaneously difficult to splice in every screenshot. All of which is true, but the game also is very much crippled by its visual guise, as maintaining such level of beauty with a miniscule budget requires compromises in terms of expression, motion, and to a lesser extent locations, as all of which are used very frequently, only changing with an alternate outfit or two and the time of day reflected by the game’s lighting effects. All amounting to something I can compliment until I look at it closer, which the game openly encourages. Oh, and the same could be said for the score which, like all others it can be compared to, became a bit obnoxious after hearing the first 30 seconds of the same track ad nauseum.
Cinders is much like what its name may inspire if separated from the tale its name also invokes. A result of an explosive fiery burst that ultimately resulted in a rock that is frankly not all that special despite looking cool in passing. Yes, its texture may be a trifle bit keen, but that hardly makes it a very remarkable material that would keep ones attention, and is worth more than the standard price for… rocks, I guess. Yeah, Cinders is a nice game for one playthrough or so, but if you go through multiple playthroughs as the game requests, the spark vanishes.
By no means something that must be played, but not entirely worth pushing aside forever. The title is ultimately above average and keeps the good balanced with the bad by a noticeable enough margin to still be worth picking up.