Written By: JP
Developer: Hanako Games
Platforms: PC, Mac and Linux
Genre: Intrigue, Romance
Release Date: February 23, 2013
Hanako Games is one of those English Visual Novel brands that can safely call itself a 'standard bearer' yet has oddly stayed outside of my attention for a while. That's mostly because by the time this very website came into being, Hanako and Winter Wolves were on the same wavelength of using the Ren'py engine to make RPGs and life simulators. Of course, there is nothing wrong with RPGs and life simulators and it was largely thanks to the quality of Hanako Games' work (and their VERY effective magical girl mercenaries...there's a reason I don't joke about them anymore) not only do I cover more visual novel/role-play (or stat raising if you prefer) hybrids there is even a category for such games in this site's yearly awards show.
Now THAT's stroke. But with all that said and done, with the start of a new year the group has decided to get back into what brought them to the dance: EVNs. Let's dig into The Royal Trap and see if they still have their groove.
Overall, you'd think that any English Visual Novel that boasts of 'political intrigue' would collapse into itself within the first five seconds of play. But, surprisingly, that was one of the best things about The Royal Trap. The VN takes its time developing the different factions, motivations as well as the importance of Princess Cassidy as a political pawn. By the time the action starts, you get a feeling of just how tight the wire is you'll be walking on, you'll have a very strong feeling of Madeleine as a character. 2013 is shaping up to be a pretty good year for EVN otome princesses since we started off with Sona in a2: probably the most flawed romantic lead ever. Now we have Madeleine: hands down the darkest heroine of the otome EVNs I've played. She's cunning, manipulative and refuses to consider anything outside of her own objectives as important. If at any point she had said, 'You might think that, but I can't possibly comment' I'd have a whole new slew of references to FU. She's an excellent Machiavellian...and of course this game was just chomping at the bit to thaw her out. I'll get to it.
The point is that not only do you understand the stakes but you understand what's driving the main character which gives the story weight that many romance titles flat out avoid. You are fully immersed by the time the EVN reaches it's branching off point where you choose one of four men to play the drama out and...this will be make or break your experience. I personally enjoyed the fact that work was done to make each path unique and fit in with not only Maddie's character but also the personalities of the man on her path. However, there is a plot twist in the later stages of the game that deals directly with the Princess Cassidy and not every path can handle that particular revelation.
The biggest offender in this one is Callum's path: Cassidy's brother who falls for Maddie after the two cross blades...yeah that's normal for the time period. The Plot Twist in question is hinted early on and, by all appearances, RESOLVED early on. This gave Callum, your atypical stoic male lead, some much needed character development complete with cheese ball romantic dialogue. It was goofy but goofy in that way that comes with young people when the space between their legs begin to take over brain real estate. However, eventually you get to the plot twist that, it turns out, WASN'T RESOLVED and all of that great character development gets shot directly in the face. Then, in order to get to the happy ending, they shut down Maddie's brain and shoot everything done in the past hour directly in the testicles.
It's just...bad. I guess if you're just into that kind of romance it'll be worth it, but for someone such as I it just doesn't work. Ironically, this was the first path I played through and I nearly soured the entire experience...in fact I hated it so much I was planning on spoiling the plot twist in this very review so I can fully explain why I hate it so much. BUT, it was spared because I continued playing and went onto the path that best handled the plot twist: Gaston's path.
THIS guy can take on Fullmetal Alchemist's Major Armstrong for the title of World's Largest Ham. The clothes, the curls the self-absorbed inflection in his monologues (and I mean MONOLOGUE) had my on the floor laughing the minute Maddie snuck into his room (it's explained in the game). I said that the game would inevitably try and thaw poor Maddie out and most would say that would be Callum's route (WRONG), but Gaston is 350% focused on winning Cassidy's hand which leaves Maddie to try and figure out how to use this in Oscar's favor. However, both Gaston and his maid Collete are so decent and ignorant of the backroom politics that drive the entire game, her plans wither under the light of their kindness. I mocked it before, but really since I knew it was going to happen if I had to choose the Gaston way of doing it or the Callum way of doing it, I'm going Gaston. At least Maddie's characters is further fleshed out and we get to see what would've happened if she didn't need to be a shadowy operative and could just be a normal girl.
Other than that we have Nazagi's path which...exists. It's not terrible but Nazagi is basically Madeleine at the graduate level of realpolitik. There's an unfortunate truth in life that is a hard and fast rule in fiction: opposite attract. Different people bring out different sides of one another and that is usually where the interesting crap happens. However, the two are so much alike that most their interactions goes as follows:
Nazagi: I think we can use her.
Maddie: Yeah, we can definitely use her.
Nazagi: Let's use her.
I will say that Nazagi's path is probably where the political intrigue is fully realized so I don't hate it. And the ending is, quite frankly, something I didn't think they have the balls to do. I've seen online where some people think it's cute, but considering the implications and the world it set in: it's the cunning, methodical end you'd expect from those two. Maybe I'm just upset that Maddie spent most of Nazagi's path bedridden, I don't know. Oscar's path is decent and takes a different twist that allows for the platonic relationship between the two to grow into something else. This is done in a way that I didn't expect. The overall story arc here was fun and, unlike Callum's ending, does the romantic resolution in this world right.
So, really what it all comes down to here is the Plot Twist. At best said twist pulls a few of the paths into mediocrity with the good stuff good enough to outweigh the average. At worse, this is a classic case of having your cake and eating it too where the desire to have the situation brought about by the twist crippled one of the the game two major romance paths. I can understand the point of the latter, but I lean much more towards the former. The writing is very intelligent with good evolution and is easy to get involved with. Maddie is a great lead and the rest of the cast is great for the most part....Callum non-withstanding. It's definitely worth the read in my book.
LET ME REMEDY THIS SITUATION WITH MY GENTEEL DECORUM!
Presentation & Gameplay
And I believe I've made my point.
Every basic screen in the game suffer from one or more of the issues listed and while the Ending CGs are all good, most of the regular event ones that don't have some sort of wedding scene are hit or miss with many giving off a sketchy, incomplete feeling. The art is definitely this game's albatross, however the game's soundtrack is freakin' awesome. I have a soft spot for Spanish Guitar and that pretty much takes up the entire game. Even though I doubt it was original, I loved every second of it.
Gameplay is solid with no bugs or glitches to report. Also I really enjoyed the fact that you could add your own title to your saved files. It led to some...creative thinking on my part. Kudos!
And I'm Trusting You?
+ Good Intrigue Story With Well-Written Characters
+ Romances Fit Into The Overall Plot Well And Feel Relevant
- Presentation is Hit Or Miss
- Twists Involving Princess Cassidy Felt Unnecessary In Some Paths