I had low expectations for a visual novel computer game based on Pride and Prejudice, but I was rather elated to play this somewhat elegant adventure. Reflexive Entertainment has brought us this Russell Carroll game that you can download for a one hour trial (quite sufficient for a bit of light entertainment) or for $7.27 discounted price over at Big Fish Games. While I thought it would be a virtual version of Being Elizabeth Bennet (and to some extent this is true) the different aspects and even the game play were all executed in quite a new way.
I have to admit, that screenshot looks a little daggy. But combined with some beautiful music from Isaac Shephard and some elegant prologue/chapter dividers, and a role playing point-and-click style, it turns an amateurish production into a rather memorable gaming experience. I now look upon the images as a bit more vintage style old school computer images, even if something that 2D is a little paperdoll painful.
It works simply enough. Quoting Jane Austen verbatim for most of the speech, you click next to keep going through the conversations. Yes, there is a lot of reading. Occasionally, a character will ask you a question or you will have the option of doing certain things. You choose one of a selection of answers, and see where it leads you and who you can end up marrying. There are 9 possible endings, one of which is being a spinster, one of which is being Mrs. Darcy. And then there’s everything in between.
Obviously, most of us will want to try and pair Elizabeth (or, the main character who you name yourself) with Mr. Darcy. And yet, don’t be fooled- it’s not quite as simple as it may appear. This is not a straightforward Pride and Prejudice story. Sense and Sensibility and Persuasion are also added into the mix, with characters such as Colonel Brandon and Mr. Wentworth making an appearance. Similarly, other characters are strong blends of two characters- such as Mr. Wickeby (Wickham and Willoughby combined) and Lydianne (Lydia and Marianne). And some characters are simply not mentioned, such as Mary and Kitty, or given a lot more prominence (Denny). That being said, those familiar with the three Austen storylines will find it pretty simple to navigate through the storylines to match with the hero of their choice. For those of you who have found certain aspects difficult (balancing the right attributes for the right man can be hard work!) there’s a very comprehensive walkthrough, for the non-gamers that’s basically a guide, from Gamezebo.
There are a few crazy elements to the plotlines, where you will find you have minimal control over what is happening and a lot of it is based on chance, an answer you gave ages ago or how long you have spent training your character up in a certain area. This is fairly typical of RP (role playing) type games, but doesn’t seem very Austen. It would have done well to include some sort of mini-games into the storyline, such as puzzles, card games or matching up dates and book releases, perhaps related to each task you choose, just to make it more fast-paced. Urgency is something needed in games on the computer, and this really lacked a sense of speed and excitement.
You can also end up in a number of different locations, following a map as you go:
Another nice addition is the “weekly scheduling” of tasks. You are aiming to increase your characters willpower, wit, talent, kindness, propriety, sensibility and energy. You up these marks by completing activities, one per day for five days, including reading books, visiting neighbours, resting, needlework and so on. It’s a really interesting look at the way women would “improve” themselves and become accomplished- I think it also sheds a bit of light on the monotany females would have had to deal with in the era. This is similar to the adventure novel spoken about above, except this does all the keeping track of points for you! Unfortunately, the game unravels a little here by being inaccurate about the era and Jane Austen. For instance, Elizabeth Gaskell’s Wives and Daughters is suggested as the book your character reads. Wrong. Austen died when Gaskell was only seven, and thus none of her characters could have read that book- this isn’t the only literary inconsistency. Instead, it could have been something like one of the Northanger Abbey suggested gothic novels. Other inaccuracies exist, such as the non-Regency/more Napoleonic costuming and wacky hairstyles for the characters, but these are similarly easy to overlook and still enjoy the game. Also, who would ever give Jane red hair?
At certain times, people will like or dislike you regardless of what you do *cough* Mr. Collins *cough*. As a Pride and Prejudice nut, small things hurt me in the alternative storylines. Including that you can steal Mr. Bingley from Jane without causing too much hurt in the long run. I can hardly believe that. While it’s a blessing to have another classic romance on the Internet in game form, I think it is going to stick to the same sort of Janeite audience- without much to encourage men or the less-Austenesque-inclined to play. For highschool teachers, though, this offers an invaluable way in to the novels.
Overall, definitely trial the free hour and if you like it then consider making the purchase. Personally, the hour seemed quite sufficient and I’m tossing up whether or not it’s worth paying for. Unfortunately, for those of you thinking of downloading it, I also think it has to be for Windows XP/Vista and so isn’t functioning with MACs just yet. It’s a 62, 889kb download and took about 10 minutes on my fairly annoying computer. There are save, hints and rewind functions so you can play to your hearts content… plus, don’t take my word for it, check out the very divided views at Big Fish and what other gamers have said!
Did you find it fun?