ARE YOU READY FOR HARDCORE VIDEOGAMES? ARE YOU? YOU THINK YOU CAN HANDLE THIS SLAM, MAN? YOU THINK YOU PLAYED SOME FISCHER-PRICE HANDY-HOLDY CALL-OF-WEAKSAUCE WITH NOOBTUBES AND PRESS F TO ADVANCE SISSYFIGHTING IN SINGLE PLAYER? YOU WANT THE HARD CODE, HUH?
WE GOT A GAME HERE THAT’S LIKE A JAPANESE GAME – SO HARDCORE, LIKE SAMURAIS – BUT WESTERN DEVELOPMENT – ALL COWBOYS AND FPSES AND BADASSES, MERICA, EFF YEAAAAH. GAME HAS TWO FATHERS, GAME’S LIKE WHEAT, MAN!
EFF YEAH MOTHEREFFER WE BE LOOKING AT SOME MAD HYBRID GAME DEV STUFF HERE – THIS IS INDIE, MAN, IT DON’T PLAY BY THE MAN’S RULES! GAME IS ALL LONG LIVE THE QUEEN, LIKE THAT RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE ALBUM OR LIKE THE SEX PISTOLS, OH YEAAAAAH! EFFING ANARCHY!
GAME’S A DARKER TURN FOR PREVIOUS DEVELOPER, LIKE THIS IS THEIR WATCHMEN WHICH HAS A GUY WITH A HACKSAW AND A NAKED BLUE DONG, THAT’S HOW HARDCORE BADASS THIS IS.
GAME STARTS BY KILLING. YOUR. MOM. HAAAARD COOOOORE, MOTHERHAVERS – OH WAIT GUESS THAT’S NOT YOU ANY MORE!
GOTTA GUIDE THAT PRINCESS IN LESSONS LIKE SWORDSMANSHIP AND USING HER DEPRESSION TO FUEL ARTISTIC EXPRESSION!
POLITICAL INTRIGUE WILL HAVE YOU DROPPIN’ DOPE FLATTERS ON PROSPECTIVE BRIDAL RIVALS LIKE !BOOM!
INTENSE BALLROOM ACTION, SMACKIN’ CAREFUL INSIGHTS INTO FOREIGN POLICY DISPUTES WITH THAT BALLGOWN GO POP.
AVOIDING PANICKING WHEN YOU SEE A SNAAAAKE LIKE YOU’RE STONE. COLD. BLOODED.
TOO SHOUJOU TO LIVE
TO KAWAII TO DIE
Alright, yes, Long Live The Queen isn’t a game of explosions and badassery. This isn’t a game of crushing King’s Landing and swinging off ropes. This is a game seemingly tailored to make sure that I never, ever feel that I’m good at a videogame ever again.
The game mechanics are almost minimalist. Elodie has two ranges of statistics that interact with one another, one set of which varies back and forth between two maximums, and one set which only increments. The game will test you periodically on the values you have in the second set, and then, every time you fail, it will tell you.
That’s it! Statistic set A will go back and forth and you can influence it a little, Statistic set B will determine what things the game will say you’ve failed at. You can unlock costumes and there are scheduled events to test what values you have in Statistic Set B. Influence B, influence A, look at how badly you screwed up. If you screw up right, you’ll be treated to one of the game’s many end screens, where Princess Elodie, a fifteen year old girl, is murdered in some way or another.
Oh yeah, this is going to be fun.
My ulterior motivations are pretty clear though. This is an English-language Visual Novel, created using an indie game development studio. It’s weird and funny and it’s quirky. This game is everything that a wannabe amateur developer who wants to be known for ideas rather than for production values wants to succeed. I want games like LLTQ to be made and I’d awfully like it if one or two of those games were ones I made.
The problems that exist with LLTQ, however, feel like things the game is doing on purpose. They developer could spend time and effort creating models and animations for every individual character, could spend time and effort on voice acting, but I think LLTQ is proof that no, actually, you don’t have to do that. It’s a pure mechanic with an endearing framing device.
Ultimately, videogames are systems of numbers being manipulated to make it more difficult for you to achieve some end so you can feel clever when you overcome them. If you can overcome LLTQ’s systems, if you can change mental gears the right way, you have an impressive set of challenges to overcome, and that I imagine, feels great.
I haven’t ‘finished’ LLTQ. I don’t think I ever will, and I think that’s because it’s hard. It’s a kind of hard that doesn’t draw me to retaliate to it. When Hotline Miami opposed me, I refused to back down, and I hammered through that game over and over again. When LLTQ presents me with an adorable image of Princess Elodie murdered to death by bandits, my reaction is to want to stuff my head under a blanket and bury my shame.
Every videogame wants you to use skills you already have (move a mouse, click the buttons) and skills you don’t have yet (proper hybrid fusing, memorisation of an elemental weaknesses table). Sometimes this means games have an appeal to people within their genre – fight game enthusiasts have a very different perspective on games like Killer Instinct and Super Smash Bros to people who aren’t enthusiasts. I know I have strong views on how first-person shooter games work after my childhood spent playing in the house that Carmack built.
Nothing I have played, nothing I am good at, feels useful to playing LLTQ.
I very rarely feel so bad at a videogame as I do when I’m playing LLTQ. Call me an arrogant son of a bitch but I am the kind of person who considers himself good at games, and smugly reports to friends who are veterans of games as to how well I perform ‘blind.’ I have had nothing to brag about with LLTQ. Sometimes I’ll do well at a thing – I think – and I won’t want to mention it because I never feel as if what I do well is my fault.
I think I can already see the core strategy under the game: Learn what you want to focus on for a path through the game, push your mood to emphasise those skills, and then build those skills hard. That’s not intuitive to me, though. Every time I see Elodie looking sad or frustrated, or hear her talk about feeling alone, my response is sympathy. I want to help her feel more balanced, not make her feel angry or pressured or yielding. I didn’t care about Elodie as a game piece, something which has to pass arbitrary thresholds, something that needs to be tucked in, timed out, carefully constructed and clockwork-style manipulated – I wanted this sad girl, who had lost her mother, to feel better.
I don’t think any of this is a failing of LLTQ though. I think that really, the failing is in me. I’m not very good at this type of game, and LLTQ has no patience for you if you’re not.
Strangely, what this makes me imagine is that LLTQ is a sort of visual novel version of Super Meat Boy, or Dwarf Fortress. Essentially, LLTQ chooses, rather than to build itself to be easily played, builds failure straight in. This is a mindset I should be comfortable with – I am, after all, an aficionado of the Sierra Quest games, games which literally made a game out of finding all the interesting and unique ways to die. Of course, in those games, the framing device was usually about watching a loser stumbling through circumstances clearly beyond him, while again, in LLTQ I’m trying to help a grieving young woman who reminds me far too much of people I know not die. You died in Space Quest because you did something that the game considered stupid (or occasionally the game wanted to randomly kick you in the balls). You die in LLTQ because you haven’t helped Elodie protect herself right.
The strange thing is, how the hell does Elodie remind me of people I know? It’s not like she’s full of dialogue. There are things she has to say, and she’s charming and cute in her own kind of generic, super-shoujo way, but she’s mostly a pile of stats. I perceived personality and character from Elodie – or rather, from a pile of statistics. When events I didn’t understand or anticipate drove her skills in cryptography and internal affairs through the roof, and her mood into Willful all the way, I saw one of my friends. Perhaps it served me right for not saving, because that version of Elodie crashed the game and I’ll never know if she could infosec her way out of a fancy ball assassination attempt.
Finally, I think one of the great barriers in this game for me is that years of playing videogames where I was a boy, but interacted with girls, meant that no matter how much I play LLTQ, I don’t feel like Elodie is my avatar. I feel like she’s my project. I feel like I’m guiding her, not that I’m playing her. I am pretty sure that that’s not me, though – the game’s trailer explicitly says, ‘guide Princess Elodie.’
Buy it if:
- You have no Shoujou Limit.
- You have any interest in supporting English-Language visual novels.
- You’re interested in RenPy as a game engine and want to see what you could do with it.
Avoid it if:
- Iterating failure frustrates you.
- You find it hard to engage a game where you fail a lot.
(The explosion sound I used for this was obtained from SoundBible.com, and made by BlastwaveFX.com)
(And yeah, this idea was super stupid.)