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Long Live The Queen: A Game of Strategy, Intrigue, and Horrible, Adorable Death

Review

I have never before played a game with a preference for pink. Frills and ribbons aren’t my thing out in the real world, either, but it goes a little deeper than that. Like a lot of folks, I have a kneejerk aversion to games that are visually coded as “for girls.” Intellectually, I know there’s nothing (nothing!) wrong with pink, but something buried in my lizard brain always tells me this game is going to suck, move along. Last year, I gained some new perspective, thanks to an interview I had with Rachel Weil of FEMICOM. “We do typically have this gut reaction that games dressed up in bows won’t be any good at all,” she said. “But why?”

It was an eye-opening consideration for me, and I instantly thought of it when I found myself with a copy of Long Live The Queen, a strategy-heavy simulation game with a Magical Girl aesthetic. It wasn’t my style, or my preferred genre, but I told my lizard brain to shut up, and gave it a fair shot. I played, and played, and played. I’m still playing. Beneath the hearts and glitter lies a complex puzzle, one I have yet to unravel to my satisfaction. It has me hooked.

Meet Crown Princess Elodie, fourteen years old and preparing to assume the throne. The tragic death of her mother has put her on the path to coronation, but she’s got a year before she comes of age. The player has but one task — keep her alive until then.

Yes, poor, lonely Elodie lives in a dangerous world of assassins and war and backstabbing nobles and unhappy peasants. The kingdom (queendom?) of Nova has it out for this kid. Everybody wants Elodie for something, and genuine friends are a rarity. Fortunately, Elodie has full autonomy here. It’s up to her (aka you) to decide what kind of ruler she will be, and to build up her skills accordingly. Even her father, who holds the crown in her stead, acquiesces to her commands. She’s the queen, after all. Or she will be, if you can keep her from an early demise.

Easier said than done. So far, I’ve seen Elodie stabbed, poisoned, drowned, exsanguinated, exploded, and fatally concussed. Her gruesome deaths are commemorated in chibi-style pastels, framed with pink lace. It’s like Edward Gorey crossed with a plate of petit fours.

To keep Elodie from an unpleasant end, the player must level up a broad assortment of skills, all of which gain bonuses or suffer penalties based on her mood. Elegance, dancing, and courtly manners are on the menu, of course, but so are foreign affairs, business, medicine, political intrigue, athletics, naval strategy, art, music, meditation, and magic (to name a few). As I hemmed and hawed over my choices, I realized that Elodie, as a playable character, is awesome. The game doesn’t value one skill set above any other. If you want to fight with swords, cool. If you want to wear fancy dresses, cool. If you want to study politics, cool. If you want to do all of the above, cool. The game is quick to steer away from the typical pop culture notion of a princess — pampered, pretty, seeking savior — and instead reminds you that Elodie is training to be queen. For that, she’s going to need smarts. Whether that’s book smarts or people smarts or combat smarts is up to you. All skills have value. All skills have flaws. And ultimately, those skills are what will (hopefully) keep her alive. The only person who can save Elodie is herself.

Now that’s a frilly pink princess I can get behind.

The first time through, I made the classic mistake of playing for story, not skills. Elodie was just so sad at the start. After seeing her mood marker plummet ever further into “Lonely,” I threw distractions at her. I encouraged her to express herself through music and art. I got her a hunting falcon. I tried to interest her with world history and magical lore, and let her work out her frustration through archery. I hoped that pulling her out of her depression would make her a more engaged, committed ruler.

She died with an arrow through her gut.

I went for balance the next time through. The major events in Elodie’s life remain static from week to week, so it becomes somewhat easier to plan ahead. I dodged the dangers I knew were coming, and kept a mental list of all the people I needed to keep happy. Elodie would be a fair ruler, but a clever one, knowing how to please the nobles and mollify the peasants. She would navigate a dance floor as well as a battlefield, and the kingdom of Nova would be a bastion of peace and prosperity.

Following a bloody civil war, a nobleman killed her in a duel.

It was time to get serious. I brought out my notebook. I detailed the events I commonly ran into. I jotted down the skill checks I was failing, and noted how high they were when I passed. I thought ever harder about Elodie’s father’s comment on how everybody was wondering what sort of queen she would become. I looked at my notes, and at the glum, pink-haired girl standing alone on my screen. She deserved more than this. She had it in her to be a great ruler. Damn them all, Elodie, I thought, you’re better than they are. And with that, I knew what kind of ruler she needed to be.

A tactical genius.

Elodie set her jaw and got to work, not wasting any time on social functions or suitors. She had books to read! Why learn to curtsey when you could be achieving victory at sea? Elodie became an expert on both internal and foreign affairs, and knew exactly whose strings to pull. She knew her way around economics so well that the guards ignored her father’s orders not to let her into the treasury. She knew about border disputes. She knew about employing spies. A civil war was no problem, not with might and money on her side. Trade flourished, armies triumphed, and by the year’s end, Elodie was crowned queen. A brilliant, badass queen.

I’d won. But within an hour, I was questioning my Tywin Lannister approach. What would’ve happened if I’d built that hospital? What about that friend’s birthday party I ignored? Or the tournament I couldn’t compete in? Was there a way to be more diplomatic and still have enough political savvy to secure the throne?

I went back to the game a short while later. I had a new strategy in mind. I wanted a victory for Elodie that wasn’t quite so pragmatic. I wanted her to find love, or at least a friend. I wanted the view from the top to be a little less miserable. Surely, surely, she could enjoy the reign she’d worked so hard to secure.

A rival poisoned her.

I tried again. And again. I frowned at the achievement checklist in the main menu because no, I hadn’t managed to discover a terrible family secret, or gotten a woman to send me flowers (props, by the by, for including noble ladies who like ladies, and lords who like lords). I went online and found a strategy wiki. I compared their notes with my notes. After a while, I looked at the clock. Somehow, midnight had happened.

If there’s nothing you like better than min-maxing and theorycrafting, you’re going to dig this. For those who, like myself, aren’t into ribbons, don’t let that put you off. (For those who like both ribbons and min-maxing, this’ll be exactly your cup of heavily sweetened tea.) This is a solid, enjoyable game — though there are some limitations to keep in mind. If sim games and visual novels aren’t your usual thing, the still images can start to feel repetitive, and you’ll need the patience for lots of click-through text. But if you’re the sort who can sink your teeth into a full afternoon of tabletop strategy, you’ll be happy here. Long Live The Queen is a slow-paced, cozy evening kind of game, good for folks who like numbers and critical thinking. And death. Pink frosted, chubby cheeked death.

Long Live The Queen is available for Windows, Mac, and Linux for $12.95. It can be purchased straight from its developer, and is open for voting on Steam Greenlight.

Becky Chambers is a freelance writer and a full-time geek. Like most internet people, she has a website. She can also always be found on Twitter.

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