by Meg Stivison2
Warning: This hardcore game contains shirtless men and pretty flowers.
Silicon Sisters’ new character driven adventure Everlove blends escapism, romance and very accessible gameplay. Everlove opens with the protagonist, Rose, lying down in a therapist’s office to begin past-life regression therapy. I was just starting to roll my eyes when I discovered that I already had meaningful choices. My Kindness and Wisdom went up when I choose the very first line of dialogue, and my stats affected the storyline and the outcome of the game.
Meaningful choices in a narrative game. This is clearly an awesome game, and the rest of this review is just flavortext.
Although billed as romance, and featuring plenty of handsome male characters, this isn’t a dating sim. Players are quickly caught up in royal intrigue, a peasants’ rebellion and a mystical curse. From the very beginning, Rose needs to investigate carefully, and decide which characters to support. Getting closer to one character might antagonize or alienate another, but fortunately there’s no “right” way to play the story. After gathering a new piece of evidence, players are offered a choice of who to share that clue with, and each choice has game consequences, creating many paths for players to explore. Will you support the rebels or rat them out to the royals? When you hear the sounds of a monster in the forest, will you battle it, run away, or try to bluff? The abundance of handsome fellows in town is just the icing on the fantasy escapism cake.
Almost every time the player makes a choice, Rose’s stats change, increasing her Kindness, Will, Romance and Wisdom. Different traits facilitate different relationships, and allow Rose to discover new information.
At any time, players can rewind and redo their last dialogue option. Accidentally flirted with the wrong guy? Accidentally revealed the rebellion? Wish you hadn’t offended the king? Just rewind and replay differently!
I conclude every single review of every single Choice Of… narrative game by lamenting the lack of a save option, and wishing I could save at interesting choices to go back and replay them, so I was thrilled to see this feature in this Silicon Sisters game. The choices are more enjoyable because experimentation is facilitated and encouraged.
In addition to interacting with characters, Rose needs to gather ingredients for herbal remedies, and also finds torn bits of paper to reassemble into important texts. (This is a casual game standard!) The minigames have high production values — the mint and lavender growing in Everlove actually look like the lavender and mint growing in my windowsill — and if you don’t think strolling through the forest picking flowers is very good practice for being a mighty pirate, these minigames can be skipped at no penalty to the player.
When finally forced to choose just one gentleman from the four options, I immediately choose dark, brooding and powerful, of course. Turns out, though, that all my choices had actual consequences, and Lord Dark and Brooding was attracted to Will and Responsibility, and at odds with my Kindness and Wisdom. (Typical me.)
I replayed, this time pursuing Thorodan, the handsome and talented young healer. He was a better match, since he was more interested in Rose’s steadily-increasing Kindness stat, but as he told me how many nights he’d stayed up frantically working on his magical curse-breaking formula, he reminded me of my buddies from the tech startup scene. A total mood killer when Rose and Thorodan finally got some romantic time. (Also typical me.)
I’m literally unable to tell whether this is a bug or a feature, but I found when I reentered the game after setting down my device, the scene I’d been playing would restart. It was annoying to me, especially when replaying the game, but I’m unsure if this is working as designed. Was it meant to recap the scene for returning players? Or is Everlove just unable to save mid-scene?
A romance novel casual game isn’t a new idea. Romance publisher Harlequin has ventured into romantic hidden-object games, and Passionfruit Games released two casual titles based on Marjorie M. Liu’s supernatural romances. There have been several other blends of hidden object game and romance novel from other developers and publishers as well. These games appeal to the intersection of casual gamers, puzzle gamers, and genre readers.
Everlove, though, is a game for adventure gamers and narrative gamers, with an engaging, branching storyline and several relationships to maintain, something Silicon Sisters did very well in their previous release, School 26. By being so unabashedly female, Everlove and School 26 both highlight how many games assume that game players are straight males. Everlove successfully blends the escapism of fantasy novels with accessible controls and lovely art, creating a narrative game worth replaying.