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About the Story
Climb to the very top of the class at your exclusive private school for socialites! Will you study hard, find a perfect match, or embrace scandal?
Winner - Tie, Best Game; Winner, Best Writing; Winner - Tie, Best Story; Nominee, Best NPCs - 2019 XYZZY Awards
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Number of Reviews: 2
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This game has been at the top of the bestseller charts for Choice of Games since it came out last November. I've been interested in it for quite some time, and it exceeds my expectations.
The best Choice of Games stories are those which allow your decisions to matter with meaningful branches (like Choice of Robots), which have a strong narrative arc (like Slammed!), have a lot of customization (like Hollywood Visionary) or which invite strategy (like Choice of Robots again).
This game excels at all of these features. Set in a fictional, more open version of Europe some decades past, this game features you as the scion of a disgraced family, sent to a finishing school to redeem their failures. At school, you can attend to any number of activities, including academic studies, meddling with teacher romances, witchcraft, leadership, and quite a bit of romance (with 9 possible romances and 10 possibles marriages, including marriage of convenience and a royal).
The last few chapters can really throw some gears into your plans. I planned on restoring my family's honor and marrying the headmistress's child, and achieved both of my goals.
It really captures the essence of the boarding school story, like Jane Eyre's early chapters or an ethically-sourced version of Harry Potter. This game allows quite a bit of customization with regards to genders of romanceable characters, and your own appearance and personality.
It's also very long. While it has a smaller wordcount than the enormous Tally Ho, my playthrough length was longer than any Choicescript game I have played, lasting several hours (although I read everything carefully).
In a way, it was a lot like epic fantasy. Not the Hero's Journey (it's not rigidly in any tradition like that). Instead of a hero from a destroyed village, you're a student from a destroyed family. Instead of gaining experience through battles and sages, you engage with rivals and teachers. And instead of facing Mt. Doom, you face the truth behind the school, which is just as destructive.
I was provided a review copy of this game.
I played this game several months ago, curious to try out Choice of Games for the first time. I fear this may have ruined other Choice of Games for me, though, because this one may be difficult to top. As I became familiar with the mechanics of the Choice of Game format (a story driven every few paragraphs by a set of multiple choices that impact the trajectory of the narrative and also affect various stats), I could see how masterfully Powell-Smith utilizes these features. Every choice feels meaningful, and the stats help you to see how you're making progress (or not) to a wide range of goals. I found myself truly strategizing as I made choices, checking my stats and considering how one choice over another may help lead me to a desired outcome.
In the game, you play as a character starting at a prestigious finishing school where your main goals include finding a suitable marriage and/or securing a social station that will help to clear your families troubled image. Though the genre of the game is not in my typical wheelhouse, I immediately became hooked.
What really makes the choices, stats, and achievements/goals feel meaningful is the enormous size and scope of the game. With 10 NPCs that you can develop relationships (both romantic and platonic) or rivalries with, along many other in-game achievements that can shape the plot in large or small ways, there really are an astounding number of ways to chart a course through the game. At over 440,000 words of game text, I only scratched the surface in my one playthrough. I believe I will feel compelled to play through again in the not-too-distant future.
More than just the scope of the game, though, is the craft behind the writing. Every scene is well written and richly descriptive. The NPCs have distinct personalities, lending real weight to the choice to develop relationships with one versus another. The setting is also rendered to great effect throughout the game -- by the end of the game, I felt like I knew Gallatin (the finishing school) even though you don't navigate through the world a la a text adventure.
The game is certainly an achievement, a wonderfully executed work in its own right, but also a testament to the possibilities of Choice of Games and the like. While CYOA-style works can be interesting, they typically feel like you're taking one of a handful of alternate paths through a set narrative. In Creme de la Creme, I really felt like I was moving through a fully realized game world and making impactful choices along the way. On top of that, the writing is sharp and the plot is full of intrigue. I understand that Powell-Smith is currently developing another Choice of Game set in the same world as Creme de la Creme, and I'll be playing that as soon as it comes out.
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