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Investigate the mysteries of a cursed ballet production, February 7, 2023
When I first saw Rougi, I thought it was commercial. It is not. But it is a demo.
In Rougi, the Paris Opéra Ballet is getting ready to put on Les Souliers Rouges, a controversial ballet thought to be cursed. And maybe there’s something to it. So far, it has been a string of accidents and delays. That is why you, a mere patron of the arts, have been tasked to find the truth behind the curse.
Actually, I think Les Souliers Rouges ( The Red Shoes) is an actual story with many adaptations in film, music, and other forms. Rougi happens to depict it as a ballet, which I believe has been done as well. But the version in Rougi is especially unique. The storyline is different than what I have seen (on the internet, that is), and I am curious to see its trajectory here.
The game begins with a brief intro before the PC enters the picture. We are merely the passive observer of a reception after a performance of Coppélia where ballerinas and crew members are mingling with the audience in the gallery. Two ballerinas, Élodie Sirand and Laure Bloch, are especially at the center of attention, each with their own crowd of admirers.
Élodie is the seasoned professional. The only danseuse étoile (lead ballerina, or prima ballerina) in Paris. Laure is the new, innocent talent who basks in the praise while Élodie watches her warily. At one point, Antoine de Forbin, a long-devoted patron of considerable power, informs Élodie that he must break off his relationship with her. She leaves. Angry. A young man chases after her. The scene ends.
It’s a pretty good intro. One that leaves you with questions. Both ballerinas are cast in Les Souliers Rouges, BTW. More on that later.
Rougi officially kicks off with some character creation where you decide on your name, pronouns, and social class. There are three social class (working class, bourgeois, and aristocracy) options that mildly influence the writing and character dialog. They also determine how you gain access to the Paris Opéra Ballet.
You’d never imagined you’d be able to enter the Palais, let alone stand in the secret wings behind its glittering halls.
You always begin with a letter invitation. For the bourgeois choice, you used your connections to weasel your way into an invitation, for the aristocracy option, you were simply invited. And if you choose the working class, you were tasked with making a delivery. Playing as different roles is fun and adds replay value.
Regardless of which social standing you choose to play in, your mission will be the same. At one point, you will meet the Director of the Opéra Ballet. He is strongly against Les Souliers Rouges but could not override the decision-making of other influential figures at the Opéra Ballet. He is a superstitious man, or at least when Les Souliers Rouges is involved. He will hardly visit the site while the ballet is in production. But he does so he could speak to you. He wants you to roll up your sleeves and investigate this “curse” before it causes (more) harm.
At heart, this is a mystery game, and there is a strong investigative feel in the gameplay. On the left side of the screen is a menu containing an inventory and a notebook section for clues. Some clues are added automatically, others only if you deem them relevant. It’s an organized system that is easy to use. The gameplay does use a higher word count, so it is helpful to have something that keeps track of vital details. The demo ends before we can make any real breakthroughs, but we still learn some neat things.
There are some dents in the polish. The only real bug hiccup that I encountered was with the achievements. When you unlock one, a message appears at the top of the screen before it is added in the achievements section. Often the game would say I earned one, but it would never be added to the list. The only achievement (besides the first two that are there following character creation) that managed to show up in the achievements section was:
(Spoiler - click to show) “Your Crown is Falling, Queen: Win Élodie's respect through an unexpected trial.”
None of the others appeared. I was hoping to see what they were. I must admit, I thought I would have to work harder to win Élodie’s respect, but no complaints.
Another error is how whenever you add something to your notebook, this happens: “There is a scrap of red satin near your foot. You surreptitiously pocket it.” If you repeatedly add a clue to the notebook, there will be no duplicate of the clue. But the PC will still pick up pieces of red satin to add in the inventory. They just keep piling up. Every time. Infinite scraps. I think that's an error. Either that or people keep leaving pieces of red satin everywhere.
Oh, and Laure is never added to the “Persons of interest” section. That’s about it.
For context, the story takes place during the Belle Époque, a period spanning from 1871-1914 in France and the European region. In the developer’s notes, the date was said to be 1895 but I’m not sure if that directly applies to the game. Either way, it’s nice that the game gives us a historical context.
In Rougi, a character named Maestro Camille Fauré (or just Camille) wrote Les Souliers Rouges. It is about a young village girl named Clara who receives red slippers that are secretly cursed by the King of Darkness who wants to claim her, etc. Its original premiere is shrouded in controversy. Spoilers ahead.
(Spoiler - click to show) Before opening night, the lead dancer casted as Clara died. Her body was found mangled by the roadside with large amounts of blood on the red ballet shoes in her bag. The production was cancelled. Years later, it was attempted again, but its production was riddled with disasters and thus scraped.
Now, for some insane reason, Camille wants to give this another shot and managed to twist the arm of those needed to permit (not that they agree) such a show. Les Souliers Rouges will be attempted one more time despite everyone's fear of its mere name. Even the Director is convinced it is cursed. He almost has a heart attack upon seeing Laure in her red dance shoes.
That’s all I know about the story through this demo. The author has a blog devoted to the development which is definitely worth a look.
I can tell you that the writing is decadent and descriptive. One of the best parts. It also theatrically captures the drama as it unfolds.
Dancers crowd around the fallen ballerina, outstretched hands fluttering from her to their mouths in the most elegant show of alarm you’ve ever seen.
We can visualize the elegant architecture and lavishly attired guests, but also “staff-only” areas that are less glamorous and maybe… not haunted. Probably not haunted. That’s the perk of the Director giving you the green light for investigating a cursed ballet production. It carries the awe of stepping from the streets into a performing arts establishment of great renown, setting a strong atmosphere.
There are plenty of interesting characters who are eventually logged as entries in your notebook. But so far, the dynamics between Élodie and Laure takes center stage. A rivalry is apparent. Élodie is the best of the best, Laure is new, one of the best, and somehow manages to be the Opéra Ballet Director’s favorite. Besides, they have completely different personas.
Laure is the bright-eyed, up-and-coming new talent. She is clearly dazzled by the high life glamour that comes with being a prominent ballerina. For her, ballet is a portal into this extravagant world. She is giddy and excitable without knowing the grimmer side of fame. As we see at the start of the game with Élodie, fame brings patrons, but patrons can easily ditch their favorites and become entranced with something new.
Élodie’s character is a sharp contrast. She has years of experience, not just in ballet but also the industry. Because of this, she is cynical, sees fakery from a mile away, and hostile towards those who waste her time (so, everyone). But she has secrets and has been burned by individuals. There is, perhaps, a genuine motive, though self-serving, to protect Laure from making the same mistakes that she did as a career ballerina because she knows too well that success attracts powerful people who call the shots.
Perhaps. Élodie strikes me as an individual who dislikes others but is not one to stand by and watch someone, especially if that someone was once her, make the worst possible mistake because of inexperience or vulnerability. Laure seems to be that someone. But it’s just a hunch, and one that may be disproven as the story develops.
Drama, drama, and more drama
It’s bad enough that Les Souliers Rouges is cursed. Now, two new developments have increased the scandal. (Spoiler - click to show) The first is that Laure is cast as the lead, Clara, instead of Élodie. The second is that rather than having a male dancer play the character of the King, Élodie will. Or maybe the King’s character is changed to female. I’m not sure. Either way, people see this as scandalous- for reasons I’m still trying to piece together- because Élodie claims Laure as a bride via the character roles. Is the gender change part bold, or is it just the rivalry between the two lead ballerinas?
Laure herself is shocked about this news but reassures those in charge that “I would do anything to become an étoile.” Anything? You can probably finish that thought. The demo ends after (Spoiler - click to show) Élodie and Laure dance in a duo piece, which only makes you want to know more of this catastrophic show. Is it really cursed?
The visual design goes well with the atmosphere and subject matter. It conjures up the image of velvet, wine, and... blood? Maybe I’m just jumping to conclusions. Oh, you can also change the colour scheme for the display mode, a superficial feature (in the best way) that wins me over every time. The one I just discussed it the default is called "Nuit," which means night. The other theme is "Matinée," a show that takes place in the day. The colour scheme for Matinée is creme and light blue. The best part is that it all contributes to the concept of performing arts.
More importantly, the text is easy to read. You can also adjust it in the settings. The super fancy cursive is great for flair but having it for everything would eventually be a pain to read.
I have played games about the performing arts, but this is the first based on ballet. It’s exciting and dramatic with a strong feel for mystery. I want to know the truth behind Les Souliers Rouges.
I recommend it to players interested in historical mystery games with an emphasis on the characters and story. As a mystery Twine game, it steers away from deductive puzzles and instead has the player carefully glean valuable bits of information as encounters arise. If you like the Lady Thalia series, you may enjoy Rougi but know that it is a complete change in tone and technicality.
One more thing: I'm going to be a spoiled brat for a moment. This is another polished, excellent demo that I've seen on IFDB (there are quite a few) that I would love to see continued. The author says that Rougi will be updated over the next few weeks. My understanding is that it was published about a year before it was added to IFDB. So, I am not sure when the next update will be.
I hope it continues to be developed without adding tons of pressure (that’s the last thing I want to do) for updates. If the author is reading this, just know that you have something with a lot of potential. I say that for a lot of games, but I would not say it if it weren’t true.