A Tragedy Of Manners

by Eleanor Hingley


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Donít choose the wrong fork. Donít say the wrong thing., December 4, 2022

Lord Cephyis Alikarn is hosting a party at his opulent private estate on the Alikarn family's planet. It's kind of a big deal. This will not be a run of the mill party. Manners, etiquette, and protocol are critical because a slip-up can result in death or scandal. Maybe, just maybe, you will get to see the Emprex.

Gameplay
The nuts and bolts of the gameplay is where the game presents you an etiquette-based situation and you then must choose the right way of proceeding to avoid death or scandal. For example, (Spoiler - click to show) you are served a delicacy of a crab-like creature renowned for its meat. However, to preserve the flavor it must be alive when served and killed right before it is eaten. You must kill it yourself. The catch is that its pinchers are highly poisonous. The PC clearly has no experience with this, so the player takes a guess on how to kill it without being killed themselves. This takes table manners to another level.

I like how the game puts you on the spot to capture how the protagonist is not in familiar territory. It leaves the player thinking, "oh no, oh no, what do I do? Don't mess up."

Applaud enthusiastically
Applaud politely
Remain still

This selection of choices should make you nervous.

I would have loved to see more of these challenges in the game. Hopefully, you will stick it out long enough to reach the end. Total gameplay is short but there is a lot of content to absorb.

Story
It is a potent story of grandeur on a galactic scale. We see things that would not be possible or practical in real life but are commonplace in the story's world of raw decadence and political power spanning a galaxy. Along the way we hear information about other planets and societies. This is not a humans-only universe. There are also alien races, some of which are guests. But any world-building is typically limited to discussion of Emprex Hasina Alikarnís role as galactic leader as the honored guest at a party hosted by her brother, Lord Cephyis Alikarn.

The big pivotal scene is when you (Spoiler - click to show) notice that the Emprex's drink has been tampered with, a sign that she is about to be poisoned. You have three options: Ignore it, turn her glass to the left, or turn her glass to the right. This is based on a tidbit of knowledge you can learn from one of the guests.

At a past formal event, poison was added to guestsí drinks and the cups turned a certain way so that the conspirators knew which ones were safe to drink. The Emprex was about to drink a poisoned glass when her brother intervened, saving her life. In return she granted him considerable power. Since then, turning glasses at parties has almost become a symbolic tradition.

When you turn her glass to the left to indicate poison she picks up on the cue and requests a different glass. She realizes you saved her and asks for the person behind the assassination attempt. Itís not hard to figure out, but I donít want to spoil everything.
I thought this was a clever way of incorporating information gleamed from the gameplay into a final decision that determines the ending.

The ending where (Spoiler - click to show) she is poisoned and dies ends on a cliffhanger. She tries to speak, but then the poison overtakes her and she goes limp. And? It felt incomplete to leave it like this. The winning ending leaves some unanswered questions but otherwise wraps up the story and gives the player a few choices on how to use the Emprexís favor. I was surprised that (Spoiler - click to show) she allows you to suddenly be promoted to such high-level positions without any formal experience but if the protagonist managed to survive an Alikarn dinner party than perhaps they have more going for them than what meets the eye.

Characters
Ah yes, the protagonist. The intro in A Tragedy of Manners stresses how seeing the Emprex face-to-face is an extremely rare privilege reserved for the most elite. It builds rumor and secrecy about the odds of someone being allowed to visit the Alikarn familyís planet let alone be invited to a family party.

You have heard rumours that the Emprex herself might be present, but such a thing is impossible. Someone of your lowly status would never be allowed in her exalted presence.

The whole point of the game is that you are in over your head. The protagonist comes strolling in late to what the game calls ďthe most dangerous dinner party in the galaxy.Ē But the gameplay can undermine the societal exposition provided at the start of the game. (Spoiler - click to show) You pretty much walk in and bam, Emprex sitting at the table. For the playerís meager standing I figured that there would be more ceremony involved before they could meet her.

Some additional background on the protagonist would have helped. There are some mixed messages and I feel like I am overlooking something. The beginning suggests that the protagonist is a nobody who somehow managed to snag an invitation. They lack social standing and knowledge on formal protocol, admitting that the Emprex would have no reason to grant them an audience. And yet, (Spoiler - click to show) the Emprex vaguely mentions the protagonist in her toast, acknowledging that they are an invited guest before making an announcement. She wants decision making in the empire to be witnessed by individuals other than nobles. Excellent. By why was the protagonist invited? Why them? Seriously, who is the protagonist? I would like some clarification, thatís all.

You do not interact with NPCs as much as you see them and that is just fine with me because appearances and fashion come first. The Emprexís dress was cool. This game takes the idea of a formal wear sci-fi dinner party and multiplies it by ten. One memorable NPC interaction was with a Legacy staff member. Legacy is where (Spoiler - click to show) entire families serve as staff from generation to generation. Each new generation has a cybernetic implant containing the knowledge and experience of past family members so they can perform their job with the equivalence of centuries worth of expertise. A creative character concept with unsettling undertones.

Visuals
This is an Ink game. Visually, it sticks to a standard appearance of a white screen, grey text, and orange links. Simple and easy to read. Nothing notable to share.

Final thoughts
I love the idea of a space opera etiquette game, and I would be eager to play it more if it were longer (I wish it were longer). The ambiguity of the protagonistís social standing caused confusion and occasionally backtracked from the exposition but there is still something rewarding about a low-key PC succeeding while totally out of their element.

You lean back, basking in the glow of conversational victory.

Especially when that element is a dramatic futuristic dinner party with (Spoiler - click to show) cybernetically enhanced staff and (Spoiler - click to show) deadly main courses. I had a lot of fun at seeing the outlandish and imaginative world of Sanctum, the ruling planet of the Luminous Empyrean!!!!