The Golden Rose

by Ana Ventura


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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Ambitious and arduous, September 3, 2022
by autumnc
Related reviews: hosted games

This is a very long and ambitious Choicescript game, in fact one of the longest ever at 1.2 million words, and it's still only the first part of what promises to be at least a three-part saga. It takes place in an alternate-history version of medieval Iberia, where the Church has outlawed Latin (to the point where most of the characters have Germanic rather than Romance name forms) and the study of the Roman Empire. The protagonist is part of a company of mercenaries who seek to recover lost artifacts, which brings them into conflict with the Church and various other authorities.

The setting is probably my favorite part of the game. It is set in the city of Tarragona (in present-day Spain), and the medieval city comes alive in the very descriptive writing. There is a relatively free-form portion in the middle of the game where the player can visit different parts of the city; I love this kind of panoramic view of different social groups and people, who are all lovingly and distinctively portrayed. The alternate-history worldbuilding feels utterly believable, with details like names coming into play in fascinating ways.

On the other hand, the detail-oriented nature of the game can throw the pacing off. There is a constant sequence of tiny actions imbued with almost supernatural significance. Do you tilt your chin, touch your nose, or stoically gaze forward? Well, no matter what you do, there is going to be at least a paragraph of over-the-top description of your action and what it means for your personality, and it might not be what you expect. As someone who cannot read the author's mind (and is not the most socially aware IRL), the emotional salience of the various gestures was often lost on me (although I did learn the patterns). There's just so many of these tiny big choices, all throughout the story, and I got a bit tired of them. Also, the mass of details can unbalance the story; these tiny gestures are given more weight in the narrative than some of the moments where people actually die (it's funny how our mercenary can be adept at killing people while having anxiety attacks when someone looks at them a certain way).

The characters are a mixed bag. Some of them feel like dating sim archetypes (the nice boy, the bad boy, the defrosting ice queen), but they're written with a lot of detail and nuance. I like the ambiguity in a lot of the characters' motivations and even their feelings about the protagonist. The relationship descriptions in the stats page are all textual with no stat bars; even though there are multiple stat bars underneath the hood, it still felt more immersive to me.

Overall, I really enjoyed this game, but I wish I could like it more. I'm giving it 5 stars mostly because of its high ambitions and the huge amount of work that was put into the game, and I'm certainly looking forward to the next book.

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