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About the Story
Everyone who’s anyone summers in France - which means master thief Lady Thalia is there too, attending garden parties by day and stealing masterpieces by night. Unfortunately, this holiday is less than restful, as she crosses paths with foes both old and new. Case your targets, steal works of art, and team up with your Scotland Yard nemesis in this puzzle-based Twine game.
Entrant, Main Festival - Spring Thing 2022
Winner, Most Sequel-Worthy Game of 2022 - Player's Choice - The 2022 IFDB Awards
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Number of Reviews: 3
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Reader, let me level with you: I was in the bag for this game before I even clicked the word Start. The first Lady Thalia installment was a highlight of last year’s Spring Thing for me, with its zippy heists and even zippier repartee fine-tuned to delight. So how could more of the same be anything but lovely? True, sometimes a sequel brings diminishing returns, but given how much I’ve enjoyed pretty much everything by this pair of authors, the thought that 2 Lady 2 Thalia could be a disappointment never crossed my mind – as well it shouldn’t have done, because as I suspected, in this case even more of a good thing is even more of a good thing.
For those lucky souls who’ve yet to try one of these games – oh, how I envy you! – the protagonist is a former demimondaine who’s clawed her way into respectability by day, while slaking her thirst for objets d’art at night through her alter ego as Lady Thalia, gentlewoman thief. The first game, set in Jazz-Age London, saw her carry out a series of escalating thefts, thumbing her nose in the face of her arch-rival, Melpomene Williams of Scotland Yard.
While the setting and characters have immediate appeal, a big part of what made it so successful is the heist mechanics, which carry over to the sequel. There’s an initial phase where you case the joint, digging up information about security measures and alternate routes, via some hopefully-subtle poking around as well as a social engineering minigame that requires sussing out whether a particular mark is best approached in a friendly fashion, bowled over by the direct approach, or drawn out so they can vent their natural loquaciousness. Then it’s time for the operation itself, where you need to put you planning into practice and respond to the many curve-balls life, and the Yard/gendarmerie, throw your way. Finally, there’s a wrap-up where you receive a score rating the panache with which you pulled off the job. Sticking to this framework means there are some similarities between heists, sure, but it also means that each has its own narrative structure, with the methodical exploration-heavy investigation giving way to a puzzley heist and an improvisational exfiltration, and then the score helps motivate you to do as well (or better) next time.
Rose of Rocroi puts a few spins on this high-quality formula. You’re vacationing in Paris so the scenery is even better this time out (the authors wisely exercised restraint and kept the dialogue free of mais oui and zut alors! interjections, though there are fun references to Phantom of the Opera and Les Mis). You have a new candidate for nemesis, as you’re actually working with Mel to foil a chauvinistic French thief with a penchant for fancy-dress and a disrespect for fine art. And then – well, let me spoiler block this next bit: (Spoiler - click to show)in the most exciting alternate-protagonist twist since Halo 2, you actually play Mel in the investigative sections this time out!
These aren’t radical changes, but they’re enough to keep an already-great formula fresh. The writing draws you along on a paragraph by paragraph level – picking two examples from an endless candy box of bon mots:
"You are once again at a garden party (being wealthy seems to involve an almost intolerable amount of garden parties) and are just about to claim a headache and beg off when you overhear something that catches your attention."
"You are Lady Thalia, and it is time to commit a crime. Well, a crime sanctioned by the police. Well, sanctioned by one policewoman who doesn’t have jurisdiction in this country. Not that any of that makes this any more or less illegal than what you typically get up to, anyway, but it is a change of pace."
Then the meaty crunch of each heist gives you something to sink your teeth into. None of the challenges are that hard, but they’re satisfying to work through, and the possibility of getting a perfect score is always there, urging you to pay attention and ensure Lady Thalia lives up to her reputation. And sitting above the episodic bouts of thievery, the overall plot, and more importantly, your relationship with Mel, provide a sense of progression through the game as a whole. It’s really smartly-designed stuff, and it makes the time playing this medium-length game feel like it just melts away.
Lest I be accused of a total lack of impartiality, I do have one and a half points of criticism to leaven all this praise. The half-point is that while the narrative nicely escalates into the finale, mechanically speaking the climactic heist didn’t feel more complex or challenging than the earlier ones, which was a small missed opportunity – but only a small one, given how much this last job gains in coolness from being set in Versailles. The full point, though, has to do with how the most important relationship in the game is handled: I’m speaking, of course, of the Mel/Thalia frenemy romance (alert a leather worker, I need to cram a third word into my portmanteau).
Look, obviously these two crazy kids are meant to be together. And obviously given the differences in where they’re each coming from, that shouldn’t be a cakewalk. The game does a good job of signaling that you need to need to walk a fine line to get the best ending with Mel – lean too much into the archnemesis side of things, and there’s no opportunity to make nice, while Mel justifiably views too-enthusiastic expressions of affection with suspicion. So in my playthrough, I aimed for varying moments of sharp-elbowed banter with heartfelt moments of vulnerability, hoping this changeup would melt Mel in her boots. Sadly, though, when the game listed my final scores, I did near-perfectly on the heists and investigation but only got a 4 out of 9 in my relationship with Mel. That’s all well and good, but when I went back and replayed, trying even harder to focus on getting this path right, I still got that same mediocre score.
It could be that I’m just not any good at this and I should stick with crime rather than romance (and in the game!) But from looking at the comprehensive walkthrough provided with the game, I feel like the requirements here might not be as elegantly signposted as most other mechanics in the game are. It seems as though rather than allowing you to succeed by balancing meaner and nicer options, instead at each decision point there’s a single correct answer you need to pick to optimize your score. From the way the narrative presented things, it wasn’t clear to me that this is how things were going to work, and sometimes the differences between choices were subtle enough (like the one offering three slightly-different ways of suggesting Mel work undercover) that I’m still not sure why one was correct and the others weren’t.
It feels unfair to harp on this, since – I can’t emphasize this enough – the game is deliriously fun to work through and even replay. But shipping Thalia and Mel is a hugely appealing element of the story, so it was a shame that it felt frustrating. Fortunately, I had no shame about stooping to the walkthrough to make sure that third time around was the charm for our mismatched leads. And here’s hoping that next year, there’s a third entry in the series waiting for us. Maybe a visit to the casinos of Monte Carlo is in order, or perhaps she’ll return home and try to swipe the Crown Jewels? Wherever she goes, I’ll be there, since I’m nowhere near done with Lady Thalia!
I had some trepidation approaching this game, as, based on the last Lady Thalia game, I assumed it would be:
-requiring a great deal of thought,
and thus require some special time set aside. And I was right! If anything, this game exceeds the last one in all those categories.
You play two different women this time: one, the infamous lady thief Lady Thalia; the other, a policewoman named Margaret Williams, somewhat stodgy but dependable. Together, you are teaming up to stop a rival art thief who is obsessed with royal privilege and the trappings of aristocracy.
Play alternates between playing as Margaret, who investigates and prepares, and Lady Thalia, who follows up on Margaret's leads. There's a point system (which is humorously lampshaded in-game), and sub-systems including a relationship tracker between the two leads.
There are a variety of puzzles, with the most consistent one being a conversational system where you can choose between being flattering, direct, and leading someone one; most conversations give you 3 chances to find the 'right one', with a bonus if you get all 3 right.
The other puzzles for the most part involve retaining information from earlier and using contextual clues. There is a complex save system which allows for easy restoration (I did this quite a bit), but some choices have significant delays, so a perfect playthrough is quite difficult.
The characters are bold and well-written, and I'd consider this among the best crime/heist Twine games.
For reasons of social standing and thievery opportunities, Lady Thalia is spending the summer in Paris. And my my, what a coincidence, so is Scotland Yard investigator Margaret Williams (Melpomene/Mel for anyone foolish enough to want to annoy her... like Thalia). Mel is Thalia's nemesis (or the other way around...), in proper Holmes/Moriarty-parlance. But there seems to be something else brooding under the surface too...
These characters had fantastic chemistry between them in Lady Thalia and the Seraskier Sapphires. In Lady Thalia and the Rose of Rocroi this is continued, but the authors take it a step further. In this installment you alternate between the characters. This gives the player the opportunity to see both characters and their relationship through the eyes of the other. Mind you, although the player can guide the interactions between Mel and Thalia through the choice of clicks, she cannot shape the characters' nature. Both Mel and Thalia will stay true to themselves in how they respond to the player choices.
Lady Thalia and the Rose of Rocroi is written in the second person perspective, as is habitual in IF. Often the second person can feel as if a third party is telling the player ("You") what the PC does/sees/feels. A tad distancing.
Here however, the second person leans very much towards the intimacy of the first person point of view. It feels as if there is a very personal inner voice acting as narrator, instead of an external overseer.
The use of language is beautiful. It is unassuming, not drawing too much attention to itself. It is efficient and practical. And there are truly wonderful sentences to be found.
--After your unfortunate experience last night, you have decided to cheer yourself up with an easy theft — stealing a work by a minor painter from a minor museum.
On a larger scale, the writing is also very strong. The game has splendid pacing and rhythm. It somehow made me think of a Nirvana song, with its slow but tense verses (the preparation for the heist) alternated with a fast and frantic chorus (the escape after the heist). I must admit that the degree of franticality in my escapes could have been significantly lower if I had been more careful in the preparatory stages...
This structure does run the risk of feeling artificial and predictable, a framework that the narrative has been made to fit into. Fortunately, the final Act shakes it up somewhat. Also, this is a game, not a novel. Clear level structure helps the player see the objectives of the game.
There is no way to lose in Lady Thalia. There is a scoring system that makes fun of itself, if you care for points and statistics.
Freed from the fear of losing moves, the solutions to the puzzles are wholly a matter of player preference. Subtlety and finesse are more in-character, but violence can surely be the answer (maybe even the funnier answer...)
Go meet Mel and Thalia. You will not regret it.
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Manhattan, May, 1954.
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