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Another vision for choice-based IF, December 28, 2020
I've started to wonder what would have happened if Hanako had stayed in the IF community rather than move to visual novels, and if Porpentine had moved to visual novels rather than twine. What if a twine version of LLtQ was submitted to IFComp 2012, and a visual novel version of Howling Dogs was published at Steam? How would the gaming world have changed?
The author apparently participated in the IF community in the early 2000s as Papillon, creating One Week among other games. One Week is a time management game with visual novel/dating sim-like mechanics, where the choice is of which action to perform each turn. LLtQ follows the same genre. The main choices involve time management: what to study each week, and where to spend your free time. There are also CYOA segments for major events. The ultimate goal here is to help Elodie (the titular queen) survive until her coronation, and hopefully become the kind of person who would be a good queen.
LLtQ is a difficult game. The "cruelty scale" doesn't really work for choice-based stories, but basically it is possible to die in a copious amount of locations, and there is no forewarning of death. There are unlimited save slots, but it is difficult to pinpoint the exact point at which your failure has become inevitable, and trying to avoid that failure could lead to a different fail state. Helpfully, the stat checks are explicitly given on both successes and failures.
LLtQ has a *lot* of stats, and a lot of little branches based on these stats. However, most stats will only be used a few times; some are only useful once (but that one time will save your life). The time-management gameplay is an optimization problem; how do you best allocate your training time so that you'll pass the key stat checks by certain events? Like in a lot of visual novels, it basically boils down to making a plan of which choices to make at which times, except there is a much larger space of choices than most choice-based games. This often requires replaying, which is encouraged by a fast-forward mechanism. By replaying, you learn the important moments where death is inevitable unless certain checks are met, the "bottleneck" part of the branch-and-bottleneck structure.
Oh yeah, there's also the art, writing, music, setting, etc. LLtQ is a visual novel with anime-esque artwork. The setting is basically a medieval fantasy with rather detailed worldbuilding around its history and politics. Most characters have hidden sides to them, but only some of them are plotting to murder you. There is a dating sim element where you can potentially find Elodie a partner, and there are a lot of interesting character moments that can be missed by not passing the relevant stat checks.