Cinders is a visual novel that spins a mature and refreshing take on the fairy tale of Cinderella. It is developed by MoaCube and published by Crunching Koalas. It comes to Playstation 4 on the 25th of August, and Xbox One a day later, having previously been released on Nintendo Switch and PC many moons ago.
You play as Cinders, a servant girl to her evil stepmother and her two daughters. Your family is in financial ruin until your stepmother learns of a masquerade ball, organised by the Prince who is in search of a wife. The story plays over seven-days, climaxing with said ball. Given this is a novel, you will be reading more than anything else – there are no voice overs – but I never found it too much. I finished my playthrough in just under three and a half hours and to keep the interaction sustained, the game boasts “120 decision points, and over 300 choices” to make. Every juncture felt well-timed and with weight behind it. You will want to carefully consider consequences because they are not a gimmick nor filler. They count, and although you can save whenever you like and use your bumper buttons to rewind text, you cannot change your choices once you have made them.
During your time as Cinders, you will visit five different locations, more than once, and you will engage with roughly ten characters. This might not seem much but less is more here, and it really works. Characters are complex and worth exploring. Interactions move with purpose and each one plays an integral part in your story. A dynamic I particularly enjoyed, one which I was not expecting, was that your stepsisters do not get on. I had fun with this, befriending one to team up on the other and vice versa at my choosing. You will learn secrets, decide to tell truths, or lies, pursue certain romantic narratives, offer help or not etc. Praise is due because this has been well thought out. I believe the narrative would hold up on its own but added to the compelling storyline, is the wonderful way it has been presented. Locations and characters are all hand drawn and painted, and although settings are largely static, fires crackle, candles flicker, and plants softly sway in the wind. These small touches are simple but effective, and everything is accompanied with a beautiful original soundtrack that changes dramatically from scene to scene. Everything is very well implemented, and I was invested from the start. As stated, the themes are mature and there are one or two uses of bad language, so young gamers might not understand or appreciate what is being offered here. It has a PEGI rating of 12.
There are four endings and eight collectibles. I picked up half of them on my first outing and with it taking me a little over three hours to finish (I am a fast reader) I doubt it would take long to complete this fully with all trophies secured. Avid readers will know that a good book makes you think, it does not do the thinking for you. I say this because I thought I had achieved the “good” ending but as my future was revealed to me, I was wrong. I was pleased with my performance but came away meticulously retracing my decisions and wondering what I should have done instead for a better outcome. That will not be for everyone, but I relished it – this game stayed with me for some time afterwards.
I am really struggling to find faults. Cinders is a specific but fully formed and immersive experience. It is confident in its strengths, with every right to be. If you are a fan of the genre then you will love this.