If you’ve ever looked at the lives of the royal family and thought it must be a cushty gig, then Long Live the Queen might change your mind. Being a princess not only means weekly assassination attempts, underhanded suitors and the odd mythical beast; it also means daily lessons of thrilling subjects like ‘Accounting’ and ‘Courtly Manners’. Piers Morgan has no idea how difficult the job is.
To be fair, Princess Elodie has it harder than most princesses. Her mother recently passed, and there are rumours swirling about that she might have been a ‘Lumen’, a kind of witch-elf hybrid. Elodie is also being fast-tracked into the position of Queen, for reasons that aren’t wholly explained – her father is still around to boss her about, for example – and this means daily double-lessons of various subjects. Finally, the kingdom of Nova is being bullied on all sides by conquerors and untrustworthy neighbours.
It’s higher stakes than your average visual novel. We’re used to lusty maids and randy dragons. It’s also more ambitious, as it does more than just pump out text for you to somnambulistically tap A to.
Long Live the Queen is broken down into days, and the cycle goes something like this: first, you wake up and start your lessons. Now, determining your lessons is not an easy task, as your mood dictates just how successful those lessons will be. If you’re depressed, you probably don’t want to be doing a spot of Public Speaking, but you’re probably in a good state of mind for some Foreign Intelligence. You choose from forty-two subjects (count them, forty-flipping-two), and the two subjects you choose, modified by the mood you are in, leads to increased knowledge.
Next, you’re exposed to the day’s events. Perhaps you’re summoned to court, where you’re given the opportunity to be an arbiter in a dispute. A woman has killed her harasser, for example. Your knowledge in related subjects comes into play – perhaps your ‘Sense Magic’ uncovers something clandestine – offering you more choices than someone who slept through that lesson. Finally, you are given a sketchy map of the castle grounds, where you can choose an evening activity – something that will shift your mood, and therefore the lessons that will stick on the following day. Then it’s off to bed with you, and another day begins.
If you know your visual novels, you will have encountered the ‘timetabling’ sub-genre before. Roommates, C14 Dating, A Little Lily Princess and so many more have taken this lightweight approach to strategy and then slapped a visual novel on top. We’re going to hold our hands up and admit that we’re yet to find a timetable mechanic that we liked. Either it gets in the way of the novel stuff, or it becomes as exciting as time management in the real-world, i.e. not exciting at all.
And, yep, it’s the same here. The story slows down to a wagon’s crawl every day, as you’re fiddling about with your moods, the lessons that capitalise on them, and the clothing that will improve said lesson (yes, dresses improve your ability to understand The Means of Production and Foreign Affairs). It’s about as interesting as taking the lessons yourself, but – unfortunately – it’s frigging vital to get right. If you don’t have the right categories of stats leveled up, you’re going to find yourself betrothed to an old codger with some enemy soldiers squatting on your land.
The daily events are a bit better, and they play out a bit like a game of Reigns, but with a few of the choices made for you. You see, you take on tests and pass or fail them passively, without any input from you, and it all feels a bit like watching a livestreamer playing the game rather than you. You can prepare for those tests by taking the right lessons and defending yourself with foreknowledge, but there’s no human way of knowing which lessons will be important or pertinent to the next day’s events. Would you have guessed that Foreign Affairs and Divination are the most commonly required of all lessons, while Elegance and Public Speaking come up a pitiable number of times? It’s all too arbitrary to predict.
The best way to play Long Live the Queen soon reveals itself. You must choose a path through the game and note down every lesson that is deemed vital. Then, reload a save, and swot up on that lesson before the critical moments occur. Play, reset, repeat. It’s how we reached a few of the game’s different endings, and we couldn’t have got there without the approach: death is just too common without it. But that stop-start method of playing is about as exciting as it sounds.
Which is a shame, as there’s some good stuff here. While the dialogue is stiffly written, and it too often feels like ‘choice of the week’ rather than a developing narrative, Long Live the Queen goes to some interesting places. In various corners of its branching narrative, you can find fantastic beasts, become a battle-princess, toss engagements in suitors’ faces and more. It’s more adventurous and imaginative than you might expect. There is also a tangled web of choices and consequences, making it somewhat fun to replay. If only there was a way of automating all of the timetable stuff, as we would have replayed it more than we did.
Long Live the Queen is an odd one. A visual novel with delusions of grandeur, it folds in some kingdom management and lesson timetabling with mixed-to-poor results. While there are big choices to be made, it can feel like you’re the princess’s day-planner, rather than the one diving into the courtly intrigue.
You can buy Long Live the Queen from the Xbox Store