Every girl has dreamed of being a princess, swept off their feet by some prince. And while that fantasy is still valid, wouldn’t it be cool to be the one sweeping the prince off his royal tootsies?
The scenario of finding love amidst a cut-throat court is a classic one, both in the Otome world and for most romance novels at the grocery store. But, while most of those put the reader in the thick of it as a noble/princess/spy, very rarely do you see a protagonist working the not-so-glamorous role as a personal servant or the dashing rogue. Well, Hanako Games decided to put a spin on some standard wish fulfillment and flipped everything around in the scenario, creating what has to be one of the most interesting and engaging titles I’ve seen to date.
The Royal Trap: Confines of the Crown is the title for anyone tired of the traditional tropes; with intriguing plots, swift action, and engaging characters, it’s a great breath of fresh air.
I think TV Tropes sums up the best twist of this game: “In this world, men rule, but women inherit.”
In short, the property is passed down to women rather than men. The family of Miss Madeline Vallois, second daughter of a small family branch, couldn’t afford inheritance to her and her older sister, so her only way to survive was to be the advisor and valet of Prince Oscar of Ocendawyr. Her job is to protect him and teach him to be a proper prince, forming a lovely friendship over the years. Now it’s time for him to cozy up to Princess Cassidy of the neighboring kingdom, Gwellenor, and Maddie wonders where her future will go when Oscar does land himself a bride.
And you better thinks fast, cause things are going well
Or, at least, she would, but Princess Cassidy has been kidnapped. It’s up to her to find the princess as a favor to her charge, and unravel what is one of the biggest, most well-kept scandals of the entire kingdom. This rabbit hole goes deep and dark and everyone who steps inside is gonna gets chewed up.
The Royal Trap is a pure visual novel, as simple as it gets. And yet the decisions you make to shape this story around are anything but simple. Because the goal isn’t just to get yourself a honey; it’s to unravel a conspiracy in the midst of deadly secrets.
As you play the game, making choices to shift and turn the story, you have to keep three goals in mind: get Oscar to “Kiss Da Girl”, make sure your future is secure afterward, and don’t be killed along the way. As such, you have to form an “alliance” with someone, mainly either one of the four princes or the senior page, Delores, who kinda wiggles her way into the middle of it. Decisions you make in the game will land you in favor of various people, and it’s up to Maddie to decide whom she puts her trust in. That is if she trusts anyone at all.
Deception and Pointy things everywhere
I will give this game credit: it tries to be more dynamic than previous Ren’Py titles. Some CG’s have tiny little movements in them (mostly the kissing ones) and the text moves between “exposition” on the side to what’s happening currently on the bottom pretty seamlessly. However, for all its valiant efforts, it still cannot succeed in making the action any more dynamic than your average novel can. Sure it has ADVANCED SPEED LINES, complete with clash sounds and speedy music. But the text crawls and long paragraphs kill any movement.
DBZ wishes it had speed lines like this
Speaking of text, be prepared to read a lot. This game puts the novel in visual novel, with lots of exposition and a real dialogue-heavy plot. This is pretty common for VN’s you have to pay for, and it makes sense since they have 15 different endings to write. However, when you’ve already read this and can’t skip past it, the beginning becomes a slog to get through. Be prepared to sit and stew in the dungeon for far longer than anyone should.
This is my hell. Trapped in a dungeon for two whole chapters.
The one place Hanako Games usually don’t let me down is the art; with two artists, you better not. We have Yui Sumeragi for the character art, in all its lush shojo glory, and Alice Jing for the event CG’s, which have a delicious watercolor quality to them that I like a lot. Since we’re dealing with a setting that seems stuck between Baroque Italy and Rococo France, our art is very detailed and very sparkly in places with lots of bright colors and fine details.
Pretty pretty art
However, there is a deep disconnect between the in-game sprites and the CG graphics. Because we have two separate artists we have times when they just don’t match, which does create problems in the mind of your reader.
My first choice was not my best one – in fact, it was the strangest one. Prince Nazagi doesn’t just appear to be cold, calculating and snakelike. He is cold, calculating, and extremely snakelike. However, he’s also vulnerable about his own shortcomings which result in hilarious rumors that only make him stronger. It’s actually rather funny when you look at it.
He likes the idea of having a capable partner who can help him rule the kingdom. You’ll be in for the strangest relationship of a lifetime if you make an ally of Nazagi, but it will, ultimately, be to your benefit. Just keep clear if you are the starry-eyed romantic type like I am. Otherwise, you’ll be mighty disappointed.
Your charge and companion for all these years who’s a softy by every definition. Oscar’s route is The Best Friend, or the Childhood Friend at least, who’s been in love with you now for quite some time. He’s a dedicated friend and a hero at heart, always striving to do what’s right and coming out as the shiny Good Guy. This would have made his path mildly boring, had it not been loaded with so much intrigue and double-double-crossing it’s not even funny. Either way, if you want the traditional shonen hero with the straight moral compass, the handsome face and the honor of a knight, Oscar’s your guy.
I didn’t put much stock in the forgotten son when I first played, as a lot of people in-story didn’t. He was gruff, kinda cold, and your first interaction with him is several shades of rude. It also doesn’t help that he coerces your help by threatening your best friend. And yet, if you pester him long enough, you land yourself what is, without a doubt, the best candidate possible.
Callum is angry, angry that life has dealt him harshly, but he is also protective, fiercely loyal, a huge believer in justice, and all around an excellent prince. His path is a lot more heated than the others are, I must also say. If you want romance novel PG-13, then please pick this one.
Oh, but, maybe you are not really into guys. Well, that’s fine as well, because most VN’s have you covered. That includes Royal Trap, which gives you the option of the shy, dramatic maid Colette. It’s officially known as “Gaston’s route”, but this sparkly lion is far too infatuated with Cassidy to spare another a thought. So, here’s a cute little maid for your trouble.
In all seriousness, Collette only bothers me because she seems to constantly whine. But if you can get over that, you’ll find that Collette is loyal and protective of the people she cares about, and pretty sweet.
Last but not least, you can side with the senior page in the palace. She doesn’t talk very well; she’s cunning, and she’ll turn you in for good coin in the beginning. Life has been hard for Dolores, the orphan mysteriously taken in by the palace, and all she wants is an exit strategy. She wants to be her own woman who doesn’t rely on anyone, least of all some spy, and getting past her walls is a difficult task. Nevertheless, if you can, you’ll find a clever girl who’s good to have on your side.
The Royal Trap is one of the more unique VN’s I’ve seen on the market, and worth paying money for. It may be lacking in the music or sound department in general, and it may be much longer than most VN readers are willing to go through, but the story itself is engaging and the setting is glorious. I think women can really get into this mix of both being the rescuer and the rescuee, swept up in a court romance while remaining active and strong as a character. It’s good, not perfect, but fun for what it is.
Next Time: Moonlight Dating Sim
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