When video games refer to having “mature” themes, they more often than not mean “darker and edgier”. This isn’t a bad thing by itself, but the novelty has certainly worn thin in a lot of ways. Adaptations of fairy tales, such as the recent rehash that is American McGee’s Alice: Madness Returns, tend to be especially guilty of such a move.
So it’s nice to see a breath of fresh air like Cinders, a visual novel game by MoaCube. It is inspired by the tale of Cinderella, which everyone is familiar with. Unlike some adaptations of the story, Cinders does not attempt to present a bacchanal of sex and violence and declare itself “mature”; instead, it approaches the characters in nuanced, realistic ways.
As the player, you assume the role of Cinders, a young girl who lives with her stepmother Lady Carmosa, and Carmosa’s two daughters Gloria and Sophia. Ever since Cinders’s father died, Lady Carmosa has ruled over the house with cruelty. Poor Cinders gets the worst of it, being treated little better than a servant, and without the pay.
We’re all familiar with Cinderella. The prince’s ball, the fairy godmother, these are all elements of Cinders as well. What makes it different from other adaptations of the story I’ve seen—apart from Gracjana Zielinska’s amazing artwork—is how it examines the motivations and feelings not only of the protagonist, but her family as well.
I started the game with biases from my own experience with Cinderella. Naturally I assumed I, the protagonist, was in the right, and that wicked stepfamily of mine was not worth worrying about in pursuit of my dreams.
Slowly, as the game progressed, I began to have more one-on-one chats with my stepsisters, and heard their side of the story. There were moments of warmth, but there didn’t appear to be any true reconciliation. They kept accusing me of not caring, of being selfish. I tried to come up with something to say, but when presented with the opportunity I continued to sneak out of the house and pursue my relationship with the captain of the guard.
In the end, I managed to escape from the house and run away with that very same captain, which in some situations could be considered a happy ending. I am content with it, for starters. One thing that really got to me, though, was that I hadn’t really thought about trying to stick around the house and patch things up with the family. They were the bad guys, after all. Although I warmed up to them, ultimately my desires took the forefront of my actions. Perhaps, as Carmosa said, I acted irresponsibly.
The game itself didn’t pass judgment on me, per se. The ending, by itself, was a satisfactory conclusion to the path I ultimately chose. It merely left me considering the consequences of my actions in a way that few games really end up doing.
I did enjoy the lack of black-and-white morality, and it’s my understanding that other endings are of course available. Perhaps I can reconcile my family issues and live, in a fashion, happily ever after.