“Ciel Fledge Alpha” Review
Developers: Studio Namaapa
Verdict: 3/5 stars. A lovely title with a lot of complications, both in being complicated and in being a bundle of contradictions in both its great and its not great aspects.
Damn. That’s the only word I gotta say about this game. “Damn”. This is one of the very few indie games that’s long enough where I had to play it through more than one session (especially impressive given how this is a demo), and one of the only games where I was actually excited to do so. I don’t know what it is about this title that inspires in me such enjoyment of its work, but I found it to be engaging and endearing the entire way through, and I felt a great disappointment when I reached the end of the demo, like I was on a grand journey that suddenly stopped short because I was denied at the border of some Banana Republic and failed to show the minimum amount of support for their Banana Overlords.
I don’t even feel like cracking jokes in this review, because I felt like, for the first time in my career, a game has taken the piss out of me. Well, there was The Beginner’s Guide, but I don’t consider that a “game” the same as I don’t consider Let’s Players to be “entertainment”. Not because Ciel Fledge is a game that’s tragic, or that it covers serious subject matter. And it’s not because it’s so sophisticated in its construction and themes that I’ll be thinking about the rest of my life. And it’s not even because I felt particularly strongly about the story and plot. I guess, to sum it up, I felt intrigued about what was going to happen next in the story, what conclusions and revelations would come as a result of it, and to see what would happen in the adventures of Slim Shady, and his daughter, Doctor. You see, you can’t make a serious game and have us choose the character’s names!
I feel though, that for everything I liked about this game, there is an opposite that I disliked about it. I like the story, but I felt that was because of how little is said about it, and not because the writers were trying to make it a rip – roaring adventure. I like the gameplay, but at the same time I wonder how sustainable it is for a full – length game. The art style is simple and appreciably quaint, though at the same time it makes character cutscenes feel stiff and in dire need of some more animations. And the stat – building elements and child – rearing elements complement nicely into the game and story proper, but because of these elements it feels like the game’s playing itself while you’re waiting for more story and characters to be introduced — and there are a lot of characters here! It feels like the developers are playing a Misère hand where they know they’re inexperienced, yet have enough competence to know what players like and what keeps them interested in gaming. It spooks me to see how applying a few stat bars to a game instantly makes it more interesting, though given the overall premise of the title (which I’ve avoided telling you in order to build suspense — ooo!) it’s justifiable to have them.
This was the first game I’ve ever reviewed where, as a result of its execution, I’ve felt obliged to create a list of pros and cons in order to understand my own opinion of it. Yes, I didn’t even know my own opinion of the game until I had to write down all my thoughts! Though in the course of writing this review I’ve found that the game is simpler to understand than I originally took it for. I do not understand the processes of understanding itself, but I think being able to would unlock some mystery of life that should have never been uncovered.
But first, the premise
This is certainly an ambitious second title for an indie games studio. Their first one appears to be a JRPG called “Nusakana”, in continuing the tradition of dense and complicated Japanese – inspired games with a name you instantly forget. But the premise of Ciel Fledge, a name I got used to after I burned the bitchin’ logo into my brain, is that you’re living a quiet life in the big old Ark 3 sky city when the all – knowing, all – controlling, surprisingly liberal and benevolent Administration shows up to your door and essentially makes you take care of a girl they found in the desert. Not that you could refuse, but given how Slim Shady didn’t make any fuss, I’m guessing you have to do whatever the government tells you. A sort of “gilded cage” deal where you get almost unlimited social freedom in exchange for being obliged to follow certain directives for the good of society and its people. It’s the same bargain presented in the hit anime Psycho – Pass — also known as Denmark.
Your job is then to raise this child, as the box art says, over a span of ten years. It’s a pretty ballsy thing to try and pull off, so it’s nice of the developers to crutch on some tired – and – true game mechanics, eh Luigi? All you have to do is set her schedule for the next week, make sure she’s getting good stat gains based on her activities, and make sure she doesn’t want to kill herself because of her abusive parents. I’m not sure what punishment, if any, the game provides for treating your daughter like you’re an American and she’s gay (extraordinarily poorly), because I’m not the type of person to abuse my virtual children, who only exists as a construction of various discrete programs and is designed as part of an overarching piece of fiction. But I’m also not sure what the benefit is for being extraordinarily nice to her is, either. What good is a lavish meal if it doesn’t make stats! Nothing! NOTHING!
The backstory of Ciel Fledge is your standard Sci – Fi fare. The Earth is fucked and we move to the skyyyy worrrld in a vain attempt to unfuck it. There be aliens down below — so don’t go there! Or you die. What’s far more fascinating is the differing societies as presented between the Surface Dwellers and the Ark Whores — as little as is directly stated about each of them, we get the idea that the Surface is full of strong, socially – awkward primitive and poverty – stricken warriors who have only rudimentary ideas of civilisation left to them (including their enjoyment of “servant – master” relationships), while the Arks are full of well – to – do types who have extraordinary societal developments and place a high value on education, personal betterment, and making sure all citizens life a proper life. It’s fascinating to see how it all plays out, to explore the different aspects of each niche in the world presented to me, and reminds me a hell of a lot like Mass Effect and all the stories that made its world so interesting to get into. Any society which can e – mail all its denizens at an instant is worthy of closer inspection.
This is a hard review to write because I feel like there is so much to talk about and so much to tackle in this title that my mind physically blocks me from thinking about the game because of how it offers a little something for everyone; to discuss all of those little somethings would require more time than I have in the day to write them down. That, and I woke up at four in the morning, so anything I write in this waking haze I suffer would be a disservice to the developers of this title. It’s not a complicated game once you learn about it, and in fact I would say the mechanics are really simple. I just feel so much of this game lies in its potential as is presented to me, in the ability to see Doctor Shady grow at your command, in the ability to see you grow at your command, and in being able to discover more about the story and world that is present here.
I still have that list available, and I still haven’t talked about, you know, the actual game mechanics of the title. And at the cost of causing some people to lose interest in this title, I have to be humble and say I found some joy in discovering what in the heck this game is all about, all the processes that causes it to work, and even though at least a third of this demo is composed of tutorials (which is a lot), there’s still a lot of flavour text and backstory implications that makes going through them all worthwhile, even if they are too slow and deliberate for the tastes of the modern player. That’s a big theme in the short time I’ve had to discuss this game: the discovery of what’s going to happen next. Maybe it isn’t fair to judge only part of a game when it’s obvious there is so much more up ahead, but at the risk of sounding like a shill for a studio that I’ve never heard of in my life before, from a country I don’t care about (Indonesia? Really?), I encourage you to try this game out for yourself and see if it digs it teeth into you like it did for yours truly.
I make this sound like it’s one of the Last Great Video Games, but it’s not. There are a lot of flaws, especially in how butchered the grammar is for this… translation, I’m assuming, as to what language it’s translated from I know not. The typesetting can be annoying in the tutorials when the majority of words are in red text when you should only use red text as sparingly as one does bold and capital text, and elsewhere when the characters use commas instead of em dashes or en dashes. There’s also a bit of lesbian subtext in this game used for gags like Lucky Star’s used it for gags, which I don’t mind as such, it just comes across as awkward weeaboo bait when the art is in a basic anime style and the writing has to suffer from being written by those who aren’t native English speakers. To the script’s credit, you can understand what everyone is saying, and it’s only distracting around ten, twenty percent of the time. I just think it’s a shame that a game so entrenched in character interactions has its text mangled in such an obvious way. I’d offer to fix it for them, but given how Indonesia is 87% Muslims and I’m a gay atheist, I think I’ll let them do them.
On to the non – technical side of writing, I would say that, although the script is very clear that you must be a responsible parent and show compassion to your daughter through ensuring she gets valuable life skills, I don’t find the writing is deliberately trying to be inspirational. A game like this should take every opportunity to say that you should become a better human being, yes, you behind the computer screen, and enjoy the same privileges as you allow your virtual daughter to have. How you should fall in love with fitness and art and science and rhetoric and all the textures of life that are available to you as a human being, and not just live your life through the creations of what other people, like the developers of this game, have made for you to consume. There’s a missed opportunity to really do a lot of good and inspire people to be better versions of themselves here, and it upsets me to see that, although games are often simulations of reality, we don’t try to make the rest of our players lives as good as we hope they are when they play our work. Part of being an artist is expecting the best out of your audience. I think we have an obligation to deliver the best.
On the plus side there’s no emotional manipulation in this work. It really is a slice – of – life title, in that you are living through the life of your child and seeing what she does at all times, and part of that is enjoying life’s petty banalities. To stop and smell the roses, even if the damn things aren’t important, because it’s still nice to have a passive pleasantness to life that we would miss should they be gone. Living is not all bombastic experiences and massive emotional rollercoasters, nor is it doing nothing at all. It’s a combination of pleasantries and novelties, big and small, and enjoying life is enjoying all it has to offer. Although the game does not have the æsthetic beauty, or the brilliance of writing, to deliver on these moments in a sophisticated and appreciable way, I still find it a maturely – created title — because, hell, at least they’re trying.
And although I think the gameplay, as simple as it is, is engrossing because of how it depends on your wit, reflexes, and time management, I do feel like the mechanics of it — which is to match the same – coloured cards on a large deck to deal damage in real – time — doesn’t integrate into the story, feeling like a game mechanic for the sake of having a game mechanic. And to be sure it’s the most exciting part of the game, and given how the rest of the game is a life simulation and visual novel which demands you build up stats for the sake of combat and other events, it feels like a symbiotic relationship instead of the gameplay being arbitrarily inserted in. But the majority of your time — and the game’s marketing — is spent on the life simulation aspect, so if you’re not interested in that type of game, I’m not sure what will hold your interest here.
And the music. Yes, you know it’s going to be special if I’m talking about the music. Who cares about the music in games? What music is memorable, and not just there to avoid the crushing silence? Well, although I can’t remember the tracks in this title the same as I can’t remember the tracks in others, I can say that revisiting them, and having listened to them for the first time, is really a topic of fascination. The compositions at first seem like your peppy, Nintendo – quality average video game music. But that’s just on the surface level, and they are effective on that level. What’s fascinating to me is in the finer points of its composition; while the instruments sound discordant, clashing with each other at times, and often hitting flat notes, it’s in their arrangement being tight as a drum that you appreciate the music as a whole. It’s a symphony directed by an experimentalist conductor, and with such variety in how they use, for instance, their strings, their flutes, their horns, and even the odd guitar, that it really does feel like the type of popping, postmodern popular music that’s most fitting for the paradise future as presented in this work — the rough edges of which, like in society as a whole, is a matter of personal taste.
The music isn’t amazing, but it’s damn good, and it’s certainly an acquired taste for those who wish to peer into it. That sentence sums up the rest of the game, too. I found it damn good, and though it has flaws, and though it’s obviously amateur, and though it still has all the bugs an Alpha release does has, I really enjoyed this title. While I don’t use “strong” or “light” designations for the star ratings I give out, I will say that Ciel Fledge deserves every one of its stars in every form — with more, you see, to be found later on.