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Review: The Royal Trap for PC

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Title: The Royal Trap
Price: $19.95
System(s): Windows (Also available on Mac and Linux
Release Date: February 26, 2013
Publisher (Developer): Hanako Games (Hanako Games)
ESRB Rating: N/A. I’d say Teen, because there is some innuendo and some dangerous/complicated situations children under 13 may not understand.

I’m always pleased to hear an announcement from Hanako Games. The indie developer is known for creating PC games that feature strong female protagonists for women. Yet, each game from Hanako is created in such a way that players of any gender can appreciate the adventure.

The Royal Trap fits that description perfectly. Yes, it’s a visual novel and dating sim for women, but the story is executed in such a way that it really isn’t about helping Madeleine find some man to love. It’s about an intelligent and talented young woman protecting her dearest friend, while also doing her job, and maybe finding a happy ending for herself in the process.

the royal trap

Preparing and protecting a prince

For most of her life, Madeleine has tended to Oscar, prince of Ocendawyr. It’s a good life, and far preferable to being a second daughter of a noble family that could only afford to promote her older sister. She’s lived in the palace training, caring and protecting Oscar in the hopes that he can find a princess to perhaps marry so he could be a king, and not just a prince dependent on his older sister.

Now, his first opportunity has arrived. Princess Cassidy, heir and future queen of Gwellinor, has come of her age and her parents are hoping to find a suitor. Oscar and Madeleine have been invited to her party. This could prove to be the opportunity Oscar needs find a wife and a kingdom. If he doesn’t, then it provides a learning experience.

Except things in Gwellinor aren’t as they appear. The introductions go well and Oscar makes a positive impression on Cassidy at a dance, but when she takes him to the royal gardens, a figure appears and kidnaps her, attacking Oscar in the process. Princess Cassidy is gone, Oscar was the last man seen with her and the other guests in attendance, two foreign princesses and Cassidy’s questionable uncle, seem secretive.

Madeleine takes the initiative. She won’t allow Oscar, Cassidy or herself to come to any harm and so she moves through the castle, attempting to rescue the princess, preserve her charge’s honor and perhaps even find a place for herself.

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What is your duty? Who do you support? Are you really free?

Before I start waxing nostalgic about all the characters and themes in The Royal Trap, I want to say that it has a really well written story. Each decision has an impact and these can have repercussions later in the game. Take, for example, the necklace that Oscar offers Madeleine in the opening. She’s given the option to wear it or take it, but not wear it. If she does take it, she can later offer it as a bribe, or hold onto it still. If she retains it after that scenario, it will be brought up and commented on again by other characters. That isn’t the only example. Madeleine’s treatment of Oscar and Dolores are far-reaching as well and in order to obtain Madeleine’s best ending with Callum, I had to start a new game treating both characters very differently than I had during my first playthrough.

I’m also quite impressed with the characters Hanako Games created. While they do initially fall into classic anime and dating sim tropes, each one is fleshed out to be more than he or she appears. In the case of Dolores, her reveals are pretty much what I expected and I knew who and what she was by the end of Chapter 3. Other characters, like Callum and Nazagi, have more depth and twists, and it’s interesting to find out who they are and their real motives. The same can be said for Madeleine, though her innermost thoughts, allegiances and desires can change each time someone plays depending on the choices made.

Then there’s Cassidy. I wish I could say why she’s such an unusual character, but spoilers forbid it. I will say that she’s one of the more interesting princesses I’ve seen in a game and I wish there was more information about her in the various routes to provide a better insight into her life. I’ve only completed Callum’s, Nazagi’s and Dolores’ endings, so I can’t be sure one of the other four is more enlightening, but I think Callum’s best showcases her unique situation. This is the first time I’ve ever seen a character like her in a game, and I think the way Hanako Games handled it was quite respectful. I liked her, pitied her and rooted for her all at once. I’m glad that in the Callum and Nazagi routes that both she and Madeleine can find happy endings.

Most The Royal Trap character also seem to have a sense of duty, loyalty and honor about their roles that makes them feel more realistic and the story more interesting. Madeleine, Callum and Cassidy especially seem to exemplify this. Madeleine takes her task as Oliver’s attendant very seriously, even willing to give her life for his safety. It isn’t just because it’s her job though, it’s also because she considers him family or, in one route, her lover. Callum’s dedicated to the memory of his brother, Caspian, and is willing to risk everything because he feels that is what’s right and something his little brother deserved. Cassidy always has the needs of her subjects in mind and is willing to make tough decisions, even ones that could possibly result in her death, to ensure they’re respected.

Freedom is a recurring theme in The Royal Trap as well. All of the main characters are bound by their roles. Madeleine is a younger daughter who wouldn’t have had any kind of future, had she not been appointed Oscar’s attendant. Depending on decisions players make, she can either be happy with her role and not consider herself a pawn in the story’s events, instead suggesting that she has some measure of freedom within the role she’s forced to play, or she can admit that she always has wanted to be free of this political game and be her own woman. Dolores is in the same fix, as all her actions are motivated by her desire to get enough money to have her own farm, her own life, her own place. Cassidy finds herself trapped by her parents, allegedly for her own good, and The Royal Trap‘s events lead to that hold breaking and possibly an ending where she isn’t kept segregated and guarded.

Even the princes are bound by fate. They’re royalty, but in a world where women inherit and hold all the power. A prince, or any man for that matter, isn’t much in the game unless he has a wife. Preferably a wife with a higher position, stable income and means to support a family. The princes are courting Cassidy because being picked as her suitor means freedom for them as well – they will no longer have to play some game in the hopes of earning a wife.

That said, I wish there had been The Royal Trap happy endings for Madeleine that resulted in her being paired with one of the bachelors, but not still trapped with a royal life. Only one of the endings I’ve seen so far allowed Madeleine to have a happy life outside castle walls, and I can’t help but wish there had been a Callum ending with a similar setting.

the royal trap

An intriguing story of intrigue.

Like all the titles I’ve played by Hanako Games, The Royal Trap impresses. The quality of story telling and character development in this game especially left a mark on me and after my first playthrough, I was driven to immediately try again in an attempt to earn the best possible ending for Madeleine with Callum. There’s a depth to the characters and story that make it feel more real than other visual novels I’ve played and I found myself loving how strong Madeleine, Cassidy, Callum and other cast members were. The Royal Trap is a game people will want to play more than once and I think Hanako Games should be applauded for that.

Site [The Royal Trap]

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