Cinders (Switch eShop) Review
Branded as an adult retelling of the classic Cinderella story, Cinders was originally released in 2012 on PC, and it’s not the worst (but certainly not the best) visual novel I’ve ever played. Cinders
As Cinders is a visual novel, there’s not much gameplay other than pressing A to make a narrative decision or skip to the next bit of dialogue. The game has a fast-forward feature to skip through things you’ve already seen which works well, and a rewind feature which I found to be not overly useful; you can only skip back one piece of dialogue at a time by pressing L and it’s not overly quick. It can be helpful if you think you’ve misread something, but in my mind a log of the previous dialogue might’ve been more useful. The game also has a lot of save slots, especially useful if you’re about to make a risky decision or want to try your next run-through from somewhere in the middle of the game.
The game touts itself as having over 300 choices, but I would argue that’s not really giving you the whole picture. The game has four endings and those endings have variations depending on who you befriend and how you shape Cinders’ personality during the game, but they’re relatively minor. Unless you’re going for completionism there isn’t really a need to repeat and ending to see the variations; if you’ve seen an ending once, you’ve seen pretty much all there is to see. There’s also Rewards, which are like achievements for finding out new pieces of information or achieving certain things in the game, which add a bit of challenge into figuring out how the story could twist from what you’ve already experienced.
The art style is pretty nice, and the backgrounds and scenery are gorgeous, although I do wonder how Cinders is able to have such perfect eyeliner and eyeshadow while apparently being akin to a servant,
In terms of the narrative itself, some aspects I found really interesting, such as repositioning the “evil” step-sisters and their motivations, but sometimes this came across as excusing them a little for their bad behaviour. The story is also affected by Cinders’ personality, which is shaped by your choices. Whether she’s savvy, smart, or a day-dreamer is entirely up to you which is a nice change of pace from the many female visual novel protagonists I can think of with the personality of a Ritz cracker and yet somehow, the allure of Marilyn Monroe.
What I found most interesting was that your choices aren’t always received the same way. On my second run, I deliberately chose the same option in a conversation because it was well received the first time, but because I’d made different choices with that character earlier in the second run, they weren’t terribly impressed. It kept me on my toes a little trying to unlock the different endings which
I will warn you, however, that there are parts of this game that are so exposition heavy that I ended up skim-reading them, in addition to thinly-veiled jokes about the original Cinderella tale and Disney adaptation, which fell flat with me. Sometimes there are moments where the writing just becomes oddly clunky, though thankfully they’re not plentiful. My favourite example was a conversation that veered wildly from joking around in one sentence to bringing up a rough childhood in the next, with the character who brought it up then declaring they didn’t want to talk about it. Even stranger was the entire thing being laughed off, and as far as I can tell, it’s never mentioned again.
As I’ve just hinted at, some of the narrative threads in Cinders are never fully resolved, which is disappointing. I won’t spoil it for you, but there are at least three characters who I don’t think you ever get the full story on, even though it’s implied there’s more than meets the eye. Perhaps that was intentional, and perhaps I’m also used to finding out everything in these sorts of games, but part of the appeal of a visual novel for me is seeing all the jigsaw pieces come together.
It would be remiss of me not to mention Madame Ghede, the only black character you encounter, who describes herself as a “wise woman” and is called a witch by the townspeople. That by itself isn’t necessarily problematic, but factor in wider media representation of minorities falling into tropes of mystique and wisdom to assist a white protagonist, and the absence of any other non-white characters in this game, and it’s not a good mix.
In truth, I found Cinders to be a little short, but I could also be looking at it from the perspective of someone whose visual novel experience includes behemoths, so whether or not that matters to you is personal preference. I’m not sure I can wholeheartedly recommend it, but if you want something short with a little kick of humour, then Cinders is probably right up your alley. The narrative was interesting, but not enough to blow me away or keep me thinking about it much after I’d stopped playing. It’s
+ Art style is wonderfully lush
+ Heroine’s personality shaped by the player
+ Interesting twists on the classic fairy-tale
- Some story elements never resolved
- A little short
- Sometimes very exposition heavy