Format: Visual Novel
My Scores (Out of 5):
Romance: 1.5 (“Who is this guy, again?”)
In Charms of Lavender Blue, you are Nabi. Your family is under a curse that causes your first love to either kill you or die trying. Luckily, you have a magic charm to keep the curse at bay! You move back to your old neighborhood after years away, only to find that your childhood friend, Pierce, is now avoiding you. Seriously, what's up with that guy?
For starters, I like the premise. Instead of a setup where the protagonist has to find love, we are presented with a situation where love itself is dangerous. It's an interesting obstacle. Unfortunately, I don't think the premise is fully exploited; the only time the curse ever really becomes relevant (aside from encouraging Nabi to join the jewelry club) is in a flashback. We never really feel the pressure to stay away from Pierce, nor is the reason for his behavior apparent until the end. The danger is never made real in the course of the story, which is a shame, since it seems like it would make for a more exciting romance than the usual fare.
The other disappointment is that we don't really get to know Pierce or Nabi all that well. How much of Pierce's disposition was a put-on, and what is his real personality like? What does Nabi actually like to do, given that she mainly joined lapidary out of necessity? Why do they like each other? Is he smart? Is he funny? Do they have anything in common (besides being in this club)? At least in Lady of the Castle, we found out that the Prince likes flowers, misses his mother, and wants Elise to be happy. With Pierce, it's just “He was happy once, now he's grumpy. The End!” Oh, and he doesn't like little kids. That's something, I guess.
The art is very pretty with less of the facial problems that marred Lady of the Castle. Waffrus's strongest point seems to be hair and clothing, especially the latter: Waffrus has a knack for showing off the softness and folds of cloth, and I'm actually a little impressed by that since it's an area I struggle with. The backgrounds, while simple, have a painted look, and my only nitpick is that Nabi's room seems to have a dirt floor (or possibly straw). The music is nice, too.
Once again, I had to deal with that funny little “I” cursor that indicates I'm about to type on a button instead of click on it. It's annoying, but not exactly a tragedy. My greater concern is that the choices you make don't really affect the game beyond the next page. After that page is over, the plot snaps back onto its one track with no lasting repercussions from what you had chosen. Nabi even talks to Pierce about “that thing you did”, simultaneously referring to the scene where he kissed her and the alternate scene where he sort-of hugged her; it doesn't matter to the game which option you chose. The only choices that determine which ending you get are the obvious decisions of whether to join the club and whether to enter a relationship with Pierce. Everything else could essentially be replaced with “White or Wheat?”
There is only one flaw that I find to be completely intolerable, however: a Double-Negative Question. I'm not speaking as a grammar nazi, here; this question seriously tripped me up. The question was “Is that a No?” and my options were “Yes” or “No”. I chose "No", to indicate “No, that wasn't a 'No',” i.e. answering the current question. However, the game did not parse it that way, instead translating it as “No is absolutely my previous answer, in case you weren't certain.” This kind of ambiguity is a very serious pitfall to have in your game, as it can unfairly rob the player of their ending because they thought you meant something different. As it happens, this decision didn't impact the ending at all (see above), but it still can cause lots of undue frustration.
Please, authors: check your dialog options for ambiguity. If one option can be read as meaning something very different, or if both options are essentially thesame, or if there is no context for the player to know which optionis true or which is a lie, then it may be time to re-write. Our choices should have meaning, and that can only happen when we are purposely and knowingly making that choice. We don't have to know what that choice will lead to—that is, after all, part of the fun—but we must know if we are choosing to lie, insult, reject, accept. Ambiguity hurts that experience, so please do your best to be clear at all times.
Charms of Lavender Blue is okay, but doesn't really reach its full potential. The premise is interesting, though the characters are a little under-developed for my taste, and there isn't any tension despite a lethal curse supposedly hanging over the protagonist's head. The plot is mostly linear with only the briefest of detours after choices, one choice being infuriatingly ambiguous. Overall, I give it a “meh”.
Of course, this is just my (admittedly fussy) opinion, and yours may differ. You might think this game is just charming, or it may leave you cursing. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.