Author: Catfish Crew
Availability: Free, Download
Format: Visual Novel
Found at catfishcrew.itch.io
My Scores (Out of 5):
Romance: 3.5 (“A good notch or two above actual fairy-tales”)
In Lads in Distress, you are Princess Charming of Lunar Kingdom. You're skilled in magic and have quite a bit of a hero complex, which is why you have no problem with entering into a loveless political marriage to help your struggling kingdom. Of course, you still get to pick your groom, although three mysterious princes have been emphatically vetoed by your parents and it seems all of them need some kind of rescuing. Hmm.....
How do I love this game? Let me count the ways: I love that it flips the genders on classic stories, putting the girl in the position of the dashing hero. I love how Princess Charming manages to avoid crossing the threshold of Mary-Sueism by having her arrogance and savior complex actually treated as character flaws to be overcome. I love how each prince is recognizably based on a fairy-tale. I love how it twists the fairy-tales enough that, even if you're familiar with the story each prince is based on, you'll still be caught off-guard. I also love that Mer is clearly based on the original Hans Christian Anderson version of The Little Mermaid, as opposed to a certain popular 90's movie.
Granted, the script could have been proof-read a little better, and there might be a little bit of fridge-logic in one of the paths, but overall, the writing is pretty good. I was impressed that this story didn't romanticize royal marriages the way many fantasy stories often do, with love-at-first-sight and beautiful commoners becoming royalty because of their shoe-size; rather, we get the much more pragmatic truth of royals marrying for political reasons that have nothing to do with love, looks, or foot-wear. Yet despite this unromantic premise (or maybe because of it?), the relationships themselves are very sweet in how they unfold, with something that started out so cold and calculating slowly growing into friendship, trust, and love over time.
After much thought, I could not justify giving the art score anything less than a perfect 5. Calling it “beautiful” just isn't enough. It's...sumptuous! Everything, every artistic aspect, is clean, perfect, and of a professional quality. The backgrounds are gorgeous and richly detailed, with a wide variety of locations that don't “recycle the set”, so to speak. The music is exquisite, orchestral, and perfectly meshes with the game's setting and tone. The characters themselves are lovely and intricately detailed, with a very broad range of surprisingly nuanced expressions that match up well with the descriptions in the text. Even the color palette works on a level I don't usually notice, giving each character a distinct look that reflects something about them while still harmonizing with each other and the background. If this artwork were a cup of coffee,even the saucer would be perfect!
Alas, I wasn't really sure what score I should give the gameplay, since while it doesn't really do anything “wrong”, I still came away feeling a little unsatisfied. To give just the facts: there are three potential suitors in this game, each with two endings (although they don't fall neatly into the labels of “good” vs “bad” endings, with one dark exception). After the initial three-pronged split, each path is pretty linear, with your choices mostly just adjusting subtle stats to determine which ending you get. Mer's route spiced things up by having options appear, disappear, or have a different outcome depending on your past choices, which I thought made things more exciting, but for the most part, there's only a narrow range of change in each route. (I was also privately disappointed when the fairy companion didn't turn out to be a surprise fourth suitor, but this did not factor into the score at all).
I feel that the general lack of any bad endings takes most of the risk and tension out of the game. While this can be a major plus for someone who just wants to relax in a comforting story, like the equivalent of a bowl of chicken soup, it's a drawback to anyone looking for more of a challenge. The value of a victory is mostly based on the threat of defeat, and without any real chance of losing, it falls to the main story itself to shoulder the burden of getting the reader invested. Of course, this is only a review of the NaNoRenO version, and it's possible that the future extended version will turn out better.
Lads in Distress is a fantastically beautiful game that turns classic fairy-tales completely on their heads. The game mostly stays on its rails with only a few endings, only one of which can be called “bad”, so you generally can't lose. Overall, I think it's very worth playing.
What do you think? Is this game so good it leaves you speechless, or does it deserve the kiss of death? Let down your hair in the comments section and tell us your thoughts.