The lights are all too dazzling for a country girl. Dresses, dances, the revolution, all of it is so new, so positively brimming with class. And although you are aware of your place in this high society, you can’t help but wonder how far you can push your ambition. Fiance to aristocracy, nothing short of a dream and yet, something is terribly off. No matter where you look, your benefactor is nowhere to be seen, worse still, all to his name is a rundown estate and an incredulous maid.
Those parties, those lights, all seem so far off all of a sudden. You have only yourself to blame believing in a life far too good to be true. Nothing for it though, time to make a name for yourself, barge into circles, talk up people of power and maybe, just maybe, spark a revolution.
Joy Manufacturing Co.’s Ambition: A Minuet in Power attempts to provide a rather unique experience, touting rogue-lite elements in a gameplay oriented visual novel style. Taking place in 1789 France, you play as a naive country girl wiggling her way through the upper class of aristocracy. You attend parties and make acquaintances with nobles, trying to push and pull favors for your own ambition.
From the onset, there’s a lot dumped onto the player, from the setting to the mechanics, you can get quite lost, almost enough to sympathize with the protagonist. It’s a pretty dense demo but is carried home by superb writing. Various systems are introduced, credibility, peril, your funds, dress stats, and favor. There’s even an almost Persona like day/calendar system shown off, all alluding to more fleshed out gameplay to come in future.
Unfortunately, from the scope of Ambition’s demo, none of these feel particularly in-depth. Having done multiple playthroughs, I’ve yet to see a strong change from having high or low credibility. Likewise with peril, wealth, or favors with various groups. The rogue-lite elements feel too weak at current. Even after playing through for multiple different outcomes, I can’t say I enjoyed coming back. Combing through text over and over again picking out what lines raise what flags isn’t enjoyable.
Which brings me to my next issue with Ambition. Many qualities of life features typical of modern visual novels are either missing or poorly implemented at current. There’s no backlog, no easy way to skim or skip through text, or even volume/graphics settings. The bare-bones are there, but without the bells and whistles, it all comes off as cumbersome for repeated playthroughs. I’ve heard the maid worry over my luggage enough times, let me skip over it and adjust the game sound.
Those elements are polish however, and can be implemented in the final product over development time. Some I would find essential though, as roguelite does imply multiple playthroughs and wide potential for different outcomes. On that note, roguelite doesn’t feel like the right descriptor for now, at least not from what I’ve played. It’s classic visual novel fare for the most part, choose these options at this time, raise flags or meters, change the outcome based on a few variables. Nothing revolutionary.
What is here is strong though. There’s a feel for the period, from the music, to the characters and even the occasional French in the writing. It pulled me in first time through and was a pleasant surprise to find flowing writing in a visual novel. Most of the ones I read tend to be botched translations from Japanese or empty imitations of its culture. This one has that nice periodic atmosphere and it’s most definitely carried by its writing.
The potential routes for expansion from this demo can run very deep. It’s going to be a lot of writing to account for the amount of player freedom the devs have chosen to implement. As long as it doesn’t run for an absurd length, it’ll be a rather flavorsome experience to read through. As for multiple playthroughs, more robust tracking systems would be a welcome addition. Whether that be in the form of a tree or better tracking of various choices and elements.
A Bit of Passion
If you don’t mind me ranting a little, by all means, read this portion, else I suppose it’d be best skipped over as a lot of this is going to be strictly personal opinion. I’m not a fan of some of the UI elements, the text can be tricky to read when it’s dark purple on light purple and dissonant at best when it lights up as you scroll over it. It’s hard on the eyes and unfortunately, this can be said of most of the buttons that follow this design.
There are plenty of bugs in this demo. In my first playthrough, I had managed to soft lock myself within the first 10 minutes of playing. None of the buttons would function properly at the first map screen. The morning scene with the maid just didn’t trigger properly. This may have been caused by setting the graphics settings to the lowest possible. I’ve managed to repeat this bug by doing so, but it does feel like a pretty awful oversight. It soured the rest of my experience as I started hunting relentlessly for bugs.
On that note, many menus are incomplete. There have been buttons on the UI that I would click, only to see the screen filled up with a giant white rectangle. These aren’t great to see in a demo, thus I would argue that if an element of the UI isn’t finished, it’s best to just not include it in the first place. Saving and loading are also problematic at current, with the game either soft locking or failing to remember specific variables or flags.
Should you play Ambition?
All of that aside, I did genuinely enjoy reading your writing. There’s a good mix of style, flair and flow there that makes it elegant to read. It provokes a strong atmosphere and does illicit the time period well. Characters feel more fleshed out than passing footnotes and the music/soundscape are fantastic. So while there’s a lot to clean up, there’s plenty of potential there. If you can temper Ambition well, I believe that it could stand to be a rather enjoyable experience.