"The characters feel like they would be perfectly at home in Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Emma, or any of Jane Austen's work."
It was the very last class between me and an undergrad degree: a 3 credit course on Jane Austen. There was no science in the choice of class, no weighing of pros and cons. Jane Austen was the class that fit easily with my existing employment schedule that summer.
I thought I knew two things about Jane Austen. First, it was often adapted into BBC miniseries, none of which I had seen. Second, it was basically for girls. I figured it would be easy enough to throw a couple of standard, post modern deconstruction papers about the books at the professor and I could skate out of there with a B or a C and at last leave college life behind me forever.
Never would I have suspected turning into a lifelong Jane Austen fan as a result of this summer class.
I say this because the perspective of the reviewer tends to matter when providing scores for a game. In this particular case, I wish I could give the game two sets of scores. The first score would be my own score for the game, and considering I've now played through it 4 separate times over the course of many hours, it would be an Editor's Choice based on the pitch perfect writing alone. The second score would be for the average player who might flat out dislike Jane Austen. However, the game is a pretty good visual novel with what would probably be recognized as above average but not necessarily universally appealing writing. What I'm going to end up doing is satisfy no one by splitting the difference.
This bias can make writing reviews hard. For Regency Love, you probably had an idea of whether you would like or hate this game the second I said "Jane Austen." But I'd like to encourage you to keep reading because you might, just like me when I walked into that class, find out there is more than expected.
In Regency Love, you play the protagonist of your own Austen-style novel set in the town of Darlington. For about a year, you have been in mourning for your deceased father, and you now live alone with your mother. If you know much about the regency period, you will realize this is quite the challenging situation for a woman of limited fortune. With your mourning period at an end, your mother sends you to town to deliver a letter.
Thus begins your own love or possibly spinster story. It begins simply enough, but before long, you will find yourself swept up in the comings and goings of new arrivals in town that just happen to also be eligible bachelors.
The "chapters" you have access to in the game are driven by your scores in a variety of regency era appropriate categories (called "accomplishments"): reading, music, dancing, drawing, needlework, and riding. You distribute points to these accomplishments by accumulating "motivation," which is acquired by doing various puzzles. The puzzles range from trivia questions about the regency period to games of hangman based on quotes from regency literature. You also gain "character traits" based on the types of answers you tend to give in dialogue. Some of the potential suitors are clearly drawn toward certain skills over others, and focusing on these skills will unlock additional chapters involving these suitors more quickly.
The puzzles are likely to start repeating themselves before you finish the first game and are the weakest part of the entire experience. The one thing the game accomplishes by withholding content via these "motivation" and "character trait" scores is to ensure the pace of the game and the stories make sense, but a little more variety or a way to skip the puzzles after an initial playthrough altogether would be welcome.
Selecting responses in dialogue is accomplished by swiping up and down through the answers, kind of like flipping through flashcards. Swiping to the left lets you back up a conversation, and simply holding your finger on the screen accelerates text if you don't want to read dialogue you've seen already. It is an intuitive and easy interface for a visual novel on the touch screen, eliminating concern over making mistakes.
The graphics themselves consist of lovely, hand drawn screens and characters that sometimes have a soothing watercolor feel about them. It isn't the most sophisticated, dynamic graphics engine but it doesn't need to be.
The whole game is backed by an absolutely tremendous piano soundtrack. I have not tired of it in all my hours playing the game, and even my wife has commented on how good the music is compared to the "usual noise" coming out of my gaming devices.
What matters most in a visual novel, though, is the story, and Regency Love delivers big time. The characters feel like they would be perfectly at home in Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Emma, or any of Jane Austen's work. There is your best friend Mary, who, like you, is trying to find security and love, which are often mutually exclusive to regency women. There is the dashing Mr. Ashcroft, very protective of his younger sister and slow to open himself up. There is the reserved and very intelligent Mr. Curtis (whose character would almost certainly be played by Alan Rickman in the film version), who stands aloof at the various balls and functions... but hides a secret. There is the unbelievably chatty old gossip Mrs. Norris whose filter between her mouth and her brain is completely broken. There is the bumbling Mr. Digby, who has long been in love with you but is, well, a bit of an empty headed mess.
The story contains twists and turns that reminded me of the revelations of Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice or Colonel Brandon in Sense and Sensibility, twists that sometimes required an extra bit of compassion and empathy from the protagonists. Will YOU choose to show empathy when these twists are revealed and your own reputation in Darlington might be at stake?
The genius of Regency Love's writing lies in the plot being indistinguishable from any of Jane Austen's excellent novels. I mean that as the highest possible praise. The ladies at Tea for Three Studios knew exactly who their audience was and set out to deliver. Just like I find myself revisiting Pride and Prejudice for the simple truths about the way we interact with and judge each other even today, I find myself revisiting Regency Love for the simple joy of taking a leap of faith for love (or perhaps money if you play it that way). Or just to listen to the piano for a few minutes.
If you like the fiction of Jane Austen, stop wasting time and buy this immediately. If you're a fan of Japanese visual novels, I encourage you to give this a try as you might find yourself recognizing some of the tropes and have fun comparing them to modern ones. If you are a fan of visual novels, period, the only thing that could possibly be a turn off here would be if you absolutely despise Jane Austen or the 19th century setting. And, lastly, if you hate visual novels, this won't change your mind.
At $5 though, it is hard to believe you won't get your money's worth. I, for one, can't wait to see what comes next from Tea for Three Studios. Now if you'll excuse me, I am late for a ball, and I understand Mr. Ashcroft may be attending...