In the visual novel Ambition: A Minuet in Power, Yvette Decaux is a young French woman stepping onto the streets of 18th century Paris at an incredibly tense time in French history. She soon discovers that the nobleman fiancée she is to reunite with is nowhere to be found. With a bloody revolution looming on the horizon, can Yvette establish herself in the upper echelons of Parisian society through political intrigue and careful maneuvering while avoiding the guillotine? Might she even manage to find love while doing so? Ultimately, her fate is down to how deftly one “plays the game” in this aptly named ambitious title.
The player starts with very little in the early stages of Ambition: A Minuet in Power. Nearly penniless and abandoned to her missing fiancée’s political enemies, Yvette faces several indignations all at once. Yet, it is in how players approach these hardships that you begin to establish a foothold into high society, though maintaining said foothold is often a tenuous and somewhat risky balancing act that plays out over the course of the entire game. There are five factions to consider when making a move: the Crown, the Bourgeoisie, the Church, the Military, and the Revolution. Yvette can subtly alter the influences of these factions through some of her actions if her credibility levels are high enough, though certain historical events inevitably tip the scales regardless. Influencing these factions comes from not only Yvette’s credibility but also in how you choose to handle snippets of gossip you collect at parties or from exploring the city itself.
Even the fashion Yvette chooses to wear to faction-sponsored events can help or hinder her credibility with the various groups. The influence of style in high society Paris is not to be underestimated, and it is one of the first gameplay elements that players are introduced to. It is imperative that Yvette dresses for the occasion she’s attending to help maintain and improve her status, as some factions approve of one dress code more than another. Novelty, and the sheer “newness” of one’s wardrobe, are also vital to keep in mind as wearing an outfit repeatedly will cause its positive effects on the various factions to diminish. Gaining enough livre (French currency during this time period) to keep Yvette stocked with new, differing clothing styles is absolutely essential to maintaining her reputation.
Players can gain livre by selling old clothes that have lost their novelty, but Yvette’s best source of income is selling pieces of gossip she uncovers at various social functions to a newspaper. Gossip is tiered, with the most shocking and scandalous bits of information earning more money. Depending on the time you visit the paper, Yvette can also gain more money and get the chance to raise credibility or lower peril levels by providing information on a specific faction within a set timeframe. Yvette can sell one piece of gossip without arousing any suspicion, but the more pieces she sells and spreads in one day, the more she risks potentially getting caught, which in turn has an adverse effect on her reputation. When it comes to choosing what gossip to sell, players must consider things carefully, as this is key not only to keep safe but to stay lucrative as you need livre to do more than buy clothes and maintain your household and buy gifts or bribes.
There are three “statuses” in Ambition: A Minuet in Power that you should always keep an eye on to try and avoid the guillotine. Credibility is the esteem in which Parisian society holds Yvette to at any given moment, and trying to keep this as high as possible is central to surviving. Peril is the amount of danger that specific actions place Yvette in. Raise this meter too high, and you’re looking at a very bloody end. And sometimes, you must make a risky choice to reach the desired outcome, just like how you need to pass certain credibility checks to maneuver through other situations correctly. These choices can raise or lower your credibility and peril throughout the game. The third stat to watch out for is exhaustion. Maintaining good standing in 18th century Paris can be taxing work, and every party or event that Yvette goes to, or every clandestine rendezvous with a potential suitor she has, drains her further. Going out on a social call with any level of exhaustion will lower her credibility, so it is vital to spend a day at home resting when possible to offset this.
Unfortunately, Yvette will no doubt become exhausted on occasion because you can get penalized for declining invitations to parties, and if you don’t go, you may potentially miss out on raising credibility and gaining valuable intel for attending. You can somewhat balance this out by giving your host a gift of wine, though depending on the hosting faction, this too may negatively affect your peril meter. I found that credibility consistently seemed to rise when giving gifts and wearing the correct fashion for that particular faction, but peril seemed a bit more finicky to predict. Players can strategize how to balance Yvette’s exhaustion levels with the other meters effectively. Trying to figure out ways to maintain high credibility while keeping peril low is essential to a successful playthrough that requires you to finagle with character interactions delicately.
The parties Yvette attends are split into turns, and you make one round of conversation during each turn, which often means conversing with random nameless partygoers. Occasionally you’ll run into named denizens of Paris, both at parties and in the city itself, with their own backstories and factional associations that you can delve into more deeply. A decision that might seem wise in one interaction could be damning in another, so you have to be cautious and pay attention to cues to figure out the best approach. Sadly, the parties seemed to run out of steam towards the end of the story, which is a shame as you need to keep attending them for credibility purposes.
Another issue with parties in Ambition: A Minuet in Power is that credibility checks seemed to be quite fussy. Even with my credibility at very high levels, I was frustrated with how many times I failed for reasons I couldn’t really figure out. It almost seemed random! You only get a select number of conversations, and repeated conversations lead to different outcomes even if I picked the same response each time. I never understood why this happened, and it even made me hesitant to risk credibility checks if I thought I’d lose them as the game autosaves during these sections, and you can’t do over a decision if you feel you made a mistake. It made every encounter, even the generic ones, have more weight regarding dialogue options.
Parties serve as Yvette’s bread and butter in a lot of ways, but she also has free days where she can explore a part of Paris at her leisure via a city map. You can visit the sites, interact with prominent story NPCs, piece together the main story, rest at home, shop, or sell gossip during these days. It is a level of interactivity that isn’t often seen in the genre, though you can only do one event per day, so you must again carefully balance your time and budget.
You also have your household to maintain. At the start of Ambition: A Minuet in Power, Yvette only has one servant: the cheerful Camille. However, as Yvette’s credibility grows, and depending on some choices, you can hire more people, such as a tailor who helps keep your clothes fresh or a retired spy who can offer you insight into the games of intrigue you have to play. While the extended household is beneficial, it increases how much you have to pay to maintain it every week, which means you have to budget and set aside more money accordingly. Running out of money is a guaranteed way to lower credibility and raise peril quickly.
Among Paris’s citizenry, Yvette encounters six potential suitors with connections to the various factions, such as Yvette’s currently missing fiancée Armand, the soulful artist Elizabeth, or the enigmatic widow Honorade. Players can curry favor with these characters and earn some influence over their various factions as a result. Raising their affections also gives Yvette a chance to rendezvous with them, which might help you discover more of their personal backgrounds and motivations if the meetings go well. Romantically, I ended up being quite taken with the Queen’s Dragoon Corporal Thomas-Alexandre Dumas, but all of the suitors are interesting in their own rights. I give Ambition: A Minuet in Power credit for its overall very diverse and multi-faceted cast in general.
Given the French Revolution setting, the story for Ambition: A Minuet in Power is intriguing and naturally full of danger that threatens to burst at the seams at any given moment. I love the nuance the game handles this and the attention to historical detail throughout the script. As the story progresses, you can easily feel the tension mount and see things become all the more dangerous for Yvette and her household. And since there is a lot of information to keep track of, Yvette has a journal that details the current state of each faction, the gossip you’ve heard, what gossip your erstwhile employer is currently requesting, and a list of potential love interests you’ve met. However, the lack of a dictionary is a bit disappointing given the sheer number of real-life figures, important locales, and historical events mentioned.
There were two moments that took me out of the story when the consequences of my actions didn’t seem to register within the game. An event involving someone who was executed in my playthrough remained open when it shouldn’t have. It was beyond strange to have them suddenly appear quite alive in one scene, only to then be reminded afterward of their execution. It was like the game didn’t realize I shouldn’t have access to that scene. And during the epilogue, my love interest had stayed behind when he’d already chosen to leave Paris with Yvette. The story then quickly returns to him having done the latter, which seemed like an odd slip-up. I couldn’t tell if these were glitches with story gates, so hopefully, the developers can patch them out, as they caused noticeable issues when I played through this.
Visually, Ambition: A Minuet in Power is colorful and vibrant. The backgrounds capture the setting of the time period wonderfully. While the more cartoon-style character art might not be for everyone, I found their designs quite eye-catching and expressive. It certainly gives the title a unique look, especially when characters get angry or do over-the-top poses. On the negative side, the overly expressive character art sometimes creates a tonal dissonance with the actual script. It is hard to take an important political discussion seriously when one character looks like they’re raging at you with wild eyes! Beyond important NPCs, the generic characters all have pretty much the same designs with different color palettes, though I thought it was clever that the game even mentions this in the story! There is some CG artwork too, and I loved the storybook feel of it when it showed up, especially at the height of a romance scene.
John Robert Matz composed the soundtrack, and the music captures the emotion and feel of the French Revolution-era wonderfully. Sound effects are used effectively, with even the small vocalized character gestures fitting every given scene. Overall, I was quite impressed with the title’s sound design.
Ambition: A Minuet in Power is a highly interactive visual novel that details love and intrigue during a turbulent historical time not often covered in video games. It was a trip through time to an earlier Paris that proved memorable and engaging, even if the journey wasn’t without flaws. Visual novel fans looking for more romance with political machinations to maneuver through and a bit more interactivity than one usually expects from the genre should give this one a closer look.