Cinders is a visual novel by MoaCube. The game is inspired by the Cinderella fairy tale but it isn’t the story you may know from the Disney movie. With four possible endings, 120 decision points, and over 150,000 words this visual novel spins the tale in a various ways.
The developers explained the motivation behind the game on their website
Of all the fairytales, we picked Cinderella because we honestly don’t like it. The protagonist is very passive, and the message seems to be: “be a good girl and learn to take abuse quietly, then maybe you’ll find a rich husband”. We want our Cinders to be clever, active woman who makes her own choices. Even if she goes for the fairytale ending, it should be her decision. We’re using various methods to reinforce this theme.
The main character, Cinders, agrees with this premise:
I attempted to play this game on a desktop PC and on a little netbook and it ran flawlessly on both. It has both PC and Mac compatible versions and there are demos available from the website. http://moacube.com/games/cinders/
Cinders is avisual novel with decision points. You experience it through the role of Cinders (the Cinderella-inspired character). She interacts with the world and the player reads the pre-written lines from her and other characters. At decision points you When you chose one of 2-3 options and the story branches to a different section of the visual novel. Based on those choices, you will see different text and one of four different endings, each of which have slight variants dependent on the choices made at those branching points.
Choice and endings
I recently finished the game and obtained all 4 possible endings and also played a fifth time to see a variant of one of these endings. Within the story, the main character of Cinders takes charge of her life at every possible moment. Even if she stays home to clean or follow her step-mother or step-sister’s orders, it is her decision to stay. Making these moments decision points gave them impact.
There is a variety of choices within the story. What will Cinders do when she has a few hours to herself? What about if she has a full day of potential freedom? Does she believe in magic? Does she sympathize with her step-sisters or will she match their cruelty with verbal arguments of her own? Is she looking for love or for escape? The player controls Cinders in a variety of situations, and because of this each play lets them know more about both Cinders and the other characters. The 4 different endings give us a glimpse of possible motivations and life goals for Cinders. Her desires can include romance but are not limited to that and Cinders can end the game romantically unattached and that is not considered a “bad end”.
The art of this game is absolutely stunning. Artist Gracjana Zielinska created beautiful background scenes where small pieces are animated. Tree branches wave, flames flicker, and birds fly through the air in the midst of gorgeous still images. Those accents along with the detailed scenes help create the mood for the game.
Cinders deals with the themes of oppression, childhood trauma, and desire. There is little true “evil” within the story. We find out why they step-mother and step-sisters behave with such cruelty. The world is far more complex than a stereotype.
The idea of roles and preconceptions are played out with the character of Madame Ghede. When I first saw the character art for here, I was worried that she would be a portrayed as the stereotype of a voodoo priestess.
Unfortunately, I do not know enough about the stereotype to say how well this was shattered or where the game played into problematic depictions. But, I can say the following about her character: her religion/beliefs are never discussed, she explains that the villagers assume that she is a witch so she allows them to think that (using it to her advantage when possible), and she has little patience for people that treat her with fear because they refuse to get to know her. I would love to hear what someone more knowledge about this stereotype than I has to say about this character and her portrayal.
Cinders excels at giving its characters depth. By the end of the story, the player knows everyone’s motivations. It is possible to learn a bit of back story on all of the characters and to see them as more than just an “evil step-mother” or Prince looking for love. Understanding the motivations for characters that behave in despicable ways creates an interesting story. The player can choose to covertly use this knowledge to their advantage, to sympathize with those characters, or to call them on their actions. The multiple decision points paired with the character depth make for an interesting tale.
Overall I really enjoyed this game. If you want to play gorgeous a visual novel that gives a Cinderella character much more agency than the original story, then Cinders is a perfect fit. As the developers explain
It’s a story of four women and what made them who they are, inspired by the classic fairytale of Cinderella. A story about balancing freedom and dreams with circumstance and harsh reality; about growing up and finding out the true meaning of independence. Distancing itself from the judgmental simplicity of the original, Cinders tries to explore the more complex nature of oppression, responsibility and innocence.
At times I wish this exploration of complex issues went even further, but this game definitely did exactly as advertised. I recommend Cinders for anyone interested in a deeper retelling of the Cinderella story.
Disclosure: The PC copy of Cinders was given to us for review by MoaCube.