A few months ago, a new otome game seemed—at least to me—to come out of nowhere and suddenly become extremely popular. I somehow missed hearing about the modest kickstarter campaign developers Dicesuki ran last summer for Cinderella Phenomenon, so my first exposure to it was through its steam page, which boasts an impressive amount of reviews for such a recently released entry into a niche genre. And while I’m sure being free is part of what helps attract more readers, now that I’ve gotten around to reading Cinderella Phenomenon myself, I can say that it completely deserves the enthusiastic fanbase that it built up so quickly.
One of my first impressions of Cinderella Phenomenon was that it would be an excellent visual novel for newcomers to the medium. As well as being generally high quality, it displays right choice indicators (which can be turned off in settings for those who’d prefer to figure out everything themselves), gives an extremely clear choice of romance routes at the end of the common route, and unambiguously marks two of the routes as initially locked. Someone who might not yet be familiar with the concept of route branching, enforced route order, and different choices leading to good and bad endings would still have no problem navigating Cinderella Phenomenon. It even includes an optional tutorial at the beginning, which explains basic mechanics like auto-forward mode. I’ll be recommending Cinderella Phenomenon to any friends who are looking to get into visual novels in the future, both for its clarity of structure and its well-written storyline.
One of the most interesting and unique parts of the story, in my opinion, is the different manifestations of the central Fairytale Curse, as well as the various ways those afflicted deal with it. When snobby Princess Lucette is magically transformed into a peasant whose true title has been forgotten by most of the kingdom, she’s taken in by an entertaining group of misfits suffering from various other curses, who congregate at a bar called the Marchen to commiserate and search for solutions. I really liked all the scenes in which these characters interacted, and it was always fun learning more about their curses, which each put a unique spin on maladies from fairytales and other classic literature.
Another especially good aspect of the writing is the character development of Lucette, who goes from cold and prejudiced to caring and sympathetic over the course of the story. A drawback of the character development, however, is that it’s a bit jarring to finish one route and then be faced with the initially unpleasant Lucette again at the start of a new one. Cinderella Phenomenon also suffers from a common issue with many multiple route mysteries, in that some of the same secrets have to be revealed in slightly different scenes in each route, which can start to feel extremely repetitive by the third or fourth. Nevertheless, those small flaws didn’t prevent me from enjoying all of the routes. Spoilers in my opinions on individual routes below:
Karma became my favourite guy as soon as I saw his extremely pretty character designs in both masculine and feminine clothing in the common route, and he held onto that position throughout the game. I thought the pacing worked especially well in both his route and Rod’s, with their curses and the requirements of breaking them mostly remaining mysteries until the climax. I really enjoyed the scenes in which he taught Lucette swordfighting, and encouraged Garlan and Jurien’s relationship. I also appreciated that sometimes the good choices in his route involved standing up to him when he was rude; it was a nice change after too many visual novels that include realistically flawed love interests but then want you to happily go along with whatever they do and say anyway in order to get their good endings. Finally, as the prince of another kingdom, he’s diplomatically the best match for Lucette—something my embarrassing number of hours in Crusader Kings 2 has cursed me to think about whenever I read any story involving royalty.
One route I had mixed feelings about, however, was that of Fritz/Varg. This was partially because I preferred Varg over Fritz as a character. Fritz was presented as the nicer of the two, but he essentially held Lucette hostage for several days near the beginning of the route, which I found a bit disturbing even if did come out of a well-intentioned overprotectiveness. Varg, on the other hand, didn’t try to deny being a villain, and was generally cool and mysterious. So I was a bit disappointed by the good ending, in which Fritz declared that Varg had “erased himself”, and that seemed to be fine with everyone. Maybe we’re meant to interpret that to mean that Fritz and Varg
really were two different sides of the same personality, and that Fritz had managed to reconcile them back into one somehow, but I didn’t think that was very clear. I had been interpreting Varg as a separate consciousness in the same body, so my initial reaction was to think that he had committed some kind of magical suicide, and nobody seemed to care! Either way, I would have been more interested in a good ending that still involved Varg somehow, and I was left wondering whether Fritz had ever overcome his controlling tendencies or not.
The other routes were more to my taste, however, and Waltz’s true route does a great job of wrapping everything up, as well as providing a more logical explanation for the “forgotten childhood friend” trope than I’ve seen in any other visual novels that use it. I’m really looking forward to visiting the world of Cinderella Phenomenon again in the fandisc than Dicesuki has been posting regular updates on, as well as reading any other visual novels they work on in the future.