For as long as there have been fairy tales, there have been people spinning them and making the tales their own, adding a personal touch to make the story different. Cinderella is no exception to this rule, if anything, it’s one of the most popular tales for adaptations. From Ella Enchanted to Ever After, from Fables to Once Upon a Time, each brings something new to the table. MoaCube’s game Cinders, originally released in 2012 and now ported to PlayStation 4, is no different. But is it a tale for the ages?
Cinders roughly follows the basic plot of Cinderella, with a wicked stepmother and two evil stepsisters, a royal ball and a chance for poor, orphaned and mistreated Cinders to marry a prince. However, the similarities pretty much end there. New plots and subplots are introduced, with the Prince wishing to make his kingdom a democracy, and new characters like childhood friend Tobias and Captain of the Guard Perrault make their appearances. Story expansion, particularly when dealing with fairy tales, is rarely a bad thing, but Cinders manages to really put their foot in it.
The core of Cinders is that it is very heavily aiming for a more modern, updated and feminist take on the traditional tale. It fleshes out the stepmother, Carmosa, and the two stepsisters, Sophia and Gloria. They have personalities and backgrounds, and Cinders herself is given more of a personality, though it is mainly dictated by the player’s choices. Unfortunately, with the abundance of choices at every turning point in the game, it ends up inevitably tripping over its own feet. Cinders makes several snide remarks that are digs at the original tale and the Disney movie, as well as ones aimed at Snow White, but at the same time can then go through and basically re-enact the entire traditional plot, with the exception of choosing her “fairy godmother” for help. Unfortunately, sneering at the very plot which your game is inspired by comes across as more poor taste than a quippy aside.
Cinders’ personality can run the gamut from meek and sweet to, well, outright evil. While it’s an interesting take on the character, both extremes feel forced and insincere, as we are already introduced to her initial personality before any choices are made in the game, and she comes across as neither malevolent nor timid. Luckily, there are several middle of the road options to take with her character that feel much more natural and work as better stories overall.
As for Carmosa and her daughters, here is where the game gets into rather darker territory. By fleshing them out, we are supposed to see each of them as more sympathetic, well-rounded characters, rather than just flatly abusive monsters. Carmosa’s abuse of her daughters and Cinders comes from a place of good intentions, and the sisters struggle with their mother’s abuse and in-turn abuse Cinders. Where I take issue is that the game is clearly pushing for you to see all three characters in a more sympathetic light than the traditional tale. However, in the real world, people who suffer from abuse intended as “tough love” or similar, have still been abused and it is not their job to fix the abusers and try and understand or ease their suffering. The game pushing this as a “good” thing on the routes left a nasty taste in my mouth afterwards.
Other characters who play major roles in the story include the Prince and his friend and chief advisor, Perrault, witch-doctor Madame Ghede and Cinders’ friend Tobias. The Prince, while well-meaning, takes the cake as a complete naïve dolt, shoehorning in modern principles of democracy into medieval or renaissance Europe. Perrault plays a loyal advisor and member of the “old guard” who is basically thrown out the door in several endings, and a possible romance option in several others, but a much more compelling and sympathetic character than the Prince. Madame Ghede is a typical voodoo priestess, complete with cringeworthy makeup that she never takes off and a bizarre ensemble, as well as a shop and home chock-full of bayou plants. Tobias is meanwhile a good friend to Cinders, a possible love interest and a somewhat shady merchant with shaky morals using the excuse that he does what he must to survive.
Gameplay is the best thing about this visual novel, with choices presented for Cinders at every turn, each one impactful and leading to a wide variety of outcomes. There are four main categories of endings and at least four different variations within each of those, which lends itself well to replayability. Considering the game only takes about 4 or 5 hours to complete the first time, this significantly changes the game’s length.
Cinders’ art and music style both leave something to be desired. The art is detailed, but very reminiscent of a hidden object game, with awkward animation and clunky shading. Character designs range from Carmosa’s obviously evil ensemble to Perrault’s collection of belts that I can only assume he had to mug several Final Fantasy characters to get. Sister Gloria spends the whole game looking like she has a rather bad case of boob-rash, while Tobias looks far too pale to be healthy. Meanwhile, the game is devoid of voice overs, has few sound effects and plays rather bland background music the whole way through.
Overall, Cinders was a disappointment. It tries so hard to be feminist and independent that it runs away with half of the reality of feminism left behind, in favor of hollow dramatics and a sympathetic story. None of the characters are particularly compelling, though Cinders’ wide variety of dialogue and action choices make for interesting story branches and a lot of replayability. If you’re invested in shaping the heroine’s character thoroughly, Cinders might be for you, but for those looking for deeper plot and more complex characters would do well with Cinderella Phenomenon instead.
TechRaptor reviewed Cinders on PlayStation4 with a code provided by the developer. The game is also available on PC, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch.
- Plethora of Story Choices and Endings
- Bland Art and Music
- Poor Writing and Shoehorned Feminism
- Befriending Abusers Pushed As "Right" Route