Cinderella Phenomenon is a completely free-to-play romantic visual novel available on Steam. It has incredible quality for a free game and I’d recommend it to all visual novel players who don’t outright hate romantic plots.
The protagonist, Lucette, is an uppity princess who’s been thrown from riches to rags to learn an important life lesson, though naturally she will also need to find love and save the kingdom. There’s a lot of emphasis on the romantic relationships, but certainly enough plot to interest even the non-romance-junkies.
As one can guess from the name, the story is a revised fairy tale, but it’s not just a reverse Cinderella, there are multiple fables in the mix. And just like the original fairy tales, this story involves some violence, death and mental abuse. The story is still probably mild enough to be played by kids that are old enough to concentrate on a visual novel that’s on the longer side.
Lucette is a great main character, though not exactly a likable one. She is so infuriatingly arrogant that it’s actually funny. As the story progresses, she grows and the player starts to understand her motives better. The other characters are a colourful bunch and there’s plenty of witty and snarky comments flying around. The romantic interests are quite chivalrous and the romances very much on the innocent side.
The story has a common route for the early chapters and five routes after the split, one for each romantic interest. Two of the routes are initially locked as they reveal too much of the plot for the first playthrough. All the stories are interesting and the suitors are cute and funny. I ended up enjoying my first playthrough the most, and felt that the two locked routes were just a little bit disappointing, as I was hoping for a grand finale that would blow my mind.
There are plenty of choices throughout the game but they are almost completely cosmetic. Things will progress in a very direct way until the final chapter, which is either the bad or the good ending.
The game is very unforgiving with wrong choices, so I heartily recommend using the in-game indicator for the right choices. There are over 20 choices to be made and the player can only get 2 or 3 wrong without losing the happy ending. While a few choices are somewhat intuitive, others are just pure guesswork. It’s also very hard to figure if the choice was right even afterwards, as the outcomes really are all very similar. So while the story is very good, this game is closer to a kinetic novel than a branching storyline.
The art of the game is beautiful. If I want to nitpick, I’d say a few CGs have some wonky anatomy, and the sprites are a bit too clean (I’d love to see them get all ragged and bloody instead of just reading about it). Otherwise the sprites are very nice, with good postures and facial expressions. Some of the backgrounds were stunning, but I would like to have just a few more locations.
I cannot stress how amazing this visual novel is for a free game, I’m truly impressed. It’s not a small game either: all in all it took me over 20 hours to go through the routes – and I was skipping the common chapters while also using the right choice indicators. If I gave more emphasis on the price while reviewing, I’d definitely rate this even higher than it is now.