Last months I played through Cinders on my netbook, with mixed feelings. It's a somewhat more modern re-telling of the Cinderella story in the form of a visual novel, and while I'm not particularly fond of the genre, I have to say the production values are quite high. Graphics are great if you can appreciate the style, music and sounds are good too, the writing isn't half bad most of the times and managed to make me care about the characters. My favorite thing was that it actually made me empathize with the 'evil' stepmother and stepsisters of the fairy tale and see them as individual characters. You also get to make quite a few choices during the course of the story and that's a concept I liked, too.
However, I also have some serious criticism to address with regard to the execution of this interesting concept. Cinders presents itself as a visual novel that makes your choices matter and should therefor have high replayability. And personally I found neither to be true. The game is short, but still a couple of hours long, and having to re-read or skim all the known text just to be able to make a few different choices in between doesn't make for an enjoyable second or third playthrough. There is a fast-forward feature, but it doesn't completely skip the text, it just displays it with a high speed, which is still too slow. You can't directly jump to significant choices in the game, and the changes in the story that result from choosing differently are not prominent enough to make up for all the repetition.
Now, all of this wouldn't be such a big issue if a single playthrough would be satisfying enough to leave it at that. But the way Cinders handles the ending is preventing this. Because in the end it turns out the choices are not a roleplaying feature but a challenge, in which apparantly some choices are better or worse than others, and the ending is more like a score table telling you how well you did, figuratively speaking. I also suspect the variations of the different branches sometimes clash with the direction of the main path, the unchanged bits of the story, as no matter how hard I tried to make peace with the stepsisters, if things looked promising, Cinders would ruin it all of her own accord again, without me interferring. Maybe I made a wrong turn somewhere or maybe the game just wanted to do away with the "happily ever after", but the ending I got was rather bleak, and when I tried to revisit a few significant decisions in the last part, all other endings I got were depressing, too. Curiously enough, despite the modern approach I even felt like the endings I got were punishing Cinders for trying to be independent, and if she ended up unhappy it was often (not always) because of the prince (that is a man, and apparantly also the one and only man for her, although she hardly gets to know him).
Mind you, I'm not one to complain about sad endings in general, it just didn't fit with the tone of the game. While the course of the story itself was rather positive despite all the hardships - uplifting and encouraging about making your own destiny instead of just drifting along and letting others determine it - the endings completely undermined this message. You make a few decisions for Cinders during a short time of her life, and those decisions set the course for all the decades following it, when you don't have any influence over her choices anymore, and much of what follows isn't even a logical consequence of your choices. I think the game also shortly addresses this problem itself, but that is a weak excuse for ruining the whole concept and message. In the end, I felt the idea of choices and different endings was abused for providing the visual novel with some sort of achievement mechanisms in order to encourage replays for discovering all or the best ending(s), and I found this approach completely unfitting for this game, inadequate and badly executed.
So all things considered, I find it difficult to recommend Cinders even though I partly liked it at first. It could have been a really good visual novel (in fact it is until the ending makes everything that's good about it irrelevant), but the ambition to make it more than it is IMO condemns it to be an unsatisfying and contradictory experience without clear direction.
Post edited October 19, 2014 by Leroux