Masques and Murder (James Patton)

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Masques and Murder is a Renaissance revenge fantasy that stands the traditional dating sim visual novel on end. You play a young Italian woman; your family is murdered during the tutorial, and the Prince tells you you must marry one of his three sons. Each son has a taste for particular skills and accomplishments. Impress the sons, and you can get close enough to kill them off.

The bulk of gameplay consists of training your various skills, from hawking to firearms to classics. Periodically new social engagements appear on your calendar, and you have to prepare to meet their demands. If you do well at the skills required, the brothers admire you more and are therefore easier to kill. If not, their admiration drops. There are a couple of small complications that add challenge — you need to keep them from getting too suspicious, and your study abilities are improved if you first reread your Revenge Poem, filling yourself with righteous fury.

This makes it easier and fairer than, say, Long Live the Queen, but also way shorter and less interesting overall. There are few narrative incidents where you can have a unique conversation with anyone; it’s basically all stat-grinding, one stat at a time. There are descriptions for what happens when you train a stat, but these get pretty repetitive, which means that the moment-to-moment gameplay isn’t very juicy: select a stat to work on, reread the same training text as before (often, anyway), select a new stat, … Still, it doesn’t take long to at least get the idea of the game, and I was amused by what it did with the usual tropes of its genre.

Eventually you become close enough to someone to attempt using your skills to kill him — and it’s just as possible to kill someone with verses as with swordplay. Full marks for the description of how to kill a man using your skill at classics.

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