If you’ve been reading for a while, you probably know by now that by far my favorite game in the world is the strategic raising sim Long Live the Queen from Hanako Games. This is a fiendishly difficult game which combines a gentle parody of princess tropes, a thoughtful exploration of the skills necessary for leadership, and an unironic enthusiasm for sparkliness. Protagonist Elodie is the recently-orphaned teenage heir to the throne, trying to survive the weeks until her coming of age and coronation.
Keeping Elodie alive until the end of the game is notoriously difficult. She faces so many assassination attempts that at times it seems like everyone is out to get her. Betrayal lurks behind every corner. The game has achievements that are unlocked by discovering all the different (and gruesome) ways in which Elodie can die. This is probably how the game earned the dubious nickname ‘Sansa Stark simulator‘.
On my first playthrough, I made it through 90% of the game before getting my princess blasted to pieces. One of the first things the King-Regent says is that she may not be safe outside the castle, and so I undertook what I thought was a very sensible strategy of avoiding danger (and conflict) whenever possible. It took a number of (unsuccessful) playthroughs before I was willing to start taking a few more chances.
Success in the game is achieved by skills. Learning skills is governed by mood. Moods are determined by plot events. Depressed Elodie does not want to study court manners, afraid Elodie doesn’t do very well with intrigue, and everyone can agree that angry Elodie has no business being around the palace animals. Some skills are more difficult to learn than others, primarily because they’re more strongly affected by moods. This is true of one of my favorite skill-groups, Royal Demeanor, which allows your princess to stare down her adversaries by sheer force of will. Invaluable for a future queen dependent upon the goodwill of the nobility.
The mood governing the skills of royal demeanor is called ‘Yielding‘ (not ‘yielded’ as I’ve seen in some posts, an important distinction). That… doesn’t sound very queenly, does it? On the face of things, at least. Surely a queen can’t just yield in the face of any obstacle. But, well, that’s not really what ‘yielding’ means. It allows you to keep composure in conflict, not rise to the bait when provoked, and generally react with apparent equanimity. Without these skills your princess is prone to react before thinking, causing one character to (rightly) call her ‘violent and impulsive’.
True, there is something very egotistically satisfying about challenging your adversary to a duel to the death. It’s a heroic reaction, the reaction we would generally expect from a protagonist. Certainly from a game protagonist. ‘Fortune favors the bold‘ is a maxim that’s generally profitable in video games. LLTQ is unusual in that it rewards prudence, restraint and discretion.
Well, but the presence that convinces the nobility at the royal ball that you are not a child but a queen, surely that cannot be called yielding? The yielding mood, in addition to regal demeanor, also boosts the study of history and faith skills. Raising these skills not only allows you to pass complicated skill checks and unlock entire story-lines, it also reveals some of the back-story and sheds a lot of light on the nature of magic. Read closely, the flavor text for these lessons (see, for example, Novan History 80, World History 50, Lore 30 and 70) reveals a fraught magical history fueled by pride and recklessness.
What do these three skills have in common? What ties together history and magical lore? What does it mean to be a ruling queen? The lesson texts teach Elodie that she is merely the last in a long unbroken chain of kings and queens, of magic users, and of catastrophically fatal magical mishaps. In history, as in faith, you can choose to see yourself as a small part of something much larger. By this view the queenship and the Lumen magic are seen as an act of custodianship, rather than a source of control.
Play the game long enough in different iterations and with different choices, and you end up discovering several exciting ways in which giving the wrong orders can get your princess killed. Experimenting with the more reckless magical choices shows some of the drastic consequences of the unchecked use of power.
Elodie’s magic tutor, Julianna, is a character who knows her place in the chain of things. Not very glamorous, but it serves her well. Where the King-Regent withholds information because he wants to protect his daughter from the negative consequences of magic, Julianna is more interested in protecting Nova from its Queen. At first pass she’s an irritating killjoy who’s at least as annoying as some of the classic fantasy magical mentors. To convince her to trust your princess, you have to first unlock some of the aforementioned foreboding historical lessons, which might make the pill a little easier to swallow.
In case it wasn’t obvious, I’m a big far of the yielding mood and all the skills it governs. It provides an interesting perspective and an unusual contrast to the more usual sources of heroism in fantasy. And it brings to mind the banner words of Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel’s Legacy series: that which yields is not always weak.
I had some things to say regarding the approval of the nobles and why it’s so important to maintain it, but this blog post is already far too long as it is. I think for the moment I’ll leave things at that, and perhaps return to the subject at a later date.
Crossposted to Dreamwidth.