Cinders is a visual novel that retells the classic Cinderella story with some modern ideas thrown in. This Cinderella — “Cinders” — has a lot more agency in her life, and your decisions can cause the story to branch in several new interesting directions. Although the game was originally published in 2012 for PC, you wouldn’t realize it from playing it, and it could make a fine addition to your Switch indie library.
Choose your own escape
The game unfolds across a span of one brisk week, and the narrative is about how Cinders chooses to break free of her constricted life under her taskmaster of a stepmother, Lady Carmosa. The game has four major ending types — one for each method of final escape that Cinders chooses — and there are little permutations on each ending that give the game a lot of replayability. This is important, since one run of the game can be finished in maybe two hours, or three at most.
After you finish the game once, you gain the ability to start fast-forwarding through every piece of dialogue you have already read, which is necessary to stave off boredom. The ability to save at any moment also makes it easy to go down different storytelling paths quickly. However, I found there would be times when too much fast-forwarding would ironically trigger slowdown in the game. Once slowdown began, it would get worse to the point of making the game unplayable, so I would ultimately have to reset each time. Such a bug should not appear in a port of a 7-year-old game that is visually undemanding.
Speaking of which, the visuals are pretty static. Almost nothing moves. Characters cycle through a small handful of fully drawn portraits and that’s the extent of it. Still, the visuals are quite attractive and capture their intended one-upon-a-time aesthetic. The soundtrack is similarly serviceable.
A charming, well-written tale
Quality writing is paramount in a visual novel, and I was impressed with the unique tone and whimsy of the writing in Cinders. The writing in Cinders is like Jane Austen meets Gilmore Girls. There is romance, family in-fighting, money troubles, and class problems, and all the dialogue is razor-witted. Pretty much every character pulls out a zinger of a line at some point. In fact, it actually gets exhausting sometimes when characters beat around the bush too much, particularly with Sophia, one of Cinders’ two stepsisters.
Despite that, the story is compelling overall, and the characters all have complex and realistic personalities. No character in the story is entirely good or entirely wicked, including Cinders herself if you choose to play her that way. It’s actually not difficult to develop sympathy for the stepsisters even in spite of their aggressive treatment of Cinders, for instance. However, a couple important characters directly connected to Cinders’ escape felt frustratingly underdeveloped compared to the rest of the cast.
Cinders is freedom for a price
Cinders is a short but highly replayable visual novel with dynamic characters and sharp writing. The visuals and soundtrack aren’t revolutionary but serve the narrative well. However, slowdown, while infrequent, can be a game-breaking experience when it appears. Ultimately, Cinders is a fun and charming experience, but whether it’s worth its $19.99 price point depends upon your willingness to dig deep and explore all of its different ending types.
A review code was provided by the publisher.