Welcome back to our comparative study on “Reigns,” brought to us by Nerial in 2016, and “Long Live the Queen,” brought to us by Hanako games in 2012. Both games cover a narrative and less combat driven approach to ruling a kingdom, and both are indie games you may not have heard of. We covered “Long Live the Queen,” a visual novel RPG where you help a princess escape brutal death using stat driven mechanics, last week.
“Reigns” is an addictive little game that leads the player to slaughter countless innocents without even blinking an eye, and its on the app store. “Reigns” is lacking in depth and world building compared to “Long Live the Queen’s,” but its user interface (UI) is as beautifully minimalistic as the art style. Your dating carpal tunnel will be maxed to the limit since the interface is like tinder for tyrants, which works well to condition players for quick playthroughs that feel more interactive than “Long Live the Queen’s” visual novel fast forwarding.
Unlike “Long Live the Queen’s” bewildering flow chart of statistics there are only four stats you need to keep track of in “Reigns,” which filled me with an overwhelming sense of relief, but also filled me with dread at the acts of atrocity I was committing in service to these four icons at the top of the screen, a sort of milgram experiment.
The milgram experiment was a series of studies done on the nature of obedience at Yale University, the subjects were tested on their willingness to her hurt another participant based on the proximity of the authority figure, in the form of the scientists directing the experiment, and the proximity of the subject to be punished, who was actually an actor pretending to be hurt. If the authority figure was in the room the subject was more likely to follow through and hurt the actor, even to the point of killing him. That’s this game in a nutshell.
The player is pushed to atrocities for the sake of stats (money, religion, people or soldiers), but life in this game is held in such little regard that’s it hard to consider death a stake at all. Rules are established very quickly your first two minute play through. I was too busy looking at one icon obsessively until it was too late to stop a capitalistic oligarchy from taking over and killing me. Again. And again. It’s quickly established that a stats must remain balanced.
The weakest part of the game is how the stat changes are indicated to the player. The four icons you watch rise and fall only have beige colored dots above them indicating a decrease or increase of that statistic based on the context of the card. The problem with this is that not all of these cards are contextually informative enough. You’re left there with the same beige balls, dangling above the icons, taunting you. It’s a great way to try and get the player to pay attention, but is the blood curdling irritation worth it? I’ve had so many deaths happen because of how oddly uninformative they are. It’s just as irritating as “Long Live the Queen’s” unexpected deadly stat checks.
Both games have the “one more level” syndrome, and I suggest both could benefit from a more humane design with proper exit and resting points, people rarely have time to waste these days, and in just trying “Reigns” one could lose a good two to three hours without even noticing. So while “Long Live the Queen’s” approach was to taunt the player into trying one more time, “Reigns’” timeline moves on after the death of its current ruler without a care.
The game utilizes the constant replaying going on in a way that “Long Live the Queen” did not. The player being more informed than Elodie is a ludo narrative, a dissonant core mechanic which could have been utilized. “Reigns’” inevitable slew of playthroughs become part of a plot you uncover with time, after about seven hours I was still nowhere close to discovering the truth.
Every 666 years the devil shows up to terrify you by changing your precious stats and have a chat with you over tea; he usually puts things back to normal when he leaves, like a considerate, punctual houseguest with cosmic power, or a new mother-in-law. Considering how long it takes to finish the real story of this game and the replay value is worth the asking price of $3.
Both “Long Live the Queen” and “Reign” approach the noncombat oriented act of ruling in different ways, but the experiences are different enough that I would consider them both worthy part of any game library.