The Royal Trap
Madeleine and Oscar have been best friends for years, and it's becoming increasingly apparent Oscar's feelings for Madeleine may run deeper. The problem with that is Oscar is actually Prince Oscar of Ocendawyr, and Madeline is... well, she's just Maddie Valois, the young woman who has been his companion, maidservant, advisor and agent ever since they were both small children and she got him out of trouble. Besides, now Oscar's reaching adulthood and has to start courting a bride from one of the neighbouring kingdoms, and Maddie's final duty is ensuring he finds himself a wife... even if that means her own future becomes more uncertain. But when Oscar is suddenly accused of a crime he didn't commit, Maddie must trust her instincts and put her skills to the test to clear his name... and uncover even deeper treacheries in the process. In The Royal Trap, a fantastic indie visual novel adventure by Hanako Games, as Madeleine Valois you'll have to help her navigate a political minefield, uncover treachery and danger, and discover whether she has to choose between her duty and her heart... or if there's somehow the two can coexist. Provided, of course, she can stay alive long enough.
As the game opens, Madeleine and Oscar have arrived in the kingdom of Gwellinor to allow Oscar a chance to woo its newly eligible princess. As Oscar heads off to attend a royal ball along with several other attending princes competing for attention, he asks Madeleine to read a letter he's left for her in his room... and anyone who's seen a romance novel within their lives knows what's in it. But regardless of how you decide she feels about it, the night's festivities are brought to a screeching halt when Oscar is accused of a crime and it falls to Maddie to prove his innocence... and of course double-crosses are rarely straight-forward, so once one matter has been settled another more complicated one arises. Just click the dialogue choice you like the most when it's presented to you, and right-click at any time to open a menu to allow you to save or load your game. The whole thing is mostly linear up until chapter 5.b, which will present you with a selection almost immediately that will shape certain parts of the rest of the game depending on earlier choices.
Analysis: While at least two of the eligible bachelors fall into the tiresome old "class-A jerk with a secret soft side" category, everyone is well-developed and intriguing, so chances are you'll find someone you'll want to know more about. Especially Gaston. Gaston is magnificent. Look at that sucker. I'm not even kidding either, since behind that exterior of sparkly anime tropes is a remarkably likable, human, well-developed character. It's worth mentioning, however, that at a certain point the game essentially asks you who you're interested in and locks you into that choice. This can be actually a bit misleading, since several of those options actually lead you towards other characters, even other genders, you won't expect. You may even get railroaded into another default option if you didn't choose appropriate responses earlier in the game. In a way, though, this fits with a recurring theme or two within the game... that of people not being who they seem, and of opening your eyes to opportunities. Just keep your mind and heart open, and the experience will be much more rewarding.
Even if you're not interested in romance, however, The Royal Trap still has a lot to offer. The core focus is actually on the mystery surrounding the crime Oscar is accused of, which quickly spirals out into an even more convoluted mess of drama and intrigue the more you play. Nothing is as straightforward as it seems, and the narrative is great at layering mysteries on mysteries in a way that grabs you and keeps you wanting more. A lot of visual novels that include romance options tend to make their heroines a bit vague in the personality department to allow players to project, but Madeleine might be one of the best heroines to grace a game in a long time, regardless of type or genre. She's strong, determined, and intelligent, but also funny, warm, and loyal to a fault. To that end she's... actually somewhat of a Mary Sue, at least in regards to how competent she is compared to everyone else, but it's still incredibly difficult not to like her and want her to succeed. It's also beautifully drawn, though there is a distracting difference in art style between various characters.
Of course, The Royal Trap is a visual novel, not a visual novel simulation, and if your sole interaction being limited to choosing an option between pages and pages of text you have no say in doesn't sound like your cuppa, the game may not be for you. While it's nice that you can always tell what your decisions will get you in terms of where the story will head next, it's a bit disappointing that there aren't more of them more frequently, at least not until chapter five onward. It can often feel like the choices you make seem trivial alongside the action and excitement that unfolds without much prompting from you, and it would have been nice to have given the player a few more options to feel engaged.
A single playthrough of the game probably won't take much players longer than two hours or so, depending on how fast you read, but The Royal Trap's strength is in its replay value. Not merely in hunting down all the endings to its many romances, but also in filling in all the pieces of its multilayered mystery. Each path will really only give you a few bits rather than the full story, and some have entire sequences you'll never see that will drastically change how you look at the story itself and other characters. Some of the romances are definitely more developed than others, and you shouldn't expect a fairy-tale ending with all of them. The Royal Trap is a incredibly well-written tale bolstered by a cast of fun and fully-developed characters that are a pleasure to get to know. If you prefer your visual novels with other gameplay aspects beyond simple choice-and-click, this one might be restrictive. But if you appreciate a ripping good tale, you'll definitely want to try out the demo for this one, since it comes highly recommended.
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A really great review! Pity there aren't more comments on it...
I enjoyed the demo and am very thankful they provided one. While this isn't my favorite kind of artwork, I thought the narrator/main character was wonderful and I wanted to find out more. I just feel these games are terribly expensive! If it ever goes on sale, I'll jump on it!
I can't explain why without spoilers, but this game is incredibly offensive and now that I've finished it I feel ashamed for having played it at all.
The game played like a mystery, so based on that and this review, I figured there'd be clues to piece together and schemes to discover or something. There weren't.
The princess is a transgender woman. There's a bit of drama around the things her parents did to hide it, but that is pretty much the only "secret" of importance to be discovered in the entire game. (And anyone who knows anything about being trans figured everything out in like the third chapter, before the different paths of the game even branch out.)
I kept playing, hoping that was just one element in some grand royal conspiracy. It wasn't. There's no "true end" to unlock in this game after completing the other paths, like in a lot of visual novels. The only thing I learned at that point was that "The Royal Trap" really means... "The Royal Transwoman" (Trap being an extremely offensive term for a transgender women. As in, attractive transwomen are just dudes trying to "trap" other men into turning gay.)
"Trap" isn't even used with a double meaning; there is nothing in the game at any point that could be referred to as an actual trap.
I'm honestly shocked that Hanako Games would allow something so hateful to be published under their name. You might as well call it "The Tranny Princess". That might even be less offensive.
Ugh, I'm off to go scrub this thing off my hard drive now. Maybe with acid.
Sorry you felt that way, abacus55. Personally, I felt
the princess' "gender" wasn't meant to be a mystery or surprise so much as another layer of the way the game dealt with gender roles in general and expectations of people. Consider the princess' love with Gaston and the way it was handled... he didn't care what she was "supposed" to be, he cared who she really was, and he himself was dealing with the way people thought he was "supposed" to be as well. Not just the fact that he's bald, but that everyone thinks he's a shallow foppish twit, when he's probably the most sensitive and genuine person in the game. The princess' gender isn't meant to be a punchline... she's been kept so isolated she only has the barest idea of what that means. She is what everyone expects her to be... perfect, pretty, and token, and when she discovers that other people think she isn't really who she appears to be, she's shocked and horrified and suffers a crisis of self, until she realises, with the help of others, that all that really matters IS who she FEELS she is, who she WANTS to be. They accept her as a woman, and comfort her when she begins to doubt otherwise. Madeline is initially concerned with how she will be received by her future husband, but her concern is ENTIRELY for the princess' heart.
I disagree that "Trap" is here intended to refer to the princess herself. I'm fairly certain it's intended to refer to Oscar's initial blackmailing, and then Madeline's being framed by the antagonists, and perhaps even the princess being "trapped" into what people expected her to be rather than what she wanted to be, while Oscar is similarly trapped by his station despite his feelings for Madline. Considering that her gender is not the focal point of the story but rather another instance of how people have only ever cared about her beyond what she represents and how she presents herself, I thought the story was actually incredibly earnest. If you look at it one way, it's a twist on the whole "what if?" trope... "What if the princess was born a male?" is answered with "... so what?" Nobody is shocked and repulsed by her. Nobody is horrified. Certainly Gaston doesn't view it as a "trap" for how much he loves and continues to love her.
While I can understand your concerns, and even say that some aspects of the story could have been handled better or with more finesse, I had a vastly different interpretation of the events based on the characters and the way the story was constructed, and while I can respect your opinion and certainly anyone else's who chooses not to play this game, I disagree completely with what you seem feel the actual intentions were of the developer in terms of the princess' particular character arc.
I agree that
transgender issues were handled well within the universe of the game. It's a shame the title is a slur.
I think it's a bit of a stretch to think that Oscar being taken hostage or Madeleine being imprisoned would be referred to specifically as "traps", but the word could theoretically describe them. The concept of people being "trapped" in their status is even more of a stretch. Even if those are plausible uses, it seems extremely unlikely to me that they would lead to using the word "trap" as opposed to any of its many synonyms which would more accurately describe them, which just happens to be an offensive term for a transgender woman when the main plot point of the game just happens to be that a woman is transgender.
There's also the matter that the creator of this game has apologized to those that have contacted her about this, saying that the word "trap" in the title does refer to the princess, but that she was previously not aware of the term's negative connotations. The mind boggles, but that's the official story.
I wouldn't say it's a stretch, so much as people with drastically different opinions and experiences seeing the meaning from different angles. .
You're talking about punishing ignorance with the same vehemence as intentional malice, when arguably you combat ignorance with knowledge. It never even occurred to me that trap would have any other negative connotations even after finishing the game, and it's not because I'm anti-trans, it's because that simply isn't a part of my life to the point where I have had such negative experiences as to make that association. I would hope that if I ever did unintentionally hurt someone, they would take the time to educate me in a way that encourages the building of bridges rather than the burning of them. I'm not saying you aren't right to be offended by unintentional ignorance, I'm saying that I think approaching it from a different angle than hate and hostility is how progress happens.
I said nothing about hating or punishing anyone but I'm just gonna leave this here.
... alright. I don't think you understood what I was trying to say, but that's fine. We can just agree to disagree civilly on the matter. I apologize for having offended you.
I'm sure neither the creators nor Dora were aware that trap is a slur used against trans women, but that doesn't change the fact that it is. It may have been innocent ignorance, but that does not change the result--this game has an incredibly offensive title. Having not played it, I can't speak for the handling of trans issues within the game itself, but I would've hoped that if the creators cared so much about treating trans women respectfully, they would have bothered to make sure they weren't insulting them in the title!