Raising a child isn’t amongst the more usual video game tasks but is there anyway to make it as a rewarding as the real thing?
For most parents, stolen moments spent playing video games are a rare and highly prized treasure. With very young children that’s likely to mean the odd level of Puzzle & Dragons or a quick round of Clash Royale, but as they get older you can start to find the occasional hour or two for a proper game. Ciel Fledge: Daughter Raising Simulator has no view on any of these 21st century concerns. It’s set in the year 3716, and you’ll be raising your daughter on a flying ark ship several thousand metres above the wasteland that is now the Earth’s surface.
Taking place over 10 in-game years, it’s your job to bring up Ciel by micromanaging every single aspect of her life, from what she eats, to the subjects she takes at school, to the friends she socialises with. It’s a situation that would be a lot creepier if there were any single aspect of the game that felt realistic, rather than simply being a flimsy facade for a stats-based management sim, a few manga-style still images, and reams of poorly translated dialogue standing in for a plot.
Your first task after naming your adoptive 38th century daughter, is to decide on her back story. Whether she was born on the ravaged surface, on one of the ark ships, or grown artificially in a vat affects which stats she favours and which improve more slowly. With no knowledge of what’s to come, that’s initially based entirely on guesswork, and rather prosaically, strength turns out to be the most important single factor in the game, massively outweighing, charm, intelligence, creativity, and all their related perks.
Once your daughter’s nature is established, your job is to begin scheduling each of her days via a weekly planner that lets you select your parenting style, her meal plan, and an activity for each day. To start with that’s chosen from a small roster of potential school lessons, but as you progress and open new nodes in her ‘focus tree’ there’s an expanding range of activities that you can use to boost specific stats and earn rewards.
Those rewards are usually food items, pieces of equipment, or clothing. Different foods supply their own bonuses, so a piece of cake might improve her stamina and increase her affection towards you, while other, nastier ones can be used to discipline her. You can also go shopping rather than waiting for rewards, but you can only do that on in-game on Sundays. And even then, only if you’ve managed to amass enough credits to afford the shops’ ludicrously high prices.
Earning credits means doing jobs, but the more you work, the worse your relationship gets with Ciel. Continually work overtime and you’ll build up your measly supply of credits a little faster, but you’ll also find you and your daughter drifting apart. Spoil her and you’ll reduce her stress levels and improve your relationship, but also live in penury, something that won’t wash for long, because every single lesson and activity she undertakes, whether it’s a trip to the swimming pool or a maths lesson, costs money.
Moment-to-moment gameplay involves choosing each day’s activity, then letting the week play out in a series of stat boosts, interspersed with encounters. Those can be conversations with friends or battles, which are the only truly interactive part of the game. Fights, quizzes, and even art appreciation use a match-three mechanic, where you tap on cards in a diamond-shaped grid to make sets of three the same colour.
Get enough matching sets of three, and you can trigger one of Ciel’s friends to perform a special move in the corresponding colour, with each doing a slightly different job. Red cards do damage, yellow add points useful in score-attack challenges, and blue provide support effects like healing. But because you’re dealt random cards, the reality is that you end up simply choosing sets of three in whatever colours are currently available, removing any sense of tactical involvement.
The other problem with the match-three puzzles is that some tasks are incredibly easy, while others appear literally impossible, with failure occurring even after you’ve perfectly matched continuous sets of three and made no mistakes. On Switch the issues are compounded because the interface is so small that even with enormous care and attention it’s hard to ensure you tap on just the right tiny square or piece of text. Using the controller instead of the touchscreen simply isn’t an option, because it reduces your response time and accuracy to an untenable degree.
Even after navigating the vagaries of its interface, the random difficulty levels of encounters, and the miserly acquisition of cash; on the first day of every single in-game month, Ciel’s stats take a hit. That wouldn’t be so bad if it were avoidable in some way, but it’s not, and the losses can sometimes amount to more than half the gains you’ve made in that month. It’s infuriating and makes an already arduous process feel more like the labours of Sisyphus.
Then, in an additional feat of baffling sadism, your teenage daughter is required to make life-threatening field trips to the Earth’s surface, where she can uncover new items and equipment, but also potentially get seriously injured or killed, at which point it’s game over. You can patch her up if she’s just been hurt, much as you have to when her stamina accidentally hits zero during a careless week of too many activities, but doing that means buying a monumentally expensive, distinctly un-38th century healing potion.
If you can push yourself through 10 in-game years of that, you’ll be gifted with a series of static images depicting the resolution to your now 20-year-old daughter’s friendships, and a grade for each of her stats. Any sense that you might have been doing okay is instantly undone in that moment, and while you can start again bearing in mind the many harsh lessons you will have learned, the desire to do so is tempered by the fact that the gameplay boils down to a succession of unavoidable randomised punishments.
Ciel Fledge offers a complex and deep stats management task, hampered by wearying interactions that defy attempts to introduce skill and judgement. Its conversations lean heavily on characters using the a-anime s-stutter, a habit that rapidly becomes its own special form of torture, and after a simulated decade of that you get harshly graded. It’s impossible to imagine a universe where paying money to be subjected to this would be appealing.
Ciel Fledge: A Daughter Raising Simulator review summary
In Short: A gruelling and protracted stat-management simulation, with paltry interactions and stilted dialogue that’s entirely removed from the actual process of parenting.
Pros: There’s a huge range of numbers you’ll need to coax upwards, and you can at least fast-forward through the debilitatingly dull and repetitious weekly activities and dialogue.
Cons: Lifeless, unduly randomised tasks and inescapable penalties render an already grim task even more acutely unpleasant.
Formats: Nintendo Switch (reviewed) and PC
Developer: Studio Namaapa
Release Date: 21st February 2020
Age Rating: 7
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