Liberté, égalité, interactivité!

HIGH Mechanics far beyond the typical visual novel.

LOW Some pacing issues towards the end.

WTF A dirty priest with a dirty ‘stache.

Ambition: A Minuet in Power is, at base, a visual novel and dating sim set in near-Revolutionary Paris where decisions play a crucial role in how history will unfold, but the experience is buttressed by surprising depth, requiring strategic thinking lest the protagonist lose their head — literally.

The player takes on the role of Yvette Decaux as she moves from the countryside to Paris in 1789 to be with her fiancé, Baron Armand de Marbo. She soon discovers Armand is missing and is quickly drawn into the social strata (and schemes) of the Parisian elite. Will Yvette solve the mystery of her fiancé’s whereabouts or will she find a new romance among the delights of the metropolis?

There are six love interests in total, but the real draw here is the underlying political intrigue. As the campaign progresses, two major factions — Crown and Revolution — compete for power and the loyalty of three minor ones: Military, Bourgeoisie and Church.

How those power dynamics evolve is very much in the player’s hands. In my time with the game, I crafted both a new French republic and supported the continued tyranny of King Louis XVI, each with their own share of good and bad endings for poor Yvette.

The basic gameplay loop sees the player manage the newly-arrived up-and-comer’s social calendar. Some days will be spent exploring Paris, while others will be dedicated to parties or a rendezvous with a love interest. Occasionally, Yvette will need a rest in order to shave off exhaustion, which comes with its own penalties.

Although money is important for buying things and bribing, the real currency of Ambition is gossip. Varying degrees of chatter can be utilized through the local news rag to either make money or affect the factions by swaying loyalty or shifting power.

Gossip may be gained by visiting certain locations on the map, but is predominantly pilfered from parties hosted by one of the five factions. A party is ordered into several turns during which the player will typically select from several possible conversations, each with their own benefits or costs.

Every conversation is its own tactical engagement and two meters are usually at play — credibility and peril. Wear the right dress to the right party and gain credibility. Say the wrong thing and lose it. Additionally, some dialogue options are only viable with a certain amount of credibility.

Choices may also increase or decrease peril — a full bar will see a large credibility penalty and losing favor with just about everyone, and such a fall may have even more dire consequences later on.

This fine balancing act is a great dynamic as the player flits from conversation to conversation. It’s real risk vs reward — a dialogue choice may earn some powerful gossip, but the player has to weigh whether the accompanying possibility of a faux pas is worth it. It’s a level of strategic decision-making that makes this game so much more than just a text-scrolling visual novel.

That said, while the writing has its fair share of wit and charm, it’s not always extraordinarily engrossing, especially as conversations begin to repeat. By my second playthrough I was fast-clicking through nearly every dialogue, being more interested in exerting my influence on larger historical forces than the dalliances of Yvette.

One significant criticism is that towards the end of the second act, I more than once found myself in a “peril loop.” With my credibility shot, I would try to gain more by accepting party invitations, only to spend four turns at a party having the exact same conversation and, without the credibility to select a gainful option, would simply lose more credibility and gain more peril each time.

At that point there were few other options left on the map to alter my fortunes, which is part of a general pace slowdown during this section — it means earlier choices are crucial in order to avoid such a fate, but even being forced to pick from only losing options over and over again didn’t necessarily ruin the game, so much as damper its enjoyability. However, by that point the story was almost over anyway and my decisions were coming home to roost for the third and final act.

In terms of production, the art is solid, with nice flourishes on menu items and text boxes alongside pseudo-impressionistic backgrounds to give a sense of place. The character models and expressions are well-attuned to convey personality, especially the disgusting mustache on a rather salacious Italian priest. The audio features a luxurious cornucopia of period-appropriate music featuring strings, piano and other orchestral instruments. Ambient noise was also impressive — while on the Parisian streets there is a sound bed of the chattering crowd, footsteps and horse clops — go indoors and the noise is still there but muted, which is a shift that carries a real sense of movement from the street to the parlour.

Ambition is an appropriately-named title in terms of its genre – it is not without its flaws, but the overall experience is heightened by compelling core mechanics and a grandiose scope, and I recommend players take this captivating tour through 18th-century Paris to make their own history.

Rating: 8 out of 10

— Stephen Cook

Disclosures: This game is developed by Joy Manufacturing Co. and published by Iceberg Interactive. It is currently available on PC and planned for release on Switch. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PC. Approximately 10 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.

Parents: This game is not rated by the ESRB. The game includes mild sexual innuendo and some violence conveyed through text. It may not be appropriate thematically for young children.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available.

 Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: This game is conveyed entirely through text. The text cannot be altered or resized. There are no audio cues needed for gameplay. This game is fully accessible.

Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable. The primary control scheme is mouse and keyboard.

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