*This review is based on a preview copy and does not reflect the final build of the game.*
In a distant future, Humanity has fled to the skies to escape monsters that roam the surface of the world. When one of the last human colonies is obliterated, you are tasked with taking care of its only survivor — a young girl who may be the key to peace.
Ciel Flege is the second game from Indonesian Indie studio Namaapa and is slated for release on Feb. 21 for Steam and Switch. It is a life and management simulation game in where you are given a daughter and ten years to raise her to your best ability. You spend the majority of your time filling out her weekly schedule with classes, part-time jobs and trips down to the surface of the world. The rest of your time will be spent questioning your decisions and watching your daughter interact with the rest of the remnants of humanity.
Though this game is quite impressive for a title with a small team and a smaller budget, it is not without its criticism.
Once you start the game, you are thrown into a few cutscenes that introduce the lore and some mystery surrounding your daughter’s survival. You are then suddenly asked to choose your pronouns, background and profession. Your background and profession serve to customize your daughter’s strengths and weaknesses in specific stats, how fast she can make friends and other various factors like specific buffs in battle or faster recovery.
The issue is, as a player, you have absolutely no idea what any of this means. As the tutorial has not even begun, the player has no concept for what these five stats (six including stamina) function, let alone some of the more specialized traits that are available. The system they have is wonderful once you know what play style you prefer, but you would only know after you’ve already completed through a full play-through. This trend of throwing players into situations with no context or explanation is, unfortunately, a common occurrence throughout the game.
Until around the fifth hour of the game, the player is constantly given new factors that need to be managed and little to no elaboration on them. For example, I essentially failed my first expedition to the surface because my daughter was not at full stamina, but I was only told that expeditions use a lot of stamina as the expedition was already underway. This lack of clarity is present not only with activities, but it also occurs with equipment descriptions.
Money is incredibly difficult to manage, as nearly every class and activity cost money — the only source of which is your character working offscreen for just enough to cover meals and classes. This lack of money makes buying clothing (equipment) or items into significant investments. Each piece of clothing has some flavor text, but it does nothing to explain what stats or effects it grants outside of a two-word description such as “Comfortable Studying,” “Smart Look” or “Nice Slacks.” This makes buying most items a risk as you have not idea what they do until it’s too late.
Do you like talking to or playing with children? Then you will genuinely like the writing of nearly the entire game.
The dialogue can be simple or even predictable, but it has charm and humanity. When it comes to children, many games will paint them as mature beyond their years or give them a single personality trait for the course of their screen time. It was nice to see characters talking to your daughter with humanity, giving her responsibilities while acknowledging her limits and talking to her without talking down to her.
Your daughter is also an interesting character. Her personality can fluctuate depending on various factors, but she’s generally curious, logical and polite. She can do genuinely uncomfortable things, such as bullying an androgynous character for their pronouns and insult art pieces in front of artists, which is great at humanizing her as a character. Her interactions with the cast are genuinely refreshing, if simple at times. I only wish this attention was also given to purpose.
Once you start the game, you are lead through some awkwardly timed tutorials and left to your own devices. While this is not an uncommon direction in game design, most games will provide some direction for players to follow. Ciel Fledge hands you a child and a tiny pamphlet on how to raise said child then leaves you for ten years. The game will nudge you towards temporary goals every few years, but you largely are just told to try and raise a child into a functioning adult.
There is a vague looming threat, but the game gives you no way to address it until twenty hours in. You also are not told the requirements for the endgame careers until the last minute, so you simply have to grind stats you like until something unlocks. While some games lead you by the hand, this game points vaguely skyward and punts you into a desert with nothing but a slip of paper.
The visuals, in general, are passable. The characters are drawn in a somewhat anime style that admittedly works for most of the cast. Characters grow and change as time passes with new portraits and new costumes, which I genuinely found endearing. Less captivating are the backgrounds, which are decent but look very traced and jagged compared to the characters in front of them. Visual glitches are not uncommon, character bounce and blink animations will sometimes speed up text, and characters are often displaced and progress bars almost always jitter or wildly fluctuate. While none of these glitches persist after a reboot, the frequency in just enough to be concerning.
The gameplay is truly the highlight of this game. Once you stop stressing over the fact you know nothing, the game becomes one soothing time-sync with the occasional event. You schedule your daughter’s activities week by week. Classes improve stats and skills, part-time jobs improve your daughters earn you money at the cost of stress and rest days allow your daughter to recover stamina or visit friends.
While performing these activities or exploring the surface world, your daughter has the chance to be involved in one of four different styles of battle which all involve a match-three mini game that is one of the only intuitive systems in this game. You also have countless factors to juggle, but you can just focus on classes and the occasional exhibition and be fine.
When I was first playing this game, it felt frustrating yet familiar. Really familiar. After sitting down for a second, I realized that the concept for the game was nearly identical to the Princess Maker series. Those games center around raising a young girl into a productive member of society. The main differences between the two games lie in the art direction, specific sections of gameplay, and the more progressive attitude in Ceil Fledge. I do not think Ceil Fledge directly plagiarized, but it is safe that the game comes very close to crossing that line.
While the games have a sharp learning curve and next to no instruction, the gameplay itself is fairly absorbing and could make for a relaxing time-sync. While it has a variety of issues, the vast majority of faults are only deal-breakers for a small number of players. If you find the concept of starting a family endearing and like to manage a variety of systems, you may want to consider purchasing this game.