Ciel Fledge is a strange game. It takes a wholesome child-raising simulator and combines it with a grim undercurrent of warfare, mystery, and loss in a science fiction setting. Unfortunately, this makes it sound more intriguing than it actually is, but there are some genuinely positive points to it, too.
Narrative and Aesthetics
The narrative of the game focuses on a 30th Century Science Fiction setting, where you live on an “Ark” that floats in the sky, reminiscent of Cloud City in Star Wars. Humankind is currently at war with some sort of creature known as the “Gigant.” During all of this, an amnesiac child is found on the surface of the planet below the Ark, and it is decided that your character will become her parent until she reaches adulthood. During the course of the story you must book Ciel’s schedule, choosing which activities she should focus on, which characters she should socialize with, and even what she does on her holidays. You – the parent – will also have a chance to converse with Ciel directly, which can be interesting but is, sadly, underutilized.
Ciel ends up interacting with a lot of characters as the game goes on. As you get to know each them, new scenes will update you on how they are doing, and how Ciel feels about them in general. My personal favorites were Amira (a military officer that can also play the violin to an expert level), Zahra (one of the more humanized and interesting adults), Becky (a girl who cherishes her guns), Erkin (a pilot that becomes significant to the plot), and Eli (an enigmatic ally). Unfortunately, I feel as if these characters aren’t necessarily allowed to shine as much as they could thanks to the slow pacing, and the sometimes bland execution, of the writing. Exchanges between characters sometimes feel a bit too sweet and straightforward, lacking the edge that you see in the warfare bits of the plot. There are also numerous spelling errors throughout the dialogue sequences.
Unfortunately, the warfare element has its own problems. When it comes to stories, I usually prefer character material over plot, but on this occasion I felt like the plot was actually more interesting; it promised the edge and drama that was often missing from the social scenes. Unfortunately, the pacing of the game – where you play through ten years of Ciel’s life, going through pretty much every single week of every month – is so slow that it all results in frustration. Almost nothing is revealed until near the end of the game, and even when I finished, I was still puzzled by things that weren’t really elaborated upon. This, to be fair, may be because I received the “wrong” ending, as there is a certain choice at the end which seems to lead you to one of two significantly different scenarios.
The visuals are fairly basic, but serviceable — it only feels a little crude when the still character models move around during scenes. A nice touch is that the things you can buy for Ciel to wear actually show up on her character model. The music is decent enough, with some catchy piano work.
The subjects Ciel pursues each week are in your hands. Scheduling activities, like gym class, philosophy, music, and what to do with free time, all while balancing it with some rest days insures that Ciel does not become overworked, or ill, as a result. Once the week actually starts, you will see Ciel (in a sort of stylized, tiny form) going about her activities, and you will sometimes see her having conversations with the other characters.
Every now and then, you will get an opportunity to engage in the actual activity she attempts (like a class on meditation). If you accept when this notification comes up, you will find yourself in a kind of strategy battle which works via a color-linking system that can be shuffled. To succeed, you will often have to continually link three of these colors before the timer runs out – basically, a match-three game – or an opponent beats you. Special abilities can also be learned as you play, but I didn’t find them to be particularly useful.
As previously mentioned, pacing is the real issue here. Planning years worth of activities for Ciel, down to every individual month and week, can wear you down quickly. At one point, I decided to just use the fast-forward option during the week activities; this helped a bit, but the process still felt frustrating. As I neared the end, I felt like begging the game to just move quicker — if not for this review, I don’t think I could have even made it to the end. This makes it sound like the game is terrible, but it really isn’t — there are plenty of nice bits here and there, and the actual mechanics are adequate, but the pacing just didn’t work for me. That said, I’m certain some players may like this sort of approach to the pacing.
One thing you must pay attention to – not immediately obvious from the outset – is Ciel’s affection meter, which allows you to choose between certain actions during significant story moments. The unfortunate truth is you won’t have a choice at all if you end up lacking the proper affection. On one hand, this mechanic can deny your chances to fully explore the story, but it can also be a boon should you be one that struggles with making really tough decisions. If you’re the type that believes these difficult decisions should be in the hands of the player, you’re going to be disappointed if you don’t build up the required affection beforehand.
Ciel Fledge has too many issues to be considered a “good” game, but it’s not necessarily bad enough to pass over entirely. There is an innocent quality to it that some may find endearing; I still felt a little melancholic over seeing my character’s daughter – as an adult – leaving home, despite the issues (notably pacing) that led me to the conclusion. Consider giving it a try, but just be sure to prepare for lots of potential frustration along the way.