The tale of Cinderella, as most of us know it, is a Disneyfied version. It goes like this: a young woman lives in terrible living circumstances thanks to a wicked step-family, but her innate good nature and attractive looks change her fortune when a prince takes notice. The point of the story is karma, the viewer is meant to think that despite a dire situation, life sees to it that we get what we actually deserve.
Cinders is not that story. Not quite, anyway. Released this week, the atmospheric visual novel by MoaCube focuses on the women of the tale and what made them who they are. The game is about nuance, is about understanding the motivations of another human being. The developers describe it as a story about:
balancing freedom and dreams with circumstance and harsh reality; about growing up and finding out the true meaning of independence. Distancing itself from the judgmental simplicity of the original, Cinders tries to explore the more complex nature of oppression, responsibility and innocence.
Such an approach gave the story I was well acquainted with a whole new, fascinating spin. Maybe there's a reason that the 'evil stepmother' treats Cinders, the protagonist, the way she does. Maybe the stepsisters' situation isn't all that different from Cinders, and maybe they have a troubled past too.
And maybe Cinders isn't a perfect, innocent young woman, either — I had the choice of disobeying orders, sneaking out at night and even stealing from my stepmother during the demo of Cinders. Such choices allow for character development that is more refined than the Disney version of Cinderella.
The game features over one hundred such decision points (and, while I'm not sure of the difference, hundreds of options) which can lead to different endings. All of this is presented through what has to the be most gorgeous artwork I've seen on a visual novel thus far. Seriously, look at it. Kind of blows things like Katawa Shoujo out of the water, eh?
Particularly striking is the developer's choice to eschew the troubled message of the original tale — as they put it, it's "be a good girl and learn to take abuse quietly, then maybe you'll find a rich husband." It's a very 1950's way of thinking of a woman's role, which is appropriate, because the Disney version is about 60 years old. Leaving that ideology behind is an omission I can get behind.
The game can be purchased here. Those of you that want to try before you buy can find a demo there, too.