Reigns Proves You Don’t Need Complexity For A Great Narrative

Reigns Proves You Don’t Need Complexity For A Great Narrative
Image: Reigns: Her Majesty

In Reigns advancing the narrative is a simple matter of a yes or no answer. No complications, no tricks — just simple choices. It might be the best narrative game I’ve played in years.

Stumbling onto a new game that surprises you is a great feeling, and uncovering the entire Reigns franchise (with an assist from Apple Arcade) felt like a real revelation. So far, there are three games in the series: Reigns, Reigns: Her Majesty and a Game of Thrones-themed spin-off.

The base games each follow a ruler as they make essential decisions for their respective kingdoms. Some involve deciding between supporting the church or the army, while others concern the will of the people, expeditions into new lands or ancient prophecies in need of solving. Giving players binary choices means making difficult compromises for the sake of your kingdom. But it also means watching a dense narrative unfold in incredibly clever ways.

Reigns is about a king tricking death to avoid destiny, while Reigns: Her Majesty is about a Queen overcoming conspiracy to create a prosperous land.

Both rely on simple choices, but their structure hides a beautiful, sprawling narrative.

Image: Reigns: Her Majesty

If you fail to achieve balance in your kingdom by giving one faction too much attention, you risk your land falling into ruin. But death unlocks new opportunities as each generation of royalty advances. See, while you’re making decisions in Reigns, deeper threads are at work.

One decision may unmask a traitor down the line, while another could ultimately bankrupt your kingdom, have you locked in a tower, or lead your army to war. The games are filled with simple decisions, but major ripples — and each decision you make could impact the longevity of your reign.

For example: if you take the blue mushrooms offered in your local forest, the entire reign of your ruler will be impacted. Advisors will sprout bunny ears. Text will be garbled, and a strange sense of unease will settle over your kingdom.

Likewise, if you choose to let a vampire into your bedchamber, you’ll slowly be overcome by an odd thirst and turn on your people until the villagers hunt you down and kill you.

Image: Reigns: Her Majesty

Each reign can pass you by in the blink of an eye, but what really makes Reigns a joy is the underlying narrative threads that guide your journey.

The primary goal of the game is to make sure your kingdom remains balanced and fair, but each game also presents you with an Eldritch mystery to solve.

For example, in Reigns, you’re haunted by a demonic spirit that demands blood over the centuries. But as you court advisors and journey on quests, you’ll uncover a way to defeat it. As your timeline advances, you must learn the means to trick the devil, and solving the mystery requires quick thinking and a centuries-long puzzle. It’s not hard per se, but it does require you to make bolder choices, journey further and ensure your kingdom long enough to defeat the devil.

The way the Reigns is structured means the final narrative reveal is both beautiful and earned. And while the game initially feels like a simple yes/no adventure, the unfolding narrative is ingenious. Beyond being a clever twist on the narrative game genre, the structure of the game means your kingdom feels personal. Your choices feel important.

It’s a twist that deserves to be implemented in more narrative adventures. Arkham Horror is one franchise I can see adopting the formula. The Witcher could also make for a great spin-off. The potential here is limitless and makes me so excited for the future of the franchise.

The simple narrative structure of the games is just mind-blowing and I’m so glad I discovered the series. It deserves all the attention it gets — and if you’ve never checked it out, now’s the time to dive in.

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