You’re home alone, just going about your day when suddenly you hear a knock at your door. Suspecting nothing, you open it to a woman you’ve never seen before, accompanied by a young girl. Your new daughter, the woman says.
If this scenario makes you panic, don’t worry. Ciel Fledge, the latest game by the Indonesian developer Studio Namaapa, offers the unique opportunity to raise a daughter without the commitment of real parenthood. As a cross between visual novel, match-3 mini-games and simulation, the game allows you to extensively manage your new kid’s activities and influence the career path she will take. Let’s take a deeper dive into the game and see how this mix plays out.
As soon as we start Ciel Fledge, we get introduced to its grim setting. In the far future, humanity has been driven from the planet’s surface by the constant threat of a hostile alien lifeform, known as “Gigant”. The few bastions of civilisation remaining are a small number of so-called Arks, floating cities in the sky. With the threat of a devastating attack ever looming on the horizon, the citizens of Ark-3 nevertheless go about their days in a peaceful routine. As one of these citizens, we suddenly find ourselves as a parent when Ciel, the sole survivor of the destruction of another Ark, gets dropped on our doorstep.
Right from the beginning, our decisions directly influence Ciel’s future. From our own profession, the parenting policies we choose, to the management of our daughter’s weekly activities and even her meals, each decision will shape her path into adulthood. Just after her arrival, Ciel is pretty much an empty sheet, with no apparent preferences or skills. Whether she eventually becomes an athlete, a painter, a famous idol or something else entirely, it’s up to us to make the right choices to lead her there.
After scheduling her weekly activities, the game switches to a view of the city, where Ciel performs her tasks and might run into friends or encounters, which may start one of the many mini-games. These encounters all feature the matching of “sets” in the usual match-3 manner, often under strict time constraints. If we can master these challenges, Ciel is rewarded with bonus stats. And bonus stats are nothing to sneeze at since they can help us to more quickly advance on career paths.
This is where I ran into my first problems with the game. As Ciel starts out with really low stats, beating any of the encounter challenges early in the game is almost impossible. It takes a while to get used to the match 3-system, which at this point plays more like a series of quick-time events. The UI is not helpful since in some challenges the objective may change after each matched set – and it will only tell you the new one in the top right corner of the screen, which you may not always notice. If you’re hoping for a sense of achievement, the game won’t grant much of it early on. It does get better though, once you get used to the system and raise Ciel’s stats to a functional level.
Intercut with the management aspects of the game are a multitude of visual novel-style cutscenes, which tell us more about the world, Ciel and the characters we meet. There is an entire cast of people Ciel can befriend, each person with their own quirks and storylines. While neither the story nor the characters seem too unfamiliar if you’ve watched some animes before, both are still quite engaging and enjoyable. For the next 10 in-game years, which is how long Ciel is going to stay with us, we get to see each of them grow up and evolve in their own ways, while the fight for Ark-3’s survival is inching ever closer. Whenever the game has lulled you into the illusion that nothing bad can ever transpire in a cheerful visual novel like this, something happens that makes you reassess that impression. And Ciel, as it happens, is stuck right in the middle of it.
What shines through the whole experience while playing, is how much care and love the developers have poured into this game. There are so many activities for Ciel to unlock, so many different careers she could aim for, that in the 2 playthroughs I did, I couldn’t possibly have unlocked them all. The sheer amount of content to this game is immense, which is especially impressive when you consider that Studio Namaapa is essentially a two person-effort.
This, however, might also explain why some areas of the game may feel less polished, for example, the somewhat bland anime art style that was used. It seems pretty standard for a visual novel, but I’ve seen similar games that are visually much more appealing. While playing I got the feeling that sometimes, the need for efficiency might have come at the cost of the visual appearance of the game. Don’t let that deter you from playing though.
Something to be more aware of are the side-effects of the game’s premise. Ciel Fledge is a simulation at heart and this informs much of the gameplay. For example, we are promised that each Ciel will be unique to the player, but this is somehow misleading. True, there are many ways to customise our daughter, with a range of clothes that can be bought in the city and the skills we choose to train. But precisely because it’s up to us to choose her career and the ending of her story, Ciel herself, her personality, attitude and reaction towards events, doesn’t seem to change. She grows a little more mature over time, but we don’t get to see her come into her own as some of the other characters do.
Once you finish your first playthrough, you might want to start a new one to unlock a different ending or career path. As most of the story and dialogues up to the game’s finale stay the same, it becomes easy to neglect them altogether. At this point, it becomes impossible to ignore that most of what you do is simply grinding for stat gains. Even Ciel’s affection towards her new parent is a value that can easily be manipulated by spoiling her and giving her sweets. It becomes no different from her other stats, like strength or intelligence. The ways we get to directly interact with Ciel are also fairly limited. There are a few dialogues we can have with her, prompted by the story or our gameplay choices. For the most part, however, we only get to see Ciel interact with other people. Less than a parental figure, it becomes more and more apparent that our function is more like that of a manager.
And honestly, I was fine with that. I like grindy games if done right, which is why I’ve already poured more hours into playing Ciel Fledge than I had planned. Once I got used to the challenge system, it was fun for me to try to raise Ciel’s stats as much as I could and to grow her into a soldier with superhuman strength while also keeping her height at a tiny 1,55m. I just didn’t develop an actual emotional connection to her, as the developers might have intended.
All in all, I do recommend giving Ciel Fledge a shot if you like similar games. I certainly had a lot of fun with it and I’m usually not big on playing visual novels. Just be aware of the grind. Then again, who said raising a child was easy?