When it comes to simulations in which people find themselves bringing up actual people, there needs to be a delicate balance. Too much involvement can get tedious, since it can require you to get over-involved in the characters’ lives. (Helicopter parenting is exhausting, y’all.) It takes a certain sort of schedule, like the ones found in Princess Maker or The Idolmaster, that swiftly go through a week at a time to keep things both breezy and engaging. While Ciel Fledge has a lot going for it, the game also tends to get bogged down in tedium and distracted from an honestly great premise.
Ciel Fledge is set in a future where the surface of the planet is post-apocalyptic and dangerous to the point where few inhabit it. Instead, people have taken to living in Arks, cities in the sky that are untouched by the devastation from GIGANT aliens below. But even these aren’t entirely safe, as the game begins with a devastating blow. Ark 5 was destroyed, and people from Ark 3 sent a salvage mission to the planet below. An amnesiac 10-year-old girl was found. Players, Ark citizens who can choose from a variety of starting traits that will influence their new daughter, are tasked with raising her until she’s 18.
As you would expect from a simulation where you’re raising a kid, you dictate a lot of Ciel’s life. You choose her clothing. You decide if you give her certain snacks or items to boost her performance during the week. She won’t take on certain minigame challenge battles unless you agree. Who she socializes with is up to you. Which classes she attends too, as well as eventually the jobs she takes. Except unlike games like Princess Maker or The Idolmaster, this isn’t a week by week process, where your choice decides what she does for a while week or you can even plot out a month. You are actually scheduling the events for each day of the week, then watching that play out, then scheduling again, and then going through the next week.
Also, unlike the other contemporaries, Ciel’s mood, stamina, and stress dip faster than you might expect. This forces you to spend money you might not have on snacks or burn days on her just resting, even if you have deadlines like attempting to get her 100 points of intelligence and 100 points of strength before sending her down on a mandatory field trip to the planet’s surface within the next ten months. But you can’t actually buy or give food right away, because Ciel Fledge’s pacing is off. Which means it can be about an hour and a half into it before you can even go shopping. To compare, Princess Maker and The Idolmaster both allow this almost immediately. And, since you’re watching her little chibi avatar run around the map all week, you see those bars dwindle down and even her ditch activities.
Speaking things being sapped, sometimes skills just… drop in Ciel Fledge. This can happen due to illness, but I’ve noticed there can be a week when she’s a little more moody and low-energy than usual. Once it’s over, I get a note saying certain stats, like charm or intelligence, have weakened by 2-5 points. Sometimes, that message comes up even when she’s not stressed and her mood and stamina seem fine. Considering she’ll sometimes only earn 5 points in a stat in the early going, that can be a hit you don’t need. Especially when you’re watching all of these happen so slowly and the months trickle by. (Skipping does speed things up, but you’re still seeing things happen one week at a time.) And heaven forbid she does get sick, something that can happen easily if you mess up one of the random battle Encounters, as a Quick-Cure Potion costs 29,997 credits.
Which is a shame, because Ciel Fledge does some cool things and has the sort of ambiance that would make someone want to go through it. Like it lets you pick who she hangs out with, which is a neat idea. It also adds new classes depending on knowledge and ability levels. Plus, there are all these questions. Who are these GIGANT aliens? What did happen to Ark 5? Who is Ciel and why does she have an ability that lets her basically slow time to a crawl during Encounter battles and take advantage of a situation? Why are people in power secretive about certain things on the Ark? It makes you want to know, but because the balance is off and there are pacing issues, I could see some people falling short and burning out on it.
The thing about Ciel Fledge is that it has a good idea to it. It even has an interesting story too. The trappings have so much potential. But when it comes to actually playing through it, it really feels like it is taking eight years until Ciel grows up. It takes so long to make progress and setbacks that steal away stats for the most minor of reasons can hit you hard when you see yourself getting so close to different Focus Tree milestones marking progress in certain subjects and stats.
Ciel Fledge is available for the Nintendo Switch and PC.