Blind ambition is dangerous. Overreaching can get people you care about or yourself killed. Underachieving can leave you in a position worse than death. It not only applies to the the situation people face in-game in Palais de Reine, but to the title itself. There is so much going on here and so many potential relationships to manage that it is easy to falter. Which, when a crown is on the line or the attention of potential players is at stake, can mean everything.
Filia is the only remaining member of the royal family. Her father is dead. Her brother has disappeared. She was never prepared for the task of ruling a kingdom, but is thrust into the position. Naturally, some of her father’s former retainers have their doubts and one particularly loathsome one, Diektor, would marry the princess, have a child with her, and rule on his own. His adopted ward and childhood friend of the princess, Astrud, suggests a year long trial akin to the one used in the past to determine who was worthy to rule. So Filia, Diektor, and perhaps even other contenders find themselves vying for the lords’ support in the Trial of Kings to gain a majority and rule.
Success in Palais de Reine comes by balancing multiple fronts. This is a visual novel paired with kingdom management and territory domination. You start with a limited number of funds, which can be altered through taxing the citizens, altering your budgets, or borrowing from the very lords you’re trying to win over. You initially have three knights out of 18, with some “secret” figures eventually appearing. Before each Strategy Phase, you can explore your castle learning secrets, buying items, finding potential gifts, and checking on relationships.
During the Strategy Phase, you determine what Filia and each of her knights do. As ruler, she has some unique actions, like giving gifts, ordering assassinations, training knights, or summoning knights. Likewise, her knights are her agents in the field, with up to one in every part of the kingdom operating, taking part in duels, convincing other knights to join up, exploring, or suppressing hostile forces. Each territory’s allegiances can change depending on how Filia responds to current events and her kingdom management plan, and different meetings or encounters can occur to open up potential plotlines.
And what potential threads there are to follow. The scale of this game is extraordinary. There are so many knights and nobles of both genders (there are more male than female romance options by far), with many romantic options. So if you want to go for love, you can woo suitors. Though, there is also an assassinate option and permadeath can be an option for nights, which lends an added sense of weight. Especially if you spend multiple phases sending gifts to one noble, only to have him turn you down and not commit himself to your cause. It isn’t an exaggeration to essentially say if a person has a portrait, then they have a story to tell. Even the most nondescript person, like Hughes, can be fascinating if you put the time into getting to know them. Especially since these are occasionally mature stories that don’t always go where you’d expect them to.
Especially since Palais de Reine has such a distinctive art direction and style. Anyone familiar with Otomate games will admit it isn’t an exaggeration to say sometimes these potential love interests and friends all have the same look. Here, we have people of different ages, races, body types, and even species. I will admit I was a bit concerned when I saw Neufchateau for the first time and was worried about his portrayal. (Especially since he’s billed as being a foreigner unfamiliar with the language.) Then I realized he’s one of the strongest knights in the game, pursued him, and was pleasantly surprised by his depiction.
Which, by the way, you’ll want. Going with characters who seem cute is nice and all, but Palais de Reine is a game that doesn’t fool around even on its Normal difficulty. (Normal and Hard options are available.) You will often be strapped for cash. Situations will pile up. Unexpected story events will occur. You will want a Neufchateau or Walther on your side.
Palais de Reine’s greatest failings seem to be a byproduct of its age. The systems aren’t exactly user-friendly and properly managing a kingdom during the Strategy Phase means going through menus, double checking territories, keeping notes on which regions might need particular assistance, and perhaps even doubling back to the tutorials in Winfried’s office. (Winfried can offer his “assistance,” but he doesn’t make the wisest suggestions.) When you are picking your first three knights, you see their prices and a vague description, but you don’t really have a good assessment of their abilities until you’re in the Strategy Phase. When exploring the castle during a break between phases, you don’t know who might be at certain rooms until you visit. Working out controls can be a process of trial and error. (Ctrl skips text, by the way.) This is a game from 2006, and it feels like a game from 2006.
There is also a rather notable display bug. Palais de Reine draws from your PC’s scale and layout setting. If you have a 1920×1080 resolution and 125% scale, for example, the game will be zoomed in and unplayable. Each session involved remembering to go to my settings, alter them, play, and then restore my defaults. Call it the price to pay to take a peek back in time.
Which is the best way to put it. I haven’t played any otome game like Palais de Reine before. It is a wholly unique and fascinating experience. I very much appreciate that it not only exists, but is available in English. And yes, once I finished an initial (disastrous) run and came back better prepared, I thoroughly enjoyed myself. There’s an incredible amount of depth and nuance. However, getting to it involves an investment only the most dedicated might commit to.