A long time ago, way back in 2009, I was just getting into the whole “indie game” scene. The problem was, I wasn’t super enthused about all my options. Independent games weren’t as big of a deal then as they are now. The bandwagon was only just beginning the boarding process. Besides, I liked niche games. I went searching for simulations, visual novels, and RPGs that didn’t rely on RPGmaker defaults, and was mostly coming up empty.
That’s when I learned about Science Girls, a visual novel RPG from Hanako Games and Spiky Caterpillar, and realized that Hanako Games is something special.
Of course, Science Girls isn’t where Hanako Games got its start. Founder Georgina Bensley started out in 2000, with a text adventure game she made under the name Papillon. It was a means for her to start experiment with games development, though it wasn’t her first forway into game creation. When I asked her about it, she replied, “Like many an ‘80s geek, I was always trying to make video games, even though the tools available to a kid at the time were pretty limited. So before I even got to high school I’d messed around with Story Tree and Hypercard, and after that I was trying to code on my programmable calculator during math class.”
“None of those early projects survived the machines they were written on, thank goodness.”
It was in 2005 that Bensley stepped up as Hanako Games, and released her first official project, the Princess Maker-inspired Cute Knight. While it wasn’t Hanako’s actual first game, it was the one that was picked up by other distributors, like Big Fish Games, and turned a profit.
Since then, Hanako Games has gone on to release eight PC games, with another in development. Though the genres may change, they all share one thing in common–they have a strong heroine as the star. It’s a unique situation. Bensley and her team, which usually consists of herself, Spiky Caterpillar, some freelance artists, and some beta testers, are primarily making games for women, they aren’t gender exclusive. Every single adventure, even ones with strong dating-sim elements like Magical Diary, The Royal Trap and Date Warp, could be enjoyed by any player of pretty much any age and gender.
But enough about Hanako Games’ history. You want to know about the games. That’s what’s really important, right? Especially since there’s big news surrounding the developer. Wait, you didn’t hear? Long Live the Queen, a Princess Maker-style simulation where players have to keep a princess alive to see her coronation, just got the thumbs up on Steam Greenlight.
Actually, that’s a great place to start, since Long Live the Queen is one of my favorite titles from Hanako Games. Elodie’s mother just died, and she has to stay alive until her coronation on her 15th birthday. Except, everyone wants her dead and is trying to kill her. Which means you have to train her up properly in the hopes she’ll maybe find a way to live another day, but you just never know. Especially since her emotional state plays into how well her classes go. It’s intriguing. The fact that there are adorably horrifying, chibi death portraits in a checklist showing just how you failed her almost makes you want to fail. (Of course, it’s even more satisfying if you win.)
Long Live the Queen is going to be Hanako Game’s second game on Steam. The first is Magical Diary, another Princess Maker style game that will appeal to anyone who wanted to live in a Harry Potter, magical world. The players step into the cloak of a heroine who has come to Iris Academy to learn magic, and has been dumped into Horse Hall. This young woman can choose which schools of magic to study, hoping the skills learned will be enough to pass semester exams, while also maybe romancing characters that seemed to be based on Harry Potter characters. (Donald is so a Weasley.) Magical Diary also happens to be Hanako’s best selling game, thanks to the Steam distribution.
That doesn’t mean Magical Diary is Hanako’s best. In my opinion, which you know you all totally trust, The Royal Trap is the developer’s finest endeavor. It’s a visual novel with dating sim elements, set in a matrilineal society. Our heroine, Madeleine, is a valet for Oscar, prince of Ocendawyr. Since she’s a second daughter, she won’t be inheriting her family’s fortune, and since Oscar is only a prince, his only hope to rule is to marry a princess. Which is why they’ve journeyed to a party in honor of Princess Cassidy, future queen of Gwellinor. A number of princes are attending the festivities, and the hope is that Cassidy will choose him as a suitor. Except something is amiss in Gwellinoir. There’s plenty of intrigue and Madeleine must save a kidnapped princess, clear her prince’s name, and uncover all secrets while hopefully earning a happy end for herself.
What I really love about The Royal Trap is that it seems like it’s going to be a straightforward, romantic mystery. Then, things change. Characters aren’t who they appear to be, and it does a wonderful job of exploring identity and gender roles.
With so many games, I had to ask Bensley if she has any favorites. Her answer was quite eloquent. “I get asked this question at conventions a lot. My standard answer is, the game I haven’t written yet.”
“As a game designer, your imagination is always getting caught up in the amazing new idea waiting just over the horizon that you haven’t had time to build yet. And of course, since that’s just an idea, in your mind it will be perfect and all the compromises and hard work necessary to make it come to life aren’t taken into consideration. Since I’m an indie and can make whatever game I like rather than having to work on what someone else has ordered me to, any game I release was at some point the most amazing idea I’d ever had. There’s something I love about all of my projects, and that’s what carried me through building them. But by the time they’re finished I’ve always got another idea that I desperately want to work on. It’s just the way my mind works.”
Which brings us to what’s coming next. Hanako Games’ next title is Black Closet. It is an RPG adventure, with romantic elements, starring a young woman at an all-girl’s school. She’s a powerful figure in the school, and must find and recruit minions to investigate randomly generated mysteries and cover them up, to ensure your rule is never questioned and you rein supreme.
Each situation will be different, so you can’t just play according to a guide. Not to mention, it’s in your best interests to treat your minions well to ensure their loyalty. In Bensley’s own words, “So technically, you’re playing upper-class schoolgirl, lesbian secret police.”
If all this got you interested in Hanako Games, you can visit the developer’s official website, grab Magical Diary on Steam, or keep an eye on Long Live the Queen. If you want to offer even more support, both Science Girls and Date Warp are also hoping to get the Greenlight.