WARNING: This article features vague story spoilers!

As someone who grew up playing adventure point-and-click and visual novel games and rarely much ventured outside of that, I still absolutely love playing them. There’s just something special in the way someone can communicate something to you visually and in words, the extra layers it adds in both aspects, along with the choose-your-adventure kind of thing that comes with visual novels. And of course, a big chunk of visual novels… are dating sims.

If you don’t know, a dating simulator (sim for short) is usually a visual novel game where you can make different dialogue or action choices throughout the story to woo the partner of your choosing. And that’s.. Generally it. How could anyone not be into forging fake romances without all the real-life nonsense that gets in the way?? And they’re usually pretty simple, so I can blaze through them as long as I’m vaguely interested in the story or art.

Last year, a friend introduced me to a free indie game that was on Steam: Cinderella Phenomenon. It’s a pretty simple premise: witches and humans once lived in peace together, but someone started discord between the two and a spiteful faction of witches created what comes to be known as the “Fairytale Curse.” As the name implies, fairytales which were used to scorn the name of witches were used as the basis for these curses.

All of the fairytales used in the game are pretty well known, but the title character Lucette gets struck with maybe one of the most famous of them all, thanks to Disney: Cinderella. Except for Lucette, she starts off as a princess and gets demoted to being completely unknown by the townsfolk. And for someone as spunky and sharp-tongued as Lucette (the opposite of Cinderella’s Ella), she doesn’t take to it well. 

Along the way to getting rid of her curse, she learns more about the Fairytale Curse’s origins and can get close and comfortable with one of five suitors who also need to break their own curses: Rod (The Little Mermaid), Karma (Beauty & the Beast), Rumpel (Rumpelstiltskin), Fritz (Little Red Riding Hood), and Waltz (Peter Pan).

Every single route (well, except I can’t speak for Rod’s because I had negative interest in his route) was filled with drama, heart-wrenching stories, and character development for all. But what is believed to be the “true” ending really brought it all home for me.. I can’t say much without spoiling it all. But know that the fight scene is intense, and the final battle had me in tears.

Cinderella Phenomenon goes beyond the simple dating sim and actually gives us a main character who we can root for by the end of the story. She starts off rough and closed off from the world, but through a found family outside of her giant castle walls she learns to love and truly care for others. The writing fleshes out every inch of the town, why people act the way they do, and what incentive each character could have for being cursed and wanting to break it. It presents a story of “love cures all” without depending on the romance to solve everyone’s problems. It goes deeper than that, mending relationships with supporting characters along the way in addition to all the butterfly-stomach moments.

I was only able to listen to the opening song once (the singer’s a little too whiny for my taste), and the art isn’t on the level of professionally published visual novels, but I really came to love it. The CG moments are cute and helped envelope me in the game’s world – which, really, isn’t that all they need to do?

Overall, I highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in visual novels and fantasy stories. Because of the depth the story goes into it does feel a bit long at times, but getting to know and watch all of the characters grow proved incredibly worth it to me.

If you’d like to give it a try yourself, it’s completely free on Steam right now! There’s also a sequel in the works, for those who are interested in longer-running titles.