Posted On: 2021-02-15
Disclaimer: This post contains mild mechanical spoilers for the indie visual novel Long Live the Queen. While I've taken pains to avoid any plot spoilers - sometimes it's more satisfying discovering these things on your own.
As interactive narratives, games offer a means of exploring new structures and ways of telling stories. I often find myself drawn to games that do interesting things with their structure and logic, whether that's From Software's use of the "new game+" mechanic to emphasize their games' (often bleak) narrative themes, or One Shot's use of the second-person perspective and ARG-like design to foster player empathy. Of these games, perhaps the most interesting for me is Long Live the Queen - a resource-based visual novel with an underlying structure that is not only fascinating in its own right, but actually manages to make the play experience itself into a story.
In mechanical terms, Long Live the Queen involves spending in-game time (a limited resource) to raise various skills, which serve as the de-facto choices for the game: most narrative options are limited by the current skills of the main character. Many choices (particularly the default ones for having low/wrong skills) result in fatal outcomes, swiftly ending the current playthrough. Reaching a desirable ending (ie. not dead) is quite difficult, and is predicated on repeatedly attempting, failing, and learning from one's mistakes*.
Although using prior knowledge acquired across repeated failures is a common narrative tool*, Long Live the Queen brings a twist that makes it a particularly interesting example: many skill checks are, in fact, optional. Playing through with different skills may set different events in motion - making a previously lethal challenge unexpectedly disappear (while causing other, unexpected downstream consequences.) Importantly, the game does nothing to signal the absence of the expected challenge: it is up to the player, with their knowledge of prior playthroughs, to recognize something is missing**.
What I find most fascinating about this is that one can plot out the story structure for the game, not just in terms of the in-game plot of a single playthrough, but also in terms of the player's experience across all playthroughs. Confronting the truth behind what makes these events appear and disappear is the classic midpoint of the second act: in coming to understand them, the player moves from being acted upon to taking action. Where many games aim to make the player feel like a participant in a story, Long Live the Queen goes one step further by making the player actually be in a story.
Personally, I've found it quite informative to try to deconstruct how Long Live the Queen creates its stories - both those within the game and those that happen to the player themselves. Within the game, the resource-based system discourages brute forcing choices, allowing for much more variety between individual playthroughs. Outside the game, the player's relationship with their knowledge of the game advances, creating a journey of discovery. It is my hope that, through sharing my examination of an interesting narrative structure, I have inspired you to look closer too.