Reviews by Aletheia Knights (PistachioPug): "Freshman Magic: Spellbooks and Tangled Sheets"

For over two years, I’ve been writing reviews of ChoiceScript games on Reddit under the name PistachioPug. I used to write as many as several per week, although the rate has tapered off significantly as I’ve started beta testing and writing for ChoiceBeat.

For most of this time, I’ve tried to keep some distance between PistachioPug and my real name, although several people from this forum have made the connection. This past year or so, however, I’ve found Reddit increasingly insufferable, so I’d like to focus my reviewing here from now on. I’ll post new reviews in this thread, while gradually moving old ones here.

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I really enjoy your reviews in ChoiceBeat so it’ll be lovely to see more of your thoughts!

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Excellent! I’m looking forward to reading your reviews.

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If It Please the Court
originally posted on Reddit

During his reign, King Louis XV of France conducted diplomacy openly, like any head of state, on behalf of his country - but he also maintained private diplomatic channels to advance his personal interests. These were referred to, when they were referred to at all, as the Secret du Roi, or “King’s Secret.” This network of agents was stationed across Europe, covertly pursuing Louis’s goals.

In If It Please the Court, D.E. Chaudron posits an arm of the Secret du Roi doing Louis’s bidding a little closer to home, under the direction of a brilliant and dedicated spymistress. In this sapphic romance game, you’ve grown up in the poor part of Paris, the illegitimate daughter of a man you’ve never met. Necessity has taught you what you need to survive these mean streets - but the aplomb with which you handle a would-be mugger has caught the eye of a woman who’s about to change your life. Under her direction, you’ll learn to hold your own among the courtiers of Versailles - and it isn’t long at all before you’re drawn into some intrigues surrounding the two forerunners to be Louis’s next official mistress.

This game is utterly delightful. It’s fun to learn the skills of spycraft and put them to use in the opulent halls of Versailles, where violent ambition seethes under a veneer of perfect etiquette. I enjoyed the subplot about uncovering my PC’s family history, although the character I was playing was too dedicated to her work to pursue this line of events as far as it could go.

The romance is wonderful. I romanced the spymistress, and we established a playfully flirty dynamic almost from the start, which became increasingly affectionate as our relationship deepened. I didn’t spend more time with the other two ROs than the plot demanded, but I look forward to getting to know them better when I play again.

The extent to which Chaudron weaves real historical figures and events into the story will make it a delightful treat for history buffs, either from the thrill of recognition as they read or the pleasure of researching afterwards. There is a little more leeway given to personal exploration of gender identity than would likely be the case in eighteenth-century France - the PC can be a trans woman or feel she doesn’t quite fit the binary, a significant minor character identifies as “neutrois” (a rare and regrettable anachronism, as that particular term wouldn’t be coined for another 250 years), and there’s at least one trans woman who can be met in passing - but perhaps less so than you might expect. (Consider the life and career of the Chevalier d’Éon, a real-life agent of the Secret du Roi, who lived and served first as a man, later as a woman, while rumors swirled and bets were made about what was really inside his trousers or under her skirts.)

If It Please the Court is a richly enjoyable game that deserves a wider audience than it’s had so far. I recommend it wholeheartedly to fans of f/f romance, as well as to Francophiles, history lovers, and those who enjoy stories about espionage or royalty and nobility - as long as they don’t mind a few flirtatious scenes along the way.

Edited to add: I just completed a second playthrough, which I found somewhat disappointing. I had three goals for my character, and I wasn’t able to complete any of them, including my intended romance, and I don’t understand why. That said, this remains an enjoyable game with a lot to offer.

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Damn, that’s a shame… You were one of the few quality content creators in reddit. I’m not shy to say that I love each and every one of your reviews and would be lying if I told you I wasn’t at all sad about this. :pleading_face:

I’m really going to miss you, Pug. You pistachio loving, Pug adoring, Formorian reading, Reviewer Extraordinare.

I don’t blame you for wanting to distance yourself with the sub—it’s definitely a place not for the feint of heart, from the 420th Wulframite-Loyalist skirimish in the comment section, the hundreds of schizo/shitposts induced from the brainrot due to the lack of content, to some of the most unapologeticly unhinged posts that can be borderline disturbing (some sincere, some joking) like the “I want Elya from ITFO to be an RO” and the Caz Fanfic—infact, heck, I’m definitely guilty of doing it too…

Cough * cough* 1500 essay on why IF authors should put Tsunderes who will crush you to the death with their thighs. cough

What I’m trying to say is… Thank you (I mean it) for all your contributions to the sub, Pug,

I’m gonna miss you. Have a very nice day and a happy New Year! (•w•)/

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Thank you so much for your kind words. You’ll be glad to hear I’m not quitting Reddit entirely, at least not yet. But I feel my true audience is here.

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So glad to hear that, those reviews were pretty much the only thing keeping me on reddit. Although now that I think about it, I’m not sure I actually installed the app again when I switched phones.

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why not have a blog? you could use one, and link it to twiddle and the forum and yada yada.

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I don’t know whether to feel flattered or apologize profusely. :joy: Anyway, I haven’t posted any reviews there in a while, so you probably haven’t missed anything.

I could, but I’m pretty sure everyone who’s interested in my reviews is already on this forum, so …

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Well holy crap. I… never connected you and PistachioPug were the same person. Enjoyed each of your posts but never crossed my mind haha.

That’s a shame. I’m still more active on Reddit usually, and it’s usually easier for me to chip in or add onto conversations, since the forum topics tend to blend in together so easily for me. But I’ll admit certain things there have gotten excessive lately. Subreddit has gotten a lot bigger then the chill, smaller group I was used to before.

Anyway, I look forward to your reviews!

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I am thankful you brought them here, @AletheiaKnights.

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You should post about these reviews on the subreddits as well. I imagine a lot of folks there would want to know there would be one central location for them.

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I just might do that when I get a chance.

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Imprisoned
originally posted on Reddit

Myth Thrazz’s Imprisoned came out over ten years ago, one of a handful of short, mostly puzzle-oriented games released under the Hosted Games label in the first couple years of its existence. The premise is simple: your PC is being held in a dungeon, accused of various crimes, and the goal is to get out or die trying.

Although it doesn’t begin to approach the quality writing, delightful worldbuilding, or beautiful complexity of Kiss from Death or The Vampire Regent, Imprisoned relies upon the same basic gameplay mechanism: once you go through the basics of creating your character, you spend most of the rest of the game choosing from among the available options of ways to spend your limited time. How best to use your time depends largely on the skills you have to start with, although some things can be accomplished more than one way. There are nearly two dozen possible endings, including multiple ways to die and multiple ways to escape.

Unfortunately, the PC never coheres into anything more than a collection of stats. Supposedly it’s possible to find out the secret behind your arrest, but that hasn’t happened any of the times I’ve played. Aside from this, the character has no backstory, no real personality traits, not even much in the way of emotions - nothing to make the reader care, beyond a desire to win the game.

I’m not a fan of the writing style. I get the feeling that the author was aiming for the kind of witty meta narrative voice that makes Choice of the Dragon so delightful, but that sort of tone is very hard to do well, and it’s not done well here. The harder the game tries to be clever, the more it just makes me cringe. It’s also apparent that English isn’t this writer’s first language; unlike some non-native speakers who have written for Hosted Games, Thrazz doesn’t attempt a level or style of writing outside the scope of his proficiency, so it’s never too hard to understand what’s going on, but a little copyediting would have gone a long way towards making the game feel polished.

The greatest flaw with this game, however, lies with its construction. For a game which revolves so completely around skill stats, it’s not always easy to discern the significance of certain answers in the character-creation stage. For one thing, although the publisher’s blurb never so much as hints at it, it’s possible to play this game as an elf or a dwarf, with consequences for abilities, relationships with other characters, and how long you can go without sleep before dying of fatigue, but you’d only find that out if you happened to choose the right answer to a question about whether your eyes are open or closed. (Later, the game will ask the PC’s attractiveness on a scale from 1-10, “in the bounds of your own race.” If you understand this to mean that what makes a dwarf attractive to another dwarf isn’t necessarily appealing to a human, this is fine, but if you’ve reached this point not knowing that there are other sapient species in this game, the implications are pretty gross.)

If this game weren’t free to win, I would be hard-pressed to think of anyone I could particularly recommend it to. There are better puzzle games out there. There are better free puzzle games, and some of them are even in ChoiceScript. But Imprisoned is fairly fun if you can see past its flaws, and with so many different endings, it definitely has plenty of replay value. If you’re looking for an undemanding, but not entirely mindless, way to pass the time, it’s worth a try.

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I can see where you’re coming from with Reddit, I think, although I have other subreddits that i quite enjoy and that are much less frustrating than at least the Hosted Games often can be.

I started checking up on both the subreddits there sort of regularly around a couple of years ago and think that at least the Hosted Games subreddit has seen a drastic drop in quality and atmosphere since then, though things are a bit better now than they were at around the middle of last year IMHO.

Too large a proportion of posts who are memes and/or discussions about the Infinity Saga or the Fallen Hero or a few other, at most, handful of series or standalones. Too much negativity, with so many posts that are mainly about people venting about how much they hate particular series or standalones. Yes, I get the need to vent from time to time, but there is such a thing as too much and when the current trend for popular HG series(and standalones) in that sub, seems to be those that either heavily favor the story aspects over the game aspects, have strong military/tactics aspects, focus a lot on MC angst or more than one of those three, someone like me, who have quite different preferences, can often feel quite alienated.

The hating on regular COGs which was quite “in vogue” earlier this year, but fortunately seems to have grown more rare, quickly started to grow quite tiresome as well, and I suspect it must have been even more tiresome and even draining for you, @AletheiaKnights. And while the constant joking around can feel refreshing from time to time, it does often leave too little room for deeper conversations and discussions. And like @NotAPenguin wrote, yes the amount of people in that subreddit clamoring for red flag ROs and, I’ll also add, the opportunity for MCs to do really evil stuff can sometimes be concerning.

Still, there is something about how the lack of writer-curated threads and the subreddits being less official than this forum allows people the opportunity to tell what they really think about the HGs and COGs, that is nice to have as an alternative to this forum. Both to get a more unfiltered impression of what people think about various HGs and COGs and to be able to share your own frustrations without really having to worry about hurting the feelings of the writer in question. And the atmosphere is more laidback there than here, which means that I personally have a lower treshold for chiming in there than I do here, which is nice. And sometimes the jokey way of looking at things can lead to some insights and surprisingly accurate observations.

But, yes, I do wish there were more posts that weren’t made specifically for fans of FH and the Infinite Saga, and the handful other subreddit favorites and more posts that went at least a little bit deeper than being an excuse to vent about HGs and COGs you don’t like or rant about your particular obsessions. If you are who I think you are (edit: I’m referring to your username on reddit), @NotAPenguin , I’d say you are one of the people there who does the most these days for ensuring that there are still interesting posts being made and interesting discussions taking place, so thank you for that.

And by the way, I’m wondering if you’re thinking of eventually posting reviews that are new also to those of us(like me) who have already read at least most of your reviews on that subreddit, @AletheiaKnights? I hope so, because, I’ve enjoyed reading the reviews that you posted there and it would be really interesting to read your reviews about other COGs and HGs apart from those

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When I talk here about my frustrations with Reddit, I’m referring to the relevant subreddits, not the entire site. I have nothing but good things to say about r/pugs, r/velvethippos, or r/bookofthemonthclub. Heck, r/choiceofgames is usually pretty decent. It’s just r/hostedgames that’s become spectacularly unpleasant. I don’t want it to be all serious all the time - I’ve joined in the joking around in the past and enjoyed it - but now it seems it’s all memes and people trying to show off how edgy they can be. And if that’s what the fans want, I’m not going to try to hold back the tide - but I can limit my exposure to the splash zone.

It helps to know I’m not alone in my frustration and disappointment. Thank you.

I definitely intend to continue writing and posting new reviews, as well as archiving (and updating) those I’ve written on Reddit - in fact, it’s likely the next review I post here will be original. So keep watching this space!

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I mean, I agree that the HG sub in particular is way heavy on the Infinity and Fallen Hero content. Wayyyyy heavy. But there’s no way to really do anything about that. These are the stories people want to talk and meme about. I tend to enforce a semi-official limit of one meme post per person per day, but beyond that the content is what y’all put out there. If folks want more posts about other games, they have to make them. If they don’t, Cazarosta haters and jokes about breaking knees will continue to reign supreme.

That’s one reason I do hope Pug will keep reviewing on there. Especially since she keeps more desolate subs like CoG and the derelict Heart’s Choice one more active. But at the same time, I can understand preferring the atmosphere here. Personally, I like both places for different reasons.

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Question. Sorry if this is something that you’ve explained on ChoiceBeat or the subreddit before, I… basically just found out about the former and the latter is kinda eesh, but in the case of series, do you do a review for each entry, or just a big one for the entire series?

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Personally, I don’t care what games people post about. I care whether mockery and harassment are the order of the day. I care whether I can find meaningful posts and comments to read instead of endless meme wars. I care whether mental illness, which has destroyed the lives of people I love, is treated as a joke.

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If I review a series here, I’ll do a separate review for each game. If I review a series for ChoiceBeat, I’ll review the whole series.

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