Imperial Grace was one of the first VNs I ever tried, early in April of 2023. I discovered the demo through its Kickstarter and had such a good time with it that I backed the project.
In this visual novel, you play Lydia, the only living child of the emperor. She had a brother who died and the elephant in the room ever since has been her role as heir. Despite being a woman in a medieval setting with a decent dose of sexism, Lydia takes the reins after her father is assassinated. Suddenly, she has a kingdom to run, a mystery to solve, and people to win over so she can hold onto her birthright.
First of all, the demo is visually lovely. Even though it doesn't have full character sprites, the art is elegant and Western style, the backgrounds are stately, and the CGs are very pretty - and the finished version will have gorgeous full-body sprites thanks to the successful Kickstarter. By clicking the treasure chest in the upper right-hand corner, you can access the map, which helps you see where all the places you've been hearing about are located in relation to each other (and helps you further understand the political situations you deal with).
The full VN will have an animated intro and extra art because of Kickstarter stretch goals. Posters are also available via community goals that were met. They're digital files but made to print. The ones I've received so far are of the title image and each of the demo's three CGs. The CG posters are .psd files with layers intact, so you can change Lydia's appearance by choosing elements and hiding the ones you don't want to see. I really love being given that option!
The full VN is due to have 15 CGs, and given how much I love the art style, I can't wait to see the rest!
The music is nicely in keeping with the scenes. (A music gallery is present but wasn't working in the demo.) 20 tracks are planned, but I didn't see anything about a soundtrack being offered.
The demo plays a brief chiming sound every time you mouse over an option in a menu. I've encountered more VNs that do this, and I bloody hate it. It doesn't matter what the sound is, having it play every time I mouse over something drives me nuts. Since it's one of the sound effects, you can only turn it down or turn it off with all the others, which means you might miss out on other sound effects you actually want to hear.
Please, visual novel creators, please, for the love of all the gods, if you're going to play a sound when we mouse over options, let us toggle that off all by itself.
The demo has no voice acting and I didn't see any planned for the full version. While I enjoy it when it's present, I didn't miss it in the demo; I was able to imagine their voices clearly.
In addition to text speed and font choices, this demo also offers a colorblind mode. There's also a log of previous text you encountered, in case you have memory issues.
When you create your version of Lydia, you can choose her hairstyle, the color of each eye, and her skin tone, but her hair color will always be white. You also get to choose a specialty: each one grants you a bonus to certain political matters and a tutelary god. You'll have a chance to change her name to another one in homage to an ancestor, and in the full VN, it sounds like you'll get to enter one of your choosing, if you wish.
The full VN will also let you change Lydia's outfit anytime, with 20 gowns to choose from, and there will be a mini game where you have to choose the right dress for certain events. This will be optional but can net you some resources as rewards. It sounds fun to me!
This game has four love interests: three men and one woman.
Alexander, your general, is a childhood friend and utterly on your side. He's sweet nearly to a fault.
Asha, the ambassador from Isiria, comes from a kingdom with women in power and is an interesting counterpoint to your own culture. She seems to support you, if only because you'll be easier to deal with than a traditional emperor from your region - but she may actually like you as a person.
Theodore, the duke of Faraam, has an old grudge against your family and isn't inclined to play nice. He's going to be the mean one whose icy veneer you need to chip away at over time.
Last but not least is the Master of Murmurs, your spymaster, a.k.a. The Most Interesting Man in Calidya. Anytime he shows up in the demo, the situation is bound to be engaging. He'll be romanceable in a DLC, though why his mysterious and handsome self wasn't planned for romance in the main game, I'll never understand. Most of the time, he goes hooded; you're one of the few who gets to see his face. One look in his soulful eyes and you're hooked. If you can romance your general, why not the spymaster? Needless to say, I look forward to the DLC!
One of the nice things about the love interests in this game is that they're revealed a bit at a time as the days of the story pass. They aren't in every scene, but you get chances to interact with each one. No one felt like they were being forced on me. At least at the start, Lydia isn't being forced to marry and no suitor is being foisted on her, which is nice. While Theodore can be cold, he isn't completely annoying and doesn't come off as cruel. They each have reasons for acting and feeling as they do and while you don't learn all their secrets right away, the writing gives them some layers.
I don't mind irascible and mercurial characters to a degree. If a character is constantly treating the MC like crap and there doesn't seem to be a way to bring them around, I'm going to get tired of them pretty fast and I'm probably not going to want to romance them. Other people may enjoy that but I don't. I was glad there was some grace in all the LIs of Imperial Grace.
This game has a kingdom management mode that you can engage at intervals. You'll get a few actions which you can spend between overseeing resource management, deciding petitions, and handling diplomacy.
If you play on normal mode, you'll have to shepherd 7 different types of resources (people, nobility, money, faith, army, resources, and influence) into 6 areas: taxes, offerings (religious), trade, economy, army, and diplomacy. As I recall, each of the 6 areas has three settings: none, some, and high. Whichever setting you choose comes with bonuses and losses to resources. At the bottom of the screen, you can keep track of net gains in each resource category.
For instance, you can make no offerings to the churches, some offerings, or heavy tithing. The more you offer, the more money you have to spend, but it keeps the people happy and will get you more faith.
If you opt to hear petitions, you'll be presented with various scenarios in the kingdom, from the great to the small. You'll be able to choose between two or three options, some of which will cost resources to implement. Some of the choices appear to be free, but may cost you down the line as people respond negatively to your decision.
Although diplomacy wasn't available in the demo, I'm anticipating it will be engaging!
If you play in story mode, you have infinite resources to spend. You'll still have to deal with blowback and other responses to your choices, but it seems like you won't have to fiddle with the math. (I didn't play in this mode, so I can't tell you how it actually plays out.)
In addition to the kingdom management phase, you'll be asked to resolve problems as the game proceeds, from the personal to political. As with official petitions, the options you're given usually cost resources to implement and can have unintended consequences on top of the investment. From what I noticed, all of the resources required made sense.
While some side effects are negative, most weren't devastating and they didn't feel utterly unfair. There are also some achievements in the demo for failure, such as "Spare no expense," which you earn when you completely run out of money. (Or you're supposed to earn it that way; it didn't register for me.)
You can turn the erotic scenes off in the settings. While this isn't going to be a visually explicit game, as far as I'm aware, some "spicy" content is planned and though I rarely find it to be a big deal, others might. There's a full and detailed list of content that might be objectionable, but I didn't encounter anything that bothered me.
When I got done with the demo, I was treated to an overview of choices that I made, with statistics for how many others made the same decisions. That kind of data is always amusing to me.
The demo is beefy, with a decent amount of content. While you'll probably want to keep going when it's done, you get a good feel for everything and I didn't feel shorted. There are a good number of choices to be made, politically and personally, and they made enough of a difference that I did replay it a few times.
The final VN is slated to be 150,000+ words.
If you don't want to play politics, even in a fictional medieval kingdom, this probably isn't the game for you. Yes, it's also a dating sim, but Lydia's entire world is a careful balancing act and many things have political ramifications. That can sound frustrating, but with how it was presented, I enjoyed myself and didn't feel bogged down or hopelessly cornered.
The sheer number of stretch goals that were met was great to see! They're all tied to the game in some way, rather than extra projects that will take attention away from it. There will be a DLC prequel, a wedding DLC, and an extended epilogue. A cosplay guide is on the schedule, as well as a "short and easy" TTRPG guide, which is of special interest to me. That's on top of all the other goals I've mentioned above.
If this sounds like it could be your cup of tea, try the demo on Steam or itch.io. I'll be eagerly awaiting the Kickstarter rewards and the rest of the story!
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