Independent developer Joy Manufacturing Co. have announced their debut title Ambition: A Minuet in Power for PC and Mac, which aims to combine elements of Japanese dating simulation games with a procedurally generated story, set within the realms of a dangerous and volatile political environment. The fresh and intriguing historical concept takes place in pre-Revolutionary France in the late 18th century, where you play as a young woman who decides to use the burgeoning turmoil to her own advantage.
According to the Ambition website:
Navigate the twisting social politics of pre-revolutionary Paris in a game world that’s automatically generated, and different every time you play. Court, snub and seduce your way to the top of society. Extend your influence, uncover the intrigue of the coming revolution, and ensure that you end up on the winning side of history.
As a historian and a lover of dating simulators, this concept speaks to me. Loudly. There are no shortage of games out there that one may define as a “dating simulator. ” Whether they only feature dating on the periphery of their core gameplay such as the Persona series, or dating is a core aspect of the title like Katawa Shouju, you’ve likely come across the theme in one way or another during your gaming adventures.
In Ambition you play as Yvette, a woman who has found herself stranded in Paris and mysteriously abandoned by the love of her life, Armand. Left homeless and with no other options in sight, you take control of Yvette and shmooze your way into the aristocracy, combining a mix of subterfuge and diplomacy to work the parties of The City of Light. Doing so will advance your reputation and allow Yvette to climb the social ladder and secure her position, and thus safety, within the tumultuous revolution.
The problem I find with many dating simulation games is that they are ultimately limited by their fairly restrictive scope. You can often go down multiple paths and achieve numerous endings, but the gameplay tends to be a very straightforward and repetitive formula, often set within a stereotypical environment like a school. If you’ve delved into the genre, you’ve likely gone through the motions of:
- Meet people at school
- Get to know people in class and during extracurricular activities
- Date people
- Choose the person/people you like the most
- Spend your life happily together
I’m not saying that there are inherent problems to this formula, but rather that it is exciting to see a historical and political take on a genre that has not seen many serious evolutions since the 1990s. There have certainly been some gems in the midst — thank you Hatoful Boyfriend and Dream Daddy — but there has never been anything quite like what Joy Manufacturing has put forward with A Minuet in Power.
Ambition has chosen to utilize some of the better features of the dating sim genre, such as the calendar to ensure that you plan every day according to your anticipated outcome. Your social calendar will help to make sure that you attend all of the most prestigious parties, without exhausting yourself and being unable to attend important soirées. I really like the simple yet elegant design of the calendar, as well as the apparent ability to cancel or accept which parties you want to attend, ensuring your schedule remains manageable enough to plot a conspiracy.
You can’t mingle with the elite if you’re not dressed in the finest clothes and in Ambition you collect various historically authentic outfits which will allow you to exert more influence over members of the five factions. While Joy Manufacturing haven’t mentioned exactly who these factions will be, from the calendar above we can discern that four of them are likely the Bourgeoisie, the Church, the Crown, and the Revolution. These groups are based off the actual factions which split from the Assembly in the late 18th century, including the Jacobins and the Royalists.
Once you and Yvette have secured your place within with the faction-split nobility, you can go about attempting to seduce powerful individuals from the various groups so that you can manipulate them to your own grand designs. Increasing your reputation with the factions will unlock new abilities, but it’s hard to say exactly what these will be or how they will assist your political aspirations. Not everyone will be amenable to your beguiling personality though, and you’ll have to dodge similarly-minded women and chauvinistic bourgeoisie if you want to succeed.
The team at Joy Manufacturing have proposed a procedurally generated formula that sees not only the characters and world change every game, but the outcome of the revolution and your place within it. I’m unsure exactly how the random world generation will affect the narrative and gameplay in a “dating simulation” style game, but we will likely see a different calendar of events, as well as perhaps varying balances of power between competing factions.
In addition to a gorgeous and pre-revolution appropriate cartoon art style, Joy Manufacturing have brought award-winning game composer John Robert Matz on board for Ambition, best known for his work on Fossil Echo as well as his BAFTA nominated score for Gunpoint. If you’ve heard any of Matz’ previous work, then you know you’re in for a well-composed score that will undoubtedly create an atmosphere of 18th century France in turmoil.
In lieu of the previous oft-repeated formula, Ambition has developed something much more akin to:
- Mingle with aristocracy
- Discover the Factions and learn how they can best serve your intentions through social gatherings
- Seduce powerful individuals to advance your aspirations
- Align yourself with the most prominent Faction
- Survive the French Revolution
I am personally very excited at the prospect of playing a game focused on political savviness, seduction, and manipulation set within the French Revolution and governed by the rules of traditional Japanese dating simulation games. It’s heartening to see a developer who has managed to take a genre which has remained relatively unchanged for decades, and provide such a simple but ultimately drastic change to the formula.
Ambition: A Minuet in Power will arrive on Kickstarter in September 2017, and is set for full release in Q2 2018 for PC and Mac.