Once upon a time in a faraway kingdom there lived a man named Wood and his precious daughter whom he called Rose. Wood’s wife had unfortunately passed years prior, leaving him to take care of his daughter by himself. Although Wood and Rose missed the person who made their family whole, the two of them created a home filled with love and laughter. As the years flew by, the little girl grew happily and healthily under Wood’s dutiful care, learning how to read, paint, explore, and protect herself and the ones she loved. All things considered, Wood and Rose had a picture perfect life; now, at age 12, Rose stands at a crossroads. Which path will she choose for herself? Which lord shall she swear allegiance to? Will she pursue the arts, the sword, or a more scholarly route? And who will have her hand in marriage — if anyone?
Whatever Rose chooses in life, it will be thanks to the actions Wood takes in Volcano Princess, an RPG with visual novel elements that has completely taken over my life for the past week (I’m 40 hours in and still feel like I’m only scratching the surface). Developed by Egg Hatcher and published by Gamera Games, Volcano Princess is described on its Steam page as “an all-new parenting-simulator-RPG adventure, where every decision you make will not only affect the future of your daughter but that of an entire empire!” And with an Overwhelmingly Positive rating from 11,000+ reviewers about a month after launch, it’s clear that Rose and Wood’s story is one that has certainly resonated with players everywhere.
Volcano Princess has players taking on the role of Wood and (arguably indirectly) Rose as the pair navigate her childhood, starting at age 5 and culminating with her graduation ceremony at age 18. As they live in a fantasy setting, preparing Rose for adulthood includes teaching her swordsmanship, archery, horseback riding, painting, music composition, acting, reading, traditions, religion, and much, much more. With something like 64 different job endings to unlock after hours upon hours of gameplay combined with 20+ romance endings, it’s pretty clear that Rose’s life path is really anyone’s guess from the moment she was born. Do you have what it takes to raise a kind, gentle, intelligent, and just daughter all by yourself?
Rose and Wood’s world mostly consists of a few key areas that have different tasks to perform throughout the day, such as fishing, farming, cooking, working part-time jobs, performing in the theatre, and so much more. Where Rose goes and what she chooses to do will largely depend on which lord she’s aligned herself with upon entering the academy — will she choose the heroic fighting lord, Lebsa? Perhaps the more cerebral lord, Bryan? Or will she pick the cultured Princess Gwyneth? Whichever one she chooses will set her on her career path from then on out, focusing on combat, culture, or more scholarly pursuits; for example, siding with Princess Gwyneth will see less emphasis on hunting demons or horse racing and more on attending lavish banquets and mastering the arts. This means Rose will more frequently be found in the town square where a lot of these activities can be found instead of in the dangerous forest or a dark, seedy alleyway. Whichever path Rose ends up choosing, be sure to commit as best you can — after all, kids grow up so fast, and Rose is no exception.
As I sit here trying to debrief from the literal haze that has been my 40+ hours with this game, I find I can isolate a few key points that make Volcano Princess so addicting. First is the aesthetics, which are very well done on pretty much all levels. The art style is not only cute but high quality, the music ranges from soothingly sweet to kinda creepy (necessary for the area, I promise), and there’s just enough on-screen to be interesting without being overwhelming. Additionally, Volcano Princess’s balance is so perfectly fine-tuned that you really have to pay attention to every last action that Rose takes to ensure the most optimal run. As each action costs action points, and as Rose only has a limited amount each turn, it’s critical to plan out Rose’s actions in both the immediate and the long-term, making for a surprisingly deep strategic experience. On your first run, this balance is perhaps more punishing than one would like for a game about raising an adorable daughter, but the New Game+ attribute boost makes the next few attempts far more enjoyable.
One of Volcano Princess’s best strengths — its story — is unfortunately hampered by a clunky English localization effort. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve seen worse, but there were too many parts in Volcano Princess that were either too difficult to understand or conveyed the information in such a clumsy way that any emotional delivery was completely undermined. This meant that the 10+ hour runs were met with a weird half-satisfying/half-unsatisfying hodge podge of endings that made sense in the big picture but lost me on the details. I don’t regret the time that I spent with Volcano Princess in the slightest (and if I’m being honest, I’ll probably keep playing it for a few more days), but I am sad that I can’t give this game the higher score it deserves until the localization is fixed.
Volcano Princess is definitely one of the more addictingly fun games I’ve played in recent memory. It has that same “one more turn” kind of feel that got me hooked on the likes of Civilization and other strategy games of its caliber. Although I wish there had been more effort put into the English localization because the story deserves to shine as much as the rest of the game, the clunky translation didn’t stop me from pouring 40+ hours into it. If you’re looking for a very sweet but surprisingly deep (and absolutely addicting) experience, Volcano Princess could use your careful guidance to reach its full potential.