Today on the blog, we have an editor’s corner from SharpestRose! This is part one of a two part series!
I often say “Anybody who talks about ‘a dark twist on dating sims’ doesn’t know the first thing about what dating sims are really like.” And while otome games, visual novels, and dating sims are not necessarily exactly the same thing, the terms often overlap, and I feel like my little truism applies to Steam Prison as much as it does any other game.
I feel this because Steam Prison has a lot of the elements that people are talking about when they talk about “dating sims” in disparaging tones – a plucky heroine, struggle and misfortune, and a variety of brooding love interests to choose between as her rescuer.
Except, like I said, anybody who thinks that you need to put some kind of self-conscious “dark twist” on that before it gets interesting doesn’t know the first thing about what otome games are like.
Steam Prison is dark. One of my other lives, when I’m not a localisation editor for MangaGamer, is as a dark fantasy YA author, and so I speak from experience when I say that this game is as messy, disturbing, sad, violent, tragic, and intense as… well, as a lot of romance novels are, another genre quickly dismissed by people who don’t know what they’re talking about.
Cyrus Tistella (who can be renamed by the player) is a young police officer in the Heights, a safe, passionless world suspended far above the earth’s surface. Many years ago, floods ravaged the world, and the people of the Heights believe that the people who live on the surface exist in a world of chaos, violence and poverty.
Cyrus is required to go to the earth’s surface, known as the Depths, as part of her training, and while there she discovers that what she’s been taught is something of a half-truth — the desperation of the people of the Depths is largely caused by violent oppression from the HOUNDS, a militia force who act as jailers for the criminals banished from the Heights to the Depths for committing crimes.
The world below is a prison, but its technology has advanced far beyond that of the horses and swords of the Heights: in this prison, there’s steam power, machinery, and a terrifying new kind of weapon called guns.
The characters of Steam Prison are really great examples of a range of otome hero types. Ever since the game’s English edition was announced by MangaGamer, I’ve had a lot of fun on my twitter talking about which of the different castmembers my various friends will love the most when it comes out. I can’t wait to see whether I was right in my predictions!
As I warned at the beginning of this post, this game can get very, very dark at times, and a lot of the localisation chat between the translator and myself has been us commiserating about how punishing it can be. But that darkness doesn’t hit you out of nowhere, and one of the three main paths the story can take is literally called the “Punishment Route”. There are no easy happy endings for anyone in this story; you’ll have to earn every moment of joy you hope to find. But doesn’t that make it feel more worthwhile in the end?