Imperial Grace (Demo) | First Impressions | Game Review

Love has the power to make or break your empire in ‘Imperial Grace’ – an indie otome game by Synstoria. Play as the newly-crowned Empress of Calydia as you balance proving your worth to your country and indulging in the love of a lifetime…

Currently, there is a free demo available for ‘Imperial Grace’ on Steam and itch.io – with an estimated release date of Winter 2023. If you’re interested in the game, you can wishlist it on Steam, check out Synstoria’s website, and follow them on Twitter and Tumblr for all the latest news and updates.

Game Name: Imperial Grace (Demo)
Developer: Synstoria
Publisher: Abiding Bridge
Platform: Steam, itch.io
Age Rating: TBA*
More information: here!

*Age Rating: The developers have advised the game contains ‘mature content’, including adult scenes and heavy topics. For more information, Synstoria have provided a full list of content warnings, which can be viewed: here.

Premise

You’re the freshly-crowned Empress of a patriarchal nation who’s fought tooth and nail to prove she’s worthy of running the country. Finally, you have your chance to show everyone you’re just as capable as any male ruler, but it turns out there’s a lot more going on in the shadows than you knew…

In order to bring peace and prosperity to your nation, you must navigate treacherous plots and courtly intrigue, all while effectively managing your nation’s resources. Of course, there’s also your budding romance to cultivate – and keep in mind that every relationship you foster has the potential to make or break your tenuous rule.

“During your reign, you will face many difficult choices, which can dramatically change the future of Calidya as well as your own destiny. You may even find love in difficult times, but be careful: love can equally help you overcome the perils you face and get in the way of your duty…”

– ‘Imperial Grace’ Game Description

The demo doesn’t delve too deeply into the plot, so the juicier parts of the romantic stories are yet to come, but I still recommend playing the demo to get a feel for the gameplay mechanics and overall experience. It’s a great way to figure out if the full game will suit your tastes, and the initial plot hooks introduced in these opening chapters have already captured my interest, leaving me dying to read more…

In terms of first impressions, I was immediately captivated by the stunning artwork. The calligraphic font and dark, rich colour palette all contribute to the dramatic, regal tone of the game – effectively establishing an atmosphere that heightens the impact of the story, and enables players to fully immerse themselves in the intriguing, medieval setting.

I personally love fantasy and historical fiction, so a medieval otome game is right up my alley, and I love nation-building games like Crusader Kings and Civilization – so I particularly enjoyed the incorporation of resource management gameplay, including setting your policies (such as taxes and trade regulations), and answering the petitions of your subjects.

There are many opportunities to make choices that affect not only the outcome of the story, but also the prosperity of your country – so players who like to deeply immerse themselves in a highly customizable and personalised playthrough will definitely enjoy this aspect of ‘Imperial Grace’.

When you start the game, you’ll be prompted to choose between ‘normal’ and ‘story’ mode – this lets you choose whether you want to focus on immersing yourself in the story, or incorporate an extra layer of strategy to your gameplay.

However, players who would prefer to focus on the narrative and not feel bogged down by resources and strategizing can also enjoy the game. There’s a ‘story mode’ that gives you infinite amounts of each resource – meaning you can make whichever player choices you like, regardless of the cost – and you have the option to skip the ‘action’ step between story parts, so there’s no need to engage with any of the gameplay mechanics if you prefer.

That being said, playing through some of the petitions made the main story more enjoyable for me, as they provided a context for certain scenes and references that made these side-missions feel more intrinsic to the overall game, rather than an added layer of gameplay that exists simply for the sake of it.

Personally, I’d recommend trying out the resource management aspect at first – if it’s not your cup of tea, you can always choose ‘story mode’ in your next playthrough.

Game Trailer

Characters

Imperial Grace has three potential love interests: Your loyal and attentive general, Alexander; the outgoing foreign diplomat, Asha; and the rude, moody Duke, Théodore.

There’s plenty of variety between the romanceable cast, but part of me does hope that some of the side characters are added later, even if they have to be paid DLC…. By which I mean: please make the Master of Murmurs a love interest, Synstoria – it’s very rude to make him so hot and then not let me date him (he even has an eyebrow scar!!).

Main Character (MC)

Name: Customizable (Default: Lydia)
Pronouns: She/Her
Appearance: Customizable (several hairstyles, skin colours, and eye colour combinations to choose from)

One of the main features advertised by the developers is the protagonist – who they describe as ‘strong-willed, competent, and ambitious’. These are pretty accurate descriptions, from what I can tell by the demo so far, and I’m always happy to play main characters who break the stereotypical mould.

It’s worth noting that the story available in the demo is only the beginning, so it’s likely that Imperial Grace’s MC will experience a character growth arc in the full version of the game. It’s a little difficult to comment properly on her personality at this stage, but so far I’m enjoying the change of pace, and I’m interested to see where the story goes from here.

I will say that, in these initial chapters, there were a few moments where I felt she came across as a little self-righteous, but everything she said and did made sense for her character and the environment she has grown up in. She is royal, after all, and her job demands that she be regal and composed at all times – never showing any weakness, and often having to re-assert her authority when she’s underestimated due to her gender.

Overall, however, I loved playing an intelligent, witty, competent protagonist. She’s not so overly-skilled that she feels un-realistic – but she can hold her own in any given situation, and the fact that the other characters defer to her isn’t because they’re inexplicably in love with her, but because she’s proven herself to be a dependable leader.

I also liked that her pride was sometimes expressed in a cute, tsundere way, not just an impressive, elegant (or even arrogant) way. It added a more down-to-earth charm that grounded some of the more regal aspects of her design that may otherwise have made her too distant and unrelatable for the audience.

In short, the protagonist of Imperial Grace is a nuanced, intriguing character in her own right, and I’m excited to see how she grows as the story progresses.

Alexander

Name: Alexander
Pronouns: He/Him
Tropes: Childhood friend / Puppy BF
Dynamic with MC: Sweet, optimistic, and entirely devoted to you.

In a setting rife with court conspiracies and exhausting social pretences, your reliable childhood friend and loyal general, Alexander, is a breathe of fresh air – with his awkward charm and casual, established dynamic. After a night of buttering up sexist nobles, it’s cathartic to step outside with your bestie, relax a little, and be yourself.

Alexander seems like the sweet, energetic type that I affectionately call ‘Puppy BF’ – in that they’re loyal and affectionate, like a puppy. I felt like I spend the least time with him in the demo, so I’m interested to see how his romance with the protagonist progresses (and how it impacts the story), particularly as they already have a comfortable relationship as friends.

Asha

Name: Asha
Pronouns: She/Her
Tropes: Flirt / Trickster(?)
Dynamic with MC: Charming, flirtatious (and mysterious) diplomat, who MC finds intriguing.

I picked Asha first because I felt more drawn to her during the character’s introductory scenes, and I was not disappointed. She’s the only one of the three love interests to explicitly flirt with the protagonist in the demo, and the conflicting reports of her character have definitely piqued my interest.

Again, as this is just the beginning of the story, it’s difficult to tell where the plot hooks will lead, but I liked that her emotional connection with MC felt real, as they bonded over their shared experiences and similar values. I got the sense that there’s more going on beneath the surface, and Asha’s intentions aren’t completely clear, so I’m excited to read more of her story in the full release.

Théodore

Name: Théodore
Pronouns: He/Him
Tropes: Kuudere / Broody Boy
Dynamic with MC: Both of them are proud and competitive, so they argue a lot and challenge each other – yet still share a mutual understanding (even if they would never admit it).

As soon as this rude boy walked in and started being all terse and arrogant I knew he was going to be my new problematic fave. Although, to be fair, he has perfectly understandable reasons for being hostile towards MC, so maybe he’s less problematic and more just a straight-up fave.

I love this kind of adversarial dynamic – where the protagonist and love interest bicker and banter and continually try to one-up each other – and I particularly love it when MC gives as good as she gets (as she does here). I did feel that his behaviour was bordering on treasonous at times, but MC seemed to be more wrapped up in the passion of their conversation than offended and threatening to send him to the dungeons.

I’m also curious to see how his relationship with the protagonist affects their political situation, as his backstory and its political implications were the most developed across the demo. I get the feeling that this story will dive into some interesting social commentary, and I’m interested to see where the plot goes from here.

Side Characters

Story

“Crowned Empress after the death of your father, you must show the world that a woman is fit to restore the Calidya Empire to its former glory. Wisely manage your alliances, your kingdom’s resources, and your heart’s inclinations to survive your first year of ruling…”

– ‘Imperial Grace’ (itch.io page)

The demo features Chapters 0 and 1, which is just enough to get a feel for the premise, gameplay, tone, and major characters. Several plot hooks are dropped in these introductory scenes, so there’s plenty of intrigue to capture your interest and leave you waiting for more.

Unfortunately, the limited scope of a demo means that most of the initial conflict isn’t yet resolved – but the fact that I’m so keen to read more shows how entertaining the game is already, even in these early stages. I particularly like how the choices you make affect not only your relationship with other characters, but also the state of your country.

I do think that, because of the lack of story progression, the demo comes off as being a bit gameplay-heavy, especially if you’re more used to narrative-only visual novels. This is mostly due to the fact that the tutorials for the policy and petition features are incorporated into the demo, so a lot of attention ends up being spent on learning the ropes, even if this would feel less prominent with a full game’s worth of story to balance it out.

However, as is typical with most games, once you get past the initial tutorial stage, the focus will shift away from learning new mechanics, and more towards enjoying the story as it unfolds. If you’re an otome player who prefers plot heavy games with little to no other gameplay mechanics, try not to be put off by the resource management aspects if they seem a bit too much on the beginning. They’re essentially optional as it is, and they’ll fade into the background more as you progress through the game after its full release.

Gameplay

‘Imperial Grace’ features all the visual novel staples, along with some optional resource management mechanics that affect not only the story outcomes, but also the player choices you have access to. There are also several accessibility settings that can be accessed via the main menu, so it’s worth playing around with some of the preferences to optimise your gameplay experience.

You can also switch between French and English, which is a great excuse for me to practise my French!

In regards to the resource management aspect, some player choices can only be selected if you spend a certain number of resources. If you play in ‘normal’ mode, you’ll need to pay attention to your policies and answer petitions in order to gather the resources you need to cover the costs of these player choices.

However, you’re also prompted to choose a specialty at the beginning of the game – when you’re customising your protagonist – so you can always pick policies and player options that align with your chosen focus, if you’re not too fussed about maximising resources for strategic purposes, and would rather roleplay your choices.

Alternatively, you can opt to play in ‘story’ mode, which provides you with unlimited resources, allowing you to pick whichever player choice your heart desires, regardless of any policies or petitions. You can also skip these ‘action’ phases of the game, so there’s no need to engage with anything other than the main story, if you prefer.

I love the idea of making different layers of the game optional, as it makes the experience more accessible for different types of players. I personally enjoyed these added gameplay features, as it helped me to feel more immersed in the setting from MC’s perspective as Empress and ruler of a nation, not just the protagonist of a romance story.

However, there are plenty of otome and visual novel fans who would rather read a story without needing to strategist or engage with other mechanics, so having this setting as optional allows all types of players to enjoy the game, in whichever way they prefer.

Final Thoughts

The art style is stunning, the cast is intriguing, and the gameplay mechanics add an extra dimension to the traditional visual novel format. ‘Imperial Grace’ ticks a lot of my favourite boxes, and the story already shows a lot of promise.

I’m also a sucker for historical settings – particularly the medieval period – and I love that Synstoria have used this setting to centre a female protagonist, while also providing commentary on the sexist experiences of modern women.

Rather than waving a magic wand and saying that there’s just no misogyny in this fictional world, they’re taking the leap to explore contemporary cultural issues through the safe, distant framework of fantasy – all of which has clearly been written by people who understand said issues, as the character’s reactions to discrimination feel real and relatable – but in a cathartic, rather than re-traumatising way.

Seeing MC and Asha bond over their shared frustration at frequently being underestimated and talked down to – and feeling in on the joke when they roll their eyes behind someone’s back, or make a snide comment only someone who has experienced the same circumstances would understand – felt exactly the same as when my friends and I joke about our own experiences in an effort to release some of the tension that comes with it.

There’s clearly a lot of passion in this game, and the underlying concept has a solid vision that has been polished and refined through each decision – be it the art style, font, or background music – all to craft a unique and intriguing world that I can’t wait to explore further once the full game is released.

You’ll like Imperial Grace if you like: historical otome games; strong-willed, ambitious, and capable protagonists; mature characters who are well aware of what sex is; political intrigue and courtly drama; resource management games; and visual novels with strategy elements and customisable main characters…

Screenshots

Game Info

Game Name: Imperial Grace (Demo)
Developer: Synstoria
Publisher: Abiding Bridge
Platform: Steam, itch.io
Age Rating: TBA*
More information: here!

About Synstoria

Our Story: “Synstoria was founded in 2020 by Ayael, an interactive fiction enthusiast. For the time being, Synstoria focuses on the creation of visual novels, but we have many other projects in mind. What they all have in common is a very strong narrative bent. Above all, we want to tell beautiful stories with strong and interesting characters (especially female ones).

« Syn » means « with » in old Greek, and « storia » stands for story. So the literal meaning of our name is « with stories », which is exactly what our studio is about.

– Synstoria (‘Our Story‘)

Fiction is always a reflection of reality, just seen from a different angle. That’s why all our games, even if they are first and foremost meant to be entertaining, take a critical look at society, and endeavour to turn the spotlight on certain minorities that are not represented enough in fiction.

Another theme that is close to our hearts is love, in all its forms, but especially through the prism of romance. After all, we are hopeless romantics!”

Imperial Grace Team:

  • Ayael – Director – UI Designer – Programmer – Writer/scriptwriter
  • Aldéas – Co-writer
  • Arrapso – Sprite & CG artist
  • Edhie – French & English Editor
  • Jiro – Translator
  • Pierre G. – Composer

Thank You

~☆ Patrons ☆~

SSR – Tarranga

SSR – Caroline

SR – Fitzroy

SR – Teryarel

SR – Tein

R – Vilicus

Contact Us

For media, PR, and business enquiries, please email us at: sweetnspicyreviews@gmail.com

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