Thursday, April 18, 2024
Features

Why Failbetter Games turned to the visual novel for Mask of the Rose

Mask of the Rose is a visual novel prequel to Sunless Skies, Sunless Sea, and Fallen London, both two very different games but located in the same exact setting: an underground version of London, dragged there by space bats. Everything you knew before no longer matters because the city of London will never be the same.

But it isn’t just London that looks to be different. Mask of the Rose is Failbetter Games’ very first visual novel set in the Fallen London universe – a poignant decision that goes beyond just wanting to try something new. The original Fallen London game is a free-to-play text-based browser game, one that is still played by people from all over the world. Then there’s Sunless Skies, a gothic role-playing game, and Sunless Sea, a story-rich exploration game. Each game builds more and more on this enthralling universe.

And now Failbetter Games have set their sights on the visual novel format for Mask of the Rose, a murder-mystery dating sim. But why? We talked to senior writer James Chew to learn more.

“I think we’re all excited by it. A couple of times in the past we’ve opened up kind of internal pictures for games, and one that’s kind of endured for a long time was a dating sim. We know that everyone was very excited about, and was always kind of a dream fantasy project.” Chew tells Gayming Magazine. “And then for Sunless Skies, and with bringing Emily [Short] on board, it suddenly seemed like a lot more viable, something that will allow us to really dig into the characters. Love’s always been a theme of our games, but there’s always so much else going on. This specific kind of, really digging into character relationships in visual novel format, it all seemed like a kind of a perfect match to do that.”

Romance is a huge part of Mask of the Rose

Chew explains to us that, with Mask of the Rose being set a few decades before Fallen London, there was obviously a “big transition” – something which the team wanted to explore on a more intimate level through the day-to-day of the characters and the changing world. To do this, they wanted a tight view on characters and their emotions and felt that the best way to do this was through a visual novel.

“It’s all old hat to the player character in other games,” Chew says, referring to how in previous games a lot of the trauma and tense emotions have already been passed over as it’s been decades since London has fallen underground. “Here [in Mask of the Rose] it’s new to them, it’s new to the other characters. And so with a visual novel format, we can have these kinds of intimate relationships and experiences and explore them. [Visual novels] just seemed like a really good match for what we want to do.”

As a genre of games, visual novels have always been particularly special to queer developers looking to get their story out there. Often people will mistake that visual novels are just plain ‘easier’ to develop, but if that is indeed true, this is largely due to the incredible amount of accessibility that’s given to players through programs like Ren’Py and Visual Novel Maker, just to name a few.

Visual novels are also a format that allows hyperfocus player identity, something which is key for Mask of the Rose and queer players. As we’ve talked about previously, queer identity and sexuality is not only part of Failbetter’s newest game, but is actively encouraged in a character creation that doesn’t highlight the player character’s looks, but who they are.

Aimee Hart

[She/They] Aimee Hart specializes in queer fandom, video games and tabletop, having started her career writing for numerous websites like The Verge, Polygon, Input Magazine and more. Her goal now is to boost LGBTQ+ voices in the video games industry.