Matches & Matrimony is not the first game to try and bring the works of Jane Austen to the realm of video games. There’s Ever Jane, which is a Jane Austen-inspired MMO that recently wrapped a successful Kickstarter campaign, and there’s even a whole website dedicated to showcase tiny indie games that people are making that are inspired by the author. It appears to be a bit of a growing niche right now. Matches & Matrimony is a dating sim style visual novel, where you become the heroine of your own Jane Austen story: you have a lot of sisters and not a lot of money, go to balls, and try to snag a rich husband, or love, or both. And for the most part, Matches & Matrimony gets it pretty right. I had a ton of fun playing this game, and would recommend it even for people who “don’t play games.”
So, gameplay is pretty simple. Your actions and skill points are what have the most impact on how the story turns out. You gain skill points during the week by occupying your time with different activities: you can read, practice the arts, go for walks, go visit people, or rest. All of your actions do affect your energy, so you have to make sure that you have enough energy to participate in the rollicking events of the weekend: balls, excursions, and of course, meeting your suitors. What decisions you make affects everything from who you’ll meet to how much they like you, even what chapter your story ends and it can be much more difficult than it sounds. You also have to make sure you have the right skill values, so gameplay becomes a matter of learning the right skills, making sure they’re high enough for your suitor, making the right decisions, and also making sure you don’t die of exhaustation. (OK, you don’t die, but you will miss important events.)
Your choice of suitors are drawn from all of Jane Austen’s novels, so you can take your pick from Colonel Brandon, Mr. Darcy, even Persuasion‘s Captain Wentworth, and there are 9 different endings. It’s not super long and it is really addictive, so getting all those endings is a doable feat for most people. It’s a pretty easy game if you don’t really care who you marry, but getting certain suitors is hard unless you know exactly what stats you need in order to unlock all the events. Mr. Darcy (who totally looks just like Tuxedo Mask) in particular is SUPER HARD, and there are two different endings you can get with him, and there are up to 20 chapters in his story. (I may have cheated because I did not want to figure it out on my own.) It’s narratively quite complex, while staying very true to Jane Austen’s books.
However, it’s by no means a perfect game. A little more research was definitely necessary, because pretty much all the text for the Reading activity is WRONG. Jane Austen’s books are set in Regency England, which is between 1811 and 1820. Most of the books this game has your character reading are Victorians, which is much, much later. They have you reading Oscar Wilde! OSCAR WILDE GUYS. HE WASN’T EVEN ALIVE. Who would a titular Jane Austen character be reading? Well, the Greek classics, obviously. Maria Edgeworth, Sir Walter Scott, maybe even Susan Ferrier. Maybe some Mary Wollstonecraft. Mary Shelley. The romantic poets. NOT Elizabeth Gaskell, and definitely not Dickens. I cannot stress how much that bugged me, and I definitely would have given the game a higher score if they hadn’t messed this up. Don’t make a game English majors will play and then fuck up English literary periods!!! We will notice!!
Matches & Matrimony also favours Pride and Prejudice a little too much. I didn’t realize that you would be able to meet and romance other Austen love interests intially because the front half of the game follows P&P so closely. You’re even a Bennet! It defintitely would have made more sense to divorce the family entirely from one from any Austen novel, and went with a new family name and estate. It just makes more sense given the context of the game. More character customization also might have been nice, especially when going to balls, though that’s really a minor quibble.
Overall, it is a really great game, but suffers a tiny bit from a lack of attention to detail. It is still so awesome and one of my favourite games I’ve played this year, and I don’t even like Jane Austen that much. Now, if someone could do Middlemarch this well, then that will be my Game of the Year.
You can find the links to buy the game at its official website, where retails for $6.99 USD. A third bummer though: it is not DRM free for Canadians, BUT first time buyers can get it for $2.99, and I didn’t find the DRM to be as bad as some are. But I know this is something some people consider when buying a game, so I definitely want to put that out there.
Disclosure: This review was made using a personal copy of the game that the author bought herself. It reflects only the opinions of the author, and not those of the developers or distributor.