IT is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a DOOMBRINGER.
My dear friends, on this Valentines Day I shall teach you the ways and arts of attracting undesirable mates from the Jane Austen dating sim Matches and Matrimony.
I found this delightful Ren’Py Princess Maker-type Jane Austen thing on Amazon, starved of western dating sims as we are, and unlikely to date a pigeon. You play a not unrecognisable Elizabeth Bennet character, and there are several suitors from across three Austen books to seduce into marriage, with nine different ‘endings’ up for grabs. First up is the Zelda rule: when given the opportunity to type in your name, always give the most absurd proposition. This, though you might be an elderly 28 years old, will still be hilarious on the hundredth time it pops up. The more earnest your protagonist is, the funnier it gets, and this Jane Austen thing is the most earnest thing I’ve ever played.
Matches and Matrimony largely functions on a similar ‘education’ strategy as the more in-depth and slightly more complex Long Live The Queen, which means you can choose to improve yourself out of the six passtimes that Regency ladies were allowed to take part in: studying the arts, reading a book, going visiting, going outside (heaven forbid!), doing needlework, and finally, if all that was too much EXERTION for your bepetticoated doomlegs, you can have a nice rest to regain your energy. (Perhaps Regency ladies read books whilst on a horse or something).
The idea is to make yourself fit for a certain suitor by playing the stats each week or ‘chapter’, learning the skills that will have you be the most desirable. I particularly liked the ‘virtue’ stats that can be increased, as they are recognisably the things that Austen herself emphasised most: willpower, wit, talent, kindness, propriety and sensibility. (Energy is what you spend on education.) As in Long Live The Queen, you cannot know before the story progresses what will be most desirable by the hottest/haughtiest/mutton-choppiest suitor, so you have to be prepared to either adapt or just play through more than once. The narrative loosely follows a Pride and Prejudice slant, but integrates characters from other books. And of course, there’s one guy who has to turn up.
TEN THOUSAND POUNDS A YEAR! My word. I can feel my loins become aflame at the sound of it. I also hear he has huge tracts of land. Yes, it’s Regency society’s neg champion, Mr Darcy. But how to snare him? It will be difficult. For there are other hazards on the loose.
Oh bollocks. It’s Mr Collins. Sound the creep alarm.
Each chapter, the narrative is affected firstly by your skills and talents (if you can play the pianoforte, for example, by being skilled in the arts, you may delight the room with your fine playing) and also by your narrative decisions (you may choose to take part in tasks, or negotiate tense conversational situations) which will then affect how those around you regard you. Lydianne has the face of a velociraptor.
In the beginning I found it quite difficult to not get married, which is perhaps some sort of cruel estimation of how incredibly fucking attractive DOOMBRINGER is. Or perhaps it’s just a measure of how sexually frustrated Regency men were. You’d think this wouldn’t be the case, because the tight pants that were around in this time probably restricted quite a lot of the blood flow to the crotch. In any case, I spent rather a lot of time trying to get Mr Collins to fuck off of my property.
He did not. I spent ages telling him I wasn’t interested and it made him more interested. (Is… Is that how it works?) I think he thought I was negging him. I basically told him to go and jump under a horse and carriage and he commenced the biggest DOOMBRINGER boner I’ve ever seen. My willpower stat was too low: Jane Austen had a lesson for me – no willpower and you get married to Mr Niceguy Collins. URGH. So I restarted, determined to marry Darcy.
I’ve read THREE BOOKS this week and been outside TWICE. My willpower stat is off the CHARTS. I’m amped on my own wilfulness, I’m spouting so much cheek I’m basically rash. The next week I went outside EVERY SINGLE DAY. I actually just took that pretty pink dress and LIVED OUTSIDE IN DIRT for five days. I practically BAYED AT THE MOON: ‘COME GET ME DARCY I AM THE MOST RAY MEARS LONGBOURNE BINT YOU EVER SAW COME GET THESE FINE DOOMBRUNG THIGHS’.Scared the shit out of Mr Collins. ENTAIL THAT, COLLINS.
Only Darcy was no where to be seen, and a dashing Captain Wentworth appeared. My cousin Lydianne became hysterical and jumped from a high building in front of him. This apparently made Captain Wentworth very excited about me? But then something went wrong. Time passed and I became an extremely witty, extremely willful, and quite a talented lady, who never married.
Perhaps I underestimated this game somewhat – in the beginning, I thought it was about getting married. But it turns out that if you’re careful, you can become Jane Austen instead.
This game has dorky illustrations, a particularly odd way of animating dancing (couples sort of ping across the screen as if on an elastic band) and the writing is somewhat tonally wrong for an Austen-based adaptation – it’s not witty enough by far, and it’s not a particularly masterful approximation of her sentence structure. It’s not particularly replay friendly either – sometimes the skip button doesn’t work and rereading the text can become interminable. The music is somewhat like being in a garden centre at the end of hell. The word ‘sennight’ is shamefully worshipped, and Denny looks like an extra model from Thomas the Tank Engine. It’s structured in such a way that negotiating people and suitors is actually sort of difficult and attempting to land a man (or…’ending’) of your choice is actually quite a bit more complex than you initially imagine. But one or two playthroughs demonstrated to me that Jane Austen deserves more than a cursory adaptation; she’s more socially incisive than many game systems or strategy games, she’s wittier than Psychonauts. She probably deserves at least a fully fledged RPG with Emily Short at the helm. Or perhaps this might satisfy us? We shall see.
A happy Valentines Day to you, good friends, from myself, and the irresistible DOOMBRINGER. I wish you the most Jane Austen of outcomes, and I hope you ever avoid your Mr Collins.