I've spent the last few days completed addicted to Long Live the Queen, an adorably brutal strategy game from the female-run indie developer, Hanako Games.
This is not a "princess" game. It's a queen game. Elodie is a young girl who's been placed on the throne far earlier than anyone expected, and now she has to survive the year before her coronation by learning all the skills necessary for ruling and navigating the treacherous world of politics and favor.
The game mechanics are really simple. Every week, you get to choose two subjects for Elodie to study, ranging from public speaking to poison. How much she can learn in each subject is affected by her mood, which in turn is affected by events and by the weekend activities you choose for her. Each week also brings an event, where you have to make decisions and put Elodie's skills to the test. Do you negotiate with the people threatening war, or attack? Should you tell your spies to keep an eye on the nobles, or on ? Should you take the risk of going out to give a speech to the people, or stay inside where it's safe? Which decisions are available to you, and their outcomes, are affected by Elodie's skills, and sometimes by her personality (is she cruel or generous, for example?). And decisions have knock-on effects. Insult a noble early on in the game, and you might find them attempting to depose you later on. Lose soldiers in one petty war, and you might lack the manpower to fight off greater threats later.
It's both really, really pink and girly, and really, really brutal. The game has a manga/Japanese RPG aesthetic, with huge character eyes, pink hair and a potential "magical girl" costume. The text boxes are outlined with pink ribbons, even as they gleefully inform you of every perilous situation you encounter. When you die (and you will die), your demise is illustrated in gory yet adorable chibi fashion. I've been stabbed, shot with arrows, attacked by a tentacle monster, and on and on and on. Actually living until the end and taking the crown feels like a real achievement. I've played through it many times, and I've only managed it twice.
The great thing is that our pink, girly protagonist can be any kind of ruler that you want. She can focus on deportment and court manners, or she can study economics and history and military strategy, or she can become a badass with a sword. She can turn into a meek, manipulatable ruler, a fair and just one, or a cruel one who burns people to a crisp for disagreeing with her. She can make marriage pacts to help keep the peace, stay independent until love comes along, or carry on an affair with a woman. Anything is possible.
Long Live the Queen is a simple game, but it provides far more character and opportunity for its female protagonist than many supposedly deeper and more immersive ones. It's tons of fun, and really addictive, as you obsess over strategy and how to get the best possible outcome for Elodie (or maybe just how to collect every death in the game). You can get a free demo at the website, so I recommend you check it out!