Set some 1,700 years in the future, in an age where humans live on floating cities in the sky, Ciel Fledge: A Daughter Raising Simulator is a game that tasks you with adopting and nurturing a young girl.
Your adopted daughter, Ciel, is 10 years old. She mysteriously appeared in your city, and has no memory of her past or how she came to be there. Authorities designate you as her new primary caregiver. So, for the next 10 years, your sole responsibility in Ciel Fledge is to care for Ciel until she reaches adulthood.
This isn’t some Tamagotchi type relationship, though. You’re not merely choosing to feed or play with her. She’s pretty feisty and independent for a 10 year-old, but she does need some guidance. Your role comes in by arranging her schedule every week. You can choose what classes she attends, what friends she socialises with and what extra-curricular activities she takes part in. The tasks she undertakes will determine what skills she’ll develop; skills that help shape Ciel’s personality and career path as she grows into adulthood.
Once Ciel’s schedule has been set, it’ll run automatically, giving you a brief overview as it does. Occasionally, it’ll pause while a story scene plays out, or as an encounter happens – more on those shortly. A lot of the time, though, Ciel Fledge can feel like a rather passive experience. If those events are too few and far between, you’re simply left clicking a few buttons and willing time to pass as quickly as possible.
Being set in the year 3716, Ciel’s upbringing isn’t necessarily what you’d expect a child’s of 10 to be. Sure, she attends school, takes an art class and learns maths, but she’s also trained in combat. It’s a hostile world, you see, so it’s important that children are taught from a young age to defend and protect themselves from threats of invasion. It means that, despite Ciel having a huge range of skills she can develop, the most important will always be her strength score. Sure, intelligence and creativity have some perks in battle, but they fall to the wayside against simply being tough.
The combat mechanics of Ciel Fledge themselves are… interesting at best, and hugely frustrating at worst. Even when an encounter isn’t a physical battle, it utilises the same mechanic. Essentially, you’re given a diamond-shaped grid made up of nine smaller squares. Coming in four colours, you need to select three squares in a row that all match in colour. Doing this quickly will create a combo, and accidentally selecting unmatching tiles results in being penalised.
In a standard fight, completing each set of three tiles damages the enemy. You’ll need to pay attention to the position of the enemy and time your matches to interrupt their attacks (or simply stack your matches so fast that they never have time to initiate an attack). Ciel also has a range of special moves that can be used in an encounter that either buff her or deal more damage. More special moves will unlock as you progress through the game.
Other, non-combat encounters utilise the same block-matching gameplay but offer up different challenges. For instance, you may need to match four sets of yellow blocks, or execute 10 matches without making an error. Some are ridiculously easy while others feel almost impossible to win, which is part of the frustration. Matching X amount of sets of the same colour sounds easy enough, but when you only have 30 seconds to do it in and the game fails to give you enough blocks of the necessary colour? Ugh.
More frustrating, though, are the controls and fiddliness of these encounters. You need to hold your thumbstick in place to select a block rather than simply navigating the grid, which means it’s very easy to make an error. If you do make an error, it’s tough; there’s no way to undo, even if you realise it before releasing the button to execute. In most cases, even one error means the difference between a win and loss. Even when you are winning, these encounters aren’t much fun, and quickly become hugely repetitive.
Alongside encounters that happen throughout Ciel’s standard week, you can also opt to send your adoptive daughter on an ‘expedition’. Along with three of her friends (who you can choose), Ciel goes on a week-long hunting trip to increasingly dangerous environments. Let’s not talk about what Child Protective Services might have to say about this; we’re 1,700 years in the future, remember; in a time where sending your kid to their potential grave is just the thing that loving parents do. On these expeditions, you’ll come against various enemies in a row, and there’s a chance to find items and money as well as gaining experience.
Let’s talk about money. It makes the world go round, and indeed it does in Ciel Fledge, too. Almost every lesson or activity you send Ciel on costs money. You also need to feed her which, unless you want her to live on scraps (not a good idea; sending your kid off to battle is fine but you damn well better be feeding her right), also costs money. Now, you can go out to work part-time to earn just enough to cover Ciel’s weekly expenses, or you can work overtime to put some extra coins in the bank. Working overtime, though, negatively impacts your relationship with your daughter, while working part-time has no effect. If you actually want to bond with Ciel – and surely as her parent, you do – you’ll have to forgo any kind of work and instead shell out extra money to spend time with her.
It makes it extremely hard to ever build up enough money to get anywhere. Want new clothes for Ciel, or simply want to buy some medicine or food in case she needs an energy boost or gets sick? You better hope you’ve got a spare 10,000+ laying around. And you never will, unless you constantly work overtime and sacrifice having any kind of bond.
Money isn’t the only currency of Ciel Fledge, either. Ciel has an energy meter, and each activity she takes part in will use up some energy. In order to keep her happy and well, you’ll need to balance her activities with rest days. Rest days can be taken at any time, but give Ciel no other benefit other than a boost to her energy. Each week contains one ‘free’ day where Ciel can engage in more social activities, like shopping (if you’ve got the money) or socialising with a friend. As you play, new activities will pop up, like a trip to the beach (super expensive), or chores that Ciel can complete in order to earn a little money. No matter what the activity, it’ll have positive and negative effects, so you’ll need to closely monitor Ciel’s stats to ensure she stays healthy and happy.
There are story segments to Ciel Fledge, played out in visual-novel style scenes at intervals. Some of these will depend on what activities you select for Ciel; others happen presumably regardless of the choices you make. The cutscenes introduce a cast of a dozen or so characters, each with their own personality quirks. Seeing them interact with Ciel often results in interesting consequences and as such, they make up perhaps the most interesting part of the game. Piecing together more about the strange, futuristic world Ciel lives in is also rewarding. It’s just a shame that you can often go several in-game weeks without getting any kind of story scene.
Ciel Fledge: A Daughter Raising Simulator has some great ideas. But the moment-to-moment gameplay is, for the most part, dull and not all that engaging. While I’ve been eager to see how Ciel grows up, the process of getting there is slow and laborious. I’ve found myself scheduling through weeks as quickly as possible, hoping that the next cutscene will be worth it. It’s disappointing that the only true gameplay element here is in the encounters – which is the least fun part of all. It also feels flawed that, despite having a wealth of skills and traits for Ciel to learn, none seem to matter as much as improving her strength.
Despite that though, I’m still finding myself compelled to keep going; simply because I want to see where the story goes, what’s going to happen to Ciel, and if I’m doing a good enough job raising her. It’s a shame that much of the journey is boring and frustrating – but maybe that’s the cold, hard truth of parenthood. I wouldn’t know; but I hope not.