If you’ve been in on the Netflix Bridgerton craze and found yourself thinking there’s game potential in all the flirting and finery, then Ambition: A Minuet in Power certainly deserves your attention. Also, you’re absolutely right.
Set in the rightfully popular era of 18th Century France, Joy Manufacturing Co's eye-catching dating sim sees you take the role of Yvette Decaux, a woman of lesser status who has moved to the bustling city of Paris to join her fiancé in her new life as nobility. The biggest issue Yvette faces from the get-go is that said fiancé isn’t actually there to meet her, leaving her to fend for herself in terms of navigating the turbulent torrents of high society with nary a contact to guide or aid her save her trusty maid. What that entails is a delicious blend of visual novel and simulation game as you spend your carefully scheduled days attending events, gathering gossip on all the important business, and promptly selling it to a questionable news outlet to pay your way while you try to track down your missing man and stay alive, or at least in good favour.
Though the set-up may sound pretty simple, between the treasonous threads of the main story, intriguing side characters (many of whom are romance options), and ability to play puppet master to all the conflicting factions of Parisian society, there’s a lot to delve into in multiple playthroughs and a good amount of freedom to pursue the parts that capture your interest most.
The basic order of things is that you will be invited to events held by five key groups: the Crown, the Military, the Church, the Bourgeoisie, and – of course – the Revolution. This involves choosing attire that your host will approve of, and then navigating the affair by deciding who you want to talk to and how you can best steer conversations in your interest without raising too much suspicion or being too direct.
Your credibility and risk bars are even more vital to manage than your money and how you conduct yourself in these instances affects them most. Play your cards right, and you can gain gossip of varying degrees of scandalous about the different factions as well befriend representatives of each and boost your worth in the eyes of those around you. On the flip side, you run the risk of driving away people with valuable information, injuring your blossoming relationships, tarnishing your reputation, and increasing how much you are at actual, literal risk. Between vengeful nobles, radical revolutionaries, and the secret police desperate to have something to show for themselves, it’s certainly not always as simple as worrying a handsome suitor may not like your new dress.
Speaking of which, each garment you buy from the tailor has its own set of stats for who does and doesn’t like it, as well as how ‘worn out’ its novel appeal has become. You’ll find yourself quickly running yourself down too, and must account for rest days in between all the parties and dalliances or face penalties for exhaustion.
On the days where you aren’t booked out for a ball, feast, or whatnot, you’re presented with a neatly colour-coded map of Paris for exploration. You can wander in search of more valuable news, take time out for side stories, visit the dressmaker, stay home and recuperate, or see about selling your stories to La Trompette Du Peuple. Stories are given monetary value and influence based on how fresh and how shocking they are. You can sell them for profit or use them to peddle influence, such as swaying the nobles towards the revolution or reducing the power of the church. Whether sold or spun as you see fit, each piece of gossip carries a risk that it can be traced back to you. Ambition truly has “no pain, no gain” at its heart, carrying with it a tension that works in its favour.
The fashion and party mechanics spice up the visual novel segments with stat-based gameplay that is both reminiscent of classic titles like Princess Maker and unique in its style and form, while the narrative doesn’t stray away from the heavy politics of the era, weaving in topics of classism, racism, and sexism with a delicate touch that is neither anachronistic nor uncomfortably crass.
Ambition’s attention to detail is both engaging and pervasive. The writing, music, and extravagant costumes of the characters really capture the flavour of the French Revolution. It also doesn’t use the setting and period as just a pretty backdrop, delving into the era’s tumultuous events and referencing recognisable historical figures such as the Marquis de Sade and the Duc d’Orleans. It’s very refreshing to see such care and attention put into the surrounding world and figures as well those at the centre of the story.
Just enough talk and just enough action, while providing drama, wit, and gratuitous French in good measure, Ambition is a compelling experience that knows how to pull together its intricacies in a masterful fashion.