I’m not too keen on history as a subject but whenever a visual novel with a historical context rolls around, it tends to pique my interest nevertheless. Maybe it is the allure of imagining what it would be like to live in that time period, or in the case of Ambition: A Minuet in Power, the prospect of carving out your own piece of history. Set in the year 1789, this indie stats-raising dating sim developed by Joy Manufacturing Co. and published by Iceberg Interactive brings players to the days right before the French Revolution in Paris, France.
Released for the PC on 18 August 2021, Ambition: A Minuet in Power presents an intriguing plot combining danger, love, and power. But did it dance a graceful minuet in power or last merely a minute in power?
And so the Curtain Rises
Ambition: A Minuet in Power follows the story of Yvette Decaux, a Frenchwoman who was engaged to Baron Armand de Marbo and arrived in Paris on her fiancé’s request. However, her fiancé was nowhere to be found. After going through much humiliation at a party where she had hoped to gather information on her fiancé’s whereabouts, she decided she had to do whatever it takes to continue her life in Paris even without Armand by her side. On top of maintaining her social status and name, Yvette soon found herself having to keep an eye on the political conflicts that were brewing in the city. It was 1789 and a revolution was imminent. And it is up to the player to decide the protagonist’s eventual fate.
Typical of a stats-raising visual novel, the story is driven not only by dialogue choices but also repeated actionable tasks such as attending parties, rendezvous with love interests, going to specific shops, exploring Paris, and resting at home. On days not designated with plot events, players will be able to decide Yvette’s to-do for that day, though only one task can be chosen. Such an arrangement, with an entire day gone just by attending to a single thing, is imaginably realistic for the 18th century. Still, it did frustrate me at first when I unintentionally wasted a day away visiting the dressmaker shop whose available dresses happened to be all out of Yvette’s budget. It would be nice if upon seeing there is nothing suitable to buy, Yvette could exit the shop and head elsewhere for a different business, but I suppose travel time would have reasonably taken up the bulk of her free time.
While Ambition: A Minuet in Power covers the first few years of the French Revolution, players mainly control Yvette’s activities for the period of late March through early August 1789. There are only that many days for Yvette to do what she needs to do before her fate is sealed, and as aforementioned, Yvette can do only one task a day. This may make the game look like it requires players to plan Yvette’s days very carefully but the game does not stop players from manually saving and reloading to retry at various points. Players may save the game at any point, though it will always be saved as a new save with no option to overwrite a previous file, and there is no limit on the number of save files one can create. The only thing preventing me from making too many manual saves is the tediousness in deleting them individually from the Load screen afterward.
Character stats that players need to manage are Yvette’s credibility, peril, and fatigue levels, as well as her favor points with various love interests and the amount of money she has. On the whole, tutorial messages included in the game explaining these character stats are concise and clear. Segments with longer tutorials provide an option to be skipped over too, which is a thoughtful addition for players who either want to explore the system on their own or are already familiar with how things work.
Although random number generator (RNG) is used in Ambition: A Minuet in Power, the game takes great effort in labeling choices accurately to aid players in their decision to pick a choice over another. Dialogue choices that require a credibility challenge and those that will increase Yvette’s peril level will be labeled accordingly with corresponding icons. Hovering the pointer over those icons will show further information as a tooltip, such as whether the credibility challenge is going to be easy or tough, or if the peril involved will be small or huge. At parties, potential rewards of the particular conversation selected will be listed, be it potential decrease or increase of credibility, peril, favor points, or money. These lists generally help players to choose their battles wisely.
Besides character stats, players will be able to change various political factions’ power and allegiance via a few channels like peddling influence with collected gossip and encountering notable side characters on the map. It is possible to ignore this particular segment altogether and let the factions run their own courses passively, but depending on the outcome of the political conflicts, it is also possible the ending one can obtain with the love interest(s) will be altered. For Ambition: A Minuet in Power, the bits of events that update along the way according to present faction standings have given me enough incentive to find actively pushing forth a faction’s standing to be more fun and truly worth the effort.
Get Up, Dress Up, Show Up
More often than not, parties form the main activity that fills up Yvette’s social calendar. On top of being the most convenient avenue to alter character stats and gather gossip that can later be cashed in, they are also the most important activity through which the protagonist can begin to advance her romance routes with the available love interests.
Invitations to various factions’ parties are given on a random basis, and one can always decline a party invitation, thereby freeing up an otherwise booked day for another chore. Under normal circumstances, the game would arrange new party invitations to drop every other day. However, I encountered a bug that caused my third playthrough to receive no party invitations at all after the initial introductory parties were completed. At the point of writing, version 1.03 update has dropped and this bug is listed as fixed under the patch notes.
An oversight with the party invitation system is that it is possible for the game to schedule a regular party on a particular date in April which, if players happen to agree to attend in advance, will prevent an important plot-relevant party from occurring since Yvette can only attend one party a day. In this case, players will have to pay extra attention to the date when the special party is slated to occur, and before they get the invitation to the special party, ensure they decline to attend any regular parties that happen to fall on the same date. Naturally, it would be easier if the game could block that date out automatically. Or at least add a special marking on the calendar for that date as a visual reminder.
Dresses and meetings go hand in hand in Ambition: A Minuet in Power. Various dresses in styles conforming to the fashion in 18th century Paris are available for purchase from Fatima’s shop. The type, clothing stats, and price of dresses on sale are all randomly generated with each visit to the shop. When worn to parties, clothing with stats that favor the faction hosting the party will give a boost to Yvette’s credibility score. When worn to rendezvous, clothing with stats favorable to the faction of the love interest will help boost Yvette’s favor points with them.
In order to provide an incentive for players to buy new dresses for Yvette, the game also tags a Novelty value to each dress. The novelty of a dress drops each time Yvette wears it to a party (but is not affected for rendezvous), and it will decrease more sharply if the dress is worn consecutively in a row. With the novelty of the dress dropping, the clothing stats will also drop, making any boost to credibility or favor points less effective. On the surface, it looks as if there is a need to buy a few dresses to change. But with the current stats-raising difficulty level in Ambition: A Minuet in Power, it is entirely possible to survive and successfully romance characters if Yvette stubbornly wears nothing else but her faithful provincial outfit. Yvette’s credibility level gets a little tougher to build up and she needs to go on more rendezvous to accumulate enough favor points, but there is practically nothing stopping Yvette from donning her worn-out zero novelty provincial outfit. Apart from the dressmaker shop and wardrobe screens, players do not get to see Yvette in her new beautiful dress anyway. Sorry, Fatima, you aren’t going to earn any livre from me as long as a frugal playthrough is doable.
Another thing that makes me disinterested in buying new dresses is how the game calculates credibility changes upon arrival at a party donning a particular dress. The ultimate aim of wearing a dress that is in favor of the host’s faction is to raise Yvette’s credibility level or to counter the credibility penalty from her acquired fatigue. Yet, when Yvette’s credibility is at maximum, wearing an appropriate dress does not help counter the penalty imposed even from the lowest fatigue level. The calculation is done in two separate steps, in the order of taking into account clothing stats then a penalty from fatigue where applicable, which means if the credibility is at 100, any bonus from the clothing stats will cap credibility at 100, then a penalty from fatigue will immediately decrease it. Effectively, this case is no different from wearing a novelty zero dress with no bonus stats. Thus another reason why I do not find the dresses worth buying.
Besides providing opportunities to gain favor points with certain characters and occasionally sway the allegiance of a faction, parties are essentially Yvette’s main income source. Each party is guaranteed to give at least one cheap piece of gossip and gossip that may be worth more value can be gathered by interacting with party guests. These pieces of gossip can then be sold to Pierre at the newspaper office either for livres or peddling political influence. But Yvette has to be quick to sell them as their value (or influence effect) will decrease as time goes by.
I really like what Ambition: A Minuet in Power does with its gossip system. In particular, I like the realistic elements of assigning value to collected gossip according to its freshness, and increased risks of the public finding out if Yvette sells too many gossip pieces in one go. The inclusion of Pierre’s random requests of specific faction’s gossip in exchange for extra livre, a credibility boost, or peril reduction has made gossip hunting more worthwhile, though I wish we could actually negotiate for the type of reward to receive instead of leaving everything (i.e. type and amount) up to the RNG god.
There is a good range of events that occur at parties, with many events written specifically for a specific faction’s parties only. Some events come in two episodes too, so after completing the first encounter, one may find a follow-up encounter at the next turn or party. What makes party-goers really feel they have a life of their own is how Yvette can meet people whom she previously encountered on the Paris map at the parties again.
Although most party conversations share the same goal of getting more gossip, there are plenty of varied scenarios written and multiple ways to approach each dialogue. These variations are enough to keep my boredom of the parties at bay even through my third playthrough. Nevertheless, some of the party events are bugged, making them occur at different faction parties unnaturally in a single playthrough. For instance, I cleared “Madame Mirror” at some faction’s party only to find it available at another faction’s party once more later on. The same thing happened with its follow-up event, which resulted in Yvette confronting the same person again even after things had been settled with them. Not that I’m complaining about getting double rewards, though.
Hireable Servants: Gold Sink Edition
Camille is the default servant Yvette has and must hire. By completing certain map events, players can unlock other hireable servants, namely Maurice the tailor, Hansel the bodyguard, and Thérèse the spymistress. There is also Henri the forger whose services I ended up requesting once, but I only managed to unlock him one time without knowing how I did it.
I label the hireable servants in Ambition: A Minuet in Power as mere gold sinks because almost everyone is practically unhelpful and merely there to suck away Yvette’s money. At least Camille has a crucial role story-wise in terms of taking care of Yvette’s daily basic necessities and chatting with her. Furthermore, her salary is the lowest at five livres a week.
Of the three other unlockable servants, I am most displeased with and feel most cheated by Maurice. At forty livres a week, his perk is simply discounts at the dressmaker shop, which amounts to basically nothing. I mean, if I do not hire him, I can easily afford those dresses at their usual retail prices by saving that forty livres a week. Maurice also mentioned he could restore some novelty to worn dresses — the main promised benefit that made me decide to hire him — but turns out that was a lie. He did step in for one party conversation during my playthrough but that event can be easily passed without his help if Yvette has a high enough credibility level. So yes, as someone who loves to hoard in-game currency, I regretted ever hiring him.
Hansel is good to have around if the player constantly puts Yvette in perilous situations. Otherwise, for those who never let Yvette’s peril reach maximum levels, they can safely keep the bodyguard’s salary of thirty livres per week to themselves. As for Thérèse, unless one prefers to figure things out on their own, she is the best servant to hire. Her salary is highest at fifty livres per week but she gives hints on how to tackle certain conversations and what to do next to advance the romance routes with the love interests. When she first waltzed her way into a party conversation, I was taken aback. I totally did not expect her to help out so proactively, mayhap because the other hired servants have not quite shown themselves to be of much assistance before.
Once hired, servants cannot be fired and their salaries are to be paid every Monday. Although the game tries to make this weekly payment a serious affair by introducing penalties for skipped payments, its system has minor loopholes that make it feel not that serious after all. One, it is possible to hire a new servant for free for up to a week as their salary will not be considered until the following Monday and the game does not take into account any salary owed before then. Two, salaries are not considered during those few weeks lost in between chapters even though the servants are technically still employed under Yvette for that period.
Romantic Dances and Passionate Kisses
A total of six love interests are available: Baron Armand de Marbo, Yvette’s fiancé; Corporal Thomas-Alexandre Dumas the soldier; Louis Antoine Léon de Saint-Just the revolutionary; Father Ludovico Sidotti the Catholic priest; Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun the painter; and Madame Honorade Gazel the bourgeois widow.
Armand’s aside, all romance routes have the same starting point of first meeting at a party and subsequently gaining favor with the love interests. Once enough favor with a particular love interest is accumulated, Yvette will be able to go on rendezvous with them. From there, each love interest has their own criteria for romance route progression. Most simply rely on rendezvous to progress the romance route while some require attending their faction’s party or going to certain map locations after some point to access further romance plot. This means some romance routes are indeed more straightforward to complete than others.
Ambition: A Minuet in Power provides much flexibility in how one wishes to handle the romance. Yvette can romance several love interests at the same time and choose to be intimate with them (one after another), though it seems the epilogue only allows Yvette to end up with at most one of them. In addition, intimacy is not necessary to secure an epilogue scene with the love interest but players will miss out on the event CG for the intimacy scene. Last but not least, Yvette does not need to romance anyone to avoid the bad ending for herself.
Personally, I enjoyed the different scenarios and conversations unique to each love interest. Other than Armand whom I did not like in the end, I find other love interests generally loveable. Honorade is sophisticated, Alex is caring, Élisabeth is sweet, Ludovico is fun to tease, and Antoine is- *swoons*. Seriously, Antoine has the most dreamy CG. Ludovico, on the other hand, got the short end of the stick as his CG looks way too plain. Maybe I should feel sad for Élisabeth instead since her CG seemed bugged; if the CG was supposed to show during “The Final Sitting” after choosing to kiss her, then it is possibly bugged since all I got for that scene was a black screen. Armand’s CG also did not show up anywhere despite going through his route twice and even after I made sure to consistently choose choices that increase his favor.
Ambition: A Minuet in Power does well with its tutorials until it comes to the rendezvous system. When rendezvous gets unlocked with a love interest, there is a message that informs players that they can invite the love interest out after finding available locations on the map. Yet after four playthroughs and discovering several new rendezvous locations each time, I was unable to figure out how to personally invite a love interest to the newfound location. At this point, I wonder if the in-game text has given misleading information like it did regarding Maurice the tailor’s services. In any case, waiting for the love interest to invite Yvette out is fine but it gets boring when they invite her to the same place over and over.
Sights and Sounds of the 18th Century
It is a delight to see background art in Ambition: A Minuet in Power rendered in a painting style. While the character sprites are drawn in a more modern art style with crisp lineart and cel-shading, they do not feel out of place either. In fact, I feel the character sprites bring a balance of rooting players in 18th century France with their details and emitting a lighter atmosphere with the art style. Character sprites enjoy a range of poses and facial expressions that work hand in hand with the writing, and details in the characters’ items of clothing are nicely done, with Yvette’s myriad of dresses having the most intricate details seen. On the topic of clothes, it would have been nice if the love interests had different outfits they would wear to their rendezvous with Yvette. Surely it is unfair for Yvette to be the only one in the entire game who gets told to dress to impress!
Other than the architecture and fashion displayed that help lay the groundwork for an immersive 18th-century setting, background music (BGM) is another transportive element that aids players in imagining they were in that era. The rich orchestral pieces that sing of extravagance, of mystique, of honor, and of people’s dreams are enchanting and bring much unforgettable flavor to Ambition: A Minuet in Power. There are 58 music tracks in total and I do not think I disliked any particular one. As for my favorite, I may be biased but I find Antoine’s theme to be absolutely suave and intoxicating. Pierre’s theme with its touch of silliness is another of my favorites.
Partial voice is featured in Ambition: A Minuet in Power, which adds tone to various dialogues. I’m typically neutral about the use of partial voices, though I find the game’s library of voice clips to be pretty small. There seems to be just one voice to represent a masculine voice and another to represent a feminine voice. Since this means that all male characters share the same voice and similarly for the female characters, these clips do not really add individual personality to them. But they are good at making certain scenes read more dramatically, especially with those shocked gasps.
Sound effects (SFX) are aplenty in the game. Most are environmental or ambient sounds but system sounds are prominent too. I actually like the sound of a page being turned as the text in the textbox advances to the next line. In general, system SFX provides clear audio cues whenever a button is clicked or a screen is updated. However, much to my dismay, system SFX is controlled under the same volume slider as for partial voices in the game settings, so I cannot mute the partial voices without muting the system SFX as well.
Music tracks are cut carefully for transitions in Ambition: A Minuet in Power but they work most properly if the player is not speeding through the texts. Otherwise, awful overlaps of different music segments will be heard. Minor audio bugs are present as well, most notably the BGM not playing whenever a save that was made at the start of a party’s new turn is loaded, and the estate theme music not playing after clicking on “Return to Estate” from the map screen.
User Interface (UI) Design
I have a love-hate relationship with Ambition: A Minuet in Power’s UI design. In terms of aesthetics, I love it. In terms of functionality, however, I find it quite lacking overall.
There is much to appreciate from big things like clear-cut screen layouts to small stuff like elaborate icon designs. Textures are used to make invitation cards look like physical cards and journal pages look like actual paper. Indeed, much care is observed in the planning of every aspect, including fonts, for a classy and fancy look to be assembled together. I also like the subtle roses at the right rim of the textbox which gives off a fragrant sense of romance.
Whilst the game is generous to offer unlimited manual save slots on top of an automatic save feature, there are three major functions useful to the players that are simply overlooked. First, for a text-heavy visual novel style game, Ambition: A Minuet in Power has no function for rolling back to the previous line of text. Second, neither does it have a dedicated History log where players can easily check previously read lines of dialogue. So if you accidentally advanced the text without having finished reading the previous line, then good luck trying to fill in the information gap mentally by yourself. Third, for a text-heavy visual novel style game designed for multiple playthroughs, it does not have a Skip Read function. One can try to click through texts quickly but good luck trying to figure out which texts are already read and which ones are actually new.
Other quality of life additions, like an accessibility menu for changing font sizes and an Extras menu that collects seen CGs and endings commonly found in these types of games are also not found in Ambition: A Minuet in Power. Moreover, this game is designed similarly to a point-and-click and has minimal keyboard support, even though the “Esc” key is the only way players can bring up the in-game menu for saving or quitting the game. It is a bizarre choice since the right mouse button could have been assigned to open the same menu, making the mouse the only thing players would need to play the game. In any case, more keyboard support would have been nice as an alternative control set for those who prefer it.
The Journal in Ambition: A Minuet in Power is one of those screens that looks great but could have functioned better. Unlike the Map screen that has a minor bug with some map events showing up when they should not, by “function” I mean its practicality.
The Journal has three main tabs, logging Yvette’s relationship with each known love interest, the respective factions’ power and allegiance, and all unsold gossip at hand together with Pierre’s request if any. Theoretically, the Journal is a useful guiding handbook. Sadly, it is not as useful as it could have been due to how it can be accessed only when Yvette is at her estate. This means that when Yvette is at a party and faced with a choice between two factions’ gossip to gather, she cannot consult her Journal to check which particular faction’s gossip had Pierre previously requested. And when Yvette is at Pierre’s office, she cannot refer to her Journal for the current factions’ power and allegiance before choosing to peddle influence. Finally, when Yvette wants to check her favor points with the love interests she met, the Journal shows a vague ranking that hardly hints at how much more favor she has to gain to unlock the next romance progression event. The design of the Journal screen is pleasing but it is a real pity to see its eventual impracticality.
Down Comes the Blade of Verdict
As it is, Ambition: A Minuet in Power’s story is solid and its romance is satisfying. The writing is polished with few typos seen, though bugs have made certain dialogue choices become invisible and some others to overflow past the textbox’s width.
Characters are lively and have a depth to them, plus Dušo the cat never fails to bring a smile to my face. Details in the art are amazing and the music is captivating. Additionally, I find the stats-raising difficulty to be comfortable for a casual play.
Still, when looking at the technical side, there is much the game can improve upon, and for now, visual, audio, and game bugs are a regular occurrence even if the majority of them are not game-breaking. As much as I think visual novel fans who do not mind stats-raising elements would likely enjoy what this historical title has to offer, I would say to wait for the game to be further patched first.
Please note that our review of Ambition: A Minuet in Power is based on version 1.02, the version approximately two weeks post-release. As we release this review, it is currently on version 1.04, so some changes have been made including an overhaul of the save system.
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Many thanks to Iceberg Interactive for a PC review code for this title.
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A person with many hobbies (and even more WIPs), KuroKairin plays, playtests, and reviews PC games. She loves games with good stories that bring her on an emotional and thought-provoking journey. Her favourite genres include otome visual novel, point and click, puzzle, and RPG. Follow her @KuroKairin.