REVIEW: A delicate dance of romance and revolution — Ambition: A Minuet in Power
Updated: Feb 8, 2022
A minuet is "a slow graceful dance in ³/₄ time characterized by forward balancing, bowing, and toe pointing." A dance from a bygone era, when curtseys and scandalous pieces of gossip were as valuable as anything.
Ambition: A Minuet in Power brings players into both a literal and figurative dance in revolutionary France, when a single woman brought to Paris in pursuit of love is left alone to fend for herself, all while the sparks of revolution ignite. Those sparks burst into flame in the streets, and in your heart, as you navigate relationships and a nation's agenda in this indie dating sim.
Just the Facts
Developer: Joy Manufacturing Co
Publisher(s): Iceberg Interactive and Humble Games
Platform: PC* *platform reviewed on
Release Date: Aug. 18, 2021
Key provided by Evolve PR.
During an early Steam Game Festival, the indie visual novel/dating sim promised the ability to command a baroness-to-be and alter the course of an epic (and brutal) period of history.
Ambition laces you up in the impossibly large dresses of Yvette Decaux, a driven and educated woman with little to no prospects, and from an unremarkable village in France. Stumbling into a romance with a baron from Paris, Yvette's life changes forever. Packing up her life and heading to Paris to meet with her lover, she finds that those changes are a bit more drastic than she originally envisioned.
Her fiancé Armand is nowhere to be seen. Her name is dragged through the mud by a dangerous viscountess, and the life of opulence she was promised manifests as a broken-down mansion, a quirky maid, and only the belongings she brought with her. Yvette is forced to find fast friends and a way forward all on her own. She fills her social calendar quickly and wanders the streets of Paris, finding love and chaos along the way.
At the parties and salons that make up the period's most important social events, you find scorned and drunken nobles with secrets spilling out of them — aka opportunities to gain influence and mold the world in your favor. You jump from conversation to conversation, spreading gossip and sharing your political opinion with impressionable partygoers. Through these conversations, Yvette can mold the nation's turbulent political situation from the ground level.
Outside of the parties, Yvette walks the streets of Paris and stumbles onto her first source of income: selling the gossip she gathers at parties to a slightly scummy local paper.
All in all, Ambition's stories are more involved than you'd first imagine. Almost every minor and major character has an arc worth following, and the split focus on romance and revolution allows the game's surprisingly poetic writing to shine.
Each of the game's six romantic routes is directly tied to one of five factions: the Crown, the Military, the Bourgeoisie, the Church, and the Revolution. Your standing with each faction affects your standing with each of the romantic interests, so there's lots to consider when it comes to settling on an eventual political and romantic ending.
That juggling of priorities becomes one of the key components of the Ambition experience. As Yvette, your main task is accepting invitations to social gatherings where you'll meet potential love interests and gather the high value gossip you can sell to survive. You'll decide how to spend your time at these parties, choosing which conversations to wander into and how to communicate with the party members.
One of the most refreshing genre takes offered by Ambition is just how much it communicates to you when asked to make decisions. Many dialogue and event choices come with a rundown of the potential positive and negative outcomes, helping you "read the room," plan which conversations will advance your chosen faction and romantic paths, and avoid the most dangerous scenarios. Some of the game's more scandalous dialogue choices can raise a "peril" meter, which when filled can lower your influence with all factions and romantic interests.
Running into the HOT FRENCH SINGLES IN YOUR AREA isn't as structured as in dating sims I've played in the past. Here, you'll stumble into conversations somewhat randomly at parties. The game's random generation impacts which parties you're invited to and what events occur there. This means you may miss out on meeting several of the six romantic prospects by the game's end. It's charmingly realistic and equally frustrating.
The actual romance is fairly trope-heavy, with each potential partner representing a stereotype of the faction they're linked to. We've got the seductive widow from the bourgeoisie, the almost overbearingly fiery revolutionary, the shy priest looking to break free, and so on. I enjoyed the diversity in these romantic options. But between the engaging main storyline (uncovering what happened to your fiancé and repairing your reputation) and the ongoing political storyline, it's easy to let romance fall to the side.
Like many dating sims, you'll need several playthroughs to be able to steal the hearts of Paris's most eligible singles. Your first playthrough will land somewhere between 6 to 8 hours and subsequent playthroughs can be as short as just a few hours, since you can skip through previously read dialogue and the game's core story scenes.
Painfully though, a murky understanding about how to progress relationships makes dating an incomplete experience. It's surprisingly difficult to end up with any romantic interest thanks to: a few poorly explained mechanics; abrupt time skips that ruin your social calendar; and the amount of social juggling required to nail the main story beats and keep Yvette from facing the guillotine by game's end. Even when you try everything to focus on one potential lover, pushing all responsibilities out of your way and spending as much time with them as possible, you may find yourself locked out of a happily ever after. (Note: Do NOT attempt in real life. It's creepy — and as scientifically backed by our experience in Ambition, deeply ineffective at winning anyone's heart.)
I loved my first playthrough, even without ending up with a single potential love interest... which is saying something for a game in a genre that kinda relies on that. I flirted, I went on dates, I got close to and learned about these incredibly interesting folks, but my focus was on changing the world around me in important ways. So Yvette remained single by the end but I was in no way unfulfilled.
The historical focus on display is probably a big part of that. Not unlike parts of the Assassin's Creed series, there are more than a few things that Ambition taught me about a period I otherwise only knew the broad strokes of. Major historical figures are involved at almost every level of the game's story, there are major time skips that align with the growing unrest in France, and ultimately with your help, the revolution erupts (or fizzles depending on your actions) and plays a major role in the fates of all the characters you've come to love.
My lack of French history knowledge even managed to shock me at times, with a few abrupt narrative jumps brought on by... actual history. With the game set right at the start of the French Revolution, in March 1789, I knew major historical events would pop up and affect the narrative. But I didn't expect them to full-on disrupt my meticulously scheduled social calendar and suddenly barrel to the game's eventual ending. It's jarring and abrupt, as it would have been for those living through it. (But... it could have used some telegraphing for us uncultured kids.)
Even with those qualms, Ambition sells a fairly unique package for the dating sim genre. Attending parties, gathering gossip, and finding time to woo your chosen love interest truly becomes a delicate dance. Living in 2020s America as someone who wouldn't go to parties even sans pandemic, I wasn't sure how engaged I'd be with the narrative and the experience. But thanks to the game's beautiful artistic recreations of major French locales and a beautiful soundtrack of orchestral classical music, I was truly transported to revolutionary France, free to live out my bi dreams: wooing beautiful French people and starting a revolution in the streets.
A story that allows a woman to wield her influence and sexuality to not only control her personal narrative but also the narrative of an entire nation is worthy of celebration, especially when it innovates on a formula that can feel a bit same-y. Ambition is a perfect experience for both fans of the genre and those who might be sick of the more traditional dating sim/visual novel experience.
video games are good and Ambition: A Minuet in Power is . . . GREAT. (8/10)
+ fun almost lyrical writing, unique systems for a usually traditional genre, surprisingly educational
- a few narrative jumps could be telegraphed better, ending is abrupt, key mechanics could be better communicated
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