Review: Northanger Abbey

Review: Northanger Abbey

Based on the novel by Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey from Spiral Atlas endeavors to bring a new spin to a classic tale. Playing with gender and the expectations therein, this classic romance is a highly interactive romantic adventure during your first social season in Bath. Play through the original setting, as written, gender-swap the cast, and customize your expression to your own liking. What new happiness awaits? Perhaps love?

Aesthetically, this game makes a bold choice in its approach to creating a Regency-era setting. The characters are toony and endearing with charming expressions and a lively feel. The costuming, on the surface, appears accurate to the era, but doesn’t fall into the trend of color and style monotony seen in many other period pieces. They also create a lovely diversity of characters in regard to skin color, body shape, and ability, giving a new dimension to characters an Austen fan might already be familiar with. When one considers the size of the cast and that each member has multiple gender expressions, the love and consideration for the character design becomes apparent.

These characters romp through very soft and elegant impressionist painting backdrops. Tied together with the frilly UI, they create a wonderfully light and perfectly pretty visual language that matches well with the story being told.

The writing is very much for the genuine Austen fan, both for better and worse. The game does a wonderful job blending text from the original book with new additions. The seam between the two is completely invisible, and you float along through the story without a hitch. There are also a lot of choices and a lot of places to make those gentle changes to the story, expanding the original content in very interesting ways that still feel genuine to the source material.

Generally speaking, it can be played as a standalone piece, but it might require a little more thorough reading and attention to detail if you’re coming in with no or little prior knowledge of the book. Even as someone with a vague preexisting understanding of the story, I felt like I was only just sort of keeping up with the characters and the story as it was presented. Some of this is a natural consequence of the language, but some things may have been dropped in the process of abridging.

I adore the idea of taking a book from a setting that is so strictly defined by gender norms and written by one of the most prominent female authors in the Western literary canon, and playing aggressively with said gender norms and restrictions. I think the ability to gender-swap the entire cast is clever, and the ability to play with gender expression as a main character in a Regency romance is a really fun concept. With how hard they hit the idea, though, in their game page and ancillary meta-game text, I felt like I would see more consequences for these gender-based choices. There were definitely references to it and it wasn’t absent from some of the interpersonal conflicts, but the game sets the expectation that there’s going to be a little more complex discussion of the strictures of historical gender roles threaded a little more strongly through the game.

It does something really delightful in that it allows you to choose the gender settings of the cast and setting independently of what you choose to express as an main character. With all the effort of going through this narration-centric character creation, it doesn’t quite feel that the avenue is full realized for how much game and story there is.

This game is more than a fun Regency romance. It’s a small social playground, letting you weave through a classic story in new and interesting ways. It’s perfect for Austen fans and non-fans alike, and isn’t afraid to play fast and loose with the typical period drama. At the same time, it retains all that which makes said dramas so fun, bringing a fun new spin to an old genre and a classic story.

Get it for free on itch.io.

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