Review – Lair Land Story
It’s been mere days since I expressed my disappointment in Princess Maker Refine, and truth be told, I needed something to get my mind back on track. It’s been an amazing year for games already with so many titles that have restored my faith in real time strategy, proven that careful game crafting in a retro setting can be both nostalgic and good, and finally gotten me to forsake all other roguelites in favor of one I can’t wait to buy again.
So, if ever there was a time to have your faith restored and to find some kind of directionality or solace, this is certainly the year. CFK may have taken the Gainax property of Princess Maker and mostly run it into the ground with some truly poor ports, but the genre is far from dead. Circle Ent., with PQube running the publishing ship, have delivered my new favorite child raising sim. Take comfort and enjoy the wild ride of Lair Land Story.
After defeating a massive demon in the midst of a great war, our hero, Herol (I had no say in this) discovers a young girl on an altar, seemingly abandoned. The girl has no memories whatsoever, and only utters a single word: Chilia. For whatever reason, Herol declares this to be her name and promptly adopts her, as he is a huge hero for killing that demon and basically saving everyone. I guarantee that, coming out of a coma, I’ll end up asking for some kind of food that I was dreaming about, and that’s how I end up being named Fritos in this world.
Anyways, Herol wants to make sure that Chilia has a good life, and sets about helping her decide her path, either through academia, adventuring, faith, craftsmanship, her fanclub (fan club?), or just putzing around until she dies/runs away. In a great twist, Herol is also out there living his own life, at least in some capacity, so, believe it or not, this is the story of TWO people and the effects that decisions have on both their lives! Wild!
Lair Land Story is a surprising hybrid of a game, mixing about 65% child raising simulation with 35% visual novel, though more of an open concept and not a kinetic one. Each turn gives you three weeks worth of time to work with as you choose the basics for what will be happening to Chilia. Besides the standard choosing classes and working jobs, there’s also the very interesting option of repairing.
You see, Lair Land got pretty wrecked by this war, and every inch of the kingdom needs to be built back up. Just as studying combat raises endurance and working as a seamstress improves your wisdom, repairing different parts of the city adds to your humanitarian side, as well as unlocks additional events that can happen during the visual novel part. Oh, and, naturally, you can choose different ways to rest (vacation, bath house, chilling at home) to help release stress and tension before Chilia gets sick and/or delinquent.
Before starting your tri-weekly schedule, Herol and Chilia will also have a chance to venture into town to visit different areas, interacting with locals and experiencing events that might or might not happen. Wandering into the bath house might just result in a boring exchange with the worker, or by helping the delightful Momo creatures get a bath they sorely desire, raising your stats in the process. Going to the plaza might trigger a competition and a chance to earn some extra cash, or you’ll be pickpocketed by a busty girl who may or may not be a love interest for Herol later.
You’ll occasionally be given dialogue choices that build and cement invisible pathways to what may come, and you won’t know for certain how well you’ve developed your relationships until you reach a point of no return. Will you fall in love with Fay, your childhood friend who’s now a priestess in training? Will you favor Grana, the tough-as-nails guard captain whose armor shows a lot of cleavage but not her heart? Hell, will Chilia end up dating one of these people? Anything is possible in these sims, and I literally don’t have enough time left before Christmas to discover all the routes, so let’s give it an affirming “maybe!”
From the drop, Lair Land Story does so much right that it was easy and instantaneous to get deeply involved with this game. The process through which you build up Chilia and her future is straightforward and clear. You get a mini tutorial that takes just a minute to read, and, particularly in the first year, everything is exceedingly forgiving. Extra elements get slowly drip fed into the game, so you get comfortable with studying, working and resting before bringing in the “Outings” where you explore the city.
After a couple goes with that comes the “Research” where you can study things to either sell them for profit or gain additional stats. Each season change comes with a nice kickback allowance from the city that actually permits you to survive, and Chilia’s stats on her well being are clear as day and easy to understand. In a world where simulation games can seemingly drown the player in stats and nuances, it was incredibly refreshing to see what I needed to do, get it, and call it a day.
Additionally, the use of Goals each season gives you directionality with Chilia when you aren’t sure what to do. By having a target stat to work towards in order to get a reward, you can at least set up a goalpost with zero penalty for not achieving it. Do you want Chilia to ultimately get into the world of priests and nuns? Then setting up a goal to raise your Faith and MP (the two are interconnected) makes the most amount of sense. Didn’t hit your goal this month? Don’t worry about it, Chilia doesn’t get discouraged and neither will you. Just pick a new goal and try again. There’s never a point where the game bottlenecks you and forces you to give up everything just to survive: having so many ways to pull in money and items means that you have to really be trying (or be truly inept) to paint yourself into a corner.
What I really appreciated about Lair Land Story was the developing storyline that gave Chilia form and shape. Though there’s something to be said for a blank slate, it’s more logical and poignant that the girl that mysteriously showed up in the aftermath of a cataclysmic battle might have more to her than meets the eye. You get to see more about what potential power and importance she has, and the degree of complexity that comes with this is directly affected by how much work you’re putting into her.
Do you think she might actually be a reincarnation of a long-lost Goddess child? More time in the church! Do you think she’s a warrior orphan who’ll lead the city to victory? Combat lessons! Do you honestly not care and just want to be a creep? Ignore story cues, put her in a swimsuit and force her to do beauty pageants! Whether you’re here for the deeper mysteries of the game or just want to play out your missed opportunity to be on Toddlers and Tiaras, this game has you covered.
Having said this, it’s important to note there are some shortcomings to Lair Land Story, and they can bring the game down substantially in the eyes of players who are trying to get the most out of the title. There are typos, certainly, though I will argue that not one of them is enough to pull you out of the game. At most, they’re annoying and almost saddening, like someone in QA was in a rush and just briefly skimmed instead of taking a look at the script and running a spell checker. No, what I’m talking about are the errors.
One of the most constant ones being certain tasks not actually doing what they say they’ll do. Chilia has to constantly be aware of two stats: exhaustion and tension. While you can guess how to keep exhaustion in check (work, rest, work, rest), tension seems arbitrary and is only further affected by wrong information. So when I want tension to release, I should NOT go on vacation or the bath house, even though they say they relieve tension (it actually raises this stat). Instead, I should work, because some jobs release tension? How the hell does that work?
Also, there are some of the Outgoing moments that have been totally butchered. During the Festival of Remembrance, Chilia asks me about the Festival, and you’re given two answers to her query. A short time later, Grana approaches you to ask something and you’re given the same two answers even though they don’t relate to the question. I picked one, and I have no idea what I actually said because her response didn’t match my answer at all. There are these moments where something clearly was meant to go in the dialogue box and it somehow escaped, resulting in, at best, confusion, and at worst totally ruining a relationship that you’re building. This, sadly, is something very unfortunate in a game giving you visual novel aspects.
Lastly, I think there could have been a bit more polish on the game overall. The artwork of Lair Land Story is cute, if somewhat flat, and I enjoyed the fact that no one is too sexualized (yes, there’s plunging necklines all over the place, but it honestly isn’t so bad). The sound, though, is something that needed a lot more love and care. The music waffles between an appropriate level of ambience and occasionally feeling sophomoric and tinny, like it was put in as an afterthought by a high school ensemble.
The voice work also has some wild moments. Most of the main cast have great captures and sound clear and emotional, as strong voice work should be. One young man that Chilia randomly encounters sounded like he’d never tried to record his voice ever, so he assumed the whole mic should be in his mouth while talking. It had the same energy as a person doing a Zoom call at the top of their lungs. When you’re trying to be immersed in a world, and you insist on voicing the characters, balance is crucial to maintain the illusion.
Thankfully, those issues are all technical, and it’s entirely possible for them to be patched, updated and fixed, a process that would have doomed this game to die back in static cartridge days. But, like so much else about it, Lair Land Story benefits and succeeds because of everything that came before it.
Standing proudly as a title with amazing blends of gaming components and ferocious variety, this is one of the few sims that I not only really enjoyed, but it convinced me to keep coming back again and again. I have two save files going right now, and I’m determined to see if Buff Chilia will have a better life than Nun Chilia. It’s the portable princess sim that I want and I deserve, and fans of the genre will really get engaged with Herol and Chilia’s story. There’s so much more to explore, and I personally will make time between future games to see just how happy an ending I can get for this orphan.
After a driving anime opening, the main game is cute, if a bit plain, and the surprising amount of cleavage is a bit off putting at times.
Spectacular blending of gameplay types, the visual novel elements help to reinforce the importance of the simulation decisions.
In good times, respectable background music and some solid voice acting. In bad, discordant tones and primal screaming passed off as speaking.
My full immersion into the game was constantly jarred by trying to remember if the tasks I was doing were accurate or opposite.
Final Verdict: 7.0
Lair Land Story is available now on Nintendo Switch and PC.
Reviewed on Nintendo Switch.
A copy of Lair Land Story was provided by the publisher.