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You know that feeling when you go into a story, expecting it to be another teenager's edgy fantasy, only to have it end up being one of the best things you've ever read?
That's how I feel about Fervent's gothic romance visual novel, Cupid.
I never thought for a second that something like this would end up being high in my recommendations list; if any visual novel could be considered high literature, this would undoubtedly be one of them.
Cupid is an even more twisted take on Greco-Roman mythology—uniquely told in third person—in which you assume the role of a mother, who watches over her daughter Rosa in the afterlife. Poverty-stricken Rosa is taken in by a mysterious nobleman named Guilleme right along with his piano prodigy Catherine. For the years to come, everything goes downhill. Catherine eventually begins a relationship with Guilleme, and it drives her mad—to the point of suicide. The mother is convinced that Guilleme, who may not be all as he appears to be, had something to do with it—and must be stopped at all costs. You will act as Rosa's guide to his demise, by uncovering his secrets and orchestrating the best strategy for taking him down.
However, there could be a catch. Depending on how you treat Rosa, and what your motives are, Rosa might just talk back and challenge your beliefs. By extension, other characters may question Rosa's actions as well. The fate that you decide for the characters may or may not be the one you had in mind...
I do need to make it known that there are a lot of unnerving, adult themes in this VN, so I wouldn't normally recommend it to anyone under the age of 18 unless you can genuinely withstand heavy text (the imagery is nowhere near as disturbing, at least). It deals with: parental/domestic abuse, suicide, consent issues, potential incest, sexual assault, pedophilia, mutilation, torture, gore, and murder. While unpleasant, these are nevertheless important issues that the game addresses in a realistic and introspective, albeit slightly romanticized way. But the poeticism does admittedly help make the content seem more decorous.
Within these themes and more, such as sexuality (including orientation), love, and the human condition, there are many ideas presented to the reader from various philosophical and moral points of view. Nothing is clear cut, and the game sure doesn't try to pick a side, as evident in: the choices you can make, the dialogue you can unlock, and the endings you can achieve. It's up to you to internalize the material and decide what the logical resolution should be for everyone—beyond in-game decision-making itself.
I also appreciate the fact that there's no actual villain in this. Guilleme—and even the mother—may seem like they are, and while they are definitely broken souls, they aren't actually bad people. They're conditioned to believe in the things they do as a result of their unfortunate experiences. I even found myself siding with Guilleme on quite a few of his criticisms towards people. All of the main characters are written exceptionally well; they're perceptive, they're flawed, they grow (although somewhat prematurely in the case of the mother and Guilleme as far as changing their attitudes goes) and certainly have a lot of interesting things to say about love, virtues and vices.
I was most impressed by Rosa's eventual maturity, however; she's not as weak and submissive as readers will assume her to be. As long as she doesn't descend into madness (which would realistically be the inevitable path), she's above revenge and retribution, doing things out of love that she doesn't expect in return—all of which are difficult things for humans to do.
One thing to keep in mind is that the story will go back and forth between the past and present in order to shed light on characters' backstories, just in case you get confused by sudden changes in setting. One of my favourite aspects of this game is trying to figure out the true relationship between the mother, Rosa, and Guilleme, where exactly Rosa came from, and the latter twos' true nature. You will have initial assumptions about them, but other clues may cause you to have doubts.
The music, which is mostly reminiscent of 18th century French culture, and ambient sound effects do help with enhancing the romantic motif, immersion and in creating an eerie atmosphere respectively. However, several tracks are somewhat forgettable. The dialogue at times is also rather unbefitting of the time period and takes away from the text's literary prowess. Several of the CGs are lovely and polished, but I'm mostly not fond of the artwork and character sprites.
Though considering that this is an entirely free game on Steam, I've hardly anything to complain about. If you're able to get past the unpleasantries, and even the unorthodox nature of Cupid's subject matter, there is a lot to take away from it. We need more ambitious stories like this that take controversial subjects seriously and provide solace in a "happily sad" way—to be frank, that's really the only way I can put it. Because this story will hurt, but it will make you feel ever so deeply for everyone in it, wishing they can all have their closure they so desperately need.