I’ll be honest. If you’d asked me what play I’d most like adapted into video game form, the 1897 magnum opus of French poet and playwright Edmond Rostand, Cyrano de Bergerac, would not have been my first choice. And yet, surprisingly, indie darlings Popcannibal have managed to transform a woefully depressing French play into an emotional rollercoaster of a video game. Cyrano is not only a brilliant adaptation but a phenomenal example of masterclass game design.
“This is a classic love story, told against the backdrop of the Thirty Years War.”
Featuring as an exclusive new title at this year’s LudoNarraCon (available only in the LudoNarraCon Supporter Pack), Cyrano is a turn-based adventure of sorts that centres around the titular Cyrano and his friend Christian. Cyrano is madly in love with Roxane, who just so happens to have fallen for the handsome, but empty-headed Christian. Taking on the mantel of writing letters to Roxane in Christian’s stead, Cyrano quickly begins to interweave his own feelings. This is a classic love story, told against the backdrop of the Thirty Years War.
A quick side note before really delving deep into Cyrano as a game: the play it’s based on is utterly fascinating. It received English translations from both Brian Hooker (who is credited as the translator in this game) and Anthony Burgess, the author of the acclaimed A Clockwork Orange. In fact, Anthony Burgess worked on a 1973 musical version of the play. It even starred the late Christopher Plummer, who went on to win a Tony for Best Actor in a Musical as a result. Hiroshi Inagaki, the director of the acclaimed Samurai I: Musashi Miyamoto, also directed a film adaptation titled Life of an Expert Swordsman. Of course, there’s the 1987 film, Roxanne starring Steve Martin, which is loosely based on the play. And, a final tidbit, the word Panache apparently got its contemporary meaning from the Cyrano de Bergerac play.
“Cyrano is a hilariously witty romantic romp that translates many of the play’s components into captivating gameplay mechanics.”
Anyway, history lesson aside, Cyrano is an incredibly fascinating game in all aspects. This is not a direct adaptation of the play, as numerous changes have been made. For starters, in the original play, Cyrano is Roxane’s cousin. That element is thankfully omitted. For the most part though, as far as I can tell, this is a fairly faithful recreation of the original play. For die-hard fans, this will be truly spectacular. Fortunately, for those who haven’t read or seen the original play, however, this is still a hilariously witty romantic romp that translates many of the play’s components into captivating gameplay mechanics.
Take for example a scene early on in the game. Cyrano, famous for his large nose, is berated by another man. Being the charmingly witty man that he is, he criticises the man for having not used his opportune moment to critique his nose wisely. What follows is a turn-based battle in which your moves are various insults Cyrano comes up with about his own nose. By winning you humiliate the man with your self-deprecative jokes and send him on his merry way. It is a hilarious scene filled with clever writing and fun character moments. Fortunately, there are many more moments such as this one throughout the game. I was always happy whenever they showed up, as they make for fun alterations on how to tell a narrative.
“What is excellent, however, are the letter-writing segments.”
There are also turn-based battles, which occur as you slowly make your way across the over-world. Battles will randomly occur as you move, and your move sets within these fights are limited. Each character has the ability to “fight” and “heal”, which do exactly as they say. There’s the option to throw cards, which essentially is an attack that affects all enemies. You can also steal cards with a certain character, although I couldn’t discern what this actually did. Admittedly, these fights are a little basic. But they serve to break up the narrative and flow fast enough that they’re never arduous.
What is excellent, however, are the letter-writing segments. Throughout the story, there are numerous opportunities to write letters to Roxane. Whenever you defeat an enemy, you’re given a playing card. Each card has an assigned suit and number, but also a sentence with a missing phrase or word. Think Cards Against Humanity, but more love letter related. Whenever you’re tasked with writing a letter, you must pick the best poker hand that you can out of your available cards. The better quality the hand, the more experience points you’ll get. Once you’ve picked your hand, you’re then tasked with writing the letter. I honestly expected it to be a case of mushing various sentences together from the cards I’d unlocked. However, I was taken by complete surprise as I was given free rein to write whatever I wanted. It is a welcome addition that made Cyrano that much more enjoyable.
“This is a package absolutely worth getting, not only just for Cyrano but to help support indie developers bring us more phenomenal and unique experiences in the future.”
Cyrano is a short game, but it is a fantastic time. Its gameplay is unique and witty, its narrative is simultaneously hilariously charming and heartbreakingly sad. The artwork is phenomenal and really adds a distinctive spin to this particular adaptation of the play. And best of all, it introduced me to a play I knew very little about. Purchasing the LudoNarraCon Supporter Pack is giving money to a really great cause. Helping indie developers create more games like Cyrano, and all the other fantastic demos we’ve previewed is absolutely what the gaming industry needs right now. Alongside the game, you also get some wonderful pieces of music from various narrative-based games, as well as some fantastic wallpapers. This is a package absolutely worth getting, not only just for Cyrano but to help support indie developers bring us more phenomenal and unique experiences in the future.