Indie developer Argent Games is known for their inventive BL visual novels. Where most games from the genre focus on getting their characters into the bedroom, Dovah and Gamma, the dynamic duo behind Argent Games, tend to focus on creating games with stories and characters that subvert the usual cliché Boys Love tropes. I’ve been following their works for quite some time, but I will admit that despite having their games recommended to me quite a few times, Chess of Blades is the first of their games I’ve had the chance to play.
Chess of Blades is the studio’s second title and follows Rivian Varrison, the son of a high ranking military strategist, who is attending a celebration at the King’s residence. While there he must navigate the complexities of the aristocracy and the political intrigue of court life. But, the King’s court is full of dangers, and soon Rivian finds himself being drawn into the tangled web of secrets that could prove fatal for not just him but everyone he holds dear. With enemies all around, Rivian will have to be careful, lest he meet a grisly end…
- Available for Windows, Mac, Linux | Steam | Google Play
- 4 pursuable characters (male)
- 9 Endings
- Full English Voice Acting
- Languages: English
- Cost: $24.99
- Gameplay Length: 12+ hours
Argent Games wastes no time dropping the player right into the action; the King hosts a lavish birthday celebration and invites all the nobles from the surrounding lands. The event will consist of five days of dancing and festivals, culminating in a masquerade ball. Rivian isn’t a fan of court life, preferring to be left to his own devices, but his father, a high ranking nobleman forces him to attend the King’s celebration in his place. Once there, Rivian encounters a host of interesting characters, some who seek to ingratiate themselves with the son of Lord Varrison and others with much more sinister intent. On his second day at court a mysterious crime takes place and Rivian finds himself at the center, and if he isn’t careful he could very well end up the victim of something much more gruesome. There are three main love interests and one bonus love interest that Rivian encounters while at court: Arden, Rivian’s childhood friend and a member of the royal guard; Franz an enigmatic noble who warns Rivian that all is not what it seems at court; Linnaeus, the haughty Grand Inquisitor; and last is Sabre he’s the King’s favorite pit-fighter (since he is an extra character his route is much shorter than the rest).
Most games, especially indie games tend to have one overarching narrative that plays out more or less the same in each of the character routes. So no matter which love interest you choose, the story itself is largely unchanged, which can make for a pretty repetitive experience. However, Chess of Blades departs from this practice by changing up the nature of the incident Rivian has to solve. In Arden’s route the daughter of a maid is kidnapped, in Franz’s route a foreign ambassador is murdered and one of Rivian’s family members is blamed, in Linnaeus’s route a duchess is robbed and murdered, and the final “extra” route follows the kidnapping from Arden’s route, but from a different perspective. Writing one mystery storyline is difficult enough, but to craft three separate standalone mysteries is a feat in and of itself, so I fully expected the story to suffer a bit between routes. However, each route’s story is pretty well executed, the mystery had plenty of twists and turns to keep you guessing until the very end. Some routes were better than others, of all the routes, Sabre’s felt the most lacking, but that was mostly due to it being an offshoot of Arden’s route. Linnaeus’s route was my favorite since it directly impacted the characters as Rivian and Linnaeus were both accused of committing the crime they were trying to solve.
The characters really made the story, and while I didn’t necessarily like all of them, they each added something unique to the story. Chess of Blades has a phenomenal supporting cast, that really help round out the story, some of which are much more memorable than the main cast. Rivian was one of the characters that really had to grow on me, kind of like the heroines from Changeling and Cinderella Phenomenon had to… You’re either going to love Rivian or hate him, there really is no in between. Rivian is a jaded aristocrat forced to hang around a bunch of flatterers and social climbers, so he spends most of the game throwing shade with his vitriolic internal dialogue and he is not above being snarky as hell with just about every word that comes out of his mouth. Early on I found his complaint annoying as hell, because that’s literally all he does, but as the game progressed he either toned it down or I got used to it… I’m still not sure which. But, I will say that his VA managed to perfectly capture Rivian’s bored “too good for this” tone, A++ casting work with that one…
But, even with my criticisms, I can’t say that I hate Rivian, because unlike the usual BL protagonists, he has so much agency in his actions. He isn’t strung along by his love interests (okay maybe a little with Franz) he plays an active role in each route and he more than holds his own a few times. He’s pragmatic and blunt, and I appreciate that given the more serious tone of the story. The love interests are a bit hit or miss, some I liked better as side characters in the other routes than I did in their own… *cough* Franz *cough* and others like Sabre needed more fleshing out.
Arden, I loved wholeheartedly, just because he has an established relationship with Rivian prior to the start of the game and Argent Games did a great job of building up the chemistry between them. And I will admit that earnest guys like Arden are my weakness… he is such a sweetie pie.
My second favorite is Linnaeus, and no it isn’t just because he wears glasses. Unlike Arden, there is no prior relationship, in fact the pair dislike each other quite a bit. They’re so similar in their disillusionment towards the court that you’d think they’d be best of friends, but nope, just a lot of shade throwing and snark. However, there is clear chemistry between them that really goes that extra mile to make their interactions work and you see them really come to respect one another over the course of the story. Argent Games takes the time to develop these characters over the entirety of their respective routes, and despite the game taking place over the course of a few days, you see just how much the events of the story changes them.
Of course, I should also mention that Chess of Blades does have mature content, the sexual scenes aren’t especially graphic by BL standards, but they’re satisfying enough. The voice acting adds a nice touch to them, and the art style really lends itself well to intimate scenes. Though if you don’t like nudity in your BL games, there is a PG-13 version that edits out all the explicit content. There was an art style change midway through production and I have to say I quite like the newer style compared to the style used in the demo I played a few years ago. It really gives the game a more polished feel that really compliments the Victorian/Baroque style of the setting, the lavish clothing of the nobility and the grand ballrooms… it’s really quite pretty to look at.
So, the final verdict: Chess of Blades is an ambitious sophomore title, and while it isn’t perfect, it does offer a damn good mystery adventure. Argent Games primarily produces boys love visual novels, but I’ve found that rather than building their stories around the usual tropes of the genre, the studio puts more of an emphasis on crafting compelling stories and characters that will appeal to a wider audience. While Chess of Blades is a BL visual novel and it does feature same sex relationships between men, but unlike other titles from the genre the story isn’t built around the romance. The romance is just the cherry on top of everything else Chess of Blades has to offer.