Steam Prison Review

We are Routing for Cyrus!

General Info

Release Date(s):
JP PC: September 12, 2016
NA PC: February 14, 2019
NA Switch: February 25, 2021
Rating: M 17+
Developer: HuneX
Publisher: NA: MangaGamer // JP: Dramatic Create
Platform I Played On: PC, Switch (Demo)
Platform(s) Available On: PC, Switch (NA Digital)

Synopsis

Taken from the Steam description
Steam Prison on Steam (steampowered.com)

There are two kinds of people: the rulers and the ruled. The Heights are a gorgeous utopia. The Depths, a filthy industrial wasteland. Our heroine, raised in the Heights, has nothing but contempt for those below. Now an observation mission requires her to descend into that world, and the gears of fate have begun to turn.

Why You Should Play: The Shortened Version

>> Interesting world premise

>> You are routing for Cyrus!

>> Some enjoyable routes

>> Not as bad as some claim the game to be

Pros

  • Interesting world premise
  • Heroine is not cookie cutter in each route
  • Does not sugarcoat societal rules and does not inject modern sensibilities
  • Nice background music

Cons

  • Heroine is somewhat reckless
  • Routes felt rushed and many instances of convenience to propel the story
  • Shorter than I anticipated
  • Some routes had severe tonal shift that felt unnecessary
  • Somewhat pricey to comparable paid otome out there if not bought at sale price

First Impressions

Beware there may be minor spoilers below depending on one’s qualification of a spoiler. Read at your own risk. However, in my opinion, this review should not spoil any new player’s experience with the game~

Disclaimer: This is my HOBBY blog with my own opinions, please take that into consideration~

My Limited Insight Between Switch and Steam Version

I played the demo on the switch and there are a few notable differences. The biggest difference is the opening theme song. In the Steam version we get the theme song that sets the tone of a dark and complicated world. In the Switch version we get a SUPER happy theme song that is apparently sung by the Voice Actors. While I can see why some people may appreciate this I found the Switch song to be off-putting  and really didn’t like how happy it was. I really like the original theme song because it matched the overall tone and theme of the game. I also occasionally get the original theme song stuck in my head, I think it’s one of the more ambient openings out of all the otome games I’ve played.

Another difference is the price point. On the Nintendo digital shop this game is a whopping $63, YIKES! Given the mediocre reviews of this game and completing the demo on the Switch I wasn’t comfortable dropping that amount of money on this game. Fortunately, the Steam version has frequent sale prices, so I got the game and Fin’s DLC for roughly $30. That felt much more reasonable for the product we were given.

Prologue

Poor Cyrus // Insight to Heights // Introduction to Society & Customs

The prologue starts us off with an event that is the catalyst for our heroine, Cyrus Tistellia, and how her life was turned upside down. She is confused and doesn’t know how to fully process the situation. We then go back in time two days before the event and see the events that preceded her life changing event.

In these two days we get to see various aspects of Cyrus’ life and general cultural norms of the Heights, the area that is separated from the rest of society due to a great flood hundreds of years ago. The Heights clearly has rigid protocol and customs that are all in the guise of maintaining order and stability in society. It is so rigid in population control that it is unlawful fall in love with someone who isn’t your government sanctioned marriage partner.

We clearly see that Cyrus is an anomaly of this society in that she’s one of the few woman police officers and questions some of the societal rules currently in place. She wants to protect the people but still is an ardent rule follower despite some of her misgivings of certain aspects of society. I would say the Heights as a whole has more traditional gender roles and expects people to maintain those boundaries even though it is not mandated by law.

Despite the control and social structure of the Heights Cyrus loves living there and loves her job. She is a young go-getter with lots of ambition and passion for protecting innocent people. This sentiment goes along with her young age, she’s only 18 when the story begins. She still sees the world through rose colored glasses and thinks everyone has the same moral standards and ethics as her.

The prologue sets up the story and the world Cyrus is used to. I think many people dismiss the world with the notion of “well that’s stupid”. As “stupid” as the world may be, Cyrus has been shaped by the customs of the Heights and many of the routes contain her realizing the world is far greater that the world she was raised in. This world is clearly not akin to our own modern world so it would behoove any new player so fully realize the extent of the myriad of differences between this game’s world and our own. With that in mind there is less to complain about when discussing Cyrus or the other characters actions and thoughts.

The Routes

Fin’s route is included in the Switch version but it’s an added DLC in the Steam version. I think this is good because you can try out the base game first and if you want to drop more money on it you can buy the DLC at a later time. Given how polarizing this game appears to be the steam version is a good deal in my opinion.

They are listed in the order I played them however below are my personal ranking of the routes.

Ines > Ulrik > Grand > Adage > Fin > Yune > Eltcreed

A Brief Thought: If you are looking for a romance heavy otome this probably isn’t the best choice. I personally didn’t mind this because I simply enjoy reading the various routes and all the potential outcomes. Though I have to admit I was a bit shocked at how limited Cyrus’ feelings for many of the love interests and how we didn’t get to see too much progression in her feelings. Some routes executed this aspect better than others. However, considering how stunted people from the Heights can be in the matters of love (especially rule followers such as Cyrus) I would’ve liked to see just a tad more story focusing on her coming to terms of these newfound emotions.

A Brief Thought 2: I thought it was really cool that most routes had an unusual ending that actually lead into another love interest’s ending. For example if you pick certain choices in Eltcreed’s route due to certain circumstances you would have an epilogue with Ulrik and vice versa. The same goes for Adage and Ines. I thought this was really cool instead of having all the bad or neutral endings with Cyrus being dead or completely alone. These epilogues while bittersweet offered a “life goes on moment” where everyone makes the best of and deals with the current circumstances.

A Brief Thought 3: Forewarning, this game uses really questionable names for characters both love interest and side character wise. Having some knowledge of German, the names they gave characters really don’t make much sense to the point it’s rather random. One of the core villain’s names are literally named after two current German states. It’s apparent that a bit of research could have been done to at least have German sounding names that didn’t come off as random or simply because they sounded cool.

A Brief Thought 4: I think it would’ve been nice if all the routes would’ve had slightly longer stories. I felt like many plot elements were rushed or magically solved by coincidence. There are a few villains that I wished were not rushed in their execution. Having a bit more fleshed out villains in certain routes would’ve made for an interesting read. Overall, I think Steam Prison suffers storytelling wise because some concepts, events, and characters are not fleshed out enough. I enjoyed Steam Prison but there were noticeable shortcomings and conveniences story wise.

Ulrik Ferrie

Overcoming Prejudice // Decent Interaction with Cyrus // Overall not Bad

Ulrik is the second branch of the bodyguard scenario. He’s an informant and is definitely our tsundere representative. As tsundere routes go I did not mind this route despite my initial suspicions. Given that him and Cyrus are from completely different worlds it makes sense why he is highly wary and a bit rude to her. If I were in Ulrik’s position, I too would probably be apprehensive about the whole situation. I honestly think he would be rude to anyone from the heights and Cyrus is essentialy evil by association. I think as stereotypical tsundere personality go he wasn’t constantly berating Cyrus for little things.

Ulrik’s route is route is my second favorite route because I liked how he and Cyrus interacted with one another. Both are learning how to deal with someone from a different cultural and social background. Dealing with prejudice is one of the core themes of Ulrik’s route. I really liked that he actually gives Cyrus tools to deal with her newfound position and world that enables her to improve herself knowledge and skill wise. These subtle actions made me appreciate Ulrik and Cyrus’ chemistry and thought they provided balance to one another.

Adage

At First Liked Story // Massive Tonal Shift // Wished Ending Story was Different ngl

Adage is a doctor in the sanctuary district in the Depths and is one of the options for the prisoner route. He’s curt and doesn’t have much of a bedside manner. As the story progressed I felt like he was a borderline tsundere and wasn’t really expecting that ngl. Unfortunately as the story progressed I just disliked Adage’s character and wished some of the story had been executed differently. I think him and Ulrik have too similar of characterization in that they are both filled with self-doubt due to their childhood upbringings. Since I played Ulrik’s story first I was a little disheartened to see the way they took Adage’s storylines.

Despite my minor complaints a good 80% of Adage’s route I actively enjoyed. The bulk of his story focusses on general life in the Sanctuary district, medical issues, and Adage’s somewhat dubious reasons for being sent to the Depths. The romantic progression is decent and we get to see Cyrus evolve and gain knowledge. If there hadn’t been some curious plot choices Adage’s route could have been a top three contender. There is one moment near the end of his route that I wasn’t really a fan of. I just thought it was such a weird tonal shift from the rest of his story and if I were Cyrus I would be absolutely mortified and any ounce of trust that was there would’ve been chucked out the window. I’ve seen many people like his route but something really bugged me with the final moments of the route in the supposed “good outcome”. I’m glad others can look past those final moments and enjoy his route.

Ines Heinrich Heine

Favorite Route // Commonality with Cyrus // The Best Paced Story

I thought that Ines would be the route I liked best and my suspicions were correct. He is the second route for the prisoner route. Inis is the second in command of the Hounds  I actually “naturally” got his route before Adage’s but thought there might be more truth bombs in Ines’ route just because he was a member of the Hounds. Again, my suspicions were correct. I am glad I saved his route for later. I will say this route had the most stable storyline of all the routes so it made for an enjoyable read.

Ines’ route obviously gives some new information of the Hounds, insights to the sanctuary district, and gave us a non-noble perspective of the Heights. He is the “older one” of the potential love interests. For me personally I enjoyed this route the most, it felt the most organic and I liked Ines’ personality. Since he was from the Heights and a rule follower like Cyrus, they have much in common with one another. His route does contain a few classic tropes story wise but I thought they were really cute and weren’t cringeworthy. I liked how they connected Ines’ past to Cyrus’ and you’ll just have to play his story to find out~ Ines’ romantic progression also felt the most evenly paced and on par to Cyrus’ emotions. I always felt they were equals and had immense respect for one another. All in all, I simply really liked both Cyrus and Ines in this route and thought they were meant to be.

Yune Sekiei

Religious Figure // Not Liking the Young Looks // The Immortal Problem

This route is unlocked when you complete one of Ulrik’s endings titled “Ferrie”. Yune is an option I was skeptical about. Firstly, he looks like he’s 16 and secondly, he’s a religious figure. A third reason came into being when I started up the game and it states he is an immortal living saint. Now not all immortal routes are bad (some of my favorite love interests in other games are hundreds of years old 😂 ) but I was really skeptical as to how they would pull off his immortality (and wondered why they couldn’t have made him look just a smidgen older??).

When I do my first playthrough of any route I typically ignore the affection meter. I can honestly say Yune’s route was the route I seemed to choose all the wrong answers. His was the only route that I actually completed all the endings quickly and without any help. I think it’s due to the “right choices” not being completely obvious or simply not coming as second nature for myself. I was shocked at my ineptitude in his route

The actual story was… fine…? Honestly, I wasn’t really that enamored with Yune’s route. The bulk of the story focuses on how Yune views his immortality and being revered as a saint. Instead of being sent to the depths, Yune requests that Cyrus is made his attendant for various reasons. Alongside the focus on Yune’s immortality the route shows the daily life of Yune and how Cyrus adapts at being his attendant. The actual romantic progression in this one was a bit weird for my personal tastes. I think this one feels the most random and doesn’t have the same chemistry apparent in other routes. One of the alternative endings was actually quite satisfying. As a whole Yune’s route was average and wasn’t a personal favorite of mine.

Eltecreed Valentine

Ladies’ Man // Gives Insight to the Depths // Not Sure if Suited for Cyrus

Eltcried is essentially the main figurehead of the series showing up the most prominently in the promotional materials. He is a bit of a ladies man and has that typical otome suave sophisticated vibe. I got the “good ending” via the demo and I wasn’t too impressed ngl. This route really wasn’t my cup of tea and I didn’t think it was a good route to entice everyone into playing the game.

His story focusses on the Depths nearly exclusively and the inner politics that come with the position of being the leader of a district. He is one of the two dudes who falls under the bodyguard scenario. This is the route in which I feel Cyrus felt the least useful. She is a body guard pretty much in name only and really feels like an ornate jewel being shown off and admired by Eltcreed.

I am usually not a fan of the more aggressive flirtatious routes and sadly this was this case for Eltcreed. He is very forward in coming onto Cyrus (and maybe it is due in part to her cluelessness in love) but at times I felt it was a bit too pushy. I think Cyrus’ feelings felt significantly less organic than some of the other routes. Coupled with Eltcreed’s aggressiveness this route simply wasn’t for me. For the lustful and thirsty individuals out there you may like the forward nature of this route.

Grand Ending

A Different Prologue // Extremely Happy & Convenient // Less Negative Moments

This ending is unlocked after you complete EVERY SINGLE one of the love interests endings. This was a bit annoying since in some routes I managed to get to good ending without any assistance. In fact, some routes I was too good at so it was harder to pick some options to get a bad or average ending. I did need a bit of help ngl.

The grand ending is essentially the ending where the events are vastly different in comparison to the other routes. Even the prologue is changed partway through. I think this is supposed to be the wholistically good ending because there aren’t many choice options and you are there simply for the story.

I feel a bit conflicted with this route. In many ways I thought it has a nice premise that changes the otherwise darker events that occur in the normal prologue. My gripe is that I wish there was just a bit more substance.

Without spoiling much I do like the premise of the route. I think it tries to address the many problems in both societies, which both the Depths and Heights certainly need help. If I were to describe this route it would be convenience because almost all the issues that arose in the other routes were magically not as bad or dark. I think the premise was there but the execution was rushed and a smidgen oversimplified.

After my huge criticisms I actually do like this route a bit better than some of the actual love interest routes. Cryus is in her element and does not feel as vulnerable or clueless as the other routes. And the story has fewer negative moments. If you wanted a happy end for everyone this is definitely the route for you.

Fin Euclase

Different Prologue // Wished for a bit More Growth // A Route Suited for Cyrus

Since I played the PC version of the game Fin’s route is an DLC that you open up separately from the main game. It contains the same prologue just with a few events and dialogue that branch off into his route. Fin is Cyrus’ police partner and many of the other routes he gets a less than desirable outcome. Having playing all the other portions of the game I was initially wondering how they were going to execute his route. Essentially the roles of Fin and Cyrus are swapped and Cyrus ends up working (I say this loosely) for the organization Fin usually ends up at. Overall I am glad he got his own route and thought some of the earlier events different from the usual prologue would have been fun to have present in the other routes.

Unfortunately, this route seems to focus on how Fin deems himself pitiful and useless. In the other routes they also rely heavily on Fin being a hapless and hopeless individual. I just would’ve liked to see his route have a bit more character development and possibly breaking out of his shell. If I were the heroine in this story I would definitely not want to be stuck in Fin’s route. I personally don’t really like how pathetic they portray him in the story. I would imagine some people would agree with me. However, I think in terms of Cyrus’ personality this route fits her quite well. In this route Cyrus retains more of her confidence and Fin is her only connection to her past life. It could make sense that they would organically fall for one another given the cards life delt both of them. This is one of the few romances where we get a bit more insight into the romantic progression. Considering this game’s lack of romantic progression or content I’m sure many will appreciate Fin’s route.

Our Heroine: Cyrus Tistelia

Forgo Your Modern Views // Justice vs. Recklessness // Some Routes Better than Others

 Cyrus seems to be a heroine that is a mixed bag for many players of Steam Prison. When I was doing research to see if I’d like to play this game I saw a lot of comments complaining about Cyrus as the heroine because “she is way to dumb and super clueless about love”. I was a bit worried to see so many comments against the main heroine of the game and was a bit nervous that I too would be on the bandwagon of disliking her. The plot premise was intriguing enough (and with the decent sale price on steam) so I decided to get the game on my PC despite my initial worries, especially regarding Cyrus’ overall characterization.

Alongside the massive dislike many seem to have towards Cyrus are the people who stated her actions make sense in the world she grew up in. I typically can acclimate to an in-game universe that has different customs than our modern-day world and understand that I cannot apply all my modern sensibilities in an alternative society. I wholeheartedly agree with the other people who think her character makes sense given her general upbringing and age (she is only 18).

I honestly think many people in the Height’s are severely stunted in many aspects of growth because their life is nearly preordained and organized by the government. While she may appear “dumb” to some people I think for the most part she is ignorant and she is fully aware she does not know what many people in the depths would consider common knowledge. Let’s say once the story unravels Cyrus definitely is out of her comfort zone and does experience quite a bit of culture shock and has a steep learning curve.

One of the characteristics of Cyrus that does bother me is that in certain routes she can become quite reckless or naïve in an area or situation that should seem somewhat suspicious to a person that is unfamiliar with the customs or area. In the bodyguard routes (Eltcreed and Ulrik) she is way too trusting of random people in a society that actively discriminates and hurts people from the Heights, I’m just saying she should be extra careful and she definitely was not in those situations.

I get that she has a strong sense of justice and was once a police officer but sometimes you need to really know when you are out of your element and turf. This didn’t happen in every single route but some of the reckless actions and choices were noticeable during my playthrough and I simply shook my head at Cyrus’ recklessness.

Of the otomes I have read for a simple prologue Cyrus is put through the wringer. Many bad things happen to her that would beat down any normal person’s morale and dignity as a human. They didn’t go ultra-dark (thank goodness) but I did feel bad for Cyrus and was routing for her to get out of the awful situations the game put her through. One thing that bothered me is that with all the terrible events that ensued Cyrus only cries in one route (not saying crying is the only emotional response, but she has it in her to do so). I felt like there could have been at least more emotional responses to Cyrus situation once she was safe from danger. Or at the very least her at least internally thinking of the events and how they were effecting her. I can see why some people describe her as a robot because she does come across highly impartial to many things that most would have even a minute response to, either internally or externally.

I think as characters go Cyrus does have many strong points. She’s not afraid to stand up to others (perhaps a bit too reckless at times) and is said to have good swordsmanship. She is also self-aware of her weaknesses wants to improve upon her knowledge and situation. We really cannot hate someone who actively wants to improve her skill sets and knowledge, can we?

Steam Prison takes into account that depending on the route Cyrus’ desires and reactions differ. She is not a carbon copy of herself in every single route. In fact, in some of the routes I really like her character while others make me question her actions and motives. Overall it was nice to see variance and how she reacted with the different love interests regardless of my opinions of the routes.

Bonus Stories

In the main game there are two short bonus stories depicting the creation of the Heights told in a story book format. One gives a perspective from the Heights and the other the Depths. While these aren’t extremely substantive, they were a little fun addition to explore.

Fins DLC Extras

Along with Fin’s route this DLC comes with the epilogues (they call them after stories) for each route. As epilogues go these were okay in my opinion. I liked the fact that you can choose to watch the small story from the view of Cyrus or the love interest. Some of the small stories really didn’t feel like an epilogue, rather a random afterthought. In my very small experience with epilogues, I thought these almost felt like a different outcome from what we experienced in the main story. Cyrus felt less mature in some epilogues while in others the relationship that was established prior seemed to be lessened and reverted to the personalities of characters in the beginning of the route opposed to the end. All in all, if I were to describe these epilogues it would be meh.

There are a few additional stories that are presented without many background pictures containing perspectives and events from various characters. I appreciate that they gave some added content to characters other than Cyrus or the love interests.

Game Ambience and Gameplay

Nice Character Designs & Music // Some Clunky Translation // Pros & Cons with Configurations

Steam Prison visually has a fleshed-out world and characters. I really liked how we got many different background pictures that enhanced the reader’s knowledge visually of the various locales visited. The CGs are also quite nice and fit the tone of the situation at hand. I liked most of the character designs and outfits in this game. I liked that we didn’t get overt color coding for each love interest and that most people looked fairly natural to the world.

One thing that slightly bothered me is that it felt like there were two different art directions for Cyrus’ character. I thought her sprite and her pictures for the various pathways looked slightly emaciated and not as pretty in comparison to the CGs. Also, her hair length in certain routes and epilogues is not consistent which was noticeable at a first glance. While these weren’t huge issues, they were things I immediately notices while playing the game.

The background music was quite pleasant to listen to. The main song we hear is a reprise of the main theme song that opens the game which I enjoyed. There are other background soundtracks that matched the ambience and situation at hand. Though I have to admit I do get a chuckle whenever I hear one of the “villain” tracks because it is a change from the nice melodic tracks we usually get.

The gameplay was fairly standard as otome games go. In my brief time of playing the Switch demo the controls took a bit of getting used to because they were a different configuration than I was used to. The computer controls also took a bit of getting used to, especially since this was the first otome I played on my computer. The bulk of the controls are either via your mouse or the up and down arrow keys. One key binding I wished that was present was the space bar being able to progress the dialogue, it would have felt considerably more natural opposed to the down arrow key. My wish of the space bar was granted in Fin’s DLC where some of the additional content utilizes the space bar exclusively so there are some inconsistencies in controls in the steam port.

I liked that you had two options for the text. One is the traditional with serifs and the other option is sans serif. The default in the steam version is the serif text which I thought fit the more traditional steam punk vibe than sans serif. I liked that there was an option instead of strictly having a modern looking text.

The translation wasn’t horrible but during my playthrough there were a few moments of clunky wording. Sometimes it doesn’t read naturally and sounds like it’s translated verbatim from the Japanese and lacking English word order or nuance. I noticed more of the clunkiness in Fin’s DLC, especially while reading the epilogues and extra content. I have no clue if this was a different translation team or there wasn’t as much effort put in due to it being extra content. In the end there was enough to make it noticeable to me as a reader but it wasn’t a game breaking feature.

The main menu did feel somewhat limiting especially when you first boot up the game. You only get to access the CGs and basically every extra function after you have completed one route. There is a quick save/load option which is always appreciated. One thing that was nice is that there was an arrow that would take you back to the most recent choice. This was handy when experimenting with endings and it was significantly quicker than utilizing the quick save/load feature. The save files themselves are a bit hectic. You get ten sections each containing a finite number of saves. There is no labelling which route they are which is always fun 😑 I also ran out of save spaces because this game does have many dialogue choices, so choose your saves and organization style wisely!

Would I Recommend?

Steam Prison was a pleasant experience that has many positive attributes alongside my criticisms. I can see why this game has a mediocre rating amongst otome fans. I really liked the premise of the game and enjoyed some of the routes. I think where Steam Prison falters is that the story itself is somewhat rushed and many things go unexplained or simply swept under the rug. There are numerous red herrings where you thought there would be more emphasis on certain plot points and then they are not brought up or a non-issue throughout the bulk of the routes.

Of the potential love interests I really liked Ines’ route. The other routes had many enjoyable moments but there seemed to be something lacking either in plot or a strong emotional connection to Cyrus. I enjoyed some of the routes not for the romantic elements (such as they are in this game) but rather the exposition and insight of the customs and society in this game’s universe. It was really interesting to see such varying life experiences, social statuses, and cultural customs throughout the game.

I didn’t loath the heroine Cyrus like so many seem to. I thought given the cultural nature of the Heights she was simply stunted in many emotional aspects due to her rule following nature. I liked that she had a passion such as swords that are unusual for many otome heroines out there. She also had a strong will to continue with life despite the circumstances that were given to her which is quite commendable. However, I wasn’t too fond of her overly reckless nature. While I have given her a free pass on some of her cluelessness and naïveté at first, after the first few instances of reckless behavior I was judging her choice of action during some pretty suspicious or dangerous situations 😂 I think in some routes she excelled at while others she was depicted far more clueless and useless. This is a game where the overall route can change your perceptions of Cyrus immensely. All in all, while she isn’t my favorite heroine but I can appreciate her strong points.

I wouldn’t recommend this game if you are one who dislikes any notion of traditional societal rules or cannot adapt to fictional universes. This game does not take place in our current world and you must accept it in order greater understand the societal confines and perceptions of the characters and heroine. If you wanted heavy romantic content this game is definitely not the one for you. I can honestly say this is the least romantically inclined otome I have played. If you don’t like a naïve heroine, this is also a warning you should stay away (let’s just say Cyrus has a steep learning curve about most things of life).

I would recommend this game if you liked pseudo steampunk inspired universes, a fictional world, somewhat traditional frame of minds, or simply want a new otome to play. I enjoyed playing this otome and how Cyrus navigated her newfound world and circumstances. For the people who like non modern-day based otomes this game should suffice both plot and character wise. While this game is somewhat controversial amongst players I think the game has merits that make for an enjoyable otome experience.

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