Review: Time Princess - The Underground City

Where Infinite Shimmer, the last visual novel in Time Princess, encompasses everything romantic and girly in a seemingly misplaced cyberpunk setting, The Underground City: Stirring Shadows does quite the opposite. Although the dystopian world of The Underground City is so similar to Infinite Shimmer that it could have easily been a spinoff about a different character living a different life, Sera's circumstances are not nearly as appealing as Aurora's. This visual novel takes everything a player would expect from the genre instead of twisting it into a Barbie-like setting. While this is great for fans of dark gritty dystopian worlds, it feels out of place for such a bright girly game as Time Princess that features a fairy who gives the protagonist the power to become anyone. While not appealing to my personal tastes, this novel demonstrates the game's versatility to players who enjoy all types of stories.

Underground City players are transformed into Sera, a tragic figure trying to survive in a world of violence, drugs, false gods, and classism. She grew up with Ren, a rebel fighting for freedom, and was raised by a woman named May without knowing where she really came from. The visual novel was released in two parts. The world is so vast and detailed that it takes a long time to learn the full story and unlock all its secrets. However, I found everything so dreary that it was difficult for me to focus on the plot, and I'm certain I missed many key points due to my mental wiring that compels me to escape to happier stories when things get too dark. The Underground City offers four companion characters, which is more than many of the other visual novels in the game, but none of them offer potential for romance, and all except one are quite violent and cold, making it difficult to relate to most of them.

Ren is the companion that Sera has known the longest, which should make him the most trustworthy, but he is later revealed to be a psychopath who was corrupted by the struggles of the society they were brought up in. He butts heads with Ranae, another rebel who has a different perspective from him and was brought up in a more affluent area of the city. One potential story branch allows Sera to cross paths with Yates, who trains her in a specific style of fighting. Since it is possible to play through certain branches of the story without encountering Yates at all, I thought he was an odd choice for a companion compared with several other recurring characters who appear more often and have more relevance. My favorite companion is Apolonia, a timid girl who wishes to help free the troubled victims of the underground world but doesn't have the physical strength to do so and depends on others to help her. Though she has some interesting secrets that are revealed later, she is not in the story for long either.

As far as the dress-up elements of the game, The Underground City provides a wide variety of outfits to appeal to every possible taste. From long flowing gowns to armor-clad warriors, this visual novel has it all. It's a little odd for a story about a ragtag team of penniless rebels fighting for their lives to have such an interesting and diverse line of fashions to choose from, but at least something good could come from such a depressing story. My favorite outfit is a long flowing purple and lavender gown with frilly sleeves and gold accented overlays reminiscent of Princess Zelda's iconic skirt. The story also features a variety of unique headpieces including one that looks like a winged unicorn and another that is similar to the spiky crowns used in Six. There are dress, skirt, and pant options to suit every preference and provide motivation to complete the four grueling chapters in the story.

The Underground City: Stirring Shadows caters to a specific niche within the Time Princess player base. It offers a richly crafted dystopian world brimming with intricate details and a complex plot that will undoubtedly appeal to those who enjoy dark narratives. However, players who typically gravitate towards the lighter content and romantic elements that Time Princess is known for might find this story's relentless focus on a bleak and oppressive society to be a stark departure from the usual experience. The extensive clothing customization options stand out as a surprising yet welcome juxtaposition to the story's dark tone, offering a bit of lightheartedness through an impressive variety of outfits for players to collect and style their character with.


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