Genre: Visual Novel, Fantasy, Romance
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Sable’s Grimoire is Western-produced visual novel game, and with over 400k words in its narrative makes it one of the longer ELVNs out there right now. The premise is simple enough – aspiring magical researcher and human boy, Sable is accepted into a prestigious magical institution. Once there however he finds that the school itself is not exactly everything he had expected it to be and he is one of the few humans in attendance, with the majority of his classmates consisting of demihumans. It’s up to Sable to learn more and connect with these fellow classmates, continue his path in learning magic, and… maybe find love?
Sable’s Grimoire does a lot of things very well – excellent world-building including a surprisingly detailed and diverse mix of societies. It actually feels like you’re reading a proper novel at times (Harry Potter allusions inevitably come to mind), and you really do feel immersed into the world of the game. The characters too are interesting and well-developed mostly, and actually touch on some mythological creatures more outside the norm than just the typical elves and fairies (although they’re present too!). One of the best things about this game’s cast, however, has to be that of our protagonist, Sable himself. So many visual novels tend to have faceless, self-insert protagonists who have very little in the terms of personality or indeed, real agency in how the plotlines go beyond the choices the player picks. Sable, however, is not only given a character design but he is definitely a character in his own right with his own motivations, thoughts, flaws, and feelings. His obsession with learning more about magic and the people around him are really at the heart of the story here and this obsession is seen on both sides as being admirable but also unhealthy – the game doesn’t shy away from presenting Sable’s judgment and logic at times as incorrect. This can at times make him come across as quite calculated and arrogant, but also it feels realistic. Sable is also not even remotely interested in romance, which makes many of the routes take on more of a friendship storyline which honestly, I preferred. It made more sense for the characters and fit the theme of the story more I felt, which is more about learning and connecting with people very different from yourself.
There are sixteen endings available which are quite a few (although not all of those are good endings and some of the ‘good’ endings come across more as bittersweet. The game doesn’t shy away from more serious topics such as racism, living up to your family’s expectations, and the dangers of having power. Indeed, those are the core of the story. In general, the game is surprisingly minimal in terms of fanservice, even in the case of Tix’s route, where she is often seen without clothing (but in that artistic way where you don’t ever really see anything). There was at times some more… questionable content however such as one scene in Tix’s route where Sable was left at the mercy of a group of pixies at one point which made me incredibly uncomfortable given his lack of consent to the events. That scene in particular felt very out if place and was played off for more laughs than anything really serious which… didn’t sit well given how the whole route was about Tix having a choice about what to do with her life. Thankfully those scenes are the exception rather than the norm and whilst they did gloss over how nothing bad actually happened in the end afterward, I still found it to be an unpleasant addition.
Stylistically the game is rather average initially – basic menus, inoffensive but unmemorable background music, and no voiced content. It comes across as rather low budget, though the CG backgrounds and hand-drawn character designs are nice enough. It’s very clear that this game was made originally for the PC and its port to the Switch doesn’t really take advantage of much of the switch’s features other than the touch screen, so the controls are initially a little clunky. Presentation aside though, the story and characters are ultimately where this game excels. The developers have clearly put a lot of thought into the game and it’s ongoing production given that there are DLC routes that were added to the game after its initial release (Tix’s route which I played was actually one of these I discovered). Still, if you don’t mind the basic presentation of this game, then you’ll find a really rewarding experience especially if you’re a fan of fantasy stories.
Sable's Grimoire is an in-depth, character-driven western visual novel that excels at world-building and character development.