We all know the story of Sleeping Beauty, or at least the versions by Charles Perrault, The Brothers Grimm, and Walt Disney. The fairy tale known as ATU 410 tells of a king and queen desperate for a child who finally have one later in life. They invite a variety of magical beings to come to the celebration of the princess’ birth but tragically leave one out. Unfortunately for them, this overlooked person bears a grudge, and she famously curses the princess to either die or fall into a deep century-long slumber. In the best-known versions, this happens when the princess pricks her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel; many earlier variants instead have the princess get a sliver of flax lodged under her fingernail. In the more PG renditions, she is awoken by true love’s kiss; in the more NSFW retellings, sex, often nonconsensual, is involved. The story has seen multiple retellings across various forms of fiction. One of them, dating to the 19th century, can be found in the novel-length poem Lucile by Owen Meredith, which has the dubious honor of being one of the first works ever prosecuted for plagiarism. Both Meredith’s version and one from the 1990s by fantasy author Patricia C. Wrede (“Stronger Than Time,” in the collection Book of Enchantments) ask the question of what would happen if the prince never came to wake Sleeping Beauty. The visual novel The 13th Month takes a page out of their books, giving us a story of a sleeping princess whose true love takes a while to get there.
As concepts go, it’s a solid one. The story opens traditionally, with the added mythological element of the magical beings invited to the princess’ party being the representatives of the twelve months of the year. They are servants of the moon goddess, who is meant to represent all of the various classical incarnations of the moon. This basis in mild classical mythology seems to be behind the inclusion of a representative of the thirteenth month; there are various theories and explanations for a thirteenth month existing, with some of the most credible relating to the switch to the Julian calendar, although it is worth noting that there isn’t any academic agreement on the subject. The role of this thirteenth magical being is to enact the curse, watch over the sleeping princess, and offer instruction to any potential princesses who arrive at the castle. In this story, her name is Uruzuki, and it is primarily through her eyes that we follow the tale.
Although the story is good and relatively well translated, there are some stringent barriers to the full enjoyment of the game. Primarily these come down to both the game engine and the gameplay choices made by the developers. The game is made in Unity, which does not work as well for visual novels as other engines; it is a bit less intuitive for this style of gameplay. Not everything can be blamed on the choice of the engine, however: the fact that there is no skip or fast forward and that advancing the text cannot happen until the previous text has fallen off the screen letter by letter makes this much more frustrating than it needs to be, especially if you are a fast reader. That the game only offers autosave is another issue, although in this case, it is more a matter of whether you are the sort of player who likes to save at every choice. The loading screen could be more intuitive, and to access all saved games, it is necessary to find the arrows at the bottom of the page, which is oddly more difficult than it should be. The game is voiced with a rather impressive cast; the issue is that voices often begin once the text is already entirely written on the page, making playtime drag a bit more than it ought to. Simply put, this is better in concept than in execution.
On the plus side, alongside excellent voice acting is stunning artwork and quite good music. The balance of the sound is a little off, and some sound effects are much louder than anything else, but by and large, this is a delight to both look at and listen to. The art is a major draw; it is intricate and detailed, with some fascinating character designs for the potential princes. As the story unfolds over 1,000 years of slumber, various prince candidates appear roughly every century. When they enter the castle, they take on animal forms, and while these are not always immediately obvious, given the princes’ identities, they are always fascinating to look at. The princes are essentially all people from history and literature. The first prince to arrive is clearly the prince from Charles Perrault‘s “The Sleeping Beauty in the Wood,” which we know because of his stepmother, the man-eating ogress. Other princes include Gilles de Rais (AKA Bluebeard), Doctor Faust, the Marquis de Sade, and Frankenstein’s Monster. Doctor Faust and Alistair Crowley get the most time with the princess and Uruzuki. Still, each potential prince marks not only the passage of time and cultural shifts but also something that Uruzuki must realize about her role. Their animal forms help to inform this, as well as to add visual interest to the scenes.
The 13th Month is far from a perfect game. Annoyances of gameplay mechanics, choices that don’t mean a lot (although there are multiple endings), and a couple of sexual moments that feel out of place detract from the overall experience. But the artwork is outstanding, and the story interesting enough that it’s worth picking up on sale and it’s worth mentioning that the developers are taking player feedback into account. This probably would have benefited from an early access release, so keep an eye on it, and if the developers fix its issues, it may even be worth the full price.