The first thing you’ll likely notice about Little Goody Two-Shoes is the name and its apparent juxtaposition with Elise’s character. Today, we use the phrase “goody two-shoes” to describe someone who is sanctimoniously perfect, which comes from the 18th-century children’s book Little Goody Two-Shoes, which was, to put it mildly, moralizing. The anonymous text (sometimes attributed to Oliver Goldsmith, although that’s unlikely to be the truth) follows a girl who only has one shoe to her name and gets a second as the reward for her kindness and goodness. “Goody” in the 18th-century context is simply a shortening of “goodwife,” itself used more or less in place of Mrs./Miss at the time. This is something that the game creators are very aware of, and the title is a somewhat tongue-in-cheek reference to the children’s book because Elise is anything but cloyingly good – she’s really just out to make her dreams of riches come true.
It’s worth noting that the title isn’t the only literary reference lurking in this game, and understanding that does enhance the experience of playing it. Elise’s shoes, which kick off the whole adventure, are bright red, a reference to Hans Christian Andersen‘s The Red Shoes, wherein a girl named Karen (who also dreams of wealth represented by red shoes) becomes so proud of her shoes that she is cursed to dance until the only way to make it stop is to cut off her feet. Elise is much more Karen than Two-Shoes, although it must be said that she hides her ambition a bit better. That’s important because her adoptive grandmother is named Holle, like the title character in the fairy tale Frau Holle, part of the tale type known as “The Kind and the Unkind Girls” where the one is rewarded for her care, and the other is punished for her lack. It’s in Elise’s best interest – and the player’s – to be the kind girl rather than the Karen. (Holle is also a version of an ancient Germanic goddess, which may or may not be a factor here.)
The game is a narrative role-playing adventure, combining a story affected by the player’s choices in a series of dialogue choices and with whom to help, the necessity to manage Muffy, the town gossip who can make or break Elise’s reputation, and exploration with mini-games. The narrative portion also includes a yuri dating sim element, with Elise able to choose between romancing three women, two in the town, and the mysterious “selenic wanderer” Rozenmarine. Regardless of who you pick, conversations with all three will provide important information and occasional helpful items. The gameplay is divided between day and night, with daytime being the basic Stardew Valley game style. Elise wanders about town and the environs, picking up clues for the nighttime, building trust and love with other characters, and making money. Then, at midnight, the game shifts into horror mode, with Elise exploring various phantasmagorical locations in pursuit of the mysterious Him who grants wishes for what it’s easy to see is a terrible price. (Easy for us, that is.)
Of the two modes, nighttime is by far the more challenging, and most of the gameplay issues arise from there. The review copy I received was for the PC, and the controls are decidedly clunky. While you are given a choice between modern (WASD) and classic (arrow keys) controls, both have some significant issues responding, and the lack of a jump feature really hampers some of the woodland rambles. Examining items requires a sort of clicky-pickiness that’s frustrating, and even the running feature (by holding shift, but only the left-hand button; the right-hand side doesn’t work) doesn’t help in some of the quick reaction sections. While death is a regular feature of this sort of game (thanks, early King’s Quest games), it almost feels too easy to die here, particularly in sections dealing with the killer moths. It’s frustrating rather than fun. That may very well be a direct result of the PC port of the game; it’s also available for consoles, and I have to say that I suspect it will be a better experience on one. Midnight segments provide healing items for you to find through exploration, though, so it may be less of an issue for the more coordinated or less easily frustrated among us. It is worth noting that while plenty of save points and slots are available, the “continue” option after death will automatically load the most recent save file, so if you’re playing multiple run-throughs at once, just be aware of that.
The game’s ten endings are determined in part by which lady you choose to romance, which works well. All main characters have some voiced lines in both Japanese and English, but the music is the standout auditory feature here. (Pre-orders of the game on Steam came with the soundtrack, which is a plus.) The art is also fantastical, combining the 90s anime version of the cute aesthetic – much sharper than what passes for cute currently – with bright colors, elaborate costumes, and interesting backgrounds. The sprite and other animations are also very good, and this game looks genuinely beautiful, which adds a lot to the creepier sections. While I wouldn’t say that the horror is terrifying, it is unsettling, which is almost more important.
Little Goody Two-Shoes isn’t a perfect game. It has a lot of outstanding elements and is interesting throughout. Still, the frustration factor of the quick reaction mini-games that make up the work sections and the difficulties of navigating the midnight scenes without dying repeatedly detract from the overall fun. I’d try this on console before PC, but it is worth at least attempting for its aesthetic and interesting combination of themes.