If you've been eager to explore Mask of the Rose - the upcoming darkly romantic visual novel from Sunless Sea and Sunless Skies developer Failbetter Games - you now have the perfect opportunity to do so, courtesy of a newly released demo on Steam.
Mask of the Rose takes place in 1862, around three decades prior to the events of Sunless Sea and Failbetter's acclaimed browser game Fallen London, and focuses on events shortly after the city (an alternate-universe version of Victorian London) is stolen by bats and carried to a vast underground cavern system deep beneath the Earth's surface.
Yet while it's set in the same universe, Mask of the Rose is a somewhat different proposition to Failbetter Games' previously titles, slotting into a the mould of a romantic visual novel, albeit one that retains Failbetter's darkly irresistible gothic wit and "a hint of murder".
"The possibilities for personal connection in London are different now," Failbetter explains on Mask of the Rose's Steam page. "Thrown together in crisis, you might befriend or romance many of the characters you meet, from Griz, your assertive housemate for whom the Fall was a chance to break free of Victorian societal norms, to the infernally well-dressed gentleman at the Brass Consulate with the amber eyes.
"Even death itself has a twist here: the first murder victim since the Fall is feeling much better, and keen to see justice done. Unfortunately, as the doctor who treated him immediately before he expired, your housemate Archie is the prime suspect...".
In amongst its promised romance - which your character can either experience first-hand or vicariously, instead choosing to matchmake other characters - Mask of the Rose will enable players to explore "cosy, mysterious and magnificent" locations, don outfits of their choosing, pick up odd jobs to earn money and gather resources, replay the game to uncover "deeper and deeper" secrets, even write - and re-rewrite - their own love stories and murder theories.
"Are the twists in the tale not to your taste?," Failbetter asks, expanding on that last point. "Then change the motive, the location, even the victim, and see how the stories adapt!".
If you're sufficiently intrigued by the premise of the developer's latest project, Mask of the Rose's demo is available on Steam right now, offering a condensed version of the game's first act and giving players the opportunity to explore select locations across the city, introduce themselves to key characters, and encounter Mr Pages at the Bazaar.
Mask of the Rose is expected to get its full PC release in "October or November" this year.