If you’ve never heard of the classic fairytale “The History of Little Goody Two Shoes,” don’t worry, you’re not alone. This over 250-year-old story may have been one of the first children’s books to reach a widespread English audience, but its tale of a poor orphan’s journey journey to a life of riches hasn’t prevailed in the cultural zeitgeist in the way other classics from that era have. That hasn’t stopped Square Enix Collective – the indie publishing division of the JRPG giant – from greenlighting an experimental new release called Little Goody Two Shoes, which they bill as a “mysterious new fairytale anime adventure with a dark twist.” I had the chance to demo this off-the-wall title at PAX West recently, and while I had no idea what to expect going in, what I played was unsettling, beautiful, and immediately absorbing.
Developed by studio AstralShift, Little Goody Two Shoes is a top-down adventure that follows a girl named Elise, who finds herself tired of her humble life in the countryside and the demands put upon her by her acquaintances. But whereas the original book portrays its protagonist as an ambitious, kind, and independent girl (at least, for the time) who’s meant to be a role model, Little Goody Two Shoes’ lead character immediately exudes a sense of entitlement and selfishness. Perhaps that’s why, shortly into my demo, she awakens in a surreal nightmare realm that resembles a twisted version of her fantasy of a life of luxury.
I’m first tasked with helping Elise get her bearings in what appears to be an opulent bedroom in a palace or mansion of some sort. Almost immediately, strange happenings are afoot – noises echo off in the distance, lights start flickering, and a ghostly spirit appears mumbling about what it means to be reborn. It’s here that the game informs me I ought to be wary of keeping Elise in the shadows for too long, as her sanity will be damaged if she has too many supernatural run-ins. After rummaging through some furniture, I find a key and manage to escape the confines of the room.
As Elise ventures deeper through long, marble-floored halls, the situation worsens as the warm glow of the sunset is replaced by an eerie red glow. Elise picks up a lantern which, when equipped, provides her enough light to help stave off her fear. She soon finds herself in a massive room filled with floating candles that, if Elise gets too close, will surround her and strike her, injuring her. This segment plays a bit more like a stealth game, with me weaving Elise around walls and through bookshelves, trying to find a way out. Things get even stranger from there, as Elise eventually finds herself trapped in a surreal void filled with strange creatures that begin dancing around her as she races towards the exit, trying to wake up.
The visual style of Little Goody Two Shoes is generally bright and colorful, and the gorgeously detailed art feels right out of a storybook, all the way down to the menus with their parchment backgrounds and inky fonts. Then there are the beautiful anime-styled character portraits, with their expressive features and spry mannerisms that are among some of the most detailed and authentic to the medium that I’ve seen in recent games. It’s perhaps not what you would expect from a game that so quickly tries to unsettle the player, but many fairytales underscore their more positive themes with darker undertones; even as Elise awakens and enters the real world again, the rustic coziness of her family’s home has something that just feels ever-so-slightly off in the way that many good mysteries do. It reminds me a lot of last year’s excellent Beacon Pines, which used its cute cast of animal characters to lure the player into a sense of false comfort while a dark mystery lurked in the background, slowly revealing itself. While never delving into outright horror, at least not in my limited demo, Little Goody Two Shoes’ moody score and rich environmental soundscape allude to some dark forces acting in the distance, as if Elise is always being watched by something ominous down the path.
Where Little Goody Two Shoes differs is in the breadth of its surreality, and how it kept me on my toes by finding ways to make the whole experience stranger with each new scene. One scene in particular, occurring shortly after Elise finds herself accused of witchcraft (and which I promised Square Enix I wouldn’t spoil), sharply shifts the game’s tone and aesthetic in such a jarring direction that I genuinely was shocked. Without being too specific, it was like I had suddenly changed the channel and tuned into some hallucinogenic-induced sketch that you would have seen on Adult Swim in the early hours of the morning in, like, 2010. It was that weird.
Beyond its heavy focus on storytelling, I get the sense there’s a greater systemic depth in Little Goody Two Shoes than I was able to see. There’s a calendar system and day/night cycle, which could be little more than a narrative device, but seems to be alluding to some possible elements of time management. During the day, when Elise isn’t stuck in her dreams and nightmares, she’ll have opportunities to socialize and interact with residents of the neighboring village, including dating-sim elements. Players also need to manage some of Elise’s basic needs like hunger, and will apparently be performing physical odd jobs around town by way of minigames to help her earn a living. There are at least some elements of player-driven choice at play, as the developers have shared that there are 10 different endings to the game depending on how players progress through the story.
Little Goody Two Shoes is attempting to meld both literary and game genres in some really exciting ways, and by the end of my demo, I was really intrigued at the direction the mystery seemed to be headed in. If AstralShift can pull all of the pieces of its vision together, this game could be a fascinating subversion of classic fairy tales, and I’m confident that creativity of the project will turn some heads for its artistry alone. Little Goody Two Shoes does not have a release date, but will arrive on Switch and other platforms when it’s ready.