When you’re an industrious boarding school inmate, you’re probably hoping for a good respite on those rare occasions you get to return home. It just isn’t in the cards for Antoine de Moreau. He’s been summoned to his adoptive chateau by news that his wealthy and politically endowed foster father has suffered an untimely demise, and the patriarch’s last wish was that Antoine himself unseal the will. Surrounded by Count Moreau’s ravenous blood kin, Antoine finds to his amazement that he’s inherited everything — and quickly under suspicion of murdering the Count as a result. Being miles away from the crime scene is no excuse when everyone else at the chateau is eager to find cause for challenging the will and seizing a slice of the pie. In order to clear his name, Antoine will have to put his noggin to work and unravel The Secret of Chateau de Moreau (Currently On Sale for $1.99)!

Wow, what a breath of fresh air this game is! That’s what I thought to myself after being so disappointed with the storylines of translated RPGs on iOS. It’s more a casual puzzle/adventure game than an RPG in the traditional sense, but RPG vets will find this one particularly compelling thanks to its art direction and story quality. Chateau‘s English script still needs a good once-over for the sake of cleaning up its occasional quirks, but it serves up exactly the cast of interesting and zany characters needed to make a good whodunit work. The sleepwalking maid, the creepy butler, the mystical gypsy bartender, irritable drunks and bona fide assassins among the guest room clientele…suffice it to say the list of suspects gets pretty long, and I found my own suspicions satisfyingly challenged at every turn.

Chateau also succeeds amazingly well as a game; indeed, I came away with the conviction that it must be presented organically as a videogame experience, rather than something that would be just as compelling transferred onto the written page. This has everything to do with how its well defined game structure complements its plot.

Antoine spends his days roving around the manor, interviewing its occupants and gathering insight into the Count’s circumstances. Each day – analogous to a gameplay level – culminates with a riotous dinner meeting where Antoine verbally fends off the attacks of his step-siblings, using the day’s findings as ammunition. These nail-biting encounters genuinely had me on edge as I selected Antoine’s responses, which is more than I can say for the whack-a-mole boss battles we’ve been seeing in KRPGs. The player’s performance is critical in keeping Antoine a smooth talker; fail to make him say something before a timer bar runs out, or let him make a fool of himself by whipping out the wrong inventory item for the situation, and it could be Game Over. It’s ironic that a game about murder could become an exemplar of uber-exciting yet nonviolent gameplay. It’s also appropriate that Chateau presents the player with one of these situations a few minutes in, because these verbal boss battles are without a doubt its most compelling segments.

That’s not to say Antoine isn’t risking his skin as well as his reputation in this investigation. As the player guides him from room to room on a simplified “overworld” map and triggers events, Antoine bumps into no end of unsavory situations. While asking NPCs to comment on questions or items he’s discovered, it’s very important to bear in mind that Antoine is running around in a den of people who are absolutely insane; at any turn he could get shot or bludgeoned on the spot if he happens to hit a nerve. This makes enough sense in the chateau’s politically and emotionally charged environment, but it’s also a bit unfair given the game’s antiquated manual save system — a game design dilemma we noted in the similarly open-ended Fabled Lands. Chateau tries to console the player by recording how many deadly interludes he or she has unlocked – this is where many of the game’s advertised 40 endings come from – but the unpredictability of it all can be very off-putting if the player forgets to save before every new event.

And if the player has to start a chapter over because he or she got too wrapped up in the story to care about saving, plenty of work will have to be redone! When he’s not acting as his own defense attorney over dinner or interviewing potential assassins, Antoine is busy solving the tons of brain-busting puzzles the Count left behind for him. Puzzle fans of all stripes will be in heaven with the plethora of logic mini-games on offer here, and they all get some use out of the touchscreen. Beware, though; Chateau doesn’t put on the kid gloves when it comes to these! Even if an NPC is around to comment, puzzle solutions rely completely on strokes of clever insight. I’d love to see the developers issue a FAQ for cases where the player is at an absolute impasse; I’d wager it will happen at least once to everybody who dives in. Nor do In-App Purchases become a way of crying uncle; I found the items available in its shop practically useless for puzzle solving. All the player has to work with in Chateau are his or her little grey cells, and the ability to send a support email through the game’s main menu.

Chateau‘s opening prologue will strike players as aesthetically deficient, with its sparse visuals and text narration delivered over sound clips that are entirely too short for their own good. Give Antoine enough time to set foot into the chateau and the visuals will bloom into wonderfully dusky sepia-toned drawings; the music clips still suggest a heritage on less powerful smartphones – something KRPG fans are all too familiar with! – but at least the tunes become forgivably catchy. Special kudos are in order for Chateau‘s lively animated portraits, which compensate for script flaws in getting characterization across to the player.

A full playthrough of Chateau should last a good ten hours at least, and the upside of its open-ended story is that it packs in enough replay value to justify a second or third go-around.

iFanzine Verdict: While its translated script could still use a little fine-tuning and the sudden death syndrome built into its branching-paths gameplay formula is off-putting, Chateau de Moreau succeeds in marrying exciting gameplay and traditional narrative as organically as it’s ever been done. Fully recommended to fans of RPGs, casual adventure games, visual novels, and puzzle games.

Bear in mind we’re rating it with the full $4.99 price tag in mind; on sale, this one’s an absolute no-brainer if you’re into the genres listed above.