Something I realized about myself recently is how drawn I am to sapphic horror. I’m a big fan of horror in general, but there’s something extra alluring when it relates to a core part of my identity.
Another thing I’m a sucker for is fairytale-inspired stories. Whether a work takes obvious inspiration from Alice in Wonderland or Little Red Riding Hood, I take note of it.
Little Goody Two Shoes combines both concepts into a game, taking a cottagecore lesbian life sim and combining it with exploration-based survival horror. I never knew I needed a mashup like this until this game.
While Little Goody Two Shoes has some flaws, it might be my favorite horror game of 2023. It’s a bold statement when regarding the Dead Space and Resident Evil 4 remakes, but AstralShift’s Pocket Mirror prequel brings something that truly stands out in the genre.
A story of horror and cottagecore lesbians
Little Goody Two Shoes follows Elise, a young woman who works as a maid for Keiferberg Village’s various townsfolk. It’s a menial life she desperately wishes to escape, believing she deserves more.
Everything is upended when another young woman named Rozenmarine breaks into Elise and her late grandmother’s cabin. Despite initially accusing her of thievery, Elise takes her in and the two begin living together.
Soon after taking in Rozenmarine, Elise stumbles upon a pair of beautiful red shoes that give her a glimpse of the riches she dreams of having. With promises of a dream life by an entity known as Him, Elise embarks on a journey to gather gifts for Him and escape Kieferberg.
Meanwhile, as daily disasters begin in the sleepy village, paranoia grows over a witch cursing the town. As Elise is the most openly argumentative person in Keiferberg and Rozenmarine is a stranger whose appearance happened to coincide with the disasters’ arrival, the former must also work to keep eyes off of her and her greedy quest. Elise obviously isn’t responsible for these disasters, but keeping others suspicious makes her a convenient scapegoat for them.
Little Goody Two Shoes‘ narrative is my favorite part of the experience, partly from the number of directions it takes. Between managing relationships with Elise’s three love interests and keeping suspicions about her actions low, the game has a surprising amount of major and minor reactivity based on how conversations go.
Not every decision factors into its endings, but it’s a nice touch seeing future conversations subtly change based on some previous ones. The writing’s also strong, effectively handling themes of social persecution and what someone is willing to give up. Strengthening this further is its unabashed queerness, which becomes increasingly heartbreaking as Elise’s identity grows in competition with her wish.
The love interests are also compelling characters in their own right. Rozenmarine is a traveler whose fate intertwines with Elise’s, and her route tells a sweet story of love bringing soulmates together. There’s also Lebkuchen, a nun who mirrors Elise in all the demands villagers thrust on her, and Freya, a girl who represents a kinder side to Keiferberg’s villagers.
My playthrough focused on Rozenmarine, and depending on Elise’s decisions, endings range from genuinely happy to soul-crushing. I found her concept of her and Elise being each other’s soulmates a compelling reason to pursue her, and its payoff is satisfying whatever direction that takes.
The best ’90s shojo game released in 2023
Besides its narrative, Little Goody Two Shoes‘ art direction is a contender for its best part. Even when playing on the LED Steam Deck, its pixel art environments pop. Places like Elise’s cottage are appropriately cozy whilst the woodland areas are tense to walk through.
Characters also look fantastic, particularly Elise herself and her love interests. Although gameplay takes inspiration from PS1 adventure games, it aesthetically matches ’90s shojo anime. Their enormous eyes and bright designs make them fit right in with something like Cardcaptor Sakura.
Helping the art is the music, with its vocal tracks also emulating that shojo feel and more ambient pieces lending themselves to their environments. My favorite is the track that plays when exploring Keiferberg during the evening. It’s a soft and sleepy melody that blends perfectly with the image of Lebkuchen swinging as moonlight shines on her.
Even with its horror elements, Little Goody Two Shoes is a remarkably cozy game. Since it primarily takes place outside the danger, the time between the horrors is pleasant to exist in. Elise’s home is peak cottagecore, and Keiferberg Village itself has an incredibly welcoming vibe despite its inhabitants’ paranoia.
Its horror segments also deserve praise, with the wheat fields in particular filling me with an indescribable dread. Even the opening woodland section is wonderful for giving such a claustrophobic sensation while still in a forest.
A moment that made me tense up from atmosphere alone happens in the wheat fields’ opening moments. Separated from Rozenmarine, Elise ventures deeper into the woodland, and the final bridge before the stage’s proper start gives me shivers. Elise takes each step with caution as crows stare at her and a golden moon follows behind. There are no threats here, but through imagery and sound, I’m filled with dread as someone I’ve quickly grown close to might be hurt, or worse.
That’s the power Little Goody Two Shoes’ atmosphere has when attempting horror. I might have never struggled with any particular moment, but its excellent audio and visual direction never allowed me to keep my guard down.
Best to not be scared on an empty stomach
Since Little Goody Two Shoes takes inspiration from fairytales, it’s no surprise it emulates their flavor of horror. That means less focus on scaring players and more on inspiring deep dread as Elise marches toward an ominous goal.
To gather the gifts Elise is giving Him, she ventures into the eerie woodlands by Keiferberg Village to endure trials. These involve exploring the area and doing some light-puzzle solving to progress.
None of the puzzles are hard, and the only real concern is not dying to the enemies scattered throughout. If mistakes are made, Elise can expend a healing item to recover.
Managing these healing items and also food to prevent Elise from starving makes up Little Goody Two Shoes‘ resource management. While healing items are plentiful enough in the woodland, food is almost exclusively bought with cash earned through performing menial tasks for villagers. These minigames present themselves as adorable arcade games, and ranks determine how much payment Elise recieves.
Depending on a player’s performance, they can be flush with cash and supplies, but only if they do well. A single bad day can stretch budgets remarkably thin, and force Elise in a tough spot. I had to make a call between continuing Lebkuchen’s story, bribing the nosy Muffy with expensive food to keep suspicions down, or starving. Since I was interested in Leb’s story and starving means dying, I risked the higher suspicion. It wasn’t that high to begin with, but it was inching toward a spot I wasn’t comfortable with.
Neither of these will help against anything instantly killing Elise. These scenarios pop up most often when saying the wrong thing or during chase sequences. While I love the tension some of them bring, they can also be a source of frustration. It’s because of some instant kill sequences my two gripes with Little Goody Two Shoes come up.
One is the sometimes odd save points. Saving is done manually at specified points, and this isn’t an issue as they’re largely generous. It only gets aggravating when dying at the last moment to an instant-kill trap during a long section and needing to restart it.
Compounding this is the fact these sequences often occur after unskippable cutscenes. Most other scenes have a skip function to fast-forward through them, so it’s baffling that scenes that arguably need this feature most don’t have it.
These gripes are minor because the most progress I ever lost due to deaths is around 10 minutes. It’s honestly less about repeating gameplay, and more about not having the option to skip dialogue I’ve seen.
A mirror that looks into a doomed character’s happier alternatives
Little Goody Two Shoes is something special. It was honestly an amazing enough experience that after finishing, I bought its predecessor Pocket Mirror to see more of this universe.
My knowledge of that title is cursory, but seeing how Little Goody Two Shoes ties into it sinks my heart. It did spoil what some of Pocket Mirror’s reveals, but that isn’t stopping my enjoyment of that game.
While I have nitpicks, my experience left me wanting to return and see everything else Keiferberg has to offer. From its compelling romantic routes, fun gameplay loop, optional side stories, and phenomenal atmosphere, Little Goody Two Shoes is everything I ask for in a game. Its puzzles are easy enough to quickly solve but its threats are present enough that it still has challenges.
It was difficult determining my exact feelings with this title until a scene occurred with Elise and Rozenmarine sitting together on a cliff overlooking Keiferberg. It’s presented beautifully as a radiant sunset cakes the scenery, but the cliff’s placement besides Elise’s house powerfully conveys how isolated she is from the rest of the village.
The topic of soulmates came up, and while I can’t say how it goes due to spoilers, its conclusion made me realize just how much I adore this game. It also makes the final hours significantly more painful with how Elise’s wish turns out. Many fairytales end sadly and accenting Little Goody Two Shoes’ tragedy is me being responsible for it.
Overall, I’m ecstatic that something like Little Goody Two Shoes exists. Its mix of sapphic horror in a fairytale setting with a retro shojo art style makes it wonderfully stand out.
While a horror/dating sim fusion initially sounds odd, its fantastic execution helps drive its themes home in a powerful way. I can only hope this finds a strong audience because it absolutely deserves one. AstralShift has at least found a new big fan in me.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]