Christmas. For many, it’s an absolutely wonderful time of year; one of celebration, perhaps even with a grand feast. But what about The Last Matches, a visual novel retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s 1845 fairy tale, The Little Match Girl? Is there any hope for Poppy, its match-selling protagonist, on this cold Christmas night?
Maybe? I mean, while the original is an undeniably heart-wrenchingly tragic tale, The Last Matches is billed by its creator(s) as “an alternate story of a maybe happier ending and a happier life for the little match girl”. So again, maybe. I’m gonna go with ‘maybe’ here. Not because I don’t enjoy a well-written sob story, but… look at that screenshot and tell me you don’t think Poppy deserves at least a hint of happiness.
Because she totally does, and your choices throughout the visual novel just might bring about some of that for the poor girl. By which I’m less-than-subtly hinting at the story having multiple endings, each of which actually makes perfect sense – none of the routes rely on guesswork for figuring out which path to take to get the other ending after one has been reached. An undeniably good thing, seeing how this is a surprisingly lengthy tale.
One which features some truly beautiful art, from the very beginning and all the way to the end of the hour or so it’ll likely take most to witness everything on offer. Including mentions and/or depictions that come with content warnings: child abuse, injuries, and death. It’s always great to come across a game that’s up-front about disturbing content, but The Last Matches takes it a step further, downright prompting the player if they want to skip the child abuse content entirely. If I hadn’t played to review the game, you better believe I would have gladly skipped that part. At least its inclusion wasn’t simply to stir the pot, so to speak, but even so – quite pleased at how easy it is to exclude from one’s experience.
Although even with that portion of the game skipped, there are still more than a handful of moments that’ll truly tug at your heartstrings; and by the time the credits roll, you’ll likely need a moment to reestablish emotional balance. I certainly did, and for both endings, too! But… what’s it all about? Well, a girl trying to sell matches on Christmas Eve. Simple, really. Except it totally isn’t – not in the original, and definitely not in this version either.
A young girl in barely-held-together clothes trying to sell matches on the street. If that doesn’t immediately make you feel bad for her, then I don’t know what to tell ya, and as it turns out, any and all who are out for some last-minute shopping seem to care. At all. One by one, they simply walk on by, a few even behaving in a genuinely rude manner. Hardly all that surprising how her morale is dropping by the minute, much like the temperature. She’s stubborn though, and as such, keeps going, logic be damned. Until the cold starts to really get to her, that is, at which point she cuts into her profits and… lights a match.
This is where the story truly begins, the lit match – to quote the game’s page – “illuminating memories she’d since buried deep”. Not in a metaphorical way either. This is after all based on a fairy tale, and you know what that means: magic! Well, okay, so not in the most typical sense of the word, but how else can you really explain matches allowing a young girl to vividly revisit old memories? Yeah. So, magic. Except, memories are still just that. Past events. Something that’s already transpired.
Besides, at some point, she’s bound to run out of matches, memories, or both. Then what? Well, you’ll just have to grab a copy and see for yourself, which I would strongly recommend as I found it to be an absolute joy, start to finish. Superbly written visual novel with equally amazing art, and last but by no means least, great music. Just make sure you have a tissue nearby because you’re going to need it by the time The Last Matches are burnt out.
The Last Matches is available on itch.io, for free (pay-what-you-want).