Ah, Valentine’s Day.
For many, it’ll be a warm, emotional day of fun with their significant other. For me, it’s a brutal reminder of romance’s oppressive tyranny in the VN realm. Despite my galliant, damn near yeoman’s efforts to free us from the tooth-rotting grip of BxG, GxB, GxG, BxB, BYOB and every other letter combination the genre spawns…it persists. And while I have no intention of every giving up the fight of overwhelming the blinding light of ‘true love’ with the true faith of soul-crushing drama and violence, what better time to call a truce and celebrate the day the way our saccharine overlords wish us to?
The only question is, what do we talk about? It’s going to be a list, of course, but what kind of list? Well, in this field, long-term relationships are hard to come by. Most VNs focus on forming a relationship, but after that is left up to the reader’s imagination. So, to show an actual relationship during a game, good times and bad times included, is a strong feat for a writer. And, despite my jokes, if Valentine’s Day is a testament to anything, it’s to the couples whose mutual affection manage to hold them together long after the first kiss has worn off. With all of that said, here are five couples in English Visual Novels I like!
(And before anyone complains, the simple criteria here is that the couples are portrayed as being together through the events of their respective VNs or were together before the events of said VN. A relationship that forms AFTER the events of the game defeats the purpose of the list. One more thing, the couples have to be canon and not subject to player input, which means we’re not going to see a lot of romance VN pairings here. One more thing, this is my personal list…so shaddup.)
((ONE MORE THING, spoilers if you haven’t played any of these games))
Jill and Lenore (VA-11 HALL-A)
Okay this one is cheating because relationship is technically over by the events of VA-11 HALL-A. However, we rarely have examples of long-term relationships ending in visual novels so I had to point this one out. Well before the events of the game, our protagonist Jill was in a relationship with a woman named Lenore. While both cared for one another, there was a big sticking point in their relationship: Jill is pretty smart. Lenore tried to push her to use her intellect in ways that Lenore would’ve if she was as smart as Jill, but Jill wanted to take life at her own pace. This issue spiraled out of their control and after a big blow up, Jill and Lenore stopped talking to each other three years before the events of the game.
The tragedy here is that Lenore passed away in that time span. Both wanted to apologize to the other, but neither could work up the courage to call the other and do so. We find this out about midway through the game when Lenore’s little sister unloads her grief onto Jill in the middle of the bar and it takes what was a fun game about bar-tending and makes it into a very adult story about life. It is very strongly hinted that the only reason Jill has stayed a bartender was as a reaction to her argument with Lenore, which means the story was started the minute this relationship ended. All of her subsequent actions and the bulk of the game’s third at deals specifically with Jill coming to terms with her shattered relationship and moving forward. It gives the game weight and emotion to mix with its fun and also makes Jill a far more complex character than just a snarky girl who can see digital ghosts.
Miyon and Gai (Cursed Sight)
YOU’RE NOT MY BUDDY GAI…eh, sorry. I just forgot to make that joke in the review.
Cursed Sight is a dark game that has, at its heart, one of the best young love stories I’ve read in visual novels. Miyon and Gai start off as you’d expect two dumb kids to start off: bickering non-stop at one another. Over time they, along with their relationship, matures thanks to their mutual curiosity with one another. It doesn’t become serious however, until their master (both are slaves) becomes dangerously erratic and warmongering. At this point, both begin looking for their independence. However, that independence is framed with the other in mind.
It’s a difficult place to put two young lovers in and Cursed Sight handles it well. They make a lot of mistakes as they grow older, but those mistakes are clearly done with their significant other in the front of their mind. The game can get dry, but seeing what Miyon and Gai will do next is what keeps things going. And hoping against hope that both will get the life they want is what makes each of the endings as heart-wrenching as they are. Along with married couples, we rarely get to see a relationship from the start to the end the way we do in Cursed Sight. Miyon and Gai earn the audience’s attachment with their willingness to pay whatever price needs to be paid for the other’s happiness, and that is a rare enough sight in today’s world: least of all in today’s fiction.
Prudence and Hektor (Brilliant Shadows)
Okay I know I’m going to hear it for this one, because this is far from the marquee relationship in Brilliant Shadows. However, if you read my review of Brilliant Shadows Part 1, you’d know these two are what holds the game’s plot together and with good reason: being choked by the game’s literal Red String of Fate is good for them. It helps that the two are polar opposites: opposites attracting and all of that. But, going beyond the aesthetical ramifications of that statement, the two are in two very different places of life when they meet. Prudence, being a crown princess and all, is at the school to ultimately check a box on her path to the throne. Meanwhile Hektor, being a successful biological experiment of the Grey Mages, has no other recourse but to pass at some point and continue his craft where people won’t be suspicious of his talents.
We barely see them until the halfway point, but what we see is both of them beginning to rub off on each other. Hektor is taking risks for Ash because she’s Prudence’s friend and Prudence is defending Hektor’s more ‘out there’ ideas to put it mildly. As it becomes crystal clear that Hektor isn’t Ash’s enemy, it also becomes clear that despite the nature of the pairing ritual, the two are actually hitting it off. And as the story takes them on the road, it’s their combined wit and will that keeps the team going. Even the very messy finale of the game is saved (just barely) thanks to the sacrifice Hektor makes and their reunion at the end of the game is a Crowning Moment of Heartwarming if I’ve ever seen one.
Good couples can smooth each others edges and that’s what Hektor and Prudence do for one another. It remains to be seen what happens to them next, but my continued interest in the Brilliant Shadows series is because of their relationship first and foremost. They perfectly compliment each other in ways most VN couples don’t, simply because most VN couples are supposed to reflect an audience or author fantasy and not necessarily what makes a relationship work. Someone in the mess of angsty teenage angst and magic, the team of Brilliance Shadows found perfect balance with these two and that is commendable.
So-yi Kim and Nae-mun Pyeon (Hate Plus) (I didn’t have a picture of them together….I blame Raide)
Ironically enough, So-yi Kim’s marriage to Nae-mun Pyeon is one of the happiest relationships Christine Love has ever written. Beyond the age difference and the entire ‘arranged marriage’ point, the couple also has to deal with the fact that So-yi Kim gets raped by a coworker early into their marriage. So-yi has a full mental breakdown and becomes uncontrollably erratic: all the while not telling her husband or her powerful family exactly why her behavior has changed. From a writer’s standpoint, I can imagine it would’ve been easy to make Nae-mun into a jerk and in the worst case scenario leave So-yi alone with her crumbling psychosis. In a surprise move for this writer, that’s not what happens. Even though he doesn’t know what happened, Nae-mun resolves to stay with So-yi and help her in anyway he can. And it works. He actually does help in his own way. Eventually the two find a sort of homeostasis and the last we hear of them before the revolution is them making plans for a family.
What sticks to me about this relationship is that, by all rights, it shouldn’t have survived during the course of the game. Beyond the physical trauma, mental breakdowns and psychological strain is the greater cultural issue here: that being marriage on the Mungunghwa is a joke. Nearly everyone their age is sleeping around with little restriction or reservation. This public hedonism, for lack of better words, is what fuels the hard conservative revolution that spirals the ship into a dictatorship and set up the events of Analogue. So, to understand the significance of this, you have to understand absolutely everything was set against this relationship not working out. And outside of the disapproval of the older generations, if they broke it off neither would be publicly judged…at least as long as they did it before the revolution.
Yet they don’t. Both are clearly devoted to make their very old-school relationship work and wants the other to be happy: even willing to sacrifice their own comfort and expects similar sacrifices in return. They both have to work to make their relationship a happy one. And that’s the appeal, at least to me: just plain, old-fashioned hard work. Of all the things you do not say represented in fictional relationships anymore, actually building a relationship is at the top of the list. Their willingness to actually do the work necessary to build a relationship, even with everything that happens, is why Nae-mun and So-yi survive…and its also why I like them.
Catherine and Guilleme (Cupid)
These two are probably the most complicated pair on the list. Catherine is a girl who had a crush on her artistic sponsor from a young age. That flicker of girlish romanticism soon blossomed into full-blown love and eventually marriage. Unfortunately her, it was to a terrifying monstrosity that feeds on human emotions: specifically love and lust. However, it’s important to note that crush defines Catherine’s sexual identity, pushing her to kill over it and eventually is what drives her completely mad and causes her death after Guilleme (said monstrosity) bites off a bit more than he can chew to put it very freakin’ mildly. However, before her demise, her tumultuous relationship with Guilleme sets the stage for the rest of the game and permanently affects both Guilleme and the protagonist Rosa.
Both Rosa and Guilleme loved Catherine in their own way, but it is Catherine’s attraction and affection to Guilleme, and his attraction to her, that knocks him out of the shadows long enough to soften his edge. Despite his powers being terrifying, he simply isn’t the monster he was before Catherine came into this life. In fact, he spent most of their marriage trying to avoid inflicting his powers on her: which leads to confusion and bitterness between the two. When he does, he doesn’t fully go back to his old self: even keeping her friend Rosa around because of the memories he had of Catherine. From here, Guilleme can go one of two ways: either fully back into the monster he was, which means he would need to be destroyed for the common good. Or, he can accept his own failing and allow his time with Catherine to redeem him.
It is no accident that the end of Guilleme’s narrative road is also the end of Rosa’s coming of age story. Pushed on by the loss of her friend, she matures and confronts Guilleme who she also hosts some feelings for. That confrontation will either turn her into a bigger monster, which would be needed to bring Guilleme down if he decides to reject Catherine fully, or to forgive Guilleme and finish his redemption arc. It’s a near perfect plot circle fueled by the Power of Love that I so often mock here. But in Cupid, we see both sides of love. The bitterness and hunger it can drive people to, while also the growth and redemption it can bring. Very few titles boasting of their romantic content can hit this mark with their relationships, so when one does it’s worth holding up in high regard.
So there it is. It’s not all chocolate and roses, but it is the power of love manifest and its enough to make me want to chug pure insulin. Anyway, what are some of your favorite EVN couples? Let me know in the comments. JP3: OUT!