The Choice was Never Yours – A “Doki Doki Literature Club” Analysis

(The following post will contain major spoilers for a really, really good game. It’s free on Steam, so if you haven’t yet played it, close this post and do it! It’s about a 4ish hour experience. Do heed the content warnings, however. This game is not for the faint of heart… and I mean it.)

When I heard about “Doki Doki Literature Club” (henceforth referred to as DDLC), I wasn’t expecting too much of it. Sure, a psychological horror game disguised as an anime-styled dating sim sounds like a fun little novelty, but I was expecting the scares to be cheap. You know, your usual jumpscares and incoherent plot leading to more jumpscares. I was expecting a game for youtubers to record their reactions to so we can all have a little chuckle about how 2spooky these anime girls are. What I was not expecting was a genuinely horrifying and yet somehow heartfelt story about the nature of choice.

Don’t get me wrong, there were still a lot of jumpscares and disturbing (very, very disturbing) imagery in this game. But instead of these elements just being in there for shock value, they seemed more in service of a greater thematic purpose than your normal novelty horror game. And also fascinating was the way these elements broke down and criticized the genre it tries to mimic.

So let’s talk about romantic visual novels/dating sims/otome games/ whatever the correct term is.

In a dating sim, the biggest and most important game mechanic is the element of choice. Most games of these type start out with the often incredibly bland player character getting into a situation where they meet a number of attractive characters, all usually corresponding to a certain character archetype. From there, the player can choose which character they wish to pursue romantically. They do this by making certain dialogue and story choices that lead them down the path toward the end goal of romancing their chosen character.

So basically, the only thing separating a dating sim from a weirdly involved novel where instead of turning pages you click the “next” button a lot is the fact that the player gets to choose some aspects of how the story goes.

On the surface, DDLC seems to do the same thing as other games of its ilk. You play as a delightfully bland player character who is roped into joining a Literature Club by his childhood best friend, the positive and energetic Sayori. Although the player is at first reluctant, he becomes far more into the idea once he meets the other three members of the Literature Club: the tough-yet-tiny tsundere with a love for manga and baking, Natsuki; the quiet and shy bookworm with a talent for writing, Yuri; and the confident, helpful president of the club, Monika. Motivated by his interest in these four beautiful girls, the player character becomes entangled in the business of the Literature Club.

From here, the game’s choice mechanic becomes clear. The members of the club enjoy writing and exchanging poetry, so in order to win over the heart of the player’s chosen girl, they will have to choose certain words to put into their poetry to appeal to the girl they like. If the player successfully chooses words that appeal to their chosen girl, they will be rewarded the next day by spending more time with that girl than with the rest of the girls, leading them down the path (seemingly) towards starting a romantic relationship with her.

Or at least, that’s how it seems. But there’s a few important things to note. One, the only three choices the player actually gets are to pursue Sayori, Yuri, or Natsuki. Monika is not an option. And two, no matter which girl the player chooses to pursue, the story of the first act of the game always ends exactly the same way. No matter if the player chooses to pursue her, Sayori will always tell the player that she has had depression for her entire life and never told him due to her fear of inconveniencing him. Then, no matter what the player chooses the player character to say or do, she will always confess her love for him, and then no matter whether the player accepts or rejects her confession, she will always be found the next morning having died by suicide.

After the tone of the game being so cheerful and happy up until this point, most players will understandably be disturbed by this turn of events. They will probably wonder what choice it was that they made incorrectly to cause this to happen. They may try to replay the game, making their choices differently, hoping to be able to “save” Sayori. But the reality is, no matter what choices are made, act one of the game always ends this way.

So, players, probably quite spooked, will go onto act two of the game. This time, the game restarts and is pretty much the same as the first time, but Sayori is nowhere to be found. Any mention of her or clue that she ever existed is completely erased from the game, and the player character doesn’t seem to remember her at all. Instead, it’s Monika who encourages the player to join the Literature Club. From there, things progress similarly sans Sayori, but the atmosphere starts to change. Although it might seem like the player continues to have the choice over whether to pursue Natsuki or Yuri, the game soon railroads the player onto Yuri’s path.

In addition, strange game glitches are seen, corrupting the music, the character sprites, and the background. At this point, it’s pretty obvious that something very bad is going down in this club. However, in the meantime, the player begins to learn surprisingly dark information about Yuri and Natsuki, mainly through strange dialogue edits. The player learns that Natsuki is so short because her abusive father allowed her to be malnourished as a child, and that she spends so much time at the club in order to stay away from him. The player also learns that Yuri has a collection of knives, and uses them to self-harm.

Finally, most unsettlingly, the personality traits of Yuri and Natsuki seem exaggerated. Natsuki’s blunt honesty becomes downright brutality, and Yuri’s passion for her books and writing starts to look like obsession. And between it all, Monika seems willing to step back and allow Yuri and Natsuki to bicker and suffer.

Yet, just as before, the player’s choices are an illusion. No matter what happens, the player ends up alone in a classroom with Yuri, whose obsession for books and poetry have extended to an obsession with the player character. She confesses her love for him, and no matter whether they accept or reject her confession, she stabs herself several times and dies. From there, the player is unable to advance the game away from the image of her body, and must sit through 1440 lines of glitched, illegible dialogue before Monika and Natsuki return. Natsuki, horrified by the scene, flees, but Monika stays behind. She apologizes to the player character for what has happened, and then a small window opens up and the player watches Monika delete Natsuki and Yuri’s character files.

From here, the game resets once more, but this time, the club room is disconnected from the rest of the setting, seemingly floating in space. The player is confronted by Monika, all alone, her posture casual, facing the screen. She informs the player, not the player character, but the person actually playing the game, that she has fallen in love with them. She confesses that, as club president, she was given an omniscient knowledge of the fact that she was in a game, as well as the fact that she was not a romanceable character. Motivated by jealousy toward the rest of the girls’ pre-programmed chance to date the person she loves, she began interfering with their character files. It’s strongly implied that she played up Sayori’s depression in order to drive her to suicide, and heightened Natsuki’s rudeness and Yuri’s obsessiveness in order to make them less appealing. However, due to the fact that the player continued to have the choice to pursue these other girls, Monika was forced to remove them as choices by deleting their files.

From then on, the player is unable to advance from this screen with Monika. Programmed into the game are over 11 hours worth of topics that Monika chats with the player about, and she restricts the player from being able to skip dialogue. The only way to get out of the situation is to go into the files of the game and manually delete Monika’s character file, the same way she did for all the other characters. From there, depending on the actions the player has taken, two different endings are possible.

In the normal ending, the game restarts and Sayori has taken over as president, since Monika is nowhere to be seen. However, thanks to her new position, Sayori can now see everything that has happened. She takes the player to the same room Monika did and thanks him for getting rid of Monika, saying she’s glad they can be together “forever” now. Suddenly, Sayori’s sprite is glitched out, and several text boxes implied to be the remnants of Monika advance the game toward the credits, saying that she won’t let Sayori hurt the player.

However, if the player has gotten all of the CGs for all three of the romanceable characters, Sayori does not take the player to that same room, and instead simply thanks the player for spending all the time saving and reloading the game just to make everyone happy. She apologizes for not being able to do anything more for the player since the game is coming to an end, but promises that they’ll all still be there for the player should they choose to return. She then thanks the player for playing and the game advances to the credits.

What I want to focus on about this game is the choices, and lack thereof. If we want to draw a conclusion about what exactly is scary about DDLC, it’s not the disturbing imagery, the glitches, or the jumpscares, it’s the lack of control. At every point of the game where something terrible happens, though it may seem like the player has the choice to avoid them, there really isn’t any choice at all. Sayori and Yuri’s deaths, Monika’s takeover, everything is entirely unavoidable. In a way, from the moment the player boots up the game, they are unknowingly giving up their power of choice to Monika (and at the end of the game, Sayori).

If we’re going to draw a conclusion from DDLC, we’d probably say that this game wishes to point out that the scariest and most damaging thing to lose is the power of choice.

But that’s a little too simple, right? I think we can take it a step further. Remember when I talked about how the most important mechanic in an otome game is choice? In a traditional otome game, the player’s power of choice is the most important power they get. Their choice is king – if they pick a character to romance, that character will fall in love with them.

But think about it from the opposing perspective. If the player gets all the choice, then technically speaking, the “relationship” they build in the game is 100% one-sided. The opinion of the romanceable characters in the game on the relationship ultimately means nothing if the player makes the right choices.

And yes, I know that’s a silly thing to point out. We’re talking about pixels, ones and zeroes, lines of code, not living, breathing humans. They don’t deserve the same amount of choice that the human playing the game does, since, obviously, they’re not real.

But DDLC asks the question “What if these romanceable characters did know that they had no choice in the matter?” and “What if they desired that same amount of choice?”

That character, of course, is Monika. Due to her president position giving her the knowledge that she is a character in an otome game, and a non-romanceable one at that, she is aware of just how little choice she has. There is no conceivable way for her to make her own choices. So, the only way she can gain back her ability to choose is to take away the player’s ability to choose. Essentially, the game ends up a sort of reverse otome game, where the player is the one without choice pursued by someone romantically interested in them.

DDLC critiques the world put forth by the dating sim structure, pointing out the dangers of restricting choice, showing how a lack of choice can cause only pain and tragedy.

I also think there’s some level of critique on the way most dating sims handwave the problematic implications of the lack of choice given the romanceable characters. Namely, that being the way most player characters in otome games manage to get every single character to fall in love with them. This happens in DDLC, of course, but almost too well. While yes, the three romanceable characters that are meant to fall in love with the player character do, the non-romanceable character also falls in love with him. The fact that the player character makes too many people fall in love with him is perhaps another critique of the world presented by otome games.

DDLC asks players to step into the world of an otome game, a world where choice can be quickly taken away, and romance is less a mutual agreement between two willing participants and more a choice made by one party and endured by another. And this world is horrifying.

DDLC is a fascinating and well-made game, and such an incredible experience. The way it folds the critique of its own genre into the plot, structure, and scares of the game is really so interesting, and I’m glad I got a chance to play it. I highly recommend it.

(…as long as you’re cool with watching some super horrifying things happen to cute anime girls.)


Character Spotlight: Owain, Hero of Ages

Defining an all-time favorite anything is not an easy task. I know this to be true from experience. Picking a favorite song, favorite book, favorite movie, favorite artist, etc etc etc is nearly impossible. The pool is too big. I love too many songs and books and movies and artists and etc to choose just one that is, all around, the best.

However, there is one category for which I can pick one definitive favorite without a hint of hesitation.

My favorite fictional character ever in anything is Owain from the Fire Emblem series.

That’s a bold statement, I know. Even if you’re not familiar with the character, you may be wondering how he can be so good that he is the definitive best in any series. How can one character possibly rise above so many other great characters I love to claim the throne as the best?

Well… that’s a complicated question, and one I hope to answer in this post. So come with me and let us explore what makes humble Owain, hero of ages, such a fantastic and deep character.

Meet Owain

Owain first appeared in Fire Emblem: Awakening, the revival of the near-dying Fire Emblem series. His role in this game is pretty small. (In fact, his role in both games he appears in is small.)

Owain is one of the many future children the player is able to unlock over the course of the game. He is available for recruitment once the player marries his mother, Lissa, to any one of her potential marriage candidates. He starts out a myrmidon with a slight affinity for magic from his mother, but nothing about his recruitment or role in the game sets him apart from the rest of the recruitable children.

He’s completely unnecessary to the plot of the game. The player could, feasibly and easily, go through it without recruiting him at all.

Now this isn’t terribly uncommon. Only one of the recruitable children is required to finish the game, and that’s Lucina. All the rest are simply add-ons, fun little rewards for playing with the support system in the game. And yet, for Owain, this detail is incredibly important to what makes his character work so well. Keep it in mind.

From first impressions, Owain is a ridiculous character. He’s over-dramatic. He yells dumb catchphrases and pretends he’s an unstoppable and legendary hero. He gives weapons flashy and superfluous names. He claims to have an “unquenchable bloodlust” and a magical sword hand that constantly aches for battle.

The game makes no secret of the fact that Owain is delusional. Other characters treat him like a joke, and he constantly fails to do the things he claims to be able to do. For all intents and purposes, the audience is encouraged to consider Owain a comic relief character and to not take him seriously.

This too is not unusual for Fire Emblem. Fire Emblem is a game that requires a lot of unique characters for the game mechanics of assembling and commanding an army of heroes to work. And in order to ensure the player is able to remember details about as many of these characters as possible, they tend to all have some sort of memorable schtick and not much else to their characters on the surface. This is a topic I’ll probably end up going into in more depth in another post, but basically Owain is just a weird quirky goofball in a whole army of weird, quirky goofballs.

Yes, Owain is completely ordinary for Fire Emblem. Like all the other filler units in the game, he sticks to his schtick. He’s got some decent fighting stats but he’s overall unnecessary to completing the game.

So what makes him special, exactly?

He’s Not Special…

There’s some other information about Owain I didn’t tell you and it’s this – Owain, no matter who his mother Lissa gets married to, is of royal blood.

This is not a shocking statement. His mother is a princess, the younger sister of the main character and eventual king, Chrom. Because of this, he is also a member of the Exalted bloodline, the bloodline around which the story revolves.

Both Chrom and Lucina, (that one child I mentioned earlier who is necessary to complete the game) have character arcs that rely heavily on the fact that they are of Exalted blood. It makes them royal, but it also gives them special story powers – the ability to slay the Big Bad™, Grima.

Lissa’s character also revolves around her Exalted blood. Almost all members of the bloodline get a characteristic birthmark somewhere on their body. On Chrom, it’s on his tastefully exposed shoulder. On Lucina, it’s in her eye. On Emmeryn, Chrom and Lissa’s elder sister, it’s on her forehead. However, Lissa never got hers, and her anxiety over this fact is an important part of her character, and something that is brought up as a point of self-consciousness for her.

Although it’s apparently not unheard of for a member of the Exalted bloodline to never get their brand of the Exalt, for Lissa it means she’s unsure of whether or not she is actually a legitimate royal. For all she knows, she could be a bastard child. The only way for her to know for sure is to hope that one day her descendants inherit the mark.

And thus, lo and behold, enter Owain. If you’re wondering, yes, he does have the mark of the Exalt on his arm, proving definitively that Lissa is actually a member of the royal bloodline. This fact is established early on as one of the reasons Lissa is so close to her son. His very existence proves her legitimacy and puts one of her worst fears to rest.

So that’s cool and all, and it’s definitely one of the reasons why I like Owain so much, but there’s something else about Owain’s blood that makes his character so deep and fascinating.

…Yet Special-ness Flows Through Him

So this Exalted blood, right? It’s a big deal. Like I mentioned before, the two mainest of the main characters have their special main character powers because of this bloodline they belong to. And as the son of the now-proven-legitimate princess Lissa, Owain also shares this blood.

And yet… Owain is not even close to a main character.

He has the blood, he has the brand, but Owain is the only member of this bloodline to not make it into the main cast of characters.

So, think about it. You’re Owain. You’re a prince. You belong to a bloodline of incredible warriors, warriors with the power to slay a giant dragon made of malice and pure evil. Your very existence proves to your mother that she belongs to this bloodline as well.

And yet, you don’t play a main role in the slaying of the Big Bad™ at all.

Don’t you think that would be a little disheartening? To know that your mother, your cousin, and your uncle all played a huge role in the slaying of a legendary beast and the saving of your world because of the very same blood you also possess and yet you aren’t a part of it at all?

Wouldn’t it make you want to be a part of it?

And Thus, Theatrics.

So, taking all this information into account, let’s take a look at Owain’s personality, his schtick, one more time.

He’s overdramatic. He’s a ham. He demands attention. He’s delusional. He pretends to possess a great and unique power, one he can barely control. Well, you don’t have to even wonder where this behavior comes from. As the one member of the exalted bloodline not to play a direct role in the plot of the game, it makes sense why he puts on such a show.

His entire family is composed of legendary heroes, and so Owain pretends to be one.

With this connection, everything about Owain’s character makes perfect sense. Of course he would have a reason to put on theatrics constantly. He has an entire bloodline to live up to. It even works on a more meta game level. Not only in-universe is Owain not a “main character” but he is also literally not a main character in the actual game. His character works both in-universe and out-of-universe and that is cool.

But Wait! There’s More

But of course, Awakening wasn’t the last time we saw Owain. He made another appearance in Fates under the moniker “Odin.” Once more, Owain was not a main character, but he was a normal unit this time, with his own child unit, Ophelia.

I think of the three Awakening kids that got teleported into Fates, Owain got the most interesting character development. While, yes, he’s still the goofy comic relief character from Awakening, there’s a certain maturity to his character that wasn’t there before.

There are two reasons for this slight growth of character. The first one is that Owain, for the first time, is special in regards to the game. He was teleported into this new world for the express purpose of helping them. He and his companions are the only characters with this duty, and while they don’t ultimately end up playing that huge of a role in the plot of Fates, I think the idea is that Owain, for the first time, is a special hero. A hero of time, sacrificing his home and family to help a group of strangers. It’s definitely a reason for him to feel for the first time that his charades might have some actual heroic backup to them.

The second reason is his daughter, Ophelia. Ophelia shares a lot of similarities with her father in that she too has a theatrical personality and likes talking about her secret hidden powers. But unlike her father, Ophelia is not really pretending when she talks about her legendary abilities – she believes in them wholeheartedly.

Where Owain was aware of his normalcy and used theatrics to hide his embarrassment over it, Ophelia only knows her father as a legendary hero, and as an extension, only knows her bloodline as one of magic and heroics. Ophelia is like what Owain would be if he was a main character, or at least was unaware of his relative unimportance as compared to his family members.

So, in that way, their interactions become very fascinating when taking a look at Owain’s character. It does a lot to confirm what I already suspected about his mindset in Awakening. He seems reluctant to crush Ophelia’s dreams, and goes along with her tirades with the same enthusiasm as she, but when it comes to telling her about his actual home, he seems sad and unusually reserved. It really adds a level of depth and growth to his character that I appreciate.

In Summation

Owain is just… a really excellent example of how a side character can be given depth without having to go into too much explicit detail. And that’s why, I think, I can so easily call him my favorite character. I’ve always been attached to side characters, and too often I see them pushed to the side and not given the depth and development they deserve.

And while, yes, I don’t think Owain’s development is probably entirely on purpose by the people behind Fire Emblem, regardless, I believe he stands as a lovely example that side characters can work on multiple levels.

And with that, I leave Owain. For now. But who knows when my analysis hand will twitch again…

Shadowverse and The Benefit of Losing

Recently, I was introduced and goaded into playing a mobile game called Shadowverse by a close friend of mine. I had heard about it for weeks – a fantasy-themed card game of sorts, where the player builds decks of cards in order to defeat other’s decks of cards in a sort of card battle.

Despite my friend’s enthusiasm over the game, it never seemed like the sort of thing I’d enjoy. I’ve never really been a big fan of card games of Shadowverse’s ilk for one main reason – I hate losing. It’s not really a pride thing… well, okay, it is. What I mean is, it’s not that I want to prove myself as the best in everything, it’s that I can’t stand being bad at anything. I’m usually okay with being average or passable at something, it’s just that the problem with games like Shadowverse is that there’s often a huge learning curve.

Starting out in a game without knowing anything often means you have to play against people who do know what they’re doing in order to learn, and I hate doing that. Maybe it’s being a “gifted and talented” kid my whole life, but I have a major vendetta against seeming ignorant in any situation, even little games. It’s the reason why I usually dislike learning new card or board games with people who play them a lot – it makes me feel stupid.

So I entered Shadowverse with a lot of hesitance. For a long while, I refused to play online against other people. I made lots of jokes to my friend about how terrible I was at the game with the purpose of making it known to everyone that at the very least I was not ignorant of my ineptitude. And let me tell you, this method of playing the game was not at all successful. The little missions in the game more or less required you to play against other people if you wanted any sort of rewards.

So what did I do? Well… I hesitantly dipped my toe into the pool of competition. I played some online matches, lost a ton, and then drew back into my single-player safety for a while. Eventually, little by little, I managed to convince myself that it was okay to lose. It also helped that I had the support of my friend. (At one point, he even literally built a deck for me – and his strategy of making one became the skeleton for all of the decks I made moving forward.)

And you know what? Eventually, I became halfway decent at the game. I lost a lot. A lot. There was a solid three or four days where I did nothing but lose. But eventually I made my way over the metaphorical hump into mediocrity and the game, honestly, became fun. And you know what? A lot of times, it was the losses that led to the most delightful moments of brilliance. Getting pummeled into the ground by someone else’s deck always gave me tips for improving my own deck.

But anyway, I say all this not just to talk about a niche mobile game I’ve eventually become halfway decent at, nor to encourage anyone to play it (though, like, it’s actually really well-made with lovely art and really surprisingly impressive voice acting, so, if you’re into that, do check it out.) What I mean to say is, losing is often a good thing.

That’s not to say it’s an easy thing, because it’s obviously not. It can be annoying to devastatingly heartbreaking. But I’ve come to find, this year especially, that losing can also bring out the best in ourselves.

This year has been a year of new for me. I graduated high school, got my driver’s license, and got my first actual job. College is hanging over my head like an anvil, and I’m doing my best to prepare for it to fall. Even in my personal life I’ve had to adapt to changes. I’m not the same person I was January first of this year and I think, ultimately, despite the successes, a lot of the positive change has been found in accepting the things in my life that aren’t so nice.

The end of high school was a death slog. Driving still gives me anxiety. My job combines my anxiety over driving with my anxiety over being bad at new things. College is going to uproot all of the relationships I’ve so carefully built over the years, and I’m scared of having to regrow them. It has been a year of loss. I have lost the person and the life I used to have.

Okay, dramatic, I know, but in a way it’s true. And yet… you know what? I’m doing okay. I’ve adapted to the new freedom and the new responsibility and I bet I’ll adapt to college too. And if my prior losses have taught me anything, I’ll come out the other end better for it. And that doesn’t mean it won’t be scary or bad.

If Shadowverse taught me anything, you have to deal with the losses before you can start winning.

The New Idols on the Block

I like to think I have a fairly refined taste in all things media. The truth is, though, we all have things we love even as we also acknowledge they can be, at times, silly and maybe even a bit problematic. Such is my love affair with rhythm games Love Live and BanG Dream.

I’ve been a fan of Love Live since my sophomore year. It’s a bit of an institution in my life and the lives of many others, I think. It was my introduction to the world of addictive rhythm mobile games, and it remains an important part of my life to this day. I’ve watched the anime all the way through and cried several times throughout. I’ve logged hours and hours into the mobile game.

(For those wondering, best girl from μ’s is Nozomi and from Aqours is Yohane. Best subunits are Lily White and Guilty Kiss respectively, obviously. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, don’t worry about it.)

BanG Dream is more of a recent favorite. It was introduced to me by a good friend of mine, and I had to jump through a few hoops to download it from the Japanese app store. Since then, though, I’ve been hooked with this game. It’s relatively new, and currently only has a Japanese version. (I had to enlist the help of my friend and a few guides to figure out what all the buttons do because… well, I don’t read Japanese.)

(And, once again, for those wondering, best girls are Misaki, Kanon, and Kokoro, and obviously best band is Hello Happy World)

And sure, it’s comparable to Love Live, but there’s something about it that has distracted me from returning to Love Live for a while now.

Because both BanG Dream and Love Live are made under the same parent company, Bushiroad, they get compared a lot. These comparisons aren’t always completely fair – true, they’re similar games, but they’re made by different teams and they have a lot of key differences. Actually, I think there’s a lot Love Live can learn from BanG Dream, and that’s what I want to talk about today.

First off, let’s get a little more in depth about what each game is.

Love Live is a rhythm and card-collecting mobile game. It involves “scouting” for cards of the eighteen main idols and a large collection of side characters. These cards are of different rarities and can be leveled up, strengthened, and put on teams to play “lives”, or songs where the player has to tap along with the rhythm of the music. Each card can be used to unlock small stories about the girl. These stories usually involve the girl just talking, although there are overarching stories about the eighteen main idol girls that are unlocked as the player levels up. These follow a loose story similar to the anime (I’ll go into the story a bit later).

BanG Dream is similar in that it employs the card-collecting rhythm game format and uses a combination of small single-character stories and larger overarching unlockable stories. Like Love Live, BanG Dream also features options to strengthen your cards and put them on teams. However, unlike Love Live, BanG Dream also features a relatively large world that is inhabited by the characters. Players can explore this little world and watch the girls talk or buy songs and powerups. In addition, BanG Dream features a multiplayer option that allows players to play alongside each other in order to increase their points and rewards. Finally, the biggest and most important difference between the two games is in their events.

Both Love Live and BanG Dream have events – these events coincide with the release of new cards, and participating in these events allows players the chance to earn these cards instead of hoping to randomly draw them in a gachapon. Love Live actually has several types of events, some allowing players to compete against each other directly, some making them play long strings of songs for points, and some simply adding on a chance to earn event points alongside their normal rewards for playing songs. BanG Dream has only one type of event, and it’s the most similar to the last event I mentioned in Love Live. However, and this is important, BanG Dream’s events are pivotal to the game.

Yes, events are fun and change things up in Love Live, but the reality is that they’re not always very worth participating in. The event card that is available is of the third-highest rarity in the game, and most seasoned players, unless they particularly like the look of the card, will probably have cards that are more powerful than the event one. In addition, Love Live events are notoriously brutal. A lot of success in events depends on playing near constantly in order to fully maximize the time given. If you look at guides on how to succeed in Love Live events, you’ll find instructions like “set an alarm to wake you up every few hours in the night so you can make sure you’re playing as much as possible!” And that’s… that’s ridiculous. I’ve never found the motivation to devote myself so fully to an event, and as such I’ve never been very successful in them.

In addition, events are just sorta… extra. The event cards are separate from the cards released into the gachapon “scouting box”, so a player who is looking only to get specific cards from that box might find more success avoiding the event entirely to focus on working towards increasing their chances to draw their desired card.

And that’s all fine and good, but it means that gameplay in Love Live can get really stale really fast. There is basically one good way to get love gems (the most valuable currency and the one used for scouting), and that is to build three of the strongest teams possible and to play lots of songs all by yourself. That can be fun for a while, but the game never challenges the player to change everything up. In fact, consistency is rewarded in this game. The players that continuously play in the most efficient, constant possible manner are the ones who tend to earn the most love gems… or least that’s what I’ve seen in my experience.

On the other hand, BanG Dream’s events are pivotal to the gameplay. All cards that are released into the gachapon are released in conjunction with an event. In addition, each event has specific girls and specific traits of each card that give multipliers to the amount of event points you earn. This means your best team for one event will most likely be wildly different than your best team for the next event. So, the most successful, efficient player has to change up their play style every so often.

In addition, and this is important to stress, multiplayer is always an option in BanG Dream. In Love Live, multiplayer modes are restricted to one type of event that rolls around every so often. In BanG Dream, it is always a good idea to play with other players… and maybe it’s silly, but that adds even more to the constantly changing feel of the gameplay. When you have to constantly collaborate with others to be the most successful, it keeps things fresh and interesting.

Don’t get me wrong, Love Live is a great game and has a lot of things going for it. For one, it has a lot more years under its belt. There’s way more cards available. Plus, as an English speaker, it’s far more accessible. And I’m not really talking about the animes, but the Love Live anime is like… way better than the BanG Dream anime. Like waaay better. Although, interestingly, I find the overall plot of BanG Dream to be a bit more fascinating and complex than Love Live’s plot. (That might sound kind of weird, but… like, stick with me here.)

The Love Live anime is a simple story but it’s enjoyable because of the lovable characters, the music, and the fun and mostly high-quality package. The BanG Dream anime, on the other hand, is the same simple story but in a far worse package… or at least, that’s how the anime is. In the game, each of the five bands get their own unique story, and these stories can get surprisingly dark and complex. I enjoy it.

But I’m getting off track. Love Live is a great game, but I think it has a lot to learn from the likes of BanG Dream. Sure, the formula has worked for Love Live, but I think it could benefit greatly from the ways BanG Dream diversifies the gameplay experience. Love Live should add a constant multiplayer mode, or perhaps make use of the same sort of “certain characters and certain attributes give bonuses in the events” system that BanG Dream has. This could encourage changing up play style and would keep the game from getting stale, as it often does.

And maybe, just maybe, Love Live could wrench me back away from BanG Dream’s addictive clutches.

(Oh, who am I kidding, I’ll go back to Love Live again someday. I can never fully escape idol hell.)

Character Spotlight: Camilla – Princess of Nohr, Queen of my Heart

If you’re wondering why I haven’t yet talked about Fire Emblem Heroes yet, it’s twofold. One, I didn’t really have anything I felt was meaningful to say, and two I honestly hadn’t played much of it. It wasn’t a testament to the quality of the game, per se, just a testament to how busy I’ve been… and also how disappointed I was in my summons. For awhile I had to get through the game with one five star Merric, one four star Donnel, and a three star Lissa and Henry and it was… disheartening to say the least. I have some experience with luck-based pull style games (coughcoughLoveLivecoughcough) and I’ve never been the luckiest with them.

And then, lo and behold, last Sunday, my luck changed completely.


Yes, the beautiful goddess Camilla has finally blessed me with her presence. And because I know a lot of people playing the game don’t know much about her and why she’s such a wonderful character, I’m here to provide a loving thesis on the princess of my heart, Camilla, so that when you are lucky enough to draw her, you know just how appreciative to be.

The Story so Far

Camilla comes from Fire Emblem Fates. It’s a really great game that I highly recommend, but I know not everyone has played it, so I’ll give you a quick rundown of the plot so that you can understand where Camilla fits into it all.

Fates tells the story of two warring kingdoms, Hoshido and Nohr. You play as a young prince(ss) of Nohr, who, for their entire life, has been kept in a tower far away from the Nohrian capital and the main castle. However, war is brewing once more between the two kingdoms, and they want to help. Unfortunately, on the front lines of your character’s first battle, they are captured by Hoshidan forces. In the beautiful, prosperous capital of Hoshido, they learn that they’re actually not Nohrian royalty by blood… instead, they were captured from their true family, the royal family in Hoshido by Nohr’s King Garon many years ago. The player is faced with a choice, and two game routes – stay with their birth family and defend Hoshido or return to the family that raised them in Nohr. (There’s also a third route where you can choose neither and attempt to reconcile the two forces… but that route is only available if you’ve played through one of the first two routes.)

Camilla is a princess of Nohr, your character’s older sister. Depending on which route you choose, she becomes either an ally or an enemy, but exactly how she plays both roles is what fascinates me.

The Kingdom

If you want to understand Camilla’s character, it’s important to understand where she comes from. Nohr is a super fascinating location in the game. It’s definitely painted as “the bad one” of the two options with its dark, gothic imagery and violent, warlike tendencies. Plus, its ruler, King Garon, is definitely  Not a Nice Guy™. Yet, throughout the game, it’s heavily implied that Nohr’s warlike tendencies come from a place of necessity. Nohr is not a very fertile land and has very few resources compared to their neighbors in Hoshido. This can be inferred in several places in both routes, but this is also seen in the collectibles available in each route. In both games, the player can collect crops to exchange for items, and the crops available say a lot about each kingdom. On Nohr’s route, the player can collect meat, wheat, cabbage, milk, and berries, while Hoshido sports soybeans, fish, daikon radishes, peaches, and rice. As you might be able to tell, Nohr’s only two “crops” are cabbage and wheat. Wheat is of course used for bread, but that’s not the most luxurious of foods. And then there’s cabbage. Which is, you know, cabbage. The other available “crops” are simply animal and foraging products.

Compare this to Hoshido, which grows the staple rice and beans as well as a fruit and vegetable for the side and fish. While yes, Hoshido is a paradigm of peace and harmony, it’s also pretty clear how they can be. When your kingdom has a history of being able to provide for all of its people, it’s easy to preach pacifism. Yet, while Nohr isn’t excused for its actions, it’s at least implied that there’s a reason for them.

So, when am I going to talk about Camilla?

I Finally Talk About Camilla

So, Camilla, right. That’s who this whole post is about. Camilla.

As I said, Camilla is the player character’s older sister from Nohr. Of the four Nohrian royals, she’s the second eldest, and acts as a motherly figure to her three younger siblings (the player character, Leo, and Elise). She cares deeply for her family but shows no mercy to her enemies. But… I’m pretty sure you could guess that last part. I mean, she rides a giant undead dragon, wears hardcore black armor, and swings a big ol’ axe around – I’m fairly certain just about anyone could see she’s a bit of a bruiser.

But, of course, the elephant in the room regarding Camilla is not her personality. Right, yes, her looks. Her appearance is… a little exaggerated, I understand. Fire Emblem has always had a little difficulty giving its female characters realistic battle outfits, especially recently, but Camilla’s appearance is perhaps one of the most out-there designs to date. It caused quite a stir when Fates was first being teased. And yeah, I have some issues with the way she’s depicted at times, but when it comes down to it, there’s a pretty interesting reason why Camilla looks (and acts) the way she does.

See, Camilla, as well as three out of four of the royal Nohrian siblings, are not actually full-blooded heirs to the Nohrian throne. It’s not like anyone cares succession-wise, because they’re all still children of King Garon, but Camilla, Leo, and Elise are all illicit children of Garon’s various concubines. While none of these concubines are ever seen, they’re discussed in detail by Leo and Elise in a few of their supports. Basically, after the eldest Nohrian royal and only child of the late Queen Ekaterina, Xander, was born, there was a power struggle known as the Concubine Wars, where several of Garon’s lovers hoped to take the queen’s place. Leo specifically discusses how his mother tried to use him to gain power.

Judging by the fact that none of these women actually appear in-game, and the word choice in “Concubine Wars“, I’m assuming it didn’t end well for Leo and Elise’s mothers, and while Camilla never really talks about her own mother, I’d be willing to bet a hearty sum of cash that her mother probably was caught up in this conflict as well. In fact, I think of the three Nohrian royals who came from the wars, Camilla seems the most affected, even if she never even talks about it.

For one, Camilla’s motherly instincts immediately calls attention to hers and her siblings lack of a mother figure. And while yes, Camilla does really care for her siblings, there’s something… just a bit sinister about her method of motherhood. I mean… one of her lines when you invite her over in-game is literally “Tell me who I need to kill to make you happy, sweetie!” Camilla seems to very often confuse love and violence… and it brings me to some interesting conclusions not only about her but also about the world around her.

See, if we make the assumption that, like Leo and Elise, Camilla’s mother was a concubine hoping to take advantage of the power vacuum by Garon’s side, and if we add on the idea that Camilla’s mother was hoping to use her as a weapon to achieve this purpose, it sure does make sense why Camilla would so often confuse love and violence. I mean, if your own mother tried to use you for her own selfish means, and then presumably died in what must have been some sort of violent conflict, it would probably mess up your perception of what motherly love really is.

But Camilla’s problems with love and violence extend far beyond just an explanation of her personality. Her role in the story too hinges on this, excuse the pun, conflict, especially in the Birthright route. If the player character chooses to side with Hoshido, Camilla’s first appearance is… jarring, to say the least. She is at first loving and warm, seemingly happy to see her runaway sibling, but she very quickly becomes hostile.

Plus, this particular clip brings up another important point about Camilla’s character – her sexuality. Yes, Camilla is a very sexual character, but it’s something I once again relate to her background. Consider the fact that her mother tried to use her sexuality to gain power and Camilla’s own behavior becomes clear.

Her incredibly volatile attitude is one of the most fascinating parts of her character, to me. It’s pretty clear that she’s not the most mentally healthy character. Really, none of the Nohrian royal siblings are – probably due to the less-than-stellar parenting they received from their father. However, Camilla in particular seems to struggle the most with the player character’s betrayal. Throughout the route, she is shown falling into bouts of depression. Elise mentions her refusing to leave her room. Even at the end of the route, when the sudden death of Xander gives Camilla the chance to take the throne, she gives up the throne to Leo, apparently due to her lack of confidence in her own ability to rule.

Honestly, it all seems connected to her upbringing. It’s pretty clear that Camilla’s main motivation is her family, so experiencing the betrayal of one of her beloved siblings sends her into a tailspin that is simultaneously interesting and tragic to behold. While all of the Nohrian royals suffer if the player decides to side with Hoshido, it seems Camilla is the one who is dealt the worst hand, losing three siblings and losing an entire war.

Plus, her character parallels Nohr itself surprisingly well. Remember what I said about Nohr having to resort to violence out of necessity, because they don’t have any other choice? Well, Camilla seems pretty similar, doesn’t she? Yes, she’s very violent and merciless, but what she does is not without reason. The turmoil and dysfunction in her family life has led her to clutch onto her loved ones with an iron grip (literally) and defend it with blood if necessary. Like the kingdom she hails from, Camilla has had to fight to survive all her life, so it makes sense why she acts the way she does. (Plus, just look at her design. She’s the only one of the Nohrian royals with purple hair – and it sure does connect her pretty easily with the purple-and-black color scheme of Nohr proper…)

Obviously, she’s a character with a surprising amount of emotional depth and complexity, and it really makes me love her. Despite her relative silence on her own background, the conclusions one can draw on it based on the ways she looks and acts make her a fun character to analyze. That’s why I love Camilla… yes, boob window, brutality, and all.


Fire Emblem Direct Reaction: Nintendo DiWRECKED

Hey guys, did you see that Fire Emblem Nintendo Direct today? WILD, right? Four new upcoming titles – whodathunk? (Not me, I was just expecting two.)

Chances are, if you’re reading this, you’re out of the Fire Emblem loop, but that’s okay. Until very recently, so was I. Before I get into this GENUINE reaction for all the crazy news we got today, I’m gonna give you newbies a quick rundown on what Fire Emblem is.

Part 1: What is Fire Emblem?

Good question. Fire Emblem is a tactical role-playing game franchise published by Nintendo and developed by Intelligent Systems. It currently boasts 14 main series games plus a handful of spinoffs, which is a crazy number for a game franchise that is only just now finding footing in places that aren’t Japan. The first game was released in 1990 and the most recent one, Fates, was released last year. (And it was great.)

Currently, the series is in a bit of a boom right now, which is surprising considering just a few years ago it was basically almost confirmed dead. Quite a few factors have contributed to its sudden popularity, but tl;dr you could probably trace it back to the Smash Bros games, which made the characters playable, thus sparking the interest of overseas Nintendo fans who demanded localized versions of the games.

The games themselves involve running around in a medieval fantasy-esque world of swords and dragons, following a storyline and usually winning a war while recruiting pretty anime waifus and husbandos and directing their movements and actions throughout several battles. In addition, the older games had a permadeath feature – that is, if your characters die on the battlefield, they’re gone forever and don’t respawn. In the newest two titles, this is an optional game mode.

If you pair these characters off often on the battlefield, they get stat bonuses. If they fight together enough, you can unlock conversations between them. In the older games, the endgame of these conversations varied from pair to pair, but in the most recent games you can get characters married and recruit their kids. (This is explained and makes sense in-game sometimes… sometimes it’s not. It’s okay, though, the kids are one of my favorite parts of the game.) You can also have your player character get married and have kids.

No, that’s not weird.

It’s a really great series, and if you’re so inclined, I highly recommend it. If you’re looking for a good game to start out with, I suggest Awakening for the 3DS… it introduces the mechanics really well and isn’t too terribly difficult. Plus, a solid story line. The newest game, Fates, is really good too, I just don’t know if it’s the best pick for a newcomer, since its two branching story lines gives you the option of either “punishingly difficult with a great story” or “way too easy with a dumb story”.

Part 2: Cool, Now What’s New?


Well, a lot.

In today’s Nintendo Direct, Yuri Lowentha-I mean, uh, Nintendo, announced four upcoming Fire Emblem titles. FOUR! For a series that was dying a mere six years ago, that’s kind of impressive.

I’m gonna go in order of their announcement, and provide my reactions.

First on the ticket – Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia, a remake of Fire Emblem: Gaiden, the second ever main series game.


Real talk – I’m not too familiar with any of the Fire Emblem titles before Awakening… but honestly, even though I’ve never played the game Echoes is a remake of, I cannot deny that this looks stunning. The character designs have a modern Fire Emblem quality while also retaining a very classic look. I’m a big fan.

Because I’ve never played the original, I don’t know exactly how this game differs from the others, but from the trailer and from what I’ve heard, it has a free-roaming dungeon element that sounds super cool. Plus, from the game footage it looks like it’s going to retain the same top-down tactics mode that I love so much, just with some fun twists that I’m looking forward to playing around with. All in all, I’ll definitely pick this game up. I’ve been sort of meaning to familiarize myself with the older games anyway…

Secondly, and most mysteriously, we have the currently unnamed Fire Emblem game for the Switch. We know nothing about it except that it’s probably coming sometime in 2018, but I was honestly so shocked to get a confirmed main series game so soon after Fates that I don’t even need any more info. Plus! I’m already very excited for the Switch, and this just furthers my resolve to get one once it comes out. Cheers to future blog posts about this game to come, once we get more info.

Thirdly, we have Fire Emblem Warriors.


And you know what? I was a little disappointed. Yeah, okay, it was nice to see Chrom again, (Hi Chrom. I’m sorry you didn’t get to be in Smash. Congrats on the new game though!) but I was sort of hoping we’d get confirmation of other characters that would be playable, but nooope! Just Chrom. It’s cool. This series owns me, so I’ll probably end up getting it, just, please, please put Owain in it. Oh my GOSH he’d be so GOOD for this kind of hack n’ slash game oh PLEASE.


I mean, just look at him. He’s ready.

And finally, the thing I’m most short-term pumped about, Fire Emblem Heroes.


Guys, are you seeing this? With your own two eyes? Look at this. I am dying to get my hands on this.

They announced they were going to do a Fire Emblem mobile game a while back, and I kind of shrugged and said “Oh well at least they’re paying attention to this franchise,” but I was NOT prepared to get this.

New art for all the characters? New VOICE ACTING for all the characters? A HUGE roster of characters, both old and new? These STUNNING new character designs, plus the fact you have to basically Love Live-style scout to get them? I’m gonna get wrecked by this game, guys. And it’s coming out SO SOON! February 2nd… I’M SO EXCITED.

And it’s coming out for both Android phones and iPhones, and if Pokemon Go is any indication, this means LOTS of new fans are going to be able to experience this game series for the first time via this free app! That’s majorly exciting. I am so excited. I’m dragging all of my friends into Fire Emblem hell with me, they better get ready.

The way they adapted the classic gameplay for mobile looks attractive and makes sense. I love the cute little chibi sprites for the map view. I love the full body art during the criticals. UGH. I was not expecting to be so floored, and yet here I am, on the floor. Dying.

PLUS, they’re holding this huge event to vote for which two characters are going to get special appearances in the game and… here’s where I begin my campaign.

If you’re so inclined, click here to vote among basically every character in the Fire Emblem series. They’re organized by game. If you really love me, you’ll click “Choose by Game Title”, click the left arrow to scroll to “Fates”, and then choose “Silas”… this is what he looks like:


Now I’m not here to tell you what to do, but Silas here is my most favorite character. I’ve been low key planning to do a post all about why he’s great. In fact, considering all the crazy news we’ve gotten, I think that blog post might come sooner rather than later. Sparing you the details, he is highly underappreciated and I would cry many tears if he won.

So if you want to… maybe vote for him? I will give you many thanks. Many internet and/or real life hugs, if you want. Or vote for whoever. I’m not here to make your life decisions for you.

(…But please?)

Part 3: Oh My GOD You’ve Written Over 1000 Words Already Are You DONE???

Yes! Actually. Thank you for reading. I usually only post on Sundays, but this was too much for me to keep locked inside. I’m sure this won’t be the last I’ll say on… any of these games, honestly. Keep your eyes peeled for more to come!