Like many of the charage I choose to replay for this particular part of my blog, Golden Marriage is one of those VNs I thought I didn't quite give a fair chance to the first time I played them, looking back. In retrospect, I realize I'd really come to expect great things out of Ensemble due to the examples of Koi no Canvas and Gokigen Naname. The former is a kamige, beyond all doubt, and the latter was a deliciously dramatic look into the muddy world of money and old families. While things turned out well in the end in Gokigen Naname, the story itself is full of dark elements and stomach-twisting moments (in particular the main heroine's path). Because of this, I have always felt subconsciously that I didn't give this game a fair shake at the time. I also felt a need to see if Ensemble's generalized drop in quality was my imagination or not...
Golden Marriage is seen by many fans of Gokigen Naname to be a watered-down attempt to 'recapture the magic' of that game in a slightly less... extreme situation. There is good reason for seeing it that way, as you can see the influences rather obviously if you played the aforesaid game in the past. Both games are based in situations where the protagonist is surrounded by wealth, both games have people with dark motives lurking in the background (or in the foreground), and both games are very conscious of the way people go insane for money. However, there the similarities end. Golden Marriage is a much, much lighter game in every sense than Gokigen Naname. It lacks the poisonous acrimony and cutthroat nature of some of the relationships in that VN, and the protagonist is actually the obvious central character of the game (whereas the main heroine was the center in Gokigen Naname). Another issue is that the protagonist, Nagisa, while having had some bitter experiences, has turned out to be an essentially good person with none of the excessive attachment to money that defined many of the characters in Gokigen Naname. If Gokigen Naname was a picture of what happens to people when money twists their lives beyond recovery, Golden Marriage is a picture of characters who manage to avoid being poisoned by moneyed influences despite living close to them.
I chose to do Touko's route first, because she is a type of character I didn't really have a taste for at the time I first played this but developed one for later... the intelligent but slightly cowardly otaku. She attaches obsessively to those things and people she cares about, and she has a deep sense of compassion and curiosity, as well as a strong sense of obligation. She and Nagisa are childhood friends, but her path manages to avoid the usual pitfalls of the osananajimi path (namely the shift from friends to lovers), instead focusing on romance and the drama of the financial world and its pressures (without taking it down the darker paths). She is also probably the most privately affectionate of the heroines, and her lazy-dere is adorable. Jewel Days' after story doesn't really add anything to the story. What it does is provide you with an idea of what Touko intends to do with her life with Nagisa in the future, as well as dealing with the wedding ceremony itself. As an after-story, I had to tilt my head to the side and wistfully wish they'd done something more with it.
If you were to ask me which heroine in this game makes the biggest initial impact, I would definitely reply that it is Rei, the game's resident 'artist'. To be specific she is, of all things, a viola soloist. Upon meeting the protagonist, she immediately proposes marriage and tells him in a rather forthright manner that she needs money to pursue her art, so she picked him as a potential mate. However, only a short time later, after hearing about his parents, she bursts out in tears on the spot and proclaims that if he marries her she'll make sure he gains the greatest happiness of all. To be blunt, if I were to pick which of these heroines was the most vital and 'alive', it would undoubtedly be her, by several leagues. She is a shameless dreamer, a pursuer of her art for the sake of pursuing art, a highly emotional individual, and at the same time practical when it matters. Her path lacks the sheer drama you see in Touko's path, but it was definitely one worth playing, despite that. Her FD after-story shows off her personality (familiar at this point) and her more developed relationship with Nagisa quite nicely... but it is also based before the events in the epilogue of the main game, giving me reason to be dissatisfied (I would have preferred this kind of story to be in the original game and the after-story to be about something after the epilogue).
Marika is Nagisa's cousin, a young princess of a Germanic nation (fictional) who has been in love with him since early childhood. Whimsical, highly intelligent, but more than a little careless of the trouble she causes others through her whims, she drives Kumi (the protagonist's bodyguard) up the wall. Her 'path' in the main game basically involves a brief promise to consider marrying her in the future, before it cuts off. On the other hand, Jewel Days gives her a full-length path, based a few years after the events in the main game (all the events in Touko's and Ruri's paths have occurred in this one, save for the romantic ones). Her path is, like Ruri's and Touko's from the original, somewhat tinted with dark elements, mostly because she is a princess and a princess's life and choices are never entirely her own, even in the modern world. The antagonist the pops up is the same string-puller as in all the paths from the original (I'm not going to spoil it), but this time his role is a bit less extreme than it was in those two paths. Marika herself is a wonderful imouto character, lol.
For those who are interested in Kasumi, I should mention that I deliberately ignored her path, because it was the path that made me score the game somewhat lower when I originally played the game. Kasumi is the protagonist's co-worker at his part-time job and a kouhai at school. She is a hard-working girl who is raising her younger siblings because her parents vanished after their company collapsed. She is rather obviously infatuated with Nagisa from the beginning but far too shy to do anything about it. I can honestly say that she would make a rather nice average-level heroine in the average charage... but she wasn't an interesting addition to this game.
Yukariko is the Miss Perfect of this VN... elegant, intelligent, compassionate, wise, and graceful... and her path is the second worst in the VN. To be straight about it, the main issue in her path at the beginning is so... stupid. I can understand where it came from, but it really felt like the writer couldn't think up a really good conflict so made one up out of thin air. This was the second element that led to me giving this game a poor rating... To be blunt, I hate the type of path where they basically say 'The problem with going out with the perfect woman is...'. That kind of BS just makes me roll my eyes, and the way Nagisa suddenly becomes an idiot in that path at all the worst times made me fall asleep.
Ruri is the active, straightforward girl in the mix. She is the daughter of an old-style (nineteenth-century, lol) Yakuza boss, but she is in rebellion against her father's wishes that she succeed him. Naturally, her path is a bit more dramatic than the other paths, and there is some minor action involved. However, when it comes down to it, the Ruri portrayed in this game is just 'your average girl' who happens to be able to stare down punks and beat the crap out of them if they get above their station, lol. I have to say that, amongst all the Jewel Days paths, this one added the least to the experience. It is basically dating issues and sex, so I can straight-out say that you've seen everything of interest once you've finished the path in the main game.
Now, that ends my exhaustive overlook of Golden Marriage's heroine paths... and I have to say I'm glad it's over. Most games don't have this much disparity between the paths in terms of quality, so I usually don't end up with as much in the way of mixed feelings as I have now. As a charage, it is excellent... but that's just comparing it to the huge piles of steaming brown stuff I have to wade through to get to VNs like this one. It still doesn't even get close to Koi no Canvas or Gokigen Naname for raw quality, but if you want a decent charage about a rich protagonist, this is a good choice.