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Random VN: Duelist x Engage



Duelist Engage is one of a number of VNs I was pretty sure I underrated relative to my time doing VN of the Month.  The fact that the VN stuck in my mind even almost a decade later says that this supposition was most likely correct.  Thankfully, after replaying it (after so long it was mostly new to me) I found that this supposition was correct.

Before I dig into story and character issues, I need to note that one way this VN stands out over modern charage is the expressiveness of the heroine sprites.  Before I went back and played this, I never realized just how much the expressiveness of VN sprites has decreased over the years, as well as the lack of any individuality.  Certain restrictive conventions that came into place later on (no bangs overhanging the eyes, no extreme changes in posture, etc) are not found in this VN, and it is surprising the degree to which this gives each character sprite more impact.  Monaka and Tomoe (his mother) in particular have extremely expressive sprites with a distinctive style and posture that is notably different from what you see in later VNs, even those just three or four years later.

It needs to be said that this is an old-style VN.  That comes with positives and negatives.  Old-style VNs tended to have stronger heroine routes than newer ones, and characterization was often more extreme to emphasize charm points of the various heroines.  Newer VNs tend to be a bit more subtle with heroine characterization, and there is a lot less reliance on dramatic entrances and extreme personality traits.  This led to a tendency - particularly in charage - for everyday life dominating VNs, versus the comedy drama that tended to be more ever-present in earlier VNs.  It's a matter of opinion as to which approach is better, but I generally prefer the older style.

In this VN, the protagonist, Yukito, for the sake of saving his mother's restaurant, has to marry someone from Colangrein (initially his arranged fiance, Violetta) in order to gain access to an inheritance from his father.   However, Violetta is a knight and immediately challenges him to a duel, with a ballooning series of antics going out from there as more and more heroines get dragged into a traditional 'shuraba' (numerous girls competing for a single - usually donkan - guy's attention).  I'm not going to go into individual heroine routes, so I'll just give you an idea of what the game is like in general.

The heroines include: his fiance Violetta; his childhood friend Monaka; the aggressive loli (one year younger) Erica; the mysterious former student council president, Tsubaki; and the meek but surprisingly big-hearted Hina.  

Violetta is your traditional stick-up-the-rear-end heroine, who refuses to marry anyone weaker than herself and is driven to achieve her ambition of becoming the next Knight King of Colangrein.  While she is essentially good-hearted, her competitive side dominates her most of the time, and she naturally takes control of most situations just by being present.  On the other hand, she is needlessly stubborn and surprisingly cute when she thinks no one is watching.

Monaka is the protagonist's osananajimi (tsundere due to the fact that Yukito is as dense as a warship's hull).  Like a lot of early such relationships, the protagonist goes to wake her up at the neighbor's house every morning and feeds her as naturally as one would a pet.  That said, Monaka isn't as much of a wild child as others of this particular achetype tend to be.  While she can be aggressive, she is surprisingly thoughtful when it comes to others' feelings, which drives her crazy when Yukito fails utterly to notice her infatuation with him.

Erica is the token loli of the VN (token lolis were almost universal in old-style VNs, even chuunige).  Like a lot of such characters, she is as childish as her physical appearance would indicate.  However, this comes from her upbringing being a mixture of mental abuse and extreme sheltering.  Her family isn't exactly warm-hearted, and her bodyguards are constantly trying to rein her in, thus leaving her devoid of anyone close enough to really serve as a mentor or role model.

Tsubaki is your standard Yamato Nadeshiko heroine... on the surface.  She has a lot of things roiling beneath that calm and elegant exterior, not the least of which being an extremely aggressive personality that is a good match for that of Violetta, when provoked.   She is also desperately poor, living in the belltower of the school, despite being a relative to a wealthy family.  

Hina is the most 'normal' of the heroines (even compared to Monaka).  At first she merely seems meek and timid, and this is a valid assessment much of the time.  However, she has the force of personality necessary to remain next to someone like Erica without being overpowered, and she is perhaps the most honest with herself of all the heroines, especially when it comes to Yukito.  

One thing that struck me when I played through the paths was the consistency of the main storyline.  Like many early charage, this game has a solid main storyline that continues into the various heroine routes (albeit with dramatically different events following the split), and no relevant element of the setting is left ignored.  The fights/duels, while not on the level of a true action VN, are still of some interest when they happen.  In addition, this VN was really good at creating an emotional attachment to the heroines, which is an area where most charage tend to fail in the last five years or so.


Duelist x Engage is an excellent example of the best of the nascent era of charage, when they were just gaining momentum as a genre.  As a result, it stands out greatly when compared to the charage of today, which tend to be more bland and mundane in comparison.  For those who want a bit more substance to their charage, this is an excellent choice.


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