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Polyamorous Endings – An Anatomy Of Visual Novels


Pallas_Raven

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This is a condensed version of the full article which can be found on my Main Blog Here.

 

A Relationship With Many Sides

 

When it comes to relationships most forms of media present monogamous pairings as the normal and rarely explore beyond this line of thinking and when they do the presentation of the opposite extreme is generally negative. Enter the visual novel, here is a space where polyamorous relationships are given an equal examination to their more traditional peers through these games' endings. While they by no means form the majority of romantic interactions in the medium, they do exist in significantly higher numbers than elsewhere and each is presented with the sincerity it deserves. When it comes to how polyamory manifests in narratives there are two groups, those involving exactly three participants and those numbering greater than that baseline. These have differing means by which they come about as well as how they end up defining the people they connect which gives each a unique flavour for the player. Despite the nuance on offer from these endings there are various problems with perception due to people’s ingrained ideas of the value of monogamy and the way more erotic titles also make use of this type of ending for a different effect. Let’s expand our romantic horizons and see how visual novels use polyamorous endings.

 

Three Is The Magic Number

 

When presenting a non-monogamous relationship to the player it is hard to get them to understand it the further away it is from the two person system they are familiar with and as such adding only one additional participant is the most common polyamorous grouping. One of the major advantages of this trio over a greater number is it can be neatly divided into three pairings and play off the established idea of a love triangle as a form of common ground with the player. Like the sides of a triangle a relationship formed of three people has three lines of emotion which the player has to understand, one from each person to the other two. By having neat and easy to follow lines the player can keep track of how the relationships of each part of the trio inform the eventual collective romantic ending. Another trick often employed is to have only two of the three characters on screen at the same time in an imitation of the standard monogamous interaction and only having all three express their feeling together when the game heads towards its ending. This means the player is never overwhelmed by possible clashing or overlapping love from those in this relationship and it helps them understand the factors leading towards their eventual union, only to reveal it a dramatic fashion for the most impact when the time is right.

 

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Why Stop At Three?

 

Once the number of people in a polyamorous relationship exceeds three it tends to spike by quite a bit, jumping up to anywhere from five to seven. This spike is due to the benefits of the triangle’s simple relationship dynamics being lost so it becomes more important to commit to the characters individual paths towards the polyamorous ending rather than asking the player to keep track of each possible bond in the romantic lattice. Showing the micro level of each character’s bonds has a similar effect to the focus on a single relationship used by trios by bringing these intricate feeling down to an easy to understand level which can be subtly built up into a larger picture. This foundation is then added to as the game piles on the other participants in the polyamorous relationship and little by little a complete picture of formed as it reaches its climax and reveal with the narrative’s ending. Giving the player the space to breath and get to know each character helps form a detailed idea of what would lead a person to this type of bond while asking the player to consider what that tell them about the nature of relationships in a broader sense.

 

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Lamunation! provides a good showcase of how to present a larger number of people in a polyamorous ending. To start with it divides its core game into routes following sets of heroines as they deal with their own issues and lets the player see the close feelings they already have with the rest of the core cast. These segregated routes spend a fair amount of time showing how the characters bounce off each other to make the later shift into all of them being intimate appear organic. These are things like Lamune’s inability to say no to the other girls or the Prateado twins tendency to share everything between each other and they provide the reasons and motives for the eventual polyamorous ending once all other routes have been completed. Nekopara follows a similar approach except rather than routes it splits its catgirls into pairs and gives them individual episodes to shine in. By doing this the episodes can rely on the previously mentioned relatable power of trios to show the dynamics forming around them and bringing in past trios to slowly build up the whole picture of this relationship before organically letting it happen.

 

Problems With Perception And Lust

 

It might be obvious at this point that there is an important drawback to the inclusion of a polyamorous ending and this manifests through their negative connection with lust and the dominance of monogamy. In many ways visual novels do not help themselves when it comes the connection to lust since there are a number of games using polyamorous endings which utilise it as a form of erotic fantasy rather than treating as a potential and interesting manifestation of human relationships. These tend to be titles like Imouto Paradise or Funbag Fantasy which have no interest in being taken seriously on any level and exist purely for eroticism with little concern about how they are perceived beyond their target audience. There is nothing wrong with this per se and the continued popularity of this type of fantasy does show there are many people who willing to accept a simple representation of these ideas. However, it does effect how those from outside the medium see polyamory within visual novels and there is a definite tendency by these people to present games including this type of relationship as horny and of a lesser narrative quality regardless of what the truth actually is for each one. Beyond this issue there is a fear by developers that treating a polyamorous bond with complete seriousness might alienate their predominately monogamous audience, hence why all the titles mentioned in this article present it through some lens of comedy. Treating it as a partial joke allows them to deflect the idea that they are supporting a non-standard relationship and make it more palatable for potential players. Overall these problems do muddy the water when it comes to discussing polyamorous endings and are worth always keeping in mind when you encounter one.

 

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Conclusion

 

Addressing polyamory is a delicate balancing act that few are willing to tackle so its presence within visual novels as endings is an interesting convention. While the reality is a mixed bag between sympathetic and emotional presentations and simple titillation, making for a muddied overall coverage of the idea, there are nevertheless more meaningful narratives about it than in most other mediums. If there are three people in the relationship, the visual novel can focus in on each pairing within that trio to make the sides of a triangle and allow for an easy and nuanced understanding on the part of the player. Beyond that number and the title has to fixate on the characters individually in order to give them the time they need to present their growth towards the polyamorous ending. Everything comes together at those endings and leaves the player to consider the value of what they just witnessed. This type of relationship and ending is not suited for most visual novels due to the amount of narrative and emotional set up it requires to be effective, but it is still worth considering if the pieces fall into places for this kind of bond between your characters as you plan your visual novel.

 

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Polyamory, whether it is harem or multi-directional, is a difficult issue for people raised in the modern era in first-world countries.  While it is beginning to be normalized in some countries, it has been demonized for so long that it will probably be a long time before the stigma associated with it fades away, if ever.

In VNs, I think the one that takes polyamory to its ideal end is Draculius, one of my favorite VNs.  While Jun, the protagonist, is central to things, each of the heroines has a defined role within the family that can't be played by any of the other girls.  Belche is the mother, Xeno is the protector, Rika is the attacker, and Lian is the representative.  

I do agree that in most cases a harem should stop at three (one primary and two secondaries with a relationship aside from that possessed by the primary).  To be blunt, there is only so much time one person can put into other people, and expanding to the ridiculous size some VN harems have is just undoable.  

Traditionally, there were any number of reasons for a harem to exist.  One was in the case of royals and high nobles, where numerous heirs were necessary to solidify power and ensure passage down to the next generation.  Then there were rich merchants and leaders of settlements.  In both cases, this prevented too much wealth being permanently settled into one bloodline and reduced resentment from the population at large.  It also provides a larger supporting family for the raising of children, reducing individual burdens for child-rearing and making things more flexible without going outside the family group.

Generally speaking, early human civilizations didn't place emphasis on and in some cases didn't even have the concept of romance.  That is why some cultures retain arranged marriages and defacto polyamorous relationship setups.  (for JVN fans, the example would be the way it is tacitly understood that powerful Japanese men - like high-ranking politicians and corporate leaders - will have lovers outside of their wives).  

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Well, to be blunt people would think of harem ending as some sort of fanservice for the very obvious reason.

Anyway, for the topic, like you say it should be obvious that the writer should just limit it to three heroines in order to have easier time to write the story, and coincidentally threesome ending is quite common in most of VN, such as Konosora, Aoi Tori, and Kunado Kokuki with all of those are coincidentally involving sibling. Speaking of Konosora, actually Pulltop seems to favor threesome ending (Despite their insistence to release their translated VNs without sex scenes) as shown in Kanobito and Miagete Interstellar Focus, although both are obviously not viable VNs to be localized by them. Also while you can have more than two heroines in harem ending, usually those kind of ending (Barring special circumstances) are more common in nukige or have the setting that support it (Like Evenicle duology or HaremKingdom).

Lastly about the moral stuff, admittedly it has some issue, although it's not like I have problem with the harem ending in the first place. So yeah, in the end I guess it's up to each of their own when it come to the opinion on this kind of ending. That's all for what I can comment in regard of this topic.

Edited by littleshogun
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