The last time Michibiku talked about Norn9: Var Commons, I mentioned how the game felt more natural than others, due to it having three playable protagonists to choose from. The multiple storyline branches are more realistic as well, because of course a similar ending for the overarching plot isn’t going to be produced when there are three different women and three different bachelors for each one. There’s another reason having three strong women matters in Norn9 though. It makes for a richer narrative.
Many otome games feel forced. There are unnatural ecosystems at play where one woman finds herself surrounded by a harem of men. She’s the center of attention and every action revolves around her. Whenever an event occurs, every man is weighing in and hovering around her. To have one woman be the center of so many people’s worlds and not have a single confidant of her own gender is unrealistic. As good as any storyline can be, it feels contrived when there isn’t an equal opportunity for interactions with other individuals.
Norn9‘s multiple heroines solve that issue. Each girl still has a harem of three men circling around them, but it’s less intrusive than in other games. Due to the characters partnering up as a result of in-game circumstances, it doesn’t feel as though Idea Factory is throwing everyone together at every opportunity to make the player feel like some special snowflake. If other characters appear, it’s because the storyline necessitates it. Lines aren’t assigned to characters just so they have something to say. In fact, in some routes it’s possible to almost never encounter certain characters, leaving them a complete mystery until another playthrough.
The partner system also helps keep things simple. If your heroine is spending a lot of time with a particular guy, it isn’t only because the two of them share “feelings.” It’s part of the investigation process. These two see so much of each other because they have to keep an eye out for a traitor.
But let’s get back to the heroines. In otome games where other female characters appear, they’re typically antagonists. In the early Tokimeki Memorial Girl’s Side titles, the female classmates are only your friends until you start going after a guy they like. Then, they’re your worst enemies. More recently, Mine seems determined to ruin your relationship with Kent in Amnesia: Memories from the moment you meet her. Sen-hime appears in Hakuoki so infrequently that she’s barely even a character. Rather, she’s a mouthpiece to help elaborate on who Chizuru is before going off to do more important things. (Maybe she even has her own harem somewhere?)
Norn9 is one of the few otome games where we get three well developed, female characters who interact with each other. These women can even end up rooming together throughout the story, due to limited space on the ship. They express genuine concern for one another, expressing a sort of sisterhood that I haven’t seen in one of these sorts of games since Tokimeki Memorial Girl’s Side: 3rd Story. Koharu, Mikoto, and Nanami care about each other, going to lengths to help and protect one another one when opportunities present themselves throughout the story.
Granted, these interactions don’t get to happen often. Norn9 does split people up into pairs pretty quickly and additional circumstances result in the girls being isolated from one another. When they are together, however, there’s a certain sweetness to their interactions. The friendship between the three feels genuine, even though they haven’t known each other very long. It’s very much appreciated.
These bonds make the game better. Rather than seeing a bunch of men falling over themselves to cater to one woman’s whims, we see three strong women with their own morals, methods and mindsets. Each one is unique and comes to understand the other two. She cares about them and we get to see them turn to each other and connect in a way other otome heroines don’t. While these interactions never prove to be as important as the ones between the girls and guys of Norn9, players will likely appreciate them just as much.