There are games that glorify girl power. Otome games are quite good at such things, particularly Idea Factory Otomate titles. Sweet Fuse: At Your Side, Norn9: Var Commons and Code: Realize ~Guardian of Rebirth are three that put forward heroines who can grow into quite formidable and strong women. Which makes it more than a little odd that Shall We Date? Princess Arthur, a visual novel that replaces King Arthur with a young woman who’ll head Camelot instead, is reluctant about having a strong heroine.
Shall We Date? Princess Arthur starts out as questionable from the very start. Our heroine is the daughter of Hector, a former Knight of the Round Table, and her brother is a current member. She’s been trained with a sword her whole life. But, the game is very quick to also point out that she’s more than capable with some women’s work and has been taking care of the household since her mother’s passing. Instead of acknowledging her skill, especially since we learn she bested her brother, Kay, in a swordfight just before the game begins, her father laments how her gender holds her back. “Many are the times I’ve thought that you would’ve made a fine knight, if you’d have been born a man.”
You’d think this is Shall We Date? Princess Arthur setting the stage for a complete reversal. After she draws Excalibur from the stone and becomes king, in a display where surely she’ll only be on display and acknowledged, things have to change. Alas, that doesn’t happen. On the way to this reveal, she’s aggressively hit on, nearly compromised even, by Merlin and needs to be rescued after getting lost by Lancelot. Even her initial pulling of the sword from the stone is taken from her. She’s trying to get her brother Kay to stop embarrassing himself with his failing and initially he gets the credit, not her.
This isn’t to say things don’t get better in Shall We Date? Princess Arthur. After all, The heroine does become the ruler of Camelot after pulling the sword from the stone. But naturally, this means many question her capabilities and force her into performing occasionally demeaning actions; including the Knights of the Round Table who can become her love interests. When Tristan needs evidence on Morgause, it’s our heroine who has to dress up in an incredibly revealing dress to belly dance for a suspect and get the information. When it’s time to go into battle, Gawain questions her decision to head out onto the field and fight alongside them, even though she’s proven herself as a ruler and warrior. Galahad even imprisons her at one point, something that shouldn’t be happening to a ruler of a country.
It almost feels like Shall We Date? Princess Arthur toys with the idea of having a strong heroine. It hints at how edge and avant-garde the whole situation is. It toys with the idea of a young woman acting in place of the familiar king. But then, it doesn’t commit to the idea. It instead toys with the idea of a woman who needs protection. It undermines her position of authority by putting her in situations one wouldn’t expect someone who was really acting head of a country.
This doesn’t mean Shall We Date? Princess Arthur is a bad game. It’s just relying on stereotypes to give readers of this visual novel the sorts of otome heroes they expect. It provides opportunities for the bachelors to be at their best and sweep the heroine and readers following off of their feet. This means the heroine herself is something of a casualty. While she does step up as a ruler, one who does make some respectable decisions and ends up coming into her own, she doesn’t get the chance to be a super strong woman and warrior. Her girl power is restrained, so that some of the men around her can still occasionally rescue a damsel in distress.