My thoughts on Koihime Musou
Koihime Musou is one of those properties you always hear about without ever necessarily seeing. For example, not everyone who watches anime is into yuri but if you mention “Marimite” or “Maria Watches Over Us”, I can say with a reasonable amount of confidence that the average anime fan will say, “oh, you mean that lesbian Catholic schoolgirl anime?” I think that the same applies to this game or, more accurately, to the anime that it spawned. Or perhaps it’s just my memories messing up. I remember hearing about Marimite when I was much younger, for example, but the series only began in 2004. The light novels started in 1998. Likewise, KHM was released in 2007 and yet my memory of it seems to date back further. Time plays strange tricks on the human mind.
I picked up the english translation last month and began working my way through it, and it was a bit of a slog at first. The pacing is its weak point and the real conflicts that form the majority of the story don’t really kick off until the battle against the Totaku faction begins. I have not read Romance of the Three Kingdoms yet. Now, this alone would not be enough to destroy my interest in a visual novel but the three main heroines are flawed in two important ways. Firstly, they are bland. I had no interest in any of them until much later because their personalities did little to distinguish them from other examples in media, or at least from my perceptions of them. Second, two out of the three are lolis and I have no real interest in romantic relationships between men and lolis, so Chouhi and Shokatsuryou didn’t really do it for me.
Which left me with Kan’u as my sole choice for interesting and meaningful character interaction. After awhile I grew attached to her clingy and jealous ways but I can’t tell whether I actually grew to care for the character or if it was just Stockholm Syndrome from being exposed to her for so long. I guess it was cool that she didn’t end up being a tsundere or some other hyper-possessive psycho. For me, the appeal was in the various side characters, all of whom had more character than Chouhi and Shokatsuryou put together. The lady of the hour for me was definitely Chouun. I thought she had class and wit. The love of alcohol was a bonus. Sousou was a somewhat distant second; I found her penchant for hitting on anything that moves a bit unsettling but one has to admire the strength of her ambition, and her many talents. Again, the glut of lolis was an issue. As much as we like to joke, they’re not actually that appealing in a romantic context and actually, I found them more annoying than cute. In the cuteness department, Ryofu wins hands down. You see kids, size isn’t everything.
It was the various side characters that kept me going even after I took an extended break to play Mass Effect 3. In the end I was disappointed by the fact that not much effort was made to integrate Ryofu and Choryou into the main story even after they ostensibly joined your army. Both of them are built up to be strong, if mercurial, allies and useful to have on your side and yet they never appear in the main plot again, not even during battles. The rest of them are more understandable, seeing as how they are essentially prisoners of war who are confined to the capital city, but even Sousou and Sonken rally their armies for the final battle. Speaking of which, I do not think that the finale built up into the kind of climactic finish I was expecting and that was a disappointment as well. I was not convinced by the revelation of the mechanics behind the system of True and Alternate histories, or the reveal about Chousen at the end. It seemed like a half-assed plot twist tacked on to remind the reader that there was in fact a plot beyond building a harem of gender-flipped historical figures from Ancient China.
Saji was just not a very convincing antagonist. I get that he resented his role as a “scripted existence”, which I understand to mean that he cannot alter the course or the outcome of the story. He spent the entirety of the story hating Kazuto as a “factor” that created an Alternate history and causing distortion in the world…except that I missed the explanation of what the consequences of such a distortion could be. Or why in particular Saji hates Kazuto if it was inevitable that he would begin the ritual or that Kazuto would be the one who destroys or recreates the world. If they needed him for the ritual, why would they bother raising an army to kill him? What exactly is the nature of those white-clothed people? For all I know they could be Time Lords. The overarching plot is a meaningless jumble of meta-concepts that doesn’t amount to anything and could have been expunged and replaced with the Time Devourer to the same result, and it would make for a much more satisfying final confrontation. Like, in an effort to break free of his preordained role, Saji merges with Lavos. That would have been cool.
The other problem was that he more or less outmatched Kazuto in every way, so there was no way to convincingly have a final confrontation between the two. They didn’t even try to have a war of words or an argument. After all, Saji is some kind of supernatural dimension-hopping being whereas Kazuto is an ordinary high school kid from the future with some knowledge of modern economics and ancient history that he applies to seem like a good ruler. Oh, he also seems to be one of the few people in Ancient China who actually treats people like human beings which apparently causes girls to fall all over him. That is a common feature in visual novels and after all this time, I’ve become numb to it, so I give him a pass in that regard. But really, is it so hard to be nice to girls, to be manly? I always thought that self-confidence was one of the key, if not THE key ingredient in winning a girl’s heart. Or maybe all my friends were just blowing smoke. I’ve never had a girlfriend so I wouldn’t know. But what terrible world do visual novel characters live in that a person is seen as exceptional when they do something that should be second nature to most human beings? And not a peep from you about attitudes towards women in Ancient China. If Koihime Musou is historically accurate, I’ll eat a horseshoe.
Still, it is my habit to give credit where credit is due, so I’ll interrupt my tirade of negativity to say some nice things. Some of the artwork is gorgeous. I think a lot of work went into some weapons, like the Green Dragon Crescent Blade, and the character costumes are very nice in general, with a nice selection of colors. They’re very rich and vibrant. Kan’u’s costume stood out to me, as did Ryofu’s. On the other hand Choryou and any character wearing pink (sorry, Kouchuu) sort of left me cold. The artists also had a few problems with perspective that made some of the proportions seem awkward, even in H-CGs, which tend to be the best-drawn artwork in a visual novel. If it gets to the point where I notice them, then you know you have done something wrong. I tend to be very bad at spotting such flaws in art. The artists’ habit of using rich and vibrant colors extends to the CG and Scene Recollection menus, which I particularly liked the look of.
I think the game could have done with a little more variation in backdrops. They were *just* on the wrong side of the too many/too few divide.
I will also give the music a passing grade. It got the job done and was actually quite appropriate to the scenes. I thought the standout track was the OP, sung by the indomitable Katakiri Rekka, whom I love. The battle music could have been a bit more pulse-pounding as well, but that is a matter of personal preference. Speaking of battles, there is nothing special about them and they are not challenging or interesting enough visually to provide a viable break in the walls of text. Once you perceive the patterns in their formations, just select the appropriate counter and spam Ougis whenever they become available. Speaking of text, KHM appears to be one of MangaGamer’s titles from the bad old days when they appeared to not be able to afford a decent editor. Heck I would have done that job free of charge, so annoying were some of the errors.
On a final note, applying the voice patch was more troublesome than it really should have been.
Overall, Koihime Musou was a highly flawed experience, but it is one that I will probably continue to play until I have exhausted all possibilities. I’ve been told that there is a sequel, Shin Koihime Musou, that adds many new characters and gives some different girls a chance to play heroine. I would very much like to play that one. Get on it, MangaGamer. And get an editor!