A girl chosen as Britain's next king against her will. The ensuing tale of love and war.
Age Rating: Cero C (15+)
Date of Release: March 28, 2013
Voice Cast: Ono Yuuki, Taniyama Kishou, Koyasu Takehito, Okamoto Nobuhiko, Hosoya Yoshimasa, Okiayu Ryoutarou, (Hirakawa Daisuke, Eguchi Takuya, Okitsu Kazuyuki, Sugiyama Noriaki, Itou Kentarou, etc.)
Princess Arthur is Otomate's take on the Arthurian legend, a hypothetical story of what might ensue should a young girl draw the Holy Sword from stone and ascend to the position of Britain's king. The story starts off with an epilogue by King Arthur, standing on the bloodied, empty battlefield, lamenting his choices that culminated in this outcome... and wondering if anyone other than him had been chosen, such a fate could have been averted. From the onset, the audience is aware that Princess Arthur is but an extrapolated "if" from an infinite pool of possibilities, and is asked for the due degree of suspension of disbelief. Princess Arthur does not try to displace the original legend, i.e., pretend it never happened.
The cast consists of the main members of the Round Table: knights Lancelot, Gawain, Mordred, Galahad, and Tristan, along with Merlin, the King's advisor. Sub-characters who are also members of the Round but are not pursuable include Medraut, Boyle, Percival, Guinevere, and Morgause. This particular group features the most prominently through all available routes of the game, though Princess Arthur also has a wealth of other side characters such as Elaine, Aru's best friend; Aru's older brother and father, Nimue (or the Lady of the Lake), Cait Sith, and Leanne Sidhe. Each has integral roles to play and the game makes commendable use of all the characters at some point in the game despite the massive size of the cast.
It is not only the size of the cast but also the depth in which they are fleshed out that makes for a great positive point for Princess Arthur. All the sub-characters of the game are well developed and certainly enrich the story; No Character Is Left Behind. Percival, for instance, is given a lot of development in Tristan's route, while Kei is expanded upon in Mordred's route and even further in Merlin's. Elaine especially shines since not only is she one of the few female characters in a male-dominated cast, she guides Aru to become the leader that she does in the game. Without Elaine, Princess Arthur arguably would have never happened. The fact that a side character like her is just as perfectly flawed as Aru; that she has her own struggles and girlish naivety which she works to overcome with her own power speaks to the likability and well-roundedness of the entirety of Princess Arthur's cast.
The story, as alluded to above, features radically different subplots according to route. The common route (up to chapter four) introduces a beginnings of subplot threads: the sealed cave, Lancelot's bandaged left arm, the cursed sibling in the cabin, and so on. The story branches out into character routes thereafter and each picks up on one of these threads to expand upon it. In this way, side characters who may be absent in one route may prove extremely important in another.
Playing Princess Arthur to completion feels a bit like gathering puzzle pieces that the player ensembles to get the complete picture. The true story cannot be gleaned without piecing together who was untruthful, who was truly behind the scenes, and why certain characters said peculiar lines at that specific point in time, across all routes. There are lots of clues to put together for every one of Princess Arthur's subplots, such as the truth behind Uthel's death. The game casts suspicion on two possible perpetrators, and there is arguably plenty of evidence to make the case against either. Should the player decide to, he or she can make the case for both. This inexplicability, in addition to intricate unraveling of this actual subplot (because there are always, always other conflicts going on simultaneously), not only make for great speculative and/or discussion material, but also adds to the greatness of the narrative of the game. Princess Arthur is not the kind of otome game where the series of events unfolds the exact same way across every single route and the character with whom Aru overcomes those trials is simply cut and pasted in.
The recommended route order according to official sources is Gawain, Tristan, Mordred, Lancelot, Galahad, and then finally Merlin. Gawain's route is arguably the most "otome game-like" route of Priness Arthur, with lots of blushy romance and minimal political subplot. The conspiracies (which you didn't realize were there) slowly start to reveal themselves in Tristan's route and rise to greater and greater prominence the more routes you play. My ultimate advice is to stick with this play order if you already intend to fully complete the game; otherwise, jump in with either Mordred's or Lancelot's route to try the game on for a size. I personally know I would have lost interest if I played either Gawain or Tristan first; not because these routes are bad, but because they are rather typical relative to other otome games out in the market. Does that mean that some of these earlier routes are throwaways? Perhaps, but not really if we consider the spotlight that some of these sub-characters get and the clues they offer for the overall picture of why things are the way they are in this alternate reality of Princess Arthur. Note that different routes obviously have different focuses, so it may just be personal preference for either romance-focus or plot-emphasis that causes players to diverge on their opinions on a given route.
Regarding the lore, I am sure as many players well-versed in the lore might be interested in the game as those who may not be. It is a fact that Princess Arthur borrows heavily from the lore at the same time that it completely diverges from it in select other elements. For example, characters who are related in the legend suddenly aren't, and those who aren't related suddenly are (or made French for some unfathomable reason); Mordred is split into two separate characters of Mordred and Medraut; Guinevere is Uther's wife instead of Arthur's; and so on. Knowing the lore, therefore, would give you about 50% accuracy with guessing the relationship between characters and leave you to be pleasantly surprised by the other 50%.
Moreover, there is actually a distinct advantage to the game having changed so much: since aspects of the legend read so differently, you cannot anticipate which part of the legend will suddenly become relevant. Are Guinevere and Lancelot romantically involved behind the curtains, despite the absence of Arthur? Will Elaine have a subplot with Lancelot? What of the Holy Grail? The twists and turns are for you to maneuver and it is only after that you fully complete the routes and view the extra epilogue that you can truly sit back and see all the changes for what they were. Sometimes, one or two seemingly odd phrases are left unexplained within the game, and you must consult the lore to connect the dots; but it is recommended to do this anyway to see where the game took liberties and understand how it chose to interpret various parts of the legend. In conclusion, not knowing the lore would not affect your enjoyment of the game, but reading up on it at least afterwards would enhance your appreciation of this alternate universe Princess Arthur crafted for itself and players.
One of the most noteworthy parts of the game is how progressively gender roles are presented. Aru, the protagonist, exhibits great leadership while still retaining her femininity. Through various parts in the story, they emphasize the roles that only she could fulfill by the virtue of being a young girl. For example, her dedication to bringing about a world without conflict helps the knights to reevaluate the consequences of war, and what it truly means when lives are taken away. They are desensitized to fighting and killing until Aru takes the throne and shows them first hand just how real and close to home human loss can be. This sort of internal, emotional change is indicative of Aru's feminine sensibilities. Aru makes differences in a way that only she can, and this has the effect of empowering her femininity. An important point to take note because the target of otome games is women; it's a very positive message to be sending to women that the differences that they can make are valuable and, in some cases, needed.
What makes Aru a particularly endearing character is that she has her moments of weakness and naivety, but she ultimately pulls through and produces results beyond what one would reasonably expect out of a young girl. There is something at the very core of her that holds against any situation she's thrown in, and as delicate as her mentality is due to her inexperience in life, it proves unbreakable. Aru, for instance, stands on a battlefield for the first time in her life and is bathed in the warm blood of her first victim as she kills him. Although the surrealism of the situation really shakes her up, she continues battling until the skirmish is over. It is afterwards that she faints from overwhelming reality... showing that while she definitely pulls her weight, she also isn't a hardened King as much as she is a young girl, an angle that should really be emphasized and commended, truly, for staying true to her actual character, when it would have been all too easy to write it off.
In addition, her goal of establishing a kingdom with no conflict is unrealistic, and Aru is fully aware of that, giving her a great sense of pragmatism that makes her a good leader. She knows that it is but a dream that is not actually possible. Nevertheless, she decides that striving for something even remotely close to that will be worth dedicating her life to. Her conviction doesn't come out of nowhere, either, just because she is compassionate and goodhearted "by nature": she comes to this decision after experiencing loss firsthand. Aru struggles, but she knows her limits and seeks to improve herself for a cause greater than she. If I argued that she was a realistic girl before, then this attests to how she successfully fills in the roles of a proper ruler of a kingdom (the "hat" of a king, if you will). I have already talked about the richness of the cast in the above section, but I will reiterate that, along with Aru, they are as likable as they come.
In terms of the story, some may be surprised by the amount of political subplots that the game has to offer. The politics are not as complicated or involved as, say, Getsuei no Kusari; it is not really the theoretical questions that these political problems pose that make Princess Arthur, but the speed with which these problems escalate vis-a-vis personal conflicts Aru goes through. Aru's thought process as she responds to them in the ways that she does is the focus of the game, not so much the brilliance of the actual political developments. Nevertheless, these political problems are of a colorful variety, e.g., commerce and strategic marriages. They strike a nice balance with the personal struggles of Aru as her own self.
There is just one figure in the game that remains contemptuous no matter which route you are on, and the game makes no effort to redeem her or make it a secret that she has malicious intent. It is regrettable that while the game takes care to give all these other characters layers upon layers like an onion, this one character remains flatly evil. She is without a doubt a complicated character with depth to her motive that we won't learn of until much later, but I feel as if the game could have made more of an effort to not make her so obviously… bad.
Princess Arthur's second flaw is a rather significant one that actually knocked down my opinion of the game quite a bit. I refer to the inclusion of magic as a plot device. Now, one might say that it is unrealistic to expect a game that includes Merlin, Leanne Sidhe, and a catboy to not involve magic, but my issue with the presence of magic in the game is that it not only takes away from the wonderfully human conflicts that the political problems carve, but also provides for instantaneous, happy solutions no matter the impossibility of the circumstances. Princess Arthur is relatively gutsy compared to other Otomate games for some of its themes, but not gutsy enough to give you an ending that is in any way bittersweet; it must, in every way, be entirely happy, and Princess Arthur will deus ex machina it to you on a magical flying carpet. If magic did not exist, Otomate would have no way of doing this and would actually be forced to write endings that are realistic to the given situation. That said, this only really applies to one, maybe two endings out of the whole game, so it arguably does not count against the entire game.
Finally, Aru is also slightly inconsistent across some routes. The ones that concentrate on personal issues obviously has Aru more emotional and liable to make choices with her heart rather than her head. If she consistently did this, it would not count against her, but because Aru makes more logical choices in some compared to others, her characterization feels a bit jarring at times. At her core, she is but a young girl, so it is not unrealistic per se, but a case can be made for inconsistency.9 Princess Arthur has rich characters, subplots, and at times emotionally charged, beautiful writing. There is a good balance of romance and narrative depth that will satiate any kind of otome game player. The flaws that the game has are indeed regrettable, but they do not hurt enjoyment of the game as a whole.