The MoeGamer Awards are a series of made-up prizes that give me an excuse to celebrate games, concepts and communities I’ve particularly appreciated over the course of 2017. Find out more and suggest some categories here!
I love the fact that modern gaming is such an interesting, broad medium that it is possible to even contemplate something like the idea of a “Best Couple”. When I think back to the earliest games I played, and their mechanics-centric, narrative-free, abstract representations of various concepts and consider how far we’ve come, I get very happy indeed. Not that there’s no value in those old games or indeed modern mechanics-centric narrative-free experiences, of course; it’s just nice we also have the option to immerse ourselves in more narrative-centric experiences such as visual novels now.
There were a number of excellent candidates for the title of “Best Couple” from the games I’ve played and written about this year. But the more I thought about it, the more I kept coming back to one pairing in particular, so it ended up being a fairly easy choice.
And the winner is…
Len x Uzume (Ne no Kami)
Ne no Kami was a really pleasant surprise for me. Previous visual novels I’d played tended to be reasonably well-known games with decent budgets and high production values, so I was very interested to see how a smaller developer would handle telling the story they wanted to tell. We’ve all heard about modern Western games in particular being “designed by committee” and often suffering in terms of personality as a result; would it turn out to be a similar case with visual novels, with smaller works providing more individuality and “soul”?
Well, that’s quite hard to say, to be honest, because the very nature of visual novels means that they have to have plenty of character and soul to them to be successful. It’s also interesting that even some of the most well-known “big” visual novels out there are still put together by relatively small teams, so the distinction perhaps isn’t quite as clearly defined as it is with other types of game. Indeed, Ne no Kami is a highly polished visual novel with excellent art, pleasant music, wonderful writing and a real sense of context — arguably the only ways you’d ever know it was a smaller-scale affair than the Grisaias and the Fate/stay nights of the world were through its relatively short length and the fact it’s only partially voiced.
But I digress; we’re here to talk about the Best Couple, and how Ne no Kami fits into that.
I’ll refrain from too many spoilers here — you can check out the main Ne no Kami articles for more detailed thoughts on the narrative — but suffice to say that the central relationship at the core of the story is an extremely firm basis around which everything else resolves.
Protagonist Len is a teenage girl at just the sort of age when people start really learning things about themselves and attempting to define themselves. In many ways, the fact she has to uproot herself from her old life and live in a hidden village of youkai hunters is a metaphor for the way adolescence can hit people hard; many people find they might not be the person they thought they were as a child, and in other cases they may find they hadn’t really thought about things all that much.
Len’s experiences over the course of Ne no Kami are important, defining experiences that help her to understand who she is and what her place in the world is. Arguably the most important discovery she makes is the fact that she is gay — something that she is initially resistant to, and which she continues to struggle to understand as the first of the complete story’s two parts draws to a close.
The object of Len’s affections is Uzume, a slightly older girl with whom Len had something of a bond in her childhood. It transpires that Uzume mistook a young Len — who was extremely tomboyish in her childhood, only settling into the petite feminine form we see in the novel once she hit adolescence — as an actual boy, and, due to her isolation from the world at large due to circumstances explored throughout the story as a whole, had come to carry a pretty big torch for her.
What’s interesting about the growing relationship between Len and Uzume as depicted throughout Ne no Kami is that they’re both learning to understand and process the things they are feeling in different ways. Uzume seems to take the revelation that Len is a girl pretty much in her stride, largely because of her aforementioned isolation, but still has to learn exactly how far she can take things and how to express herself. Len, meanwhile, certainly comes to feel a lot of things that initially frighten and even disgust her; indeed, upon the pair’s first truly intimate encounter with one another, Len regards the situation as her “violating her childhood friend and getting turned on by it”, even though Uzume is clearly enjoying herself immensely.
Len and Uzume make an interesting couple to explore because things aren’t neat and tidy with their relationship at all. Uzume appears to shower Len with absolutely unconditional love, but at the same time she has responsibilities that may end up with her dead and their new partnership torn apart — something that she is painfully aware of, but which she does her best to put up a brave face against. At the other end of things, Len continues not to understand quite what it means to be gay, to be attracted to someone of the same sex as her — even though she has, by this point, seen another same-sex couple being pretty open and unashamed of their relationship, and her innermost thoughts occasionally reveal that she may have been aware of her sexuality for a little longer than she might care to admit.
Most of all, Len x Uzume makes for good drama that mirrors some of the events depicted in the history of Ne no Kami’s setting. While this drama remains unresolved at the end of the first game — and indeed when I first wrote about Ne no Kami, there were questions over what would happen with the second part of the tale owing to the tragic and untimely death of Len’s voice actress Mochi Yomogi last year — the story has now been brought to a conclusion, which you can expect some further thoughts about here on MoeGamer in the near future.
Ne no Kami was a highly enjoyable experience, blending some likeable, attractive characters with a compelling, intimate narrative and a really interesting treatment of blended mythologies from around the world, including Shinto, Norse, Catholic and even Lovecraftian legends. If you’re looking for a story to enjoy that is just a little bit different from the norm, be sure to check it out — and you’ll see for yourself why Len x Uzume was my favourite pairing of the year.
More about Ne no Kami
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