The MoeGamer Awards are a series of “alternative” awards I’ve devised in collaboration with the community to celebrate the sorts of things that never get celebrated in end-of-year roundups! Find out more here — and feel free to leave a suggestion on that post if you have any good ideas!
With the visual novels of the decade and the games of the decade out of the way, it’s time to focus on the really important matters: who was the Best Girl of the games I played and covered here on MoeGamer in 2019?
Everyone’s definition of Best Girl is, of course, very different, so I will preface this with the usual disclaimer that this is solely my opinion, and you are free to share your own personal Best Girl 2019 in the comments. In fact, I’d welcome it! I always love to hear why particular characters are important to people; it makes for some great stories.
Anyway, there were definitely a lot of contenders for the title this year, what with the vast majority of the games I explored having predominantly female casts. But by my own self-imposed rules, I have to pick one…
And the winner is…
Princess Merurulince Rede Arls
Atelier Meruru may be eight years old at this point, but 1) it got a rerelease on Nintendo Switch, PS4 and PC at the end of last year in the form of Atelier Meruru DX and 2) it was part of the first Cover Game feature of 2019. Plus 3) it’s a great game and 4) Meruru is one of the most appealing characters in a series known for particularly adorable protagonists.
In Atelier Meruru, you take on the role of the titular princess as she is engaged in an argument with her father. She is fascinated with the new alchemist in town — who just happens to be a justifiably exhausted Totori from the previous game, who is just looking to settle down in a nice quiet little town, occasionally throw things in a cauldron and try not to blow herself up.
Meruru’s father believes that princesses should do princessy things, however, and forbids her from taking the alchemical lessons she desires — that is, until she calls him a “poopyhead” and, after cooling her perpetually blasting jets a bit (and taking some advice from the ever-patient butler Rufus), she manages to convince him that she might be able to use alchemy to help develop the kingdom a bit.
This is welcome news for her father, because in five years time, his little kingdom of Arls is set to merge with the neighbouring republic of Arland, and he obviously wants things to be in a suitably good state when that happens. And so Meruru is given an ultimatum: if she can grow the population of the kingdom sufficiently by her eighteenth birthday — two years before the merger is set to happen — she can continue her studies. If not, she is doomed to forever be the boring princess she’s spent her life to date trying to avoid being.
Meruru is immensely appealing because she’s a spunky female protagonist with absolutely no time whatsoever for the expectations polite society places on her. She’s loud, she’s impulsive, she’s willing and able to beat things around the head with a big stick when necessary, and she is absolutely capable of Getting Things Done when she 1) puts her mind to it and 2) is actually enthusiastic about the Things in question.
She’s a marked contrast to both Rorona and Totori from the previous two Arland games. Both Rorona and Totori are depicted as rather meek, shy and anxious at various points in their adventures — though Rorona develops into somewhat airheaded overconfidence in subsequent installments, while Totori becomes kind, gentle and almost maternal — so for Meruru to fully embrace her own sense of self-confidence from the very outset of her own game makes her a lot of fun to hang around with, and an inspiring heroine to be directing the fate of.
She’s also a beautifully designed character. Her standard outfit exudes regal femininity, with its elaborate, figure-flattering design, but it’s also eminently practical for adventuring in, and is rendered so nicely in the game that it’s hard not to want to reach out and touch it. The shiny, silky inside of her cloak looks like it would be particularly pleasing to the touch, and who doesn’t want a nice pair of gold boots with a bit of a heel on them? Just me? Well then.
The nice thing about Meruru’s design is that she’s obviously beautiful without overemphasising sexual attractiveness, and her outfit is distinctive, plausible and in keeping with the whole “Renaissance Germany with a twist” thing that most of the Atelier series has going on — though the young ladies in real Renaissance Germany might not have shown quite so much leg, admittedly. She’s an immediately recognisable, iconic character with a distinctive silhouette, and she’ll doubtless stick in your mind long after your time with her.
In narrative terms, it’s nice that at no point does she feel like she’s forced into any particular direction; instead, her personality feels like it evolves naturally according to your actions, without necessarily making binary moral choices. If you focus on getting things done around the kingdom, Meruru starts to come across as a determined young woman keen to prove herself; spend a bit more time focusing on interpersonal relationships, however, and you can see her being just a normal teenage girl, supporting her friends and constantly learning things about herself.
Like most of the other Atelier games, there’s also a lot of inherently progressive material in here, too. Meruru isn’t canonically in a relationship with anyone, but if you follow the narrative path that surrounds her and her maid Keina, it’s obvious there’s the very strong possibility for yuri love to blossom down the line, and it’s hard not to get the distinct impression that everyone would support that outcome. Even Meruru’s father isn’t in any great hurry to marry her off to some rich, eligible prince or anything; despite his initial protestations at her desires, it’s clear that he knew right from the get-go that he was always just going to have to deal with whatever path his daughter would end up taking — both professionally and in terms of relationships.
Meruru is an absolute delight to be around, and I was sorry when my time with Atelier Meruru came to an end. Thankfully, and again like most of the other Atelier games, it’s an inherently replayable title with lots of different (and often mutually exclusive) endings to enjoy depending on your actions, so there’s no reason I can’t return to it in the future.
And if you’ve never spent time in the company of Meruru — or Totori and Rorona, for that matter — then there’s no time like the present. The Atelier Arland trilogy games are modern classics, well worth your time — and, today, more accessible than ever. So what are you waiting for, a royal invitation?
The MoeGamer Compendium, Volume 1 is now available! Grab a copy today for a beautiful physical edition of the Cover Game features originally published in 2016.
Thanks for reading; I hope you enjoyed this article. I’ve been writing about games in one form or another since the days of the old Atari computers, with work published in Page 6/New Atari User, PC Zone, the UK Official Nintendo Magazine, GamePro, IGN, USgamer, Glixel and more over the years, and I love what I do.
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