With LGBT representation in media slowly growing, it’s exciting to see more diverse characters come into their own. The visual novel community seems to be especially ripe with intriguing new ideas. Engines like Ren’Py and Novelty remove the barriers to entry that would often omit inclusive stories.
I recently had the chance to play the demo for Eldet, an upcoming medieval fantasy themed visual novel. Due to the focus on the inclusion of LGBT characters and people of color, the game has garnered high expectations. While I went into the demo expecting to be pleased by the inclusive premise, the handling of the characters was what really sold me.
The plot centers around a young man named, Kunal. Despite having spent most of his life studying to be a mage, Kunal realizes that his magical powers are utterly lacking. The story begins as he takes a job with a “tomb raider” to get away from the mage college and start his own life.
The demo hints at the deep lore of this new world. Each character is fleshed out with complex motivations and agendas. It’s also totally gay.
On his journey Kunal will encounter a diverse cast of attractive men. The player’s choices subtly influence Kunal’s personality and how he is received by his companions. What makes Eldet stand out in the world of LGBT Visual Novels is it’s reliance on these interactions to drive the player’s story, even if that story doesn’t include romance.
Yes, it is possible to play Eldet without romancing anyone. While Kunal certainly isn’t above sneaking a peak at his ripped elven companion, he has a true purpose and will travel to the ends of the world to discover it. The queer themes are present, but they are not themselves the story. Kunal isn’t motivated by the need to “discover” his attraction to men. It’s just a part of his character that the player can choose to pursue or ultimately ignore.
Many games that focus on LGBT themes focus more on characters realizing or accepting their attractions. These types of plots are still important to explore, but LGBT characters have more to offer. Eldet takes the narrative to the next level by Kunal’s sexuality not being the focus of the story. It is a part of who he is, but it doesn’t define him. It is not all he is.
Imagine if every game with heteronormative characters focused exclusively on them going through puberty. How repetitive and boring would it be to always take the same journey?
Eldet’s developer addressed this on his AMA-syled tumblr blog. Marccus expressed that the inclusive nature of the world was not the story of the game.
“One of my focuses in making this game was to create an experience that, while primarily involving LGBT characters and gay romance, the story itself didn’t revolve around the fact that these characters are LGBT.”
The game focuses on the way its characters react and cope with different events. Their sexuality just an accepted part of who they are.
“This visual novel will include LGBT characters dealing with the sorts of issues you’d expect in any other fantasy story,” Marccus said.
At the conclusion of the demo I wanted to continue playing. Not just for the promise of sexy eye-candy that had originally drew me to the game. It was the characters and their unfolding story.
What other secrets would Kunal and his companions discover? The camaraderie between the men was great, but giving them a larger purpose makes the story especially relevant. The experience was far more rewarding than just the sexy bits of dialogue and art I had anticipated.