The Protagonist, the Emperor and the Villain – Storytelling in Ensemble Stars

Ensemble Stars is the name of a series of mobile games with anime and manga adaptations. It’s a gacha game where you collect cards of a variety of idol boys who you can interact with and learn about. But it’s a game that also has a lot of stories. From the main game storyline that was picked up in the anime, to the regularly updated event stories, there’s so much you can explore with these characters.

If you follow me on Twitter, you’ll have seen me talking about this series recently. It’s a game I’ve played on and off for a few years, but recently I decided to look more into the story. And honestly? I don’t regret it. For a game where the point is tapping along to songs or levelling up anime boys, the character development is incredibly well done.

The title for this post is referencing one of the characters. A guy called Eichi. I hate him with a passion, but the fact is, he is an incredibly interesting character. He’s someone with ideas of a revolution who wants to rule, he’s sickly and winds up in hospital when he works too much, and yeah, there are times where he seems to think he’s infallible. He made mistakes that he regrets, but he also didn’t expect others to rebel against the way he had run things.

There’s a particular story from the original version of the game that is an emotional wreck. It’s focused on two members of a unit called Knights, Leo and Izumi, plus Eichi. Leo and Eichi ran into each other in hospital and become friends. Leo doesn’t know Eichi is changing the school, but Eichi knows that he can use Leo. You see moments of Leo breaking down, something you get in more detail later on. Leo eventually stops coming to school and is suffering from depression. At one point, Eichi mentions that Leo, the King, was challenging him. But no one believed him. In the story, Eichi is referred to as a protagonist and a villain. There’s an interesting quote about it within the text. He talks about how every protagonist would be seen as the villain for their actions if they didn’t win. He’s also regularly referred to as the Emperor.

This is a story that bought tears to my eyes. Leo and Izumi are some of my favourite characters, and there is so much there. I’m still reading the stories, and I’m falling in love with these characters. Here I have a story about two young men who met in school and became close until things became too much, and they fought. Time passes, and you eventually see them come back together and even move in together after high school. There’s so much emotion and joy but with an undercurrent of pain.

What Ensemble Stars does so well is they have this set storyline to a certain extent and then, after that, they regularly update you with more stories about these characters. Each event only focuses on a few characters at a time, so you’re not getting the same characters over and over. It’s cleverly done, and it means that they have time to work on and build up these characters.

I’m only sad that I can’t read Japanese and am reliant on finding translations of bits and pieces or using Google Translate. Which is painful as it sounds.

But as well as the written parts of the story, which are told through dialogue and thoughts. There is also the odd image that you can enjoy even if you can’t read the text. They don’t always bring something to the story. Sometimes they’re just pretty. But the use of image when the majority of the time you can’t even see actions. You just have to work it out from the textual clues. Which was a shame when Ritsu hit Eichi…

I’d have liked to have seen that one.

My point with this post is that strong storytelling can draw people in. When the majority of people think of mobile games, they don’t think of anything too story-driven. But games like Ensemble Stars are giving us so much more than basic game functions. You could ignore the story if you wanted, but you wouldn’t enjoy it as much.

These characters, these hilarious or heartbreaking stories. They’re what makes the games so popular. There may have been an anime adaptation which is the only thing to officially be available in English. But it didn’t go anywhere near deep enough with the story. Knights got one episode, and I’m still annoyed as there’s so much more there with Leo sigh. And Izumi just looked like a dick and a kidnapper…both of which are true… But under that, he’s caring and interesting.

Even within books out there, that’s not many series that I can think of where I do hate the villain but find them truly interesting. I don’t want to know more about them. I just want them gone.

I’m obsessed with this series now and likely will be for a while. There’s still so much I want to explore with these characters, and that excites me.

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