Review – The Crimson Flower that Divides: Lunar Coupling
One only needs to read the title The Crimson Flower that Divides: Lunar Coupling to anticipate a certain level of visual novel nonsense, and I don’t think that players would be entirely mistaken on that front. After all, you start to get a certain sense of things depending on names. When directors purposely create short titles, it’s supposed to be evocative and give you both a blunt idea and a sense of intrigue. Plane lets you know Gerrard Butler will be near an airplane and may or may not kick someone off it. Brave tells you a ginger will be exceptionally brave to admit that being Scottish royalty is not easy, except for all the parts that are incredibly easy. Irreversible clues the audience into knowing there are no refunds and no way to unwatch the movie they’ve just seen. Shorter names often get the job done, at least in a Western sense.
But by giving you a long, flowery name, players are left wondering because it’s not like it’s clear and straightforward. Dividing a flower could mean separating it between two people for sharing, or multiple people for harvesting seeds and petals for herbological/alchemical reasons. Lunar coupling has a lot of potential, especially since the phases of the moon are so important to some people. Perhaps it’s the alignment of certain aspects, like days and stars, and how the culmination of these things foretell an auspicious event. Or, perhaps, the whole thing is a euphemism for how much sex the player is going to encounter, particularly when the moon is out. That last one could be very, very true, but, thankfully, this is an otome visual novel, so any and all hanky panky is behind closed doors and in the shadows.
The Crimson Flower that Divides: Lunar Coupling is a fourth generation remake, starting with a PC release, getting upgraded and ported to PSP, moving onto the Vita with even more extra goodies, and finally landing on the Nintendo Switch with the promise of epilogues for all of the eight (!) love interests, and an additional post-game story for the main character, Naala. This detailed information is making the release of The Crimson Flower especially appealing to long time otome fans, particularly ones who have viewed this from afar, since 2023’s version is the first to have an official localization. Fans who wish to enjoy the game in Japanese can and should, since that’s where the voicework is, and you also have the option to play it in Chinese, which I didn’t try in any capacity.
So what’s up with The Crimson Flower that Divides: Lunar Coupling? You play the aforementioned Naala, a young, orphaned woman who was adopted into a family at a young age after her mother was kidnapped by raiders. Women, you see, are being killed all over by a mysterious disease called The Rot, making their very existence a rarity. Naala is all lined up to marry her adopted brother, because I guess that’s what you do when you adopt a girl, but she is suddenly kidnapped by another kingdom! Despite being forcibly taken from her home, we need to know the king of this land, Touya, who is a good looking young dude, actually wants to make sure women are treated right and respected in his country. You know, apart from the whole human trafficking aspect.
Thankfully(?) Naala’s two best friends were ALSO kidnapped, so you can imagine the hijinks they all get into! No, not really, Naala immediately now has to deal with figuring out who she’ll end up marrying or whatever. Will it be the misogynist who masquerades as a good dude? Will it be the misogynist who masquerades as a misanthropist? Will it be the scruffy dude who just kind of hangs out until you decide he’s the lesser of the evils? Or will it be one of several vague dudes who are sort of good looking, but you won’t even acknowledge them unless you say something wrong/right to someone at the start? All of these men and more might become your ending!
In order to enjoy The Crimson Flower that Divides: Lunar Coupling, you need to put a few ideas to rest right away. The first and probably most glaring to me is that the lead not only has lines, but is voiced. This is not the way that I enjoy any visual novel, male or female, and I think it especially detracts in an otome game.
Part of the appeal of escaping into a world where men are just throwing themselves at me is being able to hear a bit of my “thoughts” or read some of my “words”, but allow my own inflection upon them. Maybe I’m super sarcastic or incredibly sincere: either of these perspectives can take the sentence “I’m actually having a good time” and change the meaning. But when I hear what Naala is supposed to sound like at every turn, it removes my own agency. Some people might enjoy that, but I’m not one of them.
The other is, in spite of some updates to things like translations, transitions, and general upkeep, the artwork hasn’t been improved upon at all, which can be a divisive aspect for some fans. I personally enjoyed the elongated models for all the characters, it was very cool and reflective of the style of the early 2010s. Fans of more recent VNs may find the lack of additional angles or the smoothness of it all to be alien, but I think it suits the mood of everything quite nicely.
I think that allowing the classic style to maintain is very considerate of the fanbase, especially in a world where you continually get updates and remasters (even exceptionally good, well deserved ones) when the original is just what you want. It reminds me of the classic shoujo manga style that was especially popular in the 90s, it gives me great Boys Over Flowers vibes.
Once you’re in the proper headspace, there’s a lot to appreciate for The Crimson Flower That Divides: Lunar Coupling. First is, despite not liking her voice, Naala is a really strong protagonist. She understands a bit about the hand that fate has dealt her, but it’s not something that defines her ultimately. She has a series of relationships that blossom and, while she isn’t totally in control of who or what courts her, she has opportunities to express herself and her own wants and needs. Naala maintains her friendships with the two women also abducted, but it isn’t just a flat “we girls need to stick together!” symbiosis. Instead, we also see their own connections have trials and tribulations as decisions are made by all three and sometimes get questioned (rightfully) by their friends. Naala reminds me a lot of Shanao from Birushana, but with a little more tact.
Additionally, there is a ton of complexity to the story. Not the overall idea: “abducting women for forced marriages is bad” seems a bit over-the-plate in terms of positing in a negative light. Rather, the way the story branches come together is more subtle and nuanced, and felt a lot less jarring than some. The choices, while standard, seem to have deeper implications: while you can see an immediate reaction for whom the choice directly affects, it doesn’t show you exactly where that’ll end up. I really thought I was heading towards a direct ending with Nohl, when, seemingly out of nowhere, I was now married to some completely different person. When I went back in the choices, I could see, subtly, how a couple of small vocalizations landed me on the wrong side of his favor, which I guess means we weren’t together anymore? It was weird, to say the least.
These small choices and tiny branches means that the river of The Crimson Flower that Divides: Lunar Coupling flows in multiple forks, occasionally feeding back into the main but sometimes leaving entirely. It took a few times before I finally got to a good ending with Touya, often ending up coming close and then distancing myself from him in the blink of an eye. While this could be frustrating, it gave me ample opportunities to really observe Naala as an entity rather than a vector point: she was her own excellent character, and her choices of companions were organic and her own.
This feels reinforced by locking the individual epilogues behind game completion, so players can’t simply dive into the Extras menu and see what the post game world looks like. It’s a treat to go through this journey with someone by your side, and then see what the developers crafted as an aftermath.
Lastly, the overall landing in terms of quality and storytelling is definitely positive. In spite of the multiple bad endings that exist (which, honestly, are pretty tame given the background), there’s many a time where Naala walks away with her head held high, regardless of mate or no mate. There’s character growth throughout, somewhat for the men, but mostly for the player and for the protagonist. The well-written moments shine through to illuminate the deeper reasonings and understanding of everyone’s roles in a society that is simultaneously survivalist and misogynistically flawed. Not every person wants to be complicit, but trying to change the system from within takes time, effort and, as we see, a fair amount of danger. To allow the player to appreciate the conflict of other characters through the lens of a victim is fairly impressive, even if it tends to be overbearing at times.
Though it’s not necessarily my favorite otome to date, The Crimson Flower that Divides: Lunar Coupling is an excellent piece of work in terms of appreciation and dedication to the story and the player. The sheer amount of choices and nuanced results can lead to hours upon hours of replay, and the locked endings force a player who wants to find out more to actually walk the path before arriving at the destination. I recommend turning off Naala’s voice if only to give the player more agency in how they perceive the game, but, otherwise, it’s an impressive title from beginning to end. Embark on a journey of discovery and struggle, and be utterly thankful that it takes far too many hoops to jump through in order to marry your adopted brother.
Throwback portraits and classic anime dimensions add uniqueness to the characters and their appearances in the game. A decent variety of backgrounds, though constant repetition in the castle areas can be tedious to look at.
Very light on choices, though that does allow for more nuanced effects to take place within the storyline. Lack of multiple branches means players need to re-run a lot of similar dialogue trees in order to find the correct way to open up a brand new area.
Superb atmospheric soundtrack with a lot of fantastic voice work. Smarmy, charming and pained, the male leads add so much color and flavor to the dialogue. Naala is a bit too forceful in her line deliveries, but it does craft a very strong protagonist overall.
Fun Factor: 8.0
Despite some serious trepidation at the setup, The Crimson Flower that Divides: Lunar Coupling surprised me in twists and turns, with some real development of the relationships and even giving plenty of endings that weren’t insipid or tragic. Would definitely recommend to the average otome enjoyer.
Final Verdict: 7.5
The Crimson Flower that Divides: Lunar Coupling is available now on Steam and Nintendo Switch.
Reviewed on Nintendo Switch.
A copy of The Crimson Flower that Divides: Lunar Coupling was provided by the publisher.