Heroines to Watch Out For #5: Arle Nadja


Well it was only a matter of time before I hit the magical girl trope. Puyo Puyo is a falling block puzzle series that adapted characters from the developer’s previous PC88 and MSX series of dungeon crawler RPGs Madou Monogatari. While the RPGs are traditional turn-based affairs, the puzzle games take an interesting spin on the falling block puzzle by making it competitive. The aim is familiar: Match four or more colored blobs together, at which point they will disappear and the blobs above them will fall, potentially disappearing even more. But the more you eliminate your own blobs, the more useless grey blobs will start to fall onto the opponent’s screen.

Puyo Puyo is colorful, offbeat, and quite insane. The mascot is an inexplicable mush of yellow named Carbuncle who can fire lasers from his forehead. Opponents range from a fish with buff arms and legs, an effeminate self-style ladies’ man who peppers his dialogue with crass poorly translated English, and a main villain named Satan who likes Hawaiian shirts.


The main character is Arle Nadja, a young girl with magical powers. In the first Madou Monogatari game and its remake for the SNES she is extraordinarily young, only five years old in fact, potentially making her the youngest RPG protagonist to ever complete an entire adventure by herself. You know that crystal collecting trope that every JRPG has to have? Well, that’s the plot of the first MM: Arle has to collect seven orbs in order to become a magician. Except instead of a whole team of intrepid adventurers, the five year old is on her own. The second game is a much-welcome subversion of the damsel-in-distress trope: Arle is now sixteen and has been kidnapped by a swordsman and, instead of waiting for someone to rescue her, breaks out of her room and escapes from his lair. The stories of the puzzle games are pretty irrelevant–the point is to bust some blobs!–but they follow similar trends of a bad thing happening and Arle knocking the hell out of that bad thing.


Again, she isn’t an elaborately developed character or anything, but she’s a wonderfully positive presence at the center of the two series. She’s goofy enough to fit in with the rest of the universe but nowhere near the weirdness of her costars, making her the most readily sympathetic. Another successful demonstration that being feminine doesn’t correlate directly to being submissive. She even gets the chance to beat up a creepy old man who likes to cosplay as her.


About Bryan Cebulski

Writer. Cis queer. History, masculinity, media. Point-and-click adventure protagonist. He/Him/His. Collects bad habits like Jessica Rabbit.
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