Marginal (Dreamcast)  

WELL, IT’S BETTER THAN HIMITSU: YUI GA ITA NATSU

Some people like to pretend they’re hardcore by importing mediocre Dreamcast shooters like Chaos Field. FEH! If those lightweights were really hardcore, they’d instead import mediocre gal games like Marginal, because nothing is more hardcore than blowing paychecks on sanitized hentai! (Although buying the entire lineup of Virtua Fighter karaoke discs — including the special Dural disc — comes close.)

The thing that makes Marginal different from dozens of other Dreamcast gal games is that bizarre circumstances have conveniently placed you near not just one or two, but six beautiful women. OH WAIT, THAT’S JUST LIKE ALL THE OTHER GAL GAMES. MY BAD.

Take Two: The real difference between Marginal and other gal games is that most of the women are hard-bodied maids, which is pretty unusual (unless you count Elysion, Chocolat: Maid Cafe Curio, Dorei Maid Princess, Pure Maid, Maid in Love, or Little My Maid).

. . . . okay, maybe that’s not special.

Okay, how about this: Marginal is unusual because the women are secretly animal spirit maids. Sure, Tail Tale and Let’s Meow Meow featured animal spirit girls, but few developers have crossed that sacred line and mixed the “maid” and “animal spirit” genres. It’s a daring combination that defies the laws of traditional gal gaming. Either that or it’s an excuse for the girls to squeal cute NYAN! and UNYA! noises.

Despite their constant purring and cooing, the maids don’t just leap out and immediately scream “I carry the spirit of horse!!” or anything like that. Their job is to comfort the hero, not to freak him out. For example! When our young protagonist Shujinko* first visits the sprawling mansion known as Praetorium Somnus, the lovely “Fin” rubs her soft, plump chest in his face. BOOYAH! Keep in mind that Shujinko recently lost both of his parents in a very, very tragic accident. Shortly thereafter, Shujinko’s grandfather offered to take him in, but the old man quickly died in a very, very tragic accident. After that kind of psychological trauma, a face full of cleavage was a kind and appropriate expression of sympathy on Fin’s part.

* “Shujinko” literally means “protagonist”. I guess they couldn’t be bothered to come up with a real name for the main character.

Like a typical harem anime, the initial awkward encounter is followed by forced introductions to each of the stereotypically quirky leading ladies. Better games (like Kimi ga Nozomu Eien) reveal new characters as the story progresses, but Marginal isn’t particularly concerned with story. It’s more concerned with incorporating as many hentai fetishes as possible.

During this rote introductory phase, you’ll meet Erika Brown, the energetic and outgoing maid. Then there’s Marge Feuerbach, the shy maid. Up next is Ameria Phosrylase, the older (28) and wiser maid. Each girl has her own theme music; personally, I like Ameria Phosrylase’s melody best. It’s an elegant piano piece that matches her elegant personality. Ameria Phosrylase!

Finally, there’s the violent tsundere maid, Phoneme Tonnies (proof that the developers graduated with honors from the Feed Sluster School of Character Naming). When the Phoneme fiend first meets Shujinko, she punches him square in the face for no damn reason. A real hero like Joe Musashi would cut her in half and spend the rest of his day jet-skiing across the Pacific, but masochistic Japanese men think violent girls are cute. So the hero takes her lip and fist.

HAREM ANIME LAW: Spineless worms are sexy. Girls don’t like guys with backbones.

ZIGFRIED’S LAW: Spineless worms don’t get any in the real world.

As if getting punched in the face weren’t wild enough, you’ll watch even more WACKY and ZANY events, like when all the maids show up in Shujinko’s room simultaneously to keep him company. But — surprise, surprise — none of them expected the others to be there! This makes for an awkward scene where the girls all pile into bed, smothering the hero underneath a mountain of female flesh. HAR HAR!

It may seem crude of me to point and laugh, but there’s not much else to do in Marginal. Each day, you pick a room of the mansion to visit. You can see where each maid hangs out on the map screen, so there’s no thought involved; just keep visiting the girl you want to see get not-quite-naked. These not-quite-naked scenes would be pretty sexy, except that the pale lighting makes them all look like vampires or corpses (whichever you prefer). I have to admit that the shrine priestess Konoha is pretty cute, in that “oh look at the cute and blatantly under-age girl doing cute things” kind of way. Marginal expects you to view her as a sex object.

You’ll occasionally get to make an actual decision. Do you eat Erika’s famous fish, or do you try out Marge’s juicy steak? The questions are few, and the answers are obvious. Personally, I’d prefer if the game offered me important options, such as “kick all these noisy girls out of my room” or “don’t let Phoneme punch me in the face”. But hey, at least the artwork is nice, even if the plot if contrived.

If you stick with Marginal and seduce every girl (don’t let the fact that they’re actually animals stop you), then you’ll unlock a special bonus ending that ties all the girls’ storylines together. Every gal game has a deep underlying message, and Marginal’s shocking message is this: the power of love conquers all. WHOA. That’s a pretty revolutionary concept, but it was handled a lot better in Choaniki: Legend of the Holy Protein, where you conquered bodybuilding goliaths by spraying them with gooey love beams of justice.