Prince of Stride was a pretty niche title over here until recently, when it got announced as an anime for 2016. But it had a huge build up in otome magazines over a long time. Girls Style first ran a light novel of it, then a comic, and then there were drama CDs.
It’s set in the near future, and focuses on a new high school sport called Stride, which is supposed to be kind of extreme and very cool. From what I can tell, it’s like the 4 x 100 sprint relay but with 5 people and in cities, where you can use the terrain to your advantage. Also (since OF COURSE girls can’t be good at physical activity, but this is an otome game so we need to get a girl in there somewhere) there’s a position called ‘relationer’ who basically tells the relay members when to start running and acts like an in-race coach, kind of, through headsets. And supposedly this position is viewed as critical to the success of the team, and there aren’t very many female relationers because then all the team members like her, or something…
I wrote the above paragraph after playing about an hour of this otome game. It shows my almost-disdain at some of the plot elements. Since I prefer fantasy and historical settings to modern/sci-fi settings, and the whole sport seemed kind of dumb to me (why is it so hard to recruit for this sport which is basically track, running and jumping, with some very limited parkour?), I was biased against this from the start.
Did the game win me over? Or was I right to be prejudiced? Here are my notes before I finished any routes.
Some good points:
So I was already starting to be won over. Now I’ve finished a few good endings, and I think I have enough to do a real review.
The heroine, a first-year at Honan High School, is a little bland but likeable. She also has a voice during races (unvoiced for regular dialogue). I found her backstory with Takeru and Riku, the two other first-years on the team, to be a bit outlandish, but it does give a good reason for them to like her. The romance is interwoven pretty well between all the competitions, though it’s never really in the spotlight, except maybe in the epilogue. If you don’t like heavy-handed romance you might like this approach, though for me it was a bit too light.
Other than that, the plot about the competition leading up to nationals is done very well, and as I mentioned before, the dialogue and interaction is excellent. Each school that Honan competes with has its own personalities and style, and their interplay is pretty engaging. I think after you play once, you can skip the race parts with the same score you got before, which is good because you can’t skip through those any other way. Really good relationers seem to have some sort of telepathic link with the racers, which felt odd to me since there’s no other indication of sci-fi or fantasy elements. The ending race, if it goes well, gets a little more odd in that the telepathic link is broadcast to the entire audience. There’s no explanation for this that I’ve seen so far.
I’ll get my problems with the game, really the whole story setup, out in the open now. One of the ‘themes’ in the game is how expensive Stride is to put on competitions for, since it requires blocking off city streets. It also is apparently expensive to enter, and each school team needs to have a big sponsor. Perhaps there are high fees to enter? They talk about gear, but really it’s just track outfits, shoes, and headsets, so I don’t quite get it. One of the main kind-of antagonists is the head of Stride in Japan, who’s always trying to sensationalize the rivalries and relationships to make the sport more popular with the public. He also has history with the heroine’s father – they were on the same Stride team in university, where they caught the attention of the nation and won dramatically with the heroine’s mother as their relationer (who died a few years ago, not really sure why that was necessary). It’s kind of implied that that whole Stride team was kind of in love with the mother as well. The heroine’s dad, Joe, has been coaching Stride in the US for a while now, but soon after the start of the game, he comes back to Japan and forms an ‘ultimate’ Stride team which is the final team to beat in the game (he asks the heroine to quit her team and join him, but she refuses – you have no choice in this). This ‘rivalry’ is also hyped up by the Stride national head, which all the characters are pretty scornful of. A constrast is made between Joe (stoically and quietly coaching) and the other guy’s philosophy about promoting Stride as a sport as if being commercial is selling out, but they never question their luck in having a big sponsor whose CEO is the older sister of a team member. They’re also completely okay with another Stride team being an idol group to muster supporters (and money). This could be taken as an astute commentary on the complexity of reconciling ideals about the purity of sport with the requirements of surviving in capitalist society, but I didn’t get the feeling that the characters recognized that (perhaps it’s metatextual?). Anyways, there are some points during the game where this can be kind of glaring.
Besides Takeru and Riku, I went through Heath, the captain’s, route as well, and his story has a nice but not very dramatic arc as well. I actually found him more and more relatable as the story went on, about how he feels like he has to make up for his lack of talent with grit and practice and acting like a model captain, which is easy for me to identify with.
Takeru and Riku were more familiar characters. Takeru is the childhood friend whom you forgot about but he never did, and Riku falls for you almost at first sight not realizing that you have a connection from the past. Their stories were well-done too, I have no complaints.
Long story short, I did enjoy playing Prince of Stride. The gameplay is fun – the only change I’d make is being able to choose more than one day’s activities at a time. Though the meta-plots (both the commercialism vs. sport purity, and the telepathy thing) never got a resolution through the routes I played, the character storylines themselves were done well and were fun. And I think the writers did a really good job setting up the other schools and characters as well, I’m actually interested to see what the anime will be like. I kind of hope it takes a broader view and doesn’t focus as much on Honan, but judging from the promo pics…it probably won’t.