Ambition and Tone – on Brynhilde von Solberg

Hello, and welcome to the fourth article of The Combat Report, the development blog for the alternate-history love and war visual novel, Steel Hearts. Following in the pattern of the previous posts, this article focuses on the fourth and final heroine, Brynhilde von Solberg.

Minor character details may be “spoiled” ahead, but there are no major spoilers or other plot details that would ruin a first-time read of the VN.

Ride of the Valkyrie

“That’s one way to put it. Some may call it narcissism. I call it ambition.”

Brynhilde von Solberg

Along with Lisabet and Hannah, Brynhilde was conceived pretty early, largely to exist as a foil to Hannah (or the other way around). We had envisioned her as a transfer student, the rich sort that was a fencer, a veritable… sword enthusiast (for lack of a more polite word), as you might see in some VNs and anime. Princessly, noble, the works.

We soon scrapped this idea (transfer student is a bit played out, we felt, even among other archetypes, and we didn’t really want to riff Muv-Luv any more than we already were). Instead, Brynhilde joined the ranks of the Student Council and was aged up slightly to become a twelfth-year student (whereas Lisabet, Hannah, and Caleb are eleventh-years and Juliet is a tenth-year). Now, she was in a position of power, establishing a new dynamic with the others (mostly Hannah) and hinting at things to come in the latter war-themed half of the VN.

She could take you on! Art by Gar32.

Brynhilde originally looked quite princess-like, with drills in the front and a ponytail in the back, along with a ribbon. After quite some time, however, we overhauled her design, giving her bangs that slightly exposed the forehead and a braid that drapes over her shoulder. I was quite fond of the drills, but Brynhilde is not a mere princess–I prefer to refer to her as a “warrior princess”. She is still noble and refined (mostly), but she is ambitious, powerful, and ardent. The braid being the focal point of her design, instead of drills, helped drive home this idea–the braid is befitting of a viking or valkyrie, no?

Likewise, her name was chosen to further emphasize her identity–Brynhilde Frieda Brigitte Burgstaller zu der Fluß Komteß von Solberg.

That’s a mouthful. It was customary for nobles at the time to have many middle names. I’ll break it down.

  • Brynhilde – A valkyrie. The name itself was derived from the old German words for “armor” and “battle”.
  • Frieda – Shortened and female version of “Friedrich”, which means “peaceful ruler”.
  • Brigitte – From the Irish smithing goddess, Brigid. The name means “exalted one”.
  • Burgstaller zu der Fluß – Means “one who lives at the castle on the river”.
  • Komteß – Title given to the unmarried daughter of a Graf (count). After the nobility was abolished following World War I, former nobles would integrate their old titles as names.
  • von Solberg – Norwegian for “sun mountain”.

A powerful name in many respects, if a bit over-the-top. But, that’s who Brynhilde is, and those qualities are what make her butt heads with the world.

Clashing Souls

“I wanted to win. Isn’t that reason enough?”

Brynhilde von Solberg

Brynhilde is not one who cares so much about “things”. After all, she’s got anything she wants already. She’s got chefs, a chauffeur, a wondrous manor, and even a television.

Instead, Brynhilde wants something a bit more ephemeral–she wants to win. Partly due to her upbringing–she is a noble after all, and those hold or at least perceived to hold certain expectations. Brynhilde feels especially beholden to her father, a renowned walker commander and war hero in the Great War. However, it wouldn’t be wrong to say that Brynhilde is also just naturally inclined to be competitive. She wants to win the Student Council elections, she wants to win the best grades in her class, she wants to win her fencing competitions, and she wants to win the hearts and minds of her fellow students.

Winged Victory of Samothrace. She seems to have lost her head?

And, as I mentioned in her article, that’s where Hannah comes in. Someone who Brynhilde can’t win with, as things stand. Brynhilde doesn’t care that Hannah breaks the rules (she doesn’t care when Caleb does!), Brynhilde cares that she can’t earn that respect of her. As mentioned before, a conflict in the common route arises when Brynhilde and Hannah are forced to work on a school project together.

That therein lies the overall conflicts that surround Brynhilde’s character in the VN–situations where Brynhilde fails to or cannot win with the help of her skill, talent, or position of power. Situations where Brynhilde must–gasp–ask for help. When you’re so used to winning, it’s a difficult thing to do, especially when she’d be reluctant to do so to save face. And that’s what happens in her route–Caleb steps in and takes action when Brynhilde cannot.

Ballroom Blitzkrieg

“We are going to make you into a man that will be so noble he transcends the boundaries of blood and title. Someone who must be able to take any challenge life throws at him, from rivals to lovers alike.”

Beatrice d’Aubernac

The next thing I want to talk about is the tone of Brynhilde’s route (and to some extents the game overall). I spoke about it a little bit in Juliet and Hannah’s articles before. There is an intentional dissonance between the tones of the romance-focused first half and war-focused second half. The common route concludes in a walker-fencing duel, where Brynhilde and Hannah face off against Brynhilde’s French Gaullen fencing rivals. Yes, it’s as absurd as it sounds. And, aside from the more sorrowful bits of the route, the first half of the game is rather upbeat, even despite the climate of the times, whereas the latter half of the game is dreary and serious, as expected of the war genre.

Well, why? It’s about contrast once again–we see the characters grow up in a peaceful world, and get to see them develop as they face the horrors of war. I’m not sure if any well-known VN does this (Muv-Luv does this with the protagonist, but the other characters have lived in such a world their whole lives). It’s a concept I’d like to explore. Additionally, it gives the player more of a reason to read on–maybe someday, the characters will be able to return to a peaceful life, so perhaps readers are encouraged to read further to see if that happens.

Valkyrie and a Dying Hero – Hans Makart. In mythology, the Valkyries were said to bring fallen heroes to the afterlife of Valhalla.

Brynhilde’s route in particular is the most over-the-top, befitting of her bombastic character. Our protagonist Caleb gets wrapped up in noble dances and banquets. He meets some grandiose characters, like Brynhilde’s theatrical and romantic Gaullen rival Beatrice, her foul-mouthed bratty underling Marie, the pompous and arrogant Sebastian, and the war hero himself Mr. Albrecht “The Anvil” Solberg. It’s a route packed with drama and action, and the only route where Caleb faces the threat of death.

This is because we aim for each route to offer a different experience–more of a reason to go back and play the routes you missed after playing through the rest of the game. If each route was a samey romantic route, there’s not much point, no? With Juliet’s route, I aim to make it sorrowful and the most heartfelt and personal to Caleb (she is his childhood friend, after all). Lisabet’s route is primed to be the the most traditionally romantic of them all (Star-crossed lovers? Maybe!). Hannah’s is the one with the most inward-facing, introspective conflict, and as stated, Brynhilde’s is the most high-flying and dramatic. Hopefully, between the heroines and their routes, there’ll be something for everyone!


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Function and Emotion – On Hannah Ritter

Welcome to article #3 of The Combat Report, the developer blog for the alternate-history love and war VN, Steel Hearts. Following the last two articles, this one focuses on Hannah, another heroine.

Minor character details may be “spoiled” ahead, but there are no major spoilers or other plot details that would ruin a first-time read of the VN.

Tomboy Meets World

“Scary people don’t have perpetual bedhead.”

Caleb Hartmann

There’s a lot to say on Hannah. She was initially made to fill the role of a delinquent-ish tomboy, one who was a foil to the more straight-laced Brynhilde and a companion to the misfit Lisabet, who she initially “wingmans” for. “Ritter” means “knight” in German, so it’s fitting that she comes into conflict with Brynhilde, who holds another warrior-like name.

[Touch Fluffy Hair]… Art by Gar32.

Tomboy in what way? For one, she looks the part. She has short hair, wears boyish clothing, has a boyish figure. What else? Many tomboys are peppy and energetic, but Hannah, not so much. I pen Hannah as more of a stoic (in the modern sense of the world, not the philosophy). In her “default” state, Hannah is detached and unemotional. Hannah is implicitly concerned with function, utility, and “making things work”. Are these boyish/tomboyish traits? Well, they certainly aren’t girlish, especially since Hannah’s stoicism is often supplanted with a veneer of smugness, sarcasm, or occasional vulgarity. Her true feelings, however, are hard to find (definitely a boyish trait, I think). More on that.

Hannah is utility–making things work, making things easier. Take her design–short hair is easy to maintain (and considering her messy hair, she might not even make more than a cursory attempt). Her boyish clothing (especially so for the time period), jeans and a thick jacket, make sense for what she does. Hannah rides a motorcycle, and works on automotive projects in the school’s motor club. You can’t really ride a bike in a skirt, after all, so jeans make sense, and the jacket protects a bit from dirt or the occasional spill-out. Likewise, the clothing lends itself for her kind of mechanic work–her getup isn’t really something she minds getting dirty and grimy.

But enough about design (or I could give you an essay about her ahoge)… What about her conflicts?

Rough and Grumble

“I’d say something like ‘just don’t ask me for anything ever again’, but we both know that’s not a realistic demand.”

Hannah Ritter

In being utility-focused, that also means Hannah is stubborn. It’s her way, or… hell, it’s her way. Consider her conflict with Brynhilde–Hannah ends up butting heads with her over (relatively minor) rule offenses. Does Hannah fancy herself a rebel, punk, whatever? No, it’s just that following (in her eyes, meaningless) rules is inconvenient. Why can’t she park her motorcycle on school grounds? Brynhilde, on the other hand, isn’t so concerned with the rules either, despite being the Student Council President. Instead, she views Hannah’s actions as a directed sort of disrespect towards her. And Hannah is not one for respect–except toward her friend Lisabet, with which she shares that sort of camaraderie that misfits have toward each other.

Is Hannah a greaser? Not quite, the fashion wasn’t even invented yet. She’s functional, not fashionable! I think if people started dressing like Hannah, she’d dress some other way.

Therein lies the secondary conflict of the common route. Instead of two somewhat passive characters involving the protagonist Caleb directly in a love triangle, two very headstrong characters clash in a quite in-your-face way, and Caleb has to mediate them. Why does he have to do that?

As Caleb gets roped into doing Student Council work due to the continued absence of his class rep, so too does he get involved coming between Hannah and Brynhilde. This comes to a head when it is discovered that the Student Council and Motor Club have been randomly selected to develop an event together for the Spring Festival. And so, the unstoppable force meets with the immovable object as Caleb tries to divine a solution they can both agree to.

The Check Engine Light Is On But I Still Work

“The only thing worse than nightmares are dreams.”

Hannah Ritter

But what of Hannah’s route? After the festival is all said and done, and Caleb begins to pursue Hannah, what then? As a utility-minded person, Hannah tends to avoid confronting her feelings and emotions. Why? Well, emotions are inconsistent, not useful, and, well, scary. And as a stubborn person, Hannah’s not the type to own up to any of that. Related to an anecdote I’ve seen myself, Lisabet once told Hannah the story of Gnosticism and the Demiurge (in short, an evil or foolish god that created the material world), and Hannah ran with it, blaming the mythical Demiurge for her problems. She doesn’t really believe it, but it’s an easy cope for when things get hard.

As Caleb pursues Hannah, she pushes him away in-turn so she doesn’t have to confront his (or her) feelings. However, this plan fails when Caleb gets a job to pay for the repairs of his family’s antique clock that he broke–by divine coincidence (thanks Demiurge), Caleb starts working at the same establishment Hannah does (What sort of place? Read the VN! It’s not anything you’d expect!). So, avoiding Caleb quickly becomes next-to-impossible.

The Ancient of Days, by William Blake. Reply to this post with “Thank you, Demiurge!” or face his wrath.

As a whole, Hannah’s route is intended to be more “cerebral” than the others. What I mean by that is, instead of some external force driving a wedge between Caleb and his heroine, the conflict lies within Hannah. Her guilt for betraying Lisabet, her fear of her feelings, her disgust of her lust, her love, her hate… All these come into play. It’s an introspective tale on love. Contrast with Brynhilde’s route, a bombastic tale filled with dramatic, exaggerated characters and lots of pomp and action. Hannah’s route instead is more concerned with what’s deep inside, emotion and feeling directed inward instead of outward.

But hey, don’t think that Hannah’s route is all gloom. There’s a lot of fun to be had, too–I’m a writer, not a sadist. I promise you can look forward to work shenanigans, some truly heartfelt romantic moments, and even some real delinquency–the kind that gets you thrown in jail, not just detention.

Hannah is someone who sees the world differently, and who is quite different herself. When you’re used to being so alone, someone reaching out to you is scary. It’s uncharted territory. This wasn’t in the manual. Accepting someone else is one thing–but accepting someone who has accepted you–that’s difficult, isn’t it?


Thanks for reading! If you’re interested in Steel Hearts, feel free to follow this blog, or follow us on twitter at
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Familiarity and Contrast – On Juliet Träger

Welcome to article number two of The Combat Report, the Steel Hearts developer blog, where I write about the conceptualization and development of our visual novel. Since I wrote about Lisabet last week, this article will focus on Juliet, one of the four heroines of Steel Hearts, who in some respects could be seen as a rival to Lisabet.

Minor character details may be “spoiled” ahead, but there are no major spoilers or other plot details that would ruin a first-time read of the VN.

Humble Beginnings

“You should really be more grateful to have girls like us around, you know!”

Annaliese Zimmer on her and Juliet

Juliet, unashamedly, fits well within the archetype of a “childhood friend”. It would be easy to assume then that Juliet was created to be the “primary” heroine, or at least was created first. However, this is not so–Juliet was created after the three other heroines were formulated (though, still early-on in the VN’s development). Then, she was called Julie, and she primarily was created to create a grounded point, an anchor, for both the protagonist and the reader. Caleb interacts with a number of strange characters, like the eccentric Lisabet, the stoic Hannah, and the confident and noble Brynhilde. To give both the player and Caleb a break in-between interactions with these oddballs, we created Juliet–Caleb’s long-time friend and next-door neighbor since 1931 (so, eight years).

Don’t you just want to protect her? Art by Gar32.

Our good friend JTH created her initial design, which I then touched up to what you see here. Between her light chestnut-colored hair and her amber eyes, Juliet aims to be approachable, youthful, and innocent. And what of her glasses? I’ll get to that later. We thought the name “Juliet” would fit her girl-next-door nature, and it, of course, carried romantic connotations. Her last name, Träger, came from the German word tragen, which means to carry or support. Though we didn’t know it at the time, that name would become very, very appropriate.

Hey, I’ve Seen This One! This is a classic!

“Well… I’d just rather have you do it. An alarm clock’s just a little bit harsher than you.”

Caleb on Juliet waking him up

Well, now we have our character. What’s she like? As I said, Juliet is familiar. Like many of her archetype, she wakes the protagonist up. She cooks for the protagonist on occasion. She’s a bit of a ditz, but she tries hard to keep up in school. And as explained in the Lisabet article, she has implicit romantic feelings for the protagonist. Okay, to what end?

Most “childhood friend” characters you’ve seen are probably from modern-day Japan, a very peaceful and stable place. And, like many other characters of her archetype, Juliet is quite the bright, happy ray of sunshine. She however exists in a 1930’s Europe analogue–I don’t have to tell you how that’s a very tumultuous time. As the other heroines push their influence onto the world with their force of personality (even Lis to some extent), Juliet instead reacts to the pressure of the ever-changing world–a world that won’t stop and wait for her.

Sumika from Muv-Luv comes close to what I’m going for with Juliet. But what if she herself had to face the war and horror, instead of an alternate-universe self, who knew that as the norm?

As other heroines face conflicts with other people or within themselves, Juliet instead bears the weight of the world upon her–in both her route and in the greater war story of the latter half of Steel Hearts, Juliet must stand firm in the face of the change, the loss, the pain, and the fears of a world that grows ever-darker. As the anchor of the reader and protagonist both, Juliet faces the danger of eroding away–or even sinking, lost to the depths.

Not so fun, right? Don’t you just want your normal, happy childhood friend back? What do you mean you don’t want Juliet to shake you up from your bedroll and cook you your Verpflegungssatz? If only you could go back to Weißwurst and pretzels!

All’s Fair…

“Why do things have to be this way?”


Or, maybe it is fun. Contrast is one of my favorite tools, and one that I’ve used often in Steel Hearts. Take something familiar, and skew it (usually gradually) toward another, differing direction. [Don’t take this to mean ‘subversion’, which I see as pulling the rug out from the reader. Something like “Haha! Turns out Juliet was a crazy axe-murderer all along!” with no buildup, foreshadowing or reason beyond shocking the player.] I wrote about contrast a bit in Lisabet’s article, where I talked about some aspects of her beautiful, ladylike design contrasted with her misfit persona.

Juliet is not exempt from contrast, both small things and bigger things. Take, for example, her glasses. I’ve had many people assume Juliet is a bookish nerd, or librarian, or similar. It’s a reasonable assumption to make, but I think the contrast of Juliet’s glasses versus her somewhat unintelligent (at least academically) nature. But even then–Juliet has a vested interest in literature despite her academic deficiencies. A double layer of contrast?! How daring! More seriously, little things like this help flesh out a character–how many people do you know that act or look in opposition to how they might initially appear or seem? Quite a few, I imagine.

As Bob Ross would say, you’ve gotta have light and dark.

I apply the same principle of contrast to her greater character arc. The cheery, energetic girl-next-door bears a lot of sorrow on her back–and grows to bear even more. A story a bit more optimistic might fit her, (and it certainly wouldn’t be bad) but, again, contrast makes it all the more striking.

And, well, the sorrow wasn’t out of nowhere. You knew it was going to happen. Juliet doesn’t just wake Caleb up at the start of the VN. Juliet wakes Caleb up to go to the National Bloc’s “parade”, a show of the military’s new Panzerkampfläufer III Ausf. E walkers. It’s 1939? Wait a tic…

Don’t get me wrong–there’s plenty of fun times to be had with Juliet. Going out for ice cream, listening to radio shows, dunking Ms. Römisch at the school festival’s dunk tank, going to see a cheesy monster movie, and more. But when times get tough, don’t forget to support Juliet–she’ll support you, too. She’s tougher than she appears. And, when times get tough, don’t say we didn’t warn you.


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Eccentricity and Artistry – On Lisabet Faßbender

Thank you for visiting the Steel Hearts Development Blog, or, the Combat Report. Since we have a website, we might as well use it, right? I (Palladion, the writer) will be aiming to make posts on this blog regarding the development and writing of Steel Hearts, ideally, at least once a week.

Since her birthday is coming up on the 9th, this article will focus on Lisabet, one of the main heroines. Without further ado…

First Impression(ism)s

“Well… It’s just hard for me to express my thoughts on paper. It’s just… too structured, too many rules.”

Lisabet Faßbender

Lisabet Faßbender (for those unfamiliar with the German eszett–that B-like letter, that’s pronounced “Fassbender”) was one of the first characters we conceived, as a sort of pair of heroines with Hannah Ritter. Hannah, a rough & tough tomboy, and Lisabet, a delicate shy girl. And, inexplicably, they would be best friends, perhaps because they’re both social misfits. And the character developed from there. After we created Juliet, the protagonist’s childhood friend, we realized that we needed a driving conflict for the VN’s common route. And so, we gave Lisabet an overt crush on our protagonist Caleb, to come into conflict with Juliet’s implicit affections. So where do the other two heroines come into play? Caleb mediates a separate conflict between Hannah and Brynhilde in the meanwhile, but I’ll get into that later.

The lady herself, by Gar32.

We devised a few main traits for Lisabet. First, she was socially awkward. A confident girl would be able to sweep Caleb off his feet while Juliet did nothing, right? She would have a kind, romantic heart despite her shyness. Writing was my first idea for her primary hobby, but that soon shifted to artistry (another character instead takes up writing). Art is a timeless practice, perfectly suitable for the novel’s setting of 1939 and on. Likewise, Lisabet is deeply vested into classical mythology and history (there’d be no shortage of writings on it during this time, at least western mythologies). She doesn’t talk much, but if she talks about myths and folk tales, she can get rather excited in contrast to her usual nature.

Additionally, she’s quite the beauty, which, again, runs contrast to her misfit nature. Still, though, she’s not quite the standard German (er, Volkslandic) stunner. Her emerald eyes stand her apart from the other heroines. Her hair, not quite red and not quite brown, is not quite straight, either, as it ends in a series of aberrant curls. And, if I may be so uncouth, her above-average bust runs contrary to her modest nature. Even her name is a sort of beauty-with-a-twist, isn’t it? “Lisabet” is womanly, dignified, whereas “Faßbender”… not so much, I would think.

Miranda – The Tempest, by J.W. Waterhouse. The sort of romantic beauty in a painting that Lisabet admires. Coincidentally, Miranda here looks a little like Lisabet, doesn’t she?

Shades of Color, Shades of Hades

“I think artists see the world from a different perspective.”

Lisabet Faßbender

Where would Lisabet’s personality go from there? Visual novels are no stranger to shy heroines, many of whom fall into common molds. Some tropes I was wanting to avoid with her include centering her route around social ineptitude or anxiety (see: Hanako from Katawa Shoujo) and the trope of ‘this shy girl is secretly unhinged/psycho/violent/yandere/etc.’ (see: Lena from Everlasting Summer). Not that those are bad, but I wanted to do something else with the character.

Lisabet is, certainly, initially quite shy around Caleb, even bolting out of the room on more than one occasion. However, this shyness is soon overcome as Lisabet grows more accustomed to being around Caleb, solving the problem even before the common route ends. Instead of social anxiety, Lisabet is instead plagued moreso with the lack of social knowledge–it’s just not something she readily picks up. That ties into the next point:

The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters, by Francisco Goya. The dark themes of Goya’s work tickle Lisabet’s imagination just as more triumphant Romantic paintings do.

Lisabet is designed not to be obviously weird or deranged. Instead, I want to show a subtle sort of eccentricity–odd quirks that demonstrate her ‘different’ nature, things which aren’t fixated upon by the writing, but are nevertheless prevalent behind the scenes. The most overt quality is Lisabet’s tendency to quickly and excitedly ramble about topics she’s interested in (usually mythology), regardless if her audience actually cares or not. Other, less overt qualities include her picky eating habits and highly-specific order of eating foods in a meal, tendency to play with her hair to comfort or calm herself, her somewhat stilted speaking pattern, her poorly-hidden pangs of jealousy, her subtle interest in morbid paintings and myths, and her strange and unrealistic views on love and attraction.

A Penelope or Eurydice?

“If love were easy, we would not value it so.”

Brynhilde von Solberg

So, where does her route go? Caleb starts dating Lisabet at the end of the common route. They live happily ever after, right? Well, I won’t spoil you, but…

A young woman (and a young man, too) rushing headlong into love is a recipe for a bad time. And besides–what if something gets in the way? Or rather, someone? The sort of someone who would send a girl to a military school instead of an art school, despite her wishes? The sort of someone who says he knows what’s best–and can, perhaps, back that up?

In short, Lisabet’s route will explore what happens when things get in the way of star-crossed love. Out of the four heroines’ routes, it’s definitely the closest to a standard romance, so I think the lovey-dovey folk will like it.

The Shore of Oblivion, by Eugen Bracht.

So, what happens to Lis in part two of Steel Hearts, where the cast is dropped into the midst of a war? As shown by the walker training exercise early on, Lisabet is quite technically skilled at piloting. But, does she have the mental fortitude? Will the pain break poor little Lis? Maybe. Just as Lis has yet to learn how to love, so too has Lis yet learned how to hate.


Thanks for reading! If you’re interested in Steel Hearts, feel free to follow this blog, or follow us on twitter at
Contact me at:
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Discord – Palladion#5914