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.


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

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 https://twitter.com/heartscorps.
Contact me at:
Twitter – https://twitter.com/PalladionHearts
Discord – Palladion#5914

Steel Hearts: An Introduction

What is Steel Hearts?

Steel Hearts is a visual novel drama about love and war set in an alternative history where bipedal war machines called “walkers” were developed in place of tracked vehicles. The story follows Caleb Hartmann, a seventeen-year-old who attends the prestigious Streiterheim Academy in the heart of the Volksland National Bloc during the spring of 1939.

How many routes does Steel Hearts have?

Steel Hearts will feature four routes, each associated with one of the four heroines. The “common route” and the four heroine-associated routes form the first half of Steel Hearts. The second half of Steel Hearts follows one story, although the player’s choice of route in the first half influences scenes–and potentially, endings–in the second half.

Who are the heroines?

Steel Hearts stars four heroines. Briefly, they are:

Juliet Träger–Juliet is Caleb’s long-time friend and next-door neighbor. She’s spunky, energetic, and has a kind heart. Although she doesn’t make the best grades, she tries her hardest to get by at the academy. In her spare time, she often enjoys radio shows and movies.

Lisabet Faßbender–Lisabet is a fellow classmate of Caleb’s. Although she appears to be sweet and shy, she’s more eccentric than she lets on. When not spending time with the art club, she’s often reading about classical history or mythology.

Hannah Ritter–The stoic yet snarky Hannah is a common visitor to the school’s motor pool, and is Lisabet’s best friend. Due to her abrasive demeanor, she is often rumored to be a fierce and scary delinquent.

Brynhilde von Solberg–Brynhilde is often the talk of the school, and not without reason. She’s the captain of the fencing team, the student council president, and the daughter of a Graf. Despite her fiery and passionate nature, she is often weighed down by her many obligations.

Character art by Gar32
How long will Steel Hearts be?

Although we don’t have any concrete numbers yet, we are expecting Steel Hearts to be quite long–likely over 30 hours and 500,000 words.