The Weird World of Otome Games

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Ah…otome games. Any self-respectful otaku fan-girl I’ve known or have ever talked to has at least once in her life indulged in the tantalizing satisfaction of a Japanese dating sim.  The genre of otome games are what I like describe as “a high-school girl’s guilty pleasure”. Though lacking in some departments that otherwise turn-off players off, such of immersion of story and characters and at times lacking a general plot all together, as someone whose been otome games for some time, I can honestly say I can see the appeal.

For anyone who doesn’t know, otome games are essentially made up of visual novels and that are generally targeted towards a female audiences. The main character in these games is almost always the player, taking on the role an almost always faceless heroine. The game usually begins in the form as would an role-playing game. The player inputs a name of their choosing (usually their own) that the male characters will refer to throughout the game-play. The main goal, aside from the plot goal, is to have the desired partner fall in love and have a relationship with the player character.

While the genres of otome games range from all  types of sub-genres such as action/adventure, time periods dramas to crime-solving mysteries, there is usually always single female main character, and several good-looking males of varying in personalities and personas.  The genre has story elements that usually found in shojo manga, and in terms of plot, it at times leans heavily on the genre of reverse harem (males character all competing for a female character’s affection) In recent popularity, there has been a huge popularity of games targeted towards women that are focused more on romantic relationships between men. These are known are boys’ love games and usually the two genres are kept separate.

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Otome games tend to fall into two standards of game-play: visual novels or simulations.

In the visual novels of otome, the player proceeds in the story by selecting dialogue or action choices which affect their relationships in a decision tree format. For example, the male character may make a joke about the player’s hair or clothing. The player then has a choice of whether to act shy, laugh and become embarrassed towards the male character. Either response with have an impact on the relationship, either advancing it or hurting it. How the character response to certain events determines whether or not the player receives a “good ending”.

In a simulation otome, there are other game-play which affects the plot, either by playing mini-games or puzzle games in order to raise their stats. The main character (the player) often will have to meet several parameters, such as looks, style, intelligence, charm or talent that can be raised through various activities while playing. The potential partners usually require a certain parameter or parameters to be at a certain level for them to fall in love with you.

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There is also often a pure dating aspect of game-play in simulations. This involves asking or being asked on dates by the love interest, doing an activity with them, and responding to their questions or comments. The player has a choice of responses, and a correct answer will raise your standing with that character.

Recently, the popularity of otome games for moblie phones and devices are grown. The set-up I found is similar to that as one would find Neo-pet or Farmville. The player is given an Avatar that they can dressed up in various hair styles and clothing by points or “game-play money” that is earned by the number of times of account login.  The story is progressed usually is dependent on how much “energy” has been generated over a certain waiting period. Additional game-play money or energy can be purchased through micro-transactions. Usually, I’d have an issue of micro-transactions in gaming, but I’ve found with moblie otome games, it’s not a pressing requirement. The player simply has to wait a good hour or two for the energy to recharge until they can play again, similarly in games such as Candy Crush.

At certain points of the games, when the player passes certain requirements, special events can occur, often with a “CG” (computer graphic) as a reward. This CG is a set picture featuring the love interest and sometimes the main character in a pose, followed by special some dialogue. Often times the good ending to otome games results in the player and the male character getting married and going on a honeymoon. Since majority of otome are targeted towards a teenage market, there is little to no explicit sexual images in the game. Unlike in eroge games, also known as H-games, which are Japanese dating sim that feature erotic content and strong sexual situations. Another reason being that a large portion of otomes are released onto Playstations and Nintendo platforms.

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I said before that I can see the appeal of playing otome games, though now that I think about it, it’s not easy to describe. Otome games are for the hopeless romantic in all of us. They are an outlet for the whirl-wind, fantasy romance that most girls can only dream about where they are the object of their idol man’s affection. It’s a fun to lose yourself in it all, even through at times otome story aren’t the most believable or realistic.

I intentionally thought going in that I was much too a cynic towards romance as whole to ever take the games seriously. But as I played, I did find myself getting wrapped up in the game-play as well as the romance. I’m…a bit embarrassed to say that there were times that I got so into the moment that when my turn was up, I contemplated to idea of purchasing extra energy just so I can see what happened next in my relationship.  The stories may not be the deepest I’ve read and really, choosing the direction I wanted my romance to go wasn’t as hard as the game makes it out to be. Nonetheless, I can honestly say I did enjoy playing.

So yeah, otome games aren’t anything ground-breaking in anyway. Really, they’re simply outlets for fangirls to express their wanton desires to get with pretty anime men. But you know what? That’s o.k. We all have our guilty pleasures.

Fan-boys have their late night fantasies that involve Poison Ivy, Harley Quinn and a can of whip cream while listening to Warrent’s Cherry Pie.

Fan-girls have their fantasy weddings with anime ninjas and prince of their chosen.

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