Otome games have been enjoying an increase in popularity in the West in recent years. Quite a few video game publishers are taking an interest in releasing English language versions of popular Japanese titles. Most recently, Aksys Games announced at this year’s Anime Expo that they would be releasing six otome games titles for the Nintendo Switch between now and 2020! That is huge! As someone who has been playing games for over 5 years, the thought of six mainstream Japanese otome game localization announcements would have been almost unheard of a few years ago. But as the popularity of the genre is increasing and more and more gamers are turning their attention towards the rich story-driven narratives of otome games, more companies are chomping at the bit to make new titles available for Western fans. There is no doubt that it is a great time to be an otome games fan in the West!
But even with the rise in popularity, otome games are still considered a niche market, with those outside of the otome community still in the dark about the nuances of the genre. On my personal blog, I have an ongoing series that explains the ins and outs of otome games for newbies, but I also wanted to share an abbreviated run down of otome games for the readers here on MANGA.TOKYO.
If you have ever been curious about otome games or have seen the term floating around your social media feeds, I’m here to give you a crash course on Otome Games!!
What Are Otome Games?
Let’s assume you know absolutely nothing about otome games. The term otome game (乙女ゲーム lit. otome gemu) is a Japanese term used to describe a series of story-based games that are specifically targeted towards women and girls. Otome (乙女) is a feminine term that literally translates to maiden, so ‘otome games’ are literally ‘maiden or female games’. The term otome game is often shortened to otoge among fans of the genre. Otome Games is a catch-all term that encompasses visual novels and simulation games, specifically dating simulators and life simulators. Koei’s 1994 Angelique series is credited with being the ‘first’ otome game as it was created by an all-female development team and geared primarily towards girls and teens. Angelique ushered in a new age of female-oriented games, paving the way for more series over the years, many of which borrowed heavily from shojo and josei storylines.
While otome games are created for a Japanese female audience, there has been a rise in popularity outside of Japan in recent years. The first officially translated Japanese otome game released in the West was Two-Five’s historical fantasy game Yo-Jin-Bo (which is totally worth playing for OG otome fans), which was released in English for PC in 2006. Since then there have been more otome game releases in the west including the successful Hakuoki: Demon of the Fleeting Blossoms, which single-handedly catapulted otome games into prominence in the West. Not to mention the booming mobile otome market with publishers like NTT Solmare (Shall We Date series), Voltage Inc. (Otome Romance series), and Cybird (Ikmen Romance series) all of which are extremely popular among Western fans. There is also an offshoot of the otome games genre known as Original English Language Visual Novel (OELVN for short) or simply referred to as English Otome Games that are produced by non-Japanese developers with a primarily Western audience in mind.
Like most other video games, otome games are available on several platforms, from handhelds like the Nintendo 3DS and the PS Vita to Mobile Devices, PC, and even consoles like the Playstation 4, and more recently, the Nintendo Switch.
Types of Otome Games
Otome Games is a catch-all term for any story-based game targeted towards women and girls, but even that can be broken down into subcategories and genres. Some fans will use some of these terms interchangeably, but there are some distinct differences between them that are worth noting. So, since this is a crash course on otome games, why not run through the main categories?
- Visual Novels: This term generally refers to any story-based game regardless of the target audience. Like most games, visual novels encompass a wide range of genres and subjects, but as the name suggests, they involve a lot of reading. Visual novels are often shortened to just VN.
- Dating Simulator/Dating Sim: It’s just like it sounds; dating sims are games where the end goal is to romance one of several love interests. While they do vary in scope and subject, the end goal is to wind up in a romantic relationship. These games usually follow the female player character as she pursues her chosen love interest(s) and may include some stats-raising elements.
- Mobage: Shorthand for mobile game, these titles are exclusively for mobile devices (ie. cellular phones and/or tablets). There are quite a few types of mobile otome games (ie. free to play, freemium, pay to play, etc), but the differences generally have to do with gameplay style and payment method. There are seriously too many to name, so a rule of thumb: if you can play it on your phone or tablet, it’s a mobile game.
- Fandisk: Depending on your opinion, you might not consider these actual games but more like supplemental content. Typically, fandisks aren’t fully realized games but rather a collection of short stories, artwork, music, mini-games, etc.
- Ports: Games that were available for one platform (ie. console) that have been adapted for a newer platform.
Gameplay and Mechanics – How Do I Play Otome Games?
We’ve defined otome games, and we briefly described the types of otome games, so all that’s left are the gameplay and mechanics. Otome games like Eroge (erotic games) and Bishoujo/Galga (games featuring a female protagonist targeted towards male players) are a sub-genre of Adventure games.
I’d like to stress that otome games are story-based games, so they involve a lot of reading. They have more in common with interactive fiction, as they give the player a chance to insert themselves into the narrative through the in-game player character known as the MC (main character) or Heroine. The main goal of otome games is to develop a relationship (usually romantic) between a female player character and one of several attractive male characters, or Love Interests. It’s a similar premise to the harem and reverse harem anime genre, except the player can actually end up with any of the eligible bachelors depending on the choices made throughout the game. While romance does play a big role in the overall narrative of otome games, there are some otome games that do feature stories that don’t focus on romance (though this is rare). One of the biggest appeals of otome games is the ‘craft your own narrative’ gameplay, which gives players the opportunity to steer the course the story by making a series of in-game choices that determine the progression of the story.
Otome game heroines are notorious for being blank slate characters, since they serve primarily as an in-game self insert character through which the player experiences the events of the game. They lack a well-defined personality or backstory, with the player’s choices throughout the game serving as a stand in for character development. Customization is an option in some games, but it is usually limited to the name or basic appearance characteristics.
Players can alter the course of an otome game’s story by making decisions in the form of various action and dialogue choices that appear at regular intervals throughout the story. ‘Correct’ choices result in a Good or Best Ending where the player and their chosen love interest end up happily ever after and the conflict of the story is resolved. ‘Incorrect’ choices result in a Bad Ending where in the best-case scenario, the player and the love interest don’t end up in a relationship, and in the worst case, the player dies. Some otome games have additional stats-raising elements that require players to perform specific tasks or activities to increase affection points with a chosen love interest or character.
Most otome games use a route-based system, where players pursue one specific love interest at a time, with the other love interests taking on a reduced or supporting role in the overall story. Then there are others that have more of a round robin approach, where all available love interests are pursuable at once and the choices you make throughout determine which character you ultimately end up with at the end of the game.
Otome games are also known for their CGs which are full artistic renderings of special scenes. These can either be romantic scenes or action scenes. Some games also feature mini-games, full voice acting, animated graphics, and special events that all help enhance the story of the game. For example, the supernatural fantasy game Psychedelica of the Black Butterfly has a point-and-click Butterfly Hunting mini-game that allows players to earn points that can be used to unlock special short stories. Period Cube incorporates an additional turn based RPG style battle system, where players can battle various monsters that attack the MC and her party along their journey. A lot of people assume that otome games are just standard visual novels, but there are quite a few that offer more interactive story elements.
Otome Games Terminology You Should Know
Before I close things up, I wanted to include a list of a few common terms that players should get familiar with when playing otome games. Many of these were mentioned above, but it’s still a good idea to have them in their own section.
- Otome game: This is the most common term used to describe a story-based game targeted at a primarily female audience. These games focus on building relationships between a female player character and one of several male love interests.
- Otoge: This is another term for otome games, and is just a shorthand for ‘otome gemu’.
- Visual Novel: This is just a catchall term for any story based game regardless of target demographic. It is often shortened to VN.
- Dating Simulator/Dating Sim: It’s all on the tin with this one; these are games where the main goal is to romance one of several suitors. For some people, dating sims and otome games are synonymous. However, there is one fundamental difference between them: otome games can have non-romantic storylines… dating sims typically focus solely on romance.
- Mobage: Short for Mobile Game, these games are exclusive to mobile devices (ie. cellular phones and/or tablets). Remember, if you can play it on your phone or tablet, it’s a mobage.
- Fandisk: Also known as Fan Disc or FD. These are games that feature supplemental content for an existing main series game (ie. additional storylines, CGs, music, minigames, etc); anything that expands on an existing game title.
- Ports: Games that were developed for one platform (ie. console) that were later adapted for a newer platform. Like FDs they can feature additional content that wasn’t in the original release of the game, however, this is marketed as ‘new’ content.
- MC/Heroine: The in-game player character through which the player can experience the events of the game. Most tend to be blank slate self insert characters that allow the player to superimpose their own personality onto the character. However, there are some games where the MC is given a well-defined backstory and personality.
- Love Interests: The reverse harem. These are the guys you can pursue over the course of the story, each with their own well-defined personalities, motivations, and goals. They are most often based on one or more stock character archetypes (ie. kuudere, tsundere, oresama… etc.) The number of love interests in an otome game can vary from anywhere from one to twelve, but the standard is five or six.
Otome Games are Fun
Those are the basics of otome games!! Yay! You’ve just upgraded from a total noob to a well-informed protagonist! Of course, there are more to otome games than what’s included in this article, but with this guide you should be able to hold your own in a Twitter conversation or know get the gist of your online buddy’s otome fangirling.
Otome Games are starting to gain more of a foothold in the West, and with more publishers like Aksys, MangaGamer, and XSEED taking an interest in the genre, you can bet these games are here to stay! So, use this guide to inform yourself, impress your friends, and maybe… try an otome game or two!