Updated: Sep 29, 2019
Did you know I have a weakness for otome games?
For those who aren't aware, otome gemu translates to "maiden games" - ie, games made for (implicitly heterosexual) women in mind. While it should only relate to these games developed in Japan, a lot of similar games are lumped into the same genre when created outside, like in the U.S.A., China, Korea, etc. It can take on a few forms, but the most common are where love interests play heavily into the choices you make. Most games have "good" and "bad" endings, of which there's a broad range as to what that means.
As a romantic, it's an appealing genre, and easier to play piecemeal with kids around than reading. So lately, it's become of particular interest to me.
I have a few favorites I'd like to share, and the reasons why. But first, I feel the need to add: the genre has some problems. There are tropes that don't carry well yet persist, as with any genre in books. In otome games, the ones that bother me most are sexual violence, useless/bland MCs, and unapologetic flirts that often border on sexual violence.
So why play? Often, I find most of the games outweigh my concerns. Or I decide that the offense is small enough that I can overlook the rest.
With that in mind, I'd like to talk about 3 otome games I'm fond of, which route was my favorite, which was my least favorite, and spoiler-free reasons why.
Got any favorites of your own? Leave a comment! I'd love to play more games when I have the time.
Keep in mind, I've been in this genre for a while, but a lot of the ones I've played in the past are difficult to find anymore (and were more visual novels than games), so my list may be more recent.
Ready? Let's get started!
3. Samurai Love Ballad PARTY (Android store)
Why I love this game: It's easy to play daily. Downsides are that if you want to play all day, you'll have to spend quite a bit of real-world money. But if you're patient and can read 5 parts per day, it's easy to get immersed in the routes. Each story line is unique, carries some semblance of realism for the time period, and the MC's personality even shifts a little to suit the love interest you pursue, which leaves room for plenty of surprise and dialogue.
Favorite route(s): Oda Nobunaga and Tokugawa Ieyasu.
Yes, two favorites. These guys are what I call "crunchy muffins" - rough exteriors, but tender interiors. Ieyasu can border on abusive, but the way his backstory is interwoven and how he behaves later (and in side stories) really helps to soften this approach and explain why he is what he is. Nobunaga is ruthless, but still softened from his historical namesake - in the name of love, of course. I've played most of the routes and am slowly working my way through others, but these two keep my interest throughout. They're classic "love to daydream of but don't touch with a ten-foot-pole in real life" men.
Least favorite route: Toshiie.
Remember when I said I don't like sexual violence? Yeah... the moment is relatively brief, but it's vicious, born of stupid jealousy, and there's an art piece you get to "keep" for it. I found his route tasteless and uncomfortable. It's a trashy "childhood friend" route, and I was really disappointed in how it was handled.
Would I recommend?: Oh, yes. There's a personality type for almost everyone, though you're hard-pressed to find a true "soft boy" given the time period.
2. Cinderella Phenomenon (Steam)
Why I like this game: I don't love it, but I do like it. Cinderella Phenomenon takes fairy tale retellings and gives them a unique spin I've never quite seen before. The world is interesting, the MC has tons of (initially unlikable but soon sympathetic) personality, and in general I like to watch royalty fall from grace. So it has a lot going for it. The art can be a little off sometimes, but once you get used to it, the story more than makes up for any artistic awkwardness.
Best part? It's free! No hidden costs, no money at all. For a free game, it's astounding the quality and care put into this. I would have paid money for it.
Favorite route: None.
No, really, none jumped out at me. I guess that's a bit of a downside, because nothing outshone anything else, but all five routes were well-written and interesting. You have a good route and a tragic route in each one, and they're more than fascinating. This game truly is memorable more for the world and MC than the love interests, but damn if it isn't a great game.
So it goes without saying: I don't have a least favorite. I suppose by personality Karma interested me the least, but his tragic route left me devastated all the same.
Would I recommend?: Yes. And again: it's FREE. Go play it!
1. Fashioning Little Miss Lonesome (Steam)
Why I love this game: I haven't laughed this much since I was a teenager.
Seriously, my chest hurt from laughing so hard and so often. Which is weird, because it definitely has problems that should make me want to catapult this game into the sun. There is some hint at sexual violence, and if you download the R-18 patch, the scenes are cringy. But Saito and Miki are presented, in humorously simplistic terms, "sadist" and "masochist" in that order. And the banter that goes on between them and the ever-strange MC Ema is beyond hysterical. There are DOZENS of endings. My favorite is the "fanfic" ending. A common favorite is the "mushroom" ending. Sound weird? Yes. It is. Check it out.
Favorite route: Saito.
Not a difficult choice, since there are only two. (And, of course, this doesn't count for the non-romantic route endings.) Saito is cruel but somehow the translator for this game gave him such a great humorous edge all the same. I wouldn't call him a classic tsundere, but he's definitely a personality all his own and plays so well off Miki and Ema. Bonus points: he's shorter than Ema. I have a weakness for dudes who are shorter than their female love interest.
But really, my true favorite is the "fanfic" ending. Words can't explain it. You won't know unless you get to the end of this route what it really is, but I had to take a break before I cracked my sternum from laughing so hard.
Least favorite: The threesome route.
Yeah... there's a threesome route. Which I guess has its own appeal, but I was super let-down by it. Everyone seemed more uncomfortable than enjoying it, so I really only ended up completing all variations of the route just to satisfy the completionist in me.
Would I recommend?: YES. I know, it has big problems, but if you can get past them, the banter is some of the best I've ever seen, and the tone is so wacky, ridiculous, over-the-top and insane, that I can't help but adore this game.
Got a favorite otome game? Let me know in the comments! Maybe I've played it, maybe I haven't, but I'm always open to new games.