The Top 10 Otome Games Available in Englishby Anne Lee,
Otome games, or romance games aimed at a female audience, may have originated in Japan, but their appeal is finally reaching international audiences. In the past few years, more and more games have been released in English, allowing players worldwide to date their share of handsome men. With interest in romance visual novels at an all-time high due to the widespread success of games like Dream Daddy in 2017, I wanted to dispel some misconceptions about the otome game genre and recommend my top 10 favorite titles.
The term “otome” comes from the Japanese word for maiden or young lady, indicating the target audience of the genre. The origins of the genre date back at least to Angelique, which was released for Super Famicom in 1994 and is widely considered the first otome game. Angelique was developed by a team of women at KOEI known as Ruby Party who wanted to make more games that would appeal to girls.
Angelique was slightly different from the “choose-your-own-adventure” visual novel style common to many otome games today. Rather, Angelique leaned heavily on a simulation system that had players raising various stats to appeal to the man of their dreams. Simulation gameplay was common for romance games at the time, such as Konami's Tokimeki Memorial series aimed at male players, which also came out in 1994. These simulation elements lead to the term “dating sim game” (romance simulation game). Many players still refer to romance games as dating sims, despite the fact that many have moved towards a more visual novel-style format.
Today, otome games encompass such a wide range of themes that it's difficult to distill them into a few simple characteristics. You certainly don't have to be a young lady to enjoy what otome games have to offer! However, since the genre originated as romance games for women and took many stylistic queues from shōjo manga, the protagonists are women, and the romance options are nearly always men. (There are some instances of otome games with female romance options, such as the Japan-only Gekka Ryouran Romance, or OZMAFIA!! and Mystic Messenger.)
The single unifying aspect of all otome games is romance. Whether you're racing to stop a coup d'etat in a steampunk version of England or uncovering the mysteries of a bizarre world populated by talking pigeons, all otome games revolve around the protagonist eventually falling in love. For the most part, otome games are intended to be played multiple times, so that over the course of each character's story (or "route"), you'll see the whole story start to piece together. Often, there are even secret characters who won't unlock until you've played everyone else's route!
There are many otome games that offer intricate storylines in addition to juicy romance, but there's also plenty of silly fluff out there. There's an otome game out there for nearly every interest! Just five years ago, I would've been hard-pressed to come up with 10 otome games available legally in English, but now I can curate a list of only the best to recommend. Here are 10 of my personal favorites to get you started:
Hakuōki: Kyoto Winds
The Hakuōki series gets the award for being the first major Japanese otome game franchise to be localized into English. Hakuōki is wildly popular in Japan for good reason: the historical members of the shinsengumi have been transformed into handsome men and infused with some demonic intrigue for action-packed (albeit tragic) romance. While numerous versions of the game have been localized into English for a plethora of systems, Hakuōki: Kyoto Winds is the most recent iteration for PS Vita and PC. It includes new character routes as well as improved graphics, making it the definitive version of Hakuōki. However, the game has been split into two parts, meaning it ends on a cliffhanger: you'll have to purchase Hakuōki: Edo Blossoms when it comes out this spring to see the complete story. Consider grabbing Hakuoki: Demon of the Fleeting Blossom for PSP or Hakuōki for iOS/Android if you want the full experience right away, minus the new routes.
It's the ultimate mashup of fairytale and literary characters, from The Wizard of Oz to Puss in Boots. The twist on these classic characters comes from the title – they're all members of warring mafia groups that the protagonist unwittingly finds herself caught between. This game's a roller coaster that goes from not taking itself seriously at all to being surprisingly dark in its many routes. There's even one girl option, though it's light on potential romance. While some routes will definitely not be for everyone (the brothel and love triangle routes in particular), the story is not the strong point of this game, so you won't you'll feel like you're missing out if you don't complete all of them. Even so, it's still worth playing for its gorgeous art, witty English localization, and quirky cast of characters. OZMAFIA!! is available for PC.
Period Cube: Shackles of Amadeus
Period Cube can most easily be described as Sword Art Online: The Otome Game, only this time the protagonist is not a long-time MMO player, but a girl who ventures into an MMO along with her childhood friend when her brother is rumored to have gone missing inside it. As she uncovers the mysteries of the MMO, she comes in contact with a number of different players. Period Cube stands out for not only having very good romance routes, but also a great cast of supporting characters. If you can, go into Period Cube with as little knowledge about the characters as possible – it's even more fun when their real-world personalities are a surprise! Period Cube: Shackles of Amadeus is available for PS Vita.
Out of all the games on this list, Mystic Messenger may be the most widely-known. As the first iOS/Android otome game developed by the Korean studio Cheritz, it utilizes the mobile phone platform to simulate an actual app where you play by interacting with characters in chat rooms and receiving simulated phone calls. Though Cheritz's previous PC-only titles Dandelion and Nameless ~The One Thing You Must Recall~ are both perfectly good otome game recommendations, Mystic Messenger presents an extremely effective immersive experience along with its great cast of characters, including a female romance option.
This is a game where instead of dating human boys, you date pigeons. It starts off with a whole lot of silliness, poking at visual novel conventions, but there are hints of something more sinister under the surface. While OZMAFIA!! is the kind of game where it's no big deal if you skip a few routes, Hatoful Boyfriend absolutely must be played until you get the true ending. Get ready for a game that's a whole lot more than just a few bird puns! Hatoful Boyfriend is available for PC, Mac, Linux, PS4, PS Vita, and iOS/Android. There's also a fan disc (an add-on to the original game that's not quite a full sequel) titled Hatoful Boyfriend: Holiday Star.
Otome games tend to be criticized for having bland protagonists who don't take a active role in their narratives, despite being the central player character. While a less-defined protagonist may be easier for players to imagine themselves as, many players prefer protagonists with their own personalities, motivations, and character growth. Here are a few otome games with standout heroines:
If you liked the historical setting of Hakuōki, Nightshade might also be for you. Like Hakuōki, it features some historical characters and events, but it's centered around two warring ninja clans rather than the shinsengumi. The protagonist Enju is the daughter of the head of one of these clans, and she's determined to become a full-fledged ninja despite her village's insistence against it. With five male romance options, an action-packed plot, and lovely visuals, Nightshade deserves a spot in every otome game fan's library. You can find Nightshade for PC on Steam.
In this game, Tokyo is stricken by a terrorist organization called Adonis, who conduct a series of murders related to a countdown to the mysterious X-Day. Protagonist Officer Hoshino is on patrol in Shinjuku when she's attacked and fitted with a locked collar filled with poison around her neck. The suspense-filled plot follows her quest to uncover the truth behind the collar and X-Day, along with the help of five former police officers. Unfortunately, the localization could have used some more editing, but Collar x Malice is still a great otome game choice for PS Vita if you're looking for a darker story and stronger female protagonist.
Sweet Fuse: At Your Side
You play as Saki, the fictional niece to Megaman creator Keiji Iwafune. (No, really.) Saki finds herself in a sticky situation when she attends the unveiling of Iwafune's brand new amusement park, only to be trapped by a psychotic pig that wants her and the other attendees to participate in a dangerous game. Saki is one of my favorite otome game protagonists because she isn't afraid to speak her mind, even if it means telling her male suitors off! Sweet Fuse also stands out for being hilarious and having a great cast of characters who are more than just the usual clichés. Sweet Fuse is only available for PSP, but the PSN version can be played on a PS Vita. Trust me, it's worth the trouble!
Rose of Winter
Pillowfight is one of many non-Japanese developers dipping their toe in the otome game genre. While Rose of Winter isn't explicitly labeled as an otome game, it ticks all the boxes otome game fans are looking for. The protagonist, Rosemary, is an adorable mercenary who needs to make some dough by escorting one of four princes across a treacherous mountain. Choose a prince and get ready for some super cute interactions between Rose and her suitor in this short but sweet otome game that will leave you feeling all warm and fuzzy inside.
Code:Realize – Guardian of Rebirth
This has all the makings of a great otome game: kickass protagonist, lovable cast of guys to date, intriguing storyline, gorgeous visuals, and memorable music. The heroine Cardia is stricken with a deadly poison that causes anything her skin touches to melt, so she's instructed by her father to stay away from people. While she initially seems like another damsel waiting for man to save her, Cardia takes matters into her own hands and learns to kick butt alongside her male suitors (who are all modeled after famous literary and historical figures). Code:Realize – Guardian of Rebirth is currently only available for PS Vita, but a PS4 port and fan disc will be debuting in English on March 30th.
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