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If you’ve been lurking on the internet long enough, you might have heard about “otome” games. Maybe you were browsing through iTunes and saw some advertisements for these strange-looking mobile apps featuring pink and purple roses. Or you were scrolling through Pinterest, and you saw splash images full of pretty-looking people.
If you’re a fan of anime, you might even know someone who has mentioned the genre in passing. Sometimes shortened to “otoge” and appearing in two formats—either as a visual novel or simulation dating—otome games are on the rise and popular among teenage girls and women.
But what are they, exactly? Why should we care?
What Are Otome Games?
The setup for these games is very simple and follows a standard format.
In each scenario, you play a woman or a man who must fall in love with and woo a person of your choice. Each love interest typifies a particular “trait”—for example, impulsiveness—and the end goal is a happy ending to your love story.
This digital romance can either follow the beats of a visual novel, where all you do is pick dialogue choices, or it can be a simulator where you play minigames to boost your stats and get the ending of your choice.
The first otome game was Angelique in 1994. There, a queen rules over the stars, helped out by nine guardians. When this queen’s power begins to falter, a new queen candidate must be selected. You—the seventeen year old protagonist—are chosen. While striving to be chosen as the new queen, you must also make one of the guardians fall in love with you.
A more recent example of the otome genre is Hatoful Boyfriend. Originally released in 2011 as an April Fool’s joke, you play the only human attending St. Pigeonation’s Institute, set in a post-apocalyptic future where the Avian Flu has wiped out most of humanity. Once again, while at the school, you must woo a pigeon of your choice.
No, really. It’s as crazy as it sounds, but also hilarious.
Current popular series with less-crazy plot lines include Ikumen Sengoku, Diabolik Lovers, and Mystic Messenger.
In all cases, otome games draw their roots from Josei and Shojo manga. While older games like Angelique were originally intended for a much younger audience, they soon became popular with older women.
But why was it popular with them, and why does it continue to be so? Well, it probably has to do with the extremely idealized romance.
Why Are Otome Games so Popular?
When I say “idealized,” I want to emphatically state that I don’t think that there’s any sort of bad romance, or that we should divide romance into clean/dirty categories. All romance, game-based or not, is good.
That said, idealized is the easiest and quickest way to describe the format that these romances take: they’re purposely PG-13 and very, very mild in order to get past the censors. They also focus on the feminine experience within a relationship, and reward players with the emotional support that women and girls often lack in real life.
If you’ve been online for the past ten years or so, you’ll notice that women asking for this sort of romance in their games is “a thing.” Outside of the otome genre, Bioware specifically has made a killing by including romance in their Mass Effect and Dragon Age series. Otome games themselves continue to profit off it by directly tapping into this female power fantasy.
This is a good thing, because it expands the gaming field and opens it up to new genres.
There’s a possibility that we’ll be talking more about otome games in the future, but for now we’re done our 101. Looking for other games to play? Check out our review of Bubble Bobble.