This is PC gaming week of Epictober, and one thing you can count on among PC games is the occasional freaky import release, like the dating games listed below.
The dating sim/visual novel genre is a widely overlooked one in the United States. Sure, there are plenty of eroge titles to pore over if you look in the right places (Saya no Uta being one a personal favorite), but on the flip side, otome games are an even bigger rarity. Otome, or maiden games, are typically aimed at a female audience, plotting a heroine against a harem of bishoujo (handsome, “pretty” men), whom she will eventually end up in a relationship with.
This is the reverse of most typical visual novels, where the player steps into the shoes of a male protagonist and through decisions made/actions performed will end up with one (or more, if applicable) of the female cast members. When Aksys Games revealed they would be bringing otome game Hakuoki: Demon of the Fleeting Blossom to Western shores, it was big news – it's one of the first strictly otome games we've seen since Natsume's release of Princess Debut, and that was pushing it.
Personally I'm a fan of the genre as a whole, and I'm not bothered whether or not I'm pursuing a bunch of pretty boys or beautiful stereotypical women who may or may not love me so much they want to kill me, but there is an audience out there who will gladly devour these maiden games. No matter if you're male or female there's an otome game out there for every taste. Hopefully with the arrival of the original Hakuoki title an influx of otome titles are coming to balance the shelves with male and female protagonists. Until then, here are some of the better ones out there to satiate your appetite.
Release Date: October 26, 2006
Yo-Jin-Bo was one of the first officially translated otome titles, and as such remains a classic starting point for those new to the genre. Taking a page from InuYasha and Fushigi Yugi, it follows young high school student Sayori, who stumbles upon a strange pendant while on a field trip with fellow students. Of course she pockets the pendant, takes it home, and bizarre events unfold. The ghost of a gorgeous princess from the Japanese Feudal area appears to Sayori and regales her with tales of her death. The next morning, Sayori wakes up in the princess Hatsuhime's body, along with six handsome bodyguards ready to die for her. She finds herself in the midst of a situational reset – if she plays her cards right, she may yet be able to avert Hatsuhime's assassination and find love in the process.
Yo-Jin-Bo is a lighthearted, modernized tale with plenty of pop culture references and stereotypically beautiful bishounen scattered throughout, and it's accessible despite its ancient setting. It's a great weekend play filled with loyal samurai, Buddhist priests, and even ninja who would all give their lives for young Sayori. Plus, Hatsuhime quotes Pink's “Get The Party Started.” So there you go.
Platform: PC (Freeware)
An excellent example of a freeware otome title, RE: Alistair explores the world of fantasy MMO Rivenwell Online, which heroine Merui plays obsessively. One fateful day, a player known only as Alistair yoinks a kill from Merui, and a special item called the Blessed Stone as a result. Merui had been out to get this for herself, and of course swears she'll do anything it takes to get the item back and uncover Alistair's identity. The unidentified player takes it upon himself to make a bet with Merui: she's got one month to figure out who he truly is. If she's successful, she'll get the Blessed Stone back. If not, all of her in-game accomplishments are turned over to Alistair.
In true otome game fashion, the Alistair suspects are potential relationship partners. RE: Alistair is an impressive downloadable title with branching paths and in-game MMO “exploration” paths that should tickle your fancy if you're a fan of anime such as .hack//SIGN or its spinoffs. A surprising reveal should you choose one of the suspect's relationship paths is an interesting payoff, and the MMO references should keep you entertained. It's also available for the low, low price of free. Give it a try, especially if you've ever found yourself in a situation similar to Merui's.
Otometeki Koi Kakumei Love Revo!! (LoveRevo)
Release Date: February 14, 2008 (DS), March 28, 2008 (PC)
If you're willing to shut off your brain to unravel this mindnumbingly stupid tale, LoveRevo is a challenging otome game that offers much more than point-and-click shenanigans. You know, if you can stomach the fact that the heroine is basically shedding pounds in order to win the affections of the harem of men she's now sharing an apartment complex with. Once a gorgeous little girl, Hitomi Sakuragawa has gained over 100kg of weight due to her seemingly automatic consumption of sweets and chocolates presented to her by fans – she used to be a beauty contest winner. Since she's now living with a cornucopia of thin and athletic pretty boys (minus her childhood friend) who all make comments on her blubbery body, she's taken it upon herself to get back on track to lose weight.
But that's not all you'll need to work with. Rather than simply choosing the correct conversational options, you need to worry about divvying up Hitomi's time correctly: dieting, studying, relaxing, etc. all the while keeping an eye on the hara heri meter, which can be quite a pain when deciding which activity to participate in next. It's finicky, but it offers a layer of difficulty not usually seen in most otome games. It's not sending the best message, but most otome games aren't. At least this one features Hitomi reaching physical fitness in safe ways rather than damaging ones, and finding love in the process.
Tokimeki Memorial Girl's Side
Release Date: February 14, 2007
Platform: PlayStation 2/DS
Konami's popular Tokimeki Memorial series was aimed at male players, featuring the typical cast of potential female lovers and stat-building activities (such as what you see in LoveRevo). Tokimeki Memorial Girl's Side focuses on a female protagonist who, in addition to scouting out potential love interests, can go shopping, change outfits for dates, and earn female “love rivals” along the way. It's an unremarkable tale but the “Tokimemo” series (its nickname in Japan) is a mainstay of the genre, so if you're curious about taking the plunge you can't go wrong by starting here.
Heart no Kuni no Alice
Release Date: February 14, 2007
Modernized takes on Alice in Wonderland usually tend to make great pieces of media. Just look at American McGee's Alice games. Heart no Kuni no Alice follows a similar path, following Alice Liddell's journey into Wonderland. It starts off a little differently, however, as the White Rabbit actually turns into a handsome man with white rabbit ears, conveniently named Peter White. Alice is carried off down a hole by Peter, forced to drink a strange liquid, and realizes soon after she may never return home from Wonderland. What's left to do while searching for a way home aside from looking for a man, right?
Interaction with the residents of Wonderland, who are in the midst of a bloody civil war) refills Alice's medicine vial so that she might have a way back home, and while this otome title may seem innocent on the surface, it's actually quite bloody and violent, which is a twist from some of the previous games mentioned. If you like your fairy tales with a side of darkness, try Heart no Kuni no Alice, or the anime/manga adaptations – that's a testament to its popularity in Japan.
These are only but a small sampling of what's out there. What are some of your favorite otome titles?