Sex, Lies, and JPEG Guys (Otome Thread 乙女ゲーム * ੈ♡‧₊˚)

Before I start this thread I encourage you to pick out your favorite essential oil, pour some pinot grigio or herbal tea, and play this song on loop to get the effect that these games are going for.

https://youtu.be/QfRHMADK2fQ

Otomes, or Maiden Games, are dreamy relationship sims. From the outside it might seem like it's a dating sim about unlocking steamy scenes with your LI... but it actually does more, with less. Otomes set out to tell unconventional stories in ways that videogames rarely have the courage to do.

If you’re not familiar with the genre, you might be surprised to learn that for a game about relationships, you're typically single for half of the story, you usually only date one person per route, and while there _are_ decisions, they are usually very few, far between, and more impactful than they seem at first blush. All of this is intentional because the story it's telling is fundamentally different than a dating sim like Sakura Wars is trying to tell. Otomes can be dating sims, but not all dating sims are necessarily otomes. For example, I would consider like Tokimeki Memorial Girls Side as an otome even though it’s very different than formal visual novels like Hakuoki or Code Realize, simply because it shares a lot of the themes I get into below.

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Unlike dating sims that can intertwine statistical elements of [RPG-like mastery toward relationships as an extrinsic reward](https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xb-DtICmPTY) -- otomes are much more focused on the journey and the intrinsic value of interpersonal relationships. It's not about 'getting the girl', it's about 'understanding the man'. There is an element of objectification, but the real pleasure comes from being emotionally available to let your guard down and get sensual or affected… or even experience a simulated version of the devastation and isolation that comes with loving a domestic abuser or mentally ill person. It’s still ‘just a game’ but there are emotional risks and rewards shouldered by the player, rather than just the main character avatar.

Every Otome I've played involves a lot of time spent on the MC alone - in her bedroom - in her head - just thinking. It’s a very radical thing for a videogame to spend around 5-10% of the total playtime literally staring at a picture of the bedroom wall and reflecting on your day. But that’s not unlike how we act in real life. Whom amongst us hasn’t come home after someone we liked noticed us, and sat on the bed just thinking about it for a while? Maybe you’re nervous before seeing someone and rehearsing how you express yourself. Or a date didn’t go well and you are starting to question things. Or even there are past traumas that we need to process in order to move forward someone you like. These easily forgotten ‘in between’ moments in life are what otomes are all about.

Because of that, otomes often live or die by its MC, and it straddles the line between being a first-person and third-person game. Typically, there is a character who starts out chaste and anxious about the world around her, due to serious topics like violence (such as in Piofiore), racism (such as Olympia Soiree), or simple lack of confidence (such as Nightshade). But even once she is very developed into a very empowered badass who pursues her dreams (Teuta in Bustafellows ❤️), the player sees her as both a distinct character and a stand in for real anxieties we feel in real life. They’re not there to be a blank slate audience insert necessarily, but a lens to view our ourselves and how we respond. So if you have an MC you don’t like or doesn’t act like you would, the whole thing can fall apart. In that sense I think otomes are very love it or hate it.

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But the MC has to leave home at some point and venture into the world, but what she experiences is never a power fantasy. Your options are limited by fate and circumstance. You can’t romance everyone you meet, nor can you do much to steer the romances in the direction you want. There’s a narrow window where things can go right and be emotionally fulfilling… or you can end up with a bad ending where you are a **victim**. (These stories are definitely influenced a lot by Japanese gender dynamics and social expectations, which I won't get into right now.) While this can be a frustrating set of limitations to work within, it encourages many playtrhroughs to experience "what would life be like if I married someone else" but in videogame format.

As for the love interests, from the outside in, it may seem like tropes of violent bad boys with unreal self-confidence to pursue you, and you might roll your eyes. But that is actually a red herring for what I think this genre is actually trying to express. Most of these games are focused on the idea that "the environment creates the man." The worlds they inhabit are often structured around violence and ethical gray areas, where no one enforces rules for how a man should behave (just like the real world). Some of the yanderes revel in the depravity, while those with a strong code of morality fight those impulses… and it’s supposed to be a difficult to tell which one is which based on your first encounters. I think not really knowing a guy until you get to know him is incredibly realistic, and most of the drama of the first half of these games is centered around this. But as we get to know the ways in which he’s fighting against the world around him, and his own motivations and weaknesses, that’s when we fall deeper for him and those questions we sat alone with get answered in subtle ways.... or hot and heavy ways.

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I still have a lot to say but this is probably enough rambling for right now. I am curious if anyone on this forum other than me plays these games and if you agree/disagree with what I think makes this genre special. I know there's also a sub-genre elements of queer/s&m/furry/etc stuff thats not even on my radar (I'm pretty vanilla!) and I think that stuff would be interesting to learn about too. I also want to talk about some specific games and experiences I had because… wow, they can be crazy.

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@“Tradegood”#p109127 some specific games

I plead total ignorance of the genre except what I have learned from a friend of mine, whose own particular preferences lead her to play otomes that for one reason or another don't really appeal to me (Mystic Messenger, Code: Realize). I mean, maybe I'm wrong to be dismissive of some of those! Mystic Messenger's timed messages gimmick honestly seems pretty cool, but idk the art doesn't appeal much and the characters seem a bit precious. I know less about Code: Realize but I guess I'm interested in something more grounded than the extremely high concept steampunk date-19th-century-literary-characters right now. Then again, Psychedelica of the Black Butterfly seems cool...
I'd like to play an otome that isn't on a phone (easy to do, I'm sure). Switch or Vita are my preferred consoles for this kind of thing.

I guess I'm curious if you, esteemed Tradegood, have a grab bag of titles you'd throw out there for your fellow dirtbag? What are these two screenshots from? I like both of them...

Looking forward to reading more of your thoughts! Great first post

@“captain”#p109252 oh gosh! Honestly, you are more than ok with a switch and vita. I never had a Vita but that system has a huge library, and a lot of publishers only started porting to switch and PC the last couple years. Don‘t worry about Code Realize, that one didn’t do much for me either… I agree that the literary characters and the more out-there ‘supernatural’ elements being baked into it didn‘t do much for me. There are some high concept games like that, such as Steam Prison that I would only really recommend after you’re comfortable in the genre. Psychedelica of the Black Butterfly looks pretty cool! There's so much on the vita I hope get ported elsewhere.

My favorite types of otomes are the 'historical' ones that take place in the Sengoku Jidai or Edo Period. For whatever reason, I think it's the perfect setting where I can suspend my disbelief and the dangerous characters are believable in a way that gets me wrapped up in the story.

My favorite ever is **Nightshade**... every route is just more dreamy than the last. It takes itself seriously but has a good amount of levity too and the characters go to some unexpected places. I don't want to spoil anything, but the routes are really good and the heroine is also really great. **Hakuoki** is the most famous Otome, and a game that introduced me to the genre. There are some genuinely devastating and heartbreaking routes. It can be a little much but it is pretty beautiful and well worth anyone's time even if they're not into it for the guys. I have no problem recommending it to anyone even if they just want a good visual novel.

I would highly recommend **Bustafellows** as another a very high quality otome that came out a couple years ago. There's a mystery and crime drama element to it, and it's a little bit of a parody on American culture and film noir. It's very fun, and also has the timed choices like you mention. It's got a great cast too.

There are also slice of life otomes which are usually more breezy and less serious. Right now i'm playing one called **Lover Pretend** and loving the crap out of it. It's about a girl who is an intern on a movie set and trying to discover the identity of her father, and she has 3 guys who are really into her but could potentially be her half-brother so she's trying to figure things out. It's very cute and has made me laugh out loud a few times in the first couple hours. It also has minigame sections to it. Depending on how these routes go it could be one of my favorite games released in 2022.

@“Tradegood”#p109264 Thank you! I think I‘ll give all four of these a shot—I’ll start with either Nightshade or Bustafellows (Hakuoki has a 3DS port which is extra appealing for some reason). I looked at some footage of Lover Pretend too and it seems like a good time

@“captain”#p109414 Nice, jumping right in! Soon you‘ll be like me and own a ton of them that you haven’t gotten around to yet haha. I also hope I‘m not overselling these games – they are, essentially, romance novels so I hope you don’t go in expecting more. Nightshade and Bustafellows are great places to start.

The Hakuoki 3DS port is really good, they didn't add a ton of extra content and it doesn't include the fandisc that comes with the PC version, but there are some exclusive scenes and a 'photo booth' mode lol. The first screenshot above that I posted is from that game. The middle one is from Piofiore's sequel 1926 which admittedly I haven't played yet. The last screenshot is from Olympia Soiree.

If you get embarrassed by anything, just remember....

[URL=https://i.imgur.com/5JgaZcC.jpg][IMG]https://i.imgur.com/5JgaZcC.jpg[/IMG][/URL]
>!^(^(this one is from Collar x Malice which I haven't played because I'm a wimp when it comes to abuse in storylines, and I have a story I'm saving for my next big post about my first experience playing one like that.))!<

This is a genre I've been meaning to check out after being aware of it for years, def taking some notes.

@“coffeentacos”#p126997 Aw thanks! I forgot how long winded I made that first post :sweat_smile: I will continue to proselytize these games!

I actually JUST got Jack Jeanne and Radiant Tale which released less than a week ago! Really looking forward to both of those. I saw Jack Jeanne is one of the highest metacritic games of the year which is pretty funny, hopefully it attracts some new people to the genre!

Y'all want to indulge me by seeing my switch collection? I put these in the general order that I got them.

[URL=https://i.imgur.com/mgOGiBn.jpg][IMG]https://i.imgur.com/mgOGiBn.jpg[/IMG][/URL]

I honestly haven't played half of these YET but when you see one on sale for $30, the premise seems fun, and know it's going to go out of print in a year, you might as well pick it up. It's such a niche thing that I don't think it's smart to expect them to go up in value, but who knows. I have pretty much all the games that interest me, including a bunch of imports and games that are now out of print. Idea Factory and Aksus found their audience on switch so it's expensive to try to collect them all. Plus I would feel a rock in the pit of my stomach if I saw Amnesia ~ Memories ~ on my shelf. Dammit Toma.

Around the start of the switch generation I picked up **_Code Realize_** and sometime after that the **_Future Blessings Fandisk_**. I'm not the biggest fan tbh (impey's cool but wasn't huge into the other routes), I got it just because there weren't other options and I wanted to support otomes making their way to the west. Little did I know what Aksus was cookin up.

I imported **_Bakumatsu Renka Shinsengumi_**. It's.... very old (2004). I mean the genre didn't really kick off until 9 Doors 9 Persons 9 Rooms proved that people would buy visual novels. And even then Hakuoki didn't release for PS2 until 2008! Obviously Angelique and Tokimeki (which we'll get to later) are old, but those are quite different from the visual novel otome genre. Anyway, Bakumatsu Renka Shinsengumi is not super well localized, it's not really as romantic as later games, and I think the art style is ugly. But it is a sorta interesting as a historical document. But if I had to pick a PS2 otome, you should get Palais du Reine which is not on switch. There is a steam version that _might_ have a virus in it. Didn't stop me from playing it.

**_Cafe Enchante_** is another one that I picked up when it seemed like we weren't going to get many of these games in the west, It's moreso targeted to furries so... I didn't get far in it. The art style kind of falls apart for me when the characters are too fantastical, so you can see a big difference between this and Code Realize and the games I get later, which are more historical and theatrical. But it's very good if you're into fur.

Next is my favorite, **_Nightshade 百花百狼_** (Hundred Flowers and Hundred Wolves). I took a big chance importing it, and it turned out to be perfectly what I'm into. It's partly cozy and idyllic, but at the same time there's high stakes, comedy, tragedy, there's complicated backstories and twists. Every route in this game is great. Goemon and Hanzo have never looked so good. But Kuroyuki and Gekkamaru are where this game really shines. Love it so much.

I imported **_Steam Prison_**, and it was a little bit of a disappointment. The localization is not great. The worldbuilding is very very dark. It's a much darker game than any of the others I own. To put it frankly... it's kind of a bummer. Like, _**Piofiore ~ Fated Memories ~**_ deals with dark themes of crime and death but Stream Prison is just about how classism and hierarchies create despair. I don't know that I would really recommend it but it has an interesting tone to it that you don't get often. Could be that I read it at a weird time. Piofiore on the other hand feels like a real adventure, it's a mafia game. But it's kind of easy to get a bad ending where horrible things can happen to you.

But those pale in comparison to **_Bustafellows_**! It's also full of danger, but you take a very active role in it as a detective who can time travel. I think it's extremely well paced and has some great memorable routes.

**_Olympia Soiree_** is a really fun one that I need to get back to and play some more. It's all about racism and colorism, and it's presented in a heavy handed but interesting way. It's not perfect but it's compelling. You also have the cutest little mouse friend <3 I love him.

I have NOT played **_Dairoku: Agents of Sakuratani, Cupid Parasite, Birushana: Rising Flower of Genpei, Piofiore 1924, Winter's Wish Spirits of Edo, and Varaible Barricade_** yet. But they seem to all take place in very cool settings. Cupid Parasite I was most on the fence of, and nearly missed out on it entirely, but picked it up for like $25 on ebay after it went out of print. Muah ha ha.

_**Arcade Spirits**_ is the odd one out on this list for being the only western game. I think it's an otome at least from what I've read about it... but I haven't actually played it to see if maybe it doesn't fit. I know it is a dating visual novel with multiple routes, but I'm unsure if it has the _je ne sais quoi_ that these other games have. There's also a sequel with a physical release, so I should get around to playing it soon so I can see if I want to pick that one up.

Now... another that is becoming one of my all time favs is **_Lover Pretend_**! I had so much fun playing this one this year. It's a fun romantic comedy. Just a good time, good characters. Not particularly deep but I had a lot of fun with the characters. It inspired me to pick up two other light, comedic games -- **_Paradigm Paradox_** and **_Variable Barricade_**. I played a bit of Paradigm, a game where you date boys who turn into a Sailor Moon style team of magical girls, and it doesn't quite live up to the premise. It plays it very straight but not in a silly way. I haven't started Variable Barricade yet but I love the art style so it's up there on my list.

I picked up _**Tokimeki Memorial -Girl's Side- 4th Heart**_ and **_Angelique Luminarise_** recently. These are different from the others because they are Japanese only. I started playing through Tokimeki Memorial, but was kind of turned off that the principal wants to have a skinship with you, and you have a hot teacher you're after. It's a little ... ehhhhh.... but I mean I'll come back to it because it is so much more than that. It just kind of turned me off initially. I haven't gotten to Angelique Luminarise yet, but I had fun playing the original one earlier this year so I'm hoping the gameplay remains weird!

Then there's the newest games in my collection... **_Charade Maniacs_**... **_Jack Jeanne_**.... and **_Radiant Tale_**... The throughline is that they're all about drama performers and in Radiant Tale's case, the circus! These are high up on my list of games I want to play but because they are kind of thematically similar I'll probably switch between them and some of the historical games. I don't have time to play all the games before something new comes out that I want to play! We're in the golden age of otomes!

[“Sex, Lies, and JPEG Guys (Otome Thread * \u0a48\u2661\u2027\u208a\u02da)”,“Sex, Lies, and JPEG Guys (Otome Thread \u4e59\u5973\u30b2\u30fc\u30e0 * \u0a48\u2661\u2027\u208a\u02da)”]

Great intro post in this thread and extremely good thread title. I wish I liked Otome games more than I do, because I love romancin’ in a game.

I really appreciate the parallels with a lot of classic shoujo manga, which is that while it’s pretty and often dismissed as “for girls” there are sudden spins into violence and darkness. I like that this is not always just the bad end but sometimes can just be the true end to a characters route as you have figured out who they really are. I just wish there were more otomes available that explore more adult themes and perspectives, or routes that go beyond “you finally kiss and are together forever”. Maybe there are more diverse examples out there I just haven’t encountered because it’s a niche genre I haven’t spent a tons of time researching. I guess also a lot of the niche-within-a-niche genres games don’t get translated.

I really struggle with the bland nature of a lot of the MCs, which I guess is part of the fantasy so people can project themselves onto but I enjoy when they have a bit more agency and character.
This is something not necessarily unique to otomes because I feel like a lot of the dating sims and BL games I have played have the same issue.
Collar x Malice does a good job of creating a MC who has her own motivations and convictions, and I would strongly recommend it to anyone interested in exploring the genre. Nightshade is also good although I got burnt out on it before I finished all the routes.

I acknowledge that the above criticisms are also staple tropes of the genre and a lot of fans love them, so maybe they are games that just aren’t fully for me.

I did really like the point made in the initial post about how so much time in otomes is about the MC self reflecting which I do think is unique and interesting. More than most other games, you go through someone’s inner monologue about mundane things like work or school when they are not necessarily points that drive the plot forward, or as the player you mechanically interact with.

Hatoful Boyfriend is probably my #1 otome, because while a parody it functionally is actually still a really solid otome with diverse routes. Especially the last route, which is WILD and completely unexpected.

Dandelion is goofy as hell and worth a look into also, but maybe more so for people who already enjoy the genre.

@“Tradegood”#p127024 ok so I ended up picking up Cupid Parasite because I felt like playing a romance visual novel again and it’s pretty enjoyable so far! The pacing is good and humour is cute. I’ll report back post completing some routes! Even though it’s a completely different story it kind of scratches the Ranma 1/2 itch

As a vn fan I haven‘t played too many otome, but I am very interested in them.

I’d really like to get into Piofore, I played a little bit awhile ago and really enjoyed it.

I also did large part of a route on Amnesia: Memories and really like it but also found it a little annoying? The male characters are all pretty blatantly toxic.

I played Sweet Fuse back in 2009 or so when I was still pretty new to the vn genre and really loved it.

At the time I think I was slightly concerned about the implications of a straight man being so into an otome, but that was dumb and it didn‘t stop me from finishing it.

It also helps that I’m a huge sucker for the death game genre.


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@“Lunar”#p129309 I’ll report back post completing some routes!

Please do!!! Would love to hear which routes you like!

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@“mtvcribs”#p129315 I also did large part of a route on Amnesia: Memories and really like it but also found it a little annoying? The male characters are all pretty blatantly toxic.

oh gosh, Amnesia: Memories was the first Otome I ever played... and I did NOT enjoy it. It throws you right into the fire with Toma, I was so naive and didn't know what to expect when I started the game. He is super toxic and frankly the whole thing made me feel so gross while playing. It was made worse in that I didn't know what my decisions were affecting so I ended up locked up in a cage and it kept getting worse and worse. I don't really like yandere or abusive or controlling characters (I'll stick to my bubbly genki himbos) so it's a miracle I even went on to play Hakuoki afterward, which I adored.

There is a type of player who lives for that kind of thing, but it's not part of every otome. If you found it compelling, definitely agree that Piofiore would be a good one for you to get into.

@“Tradegood”#p129362 Ah yeah, I‘ve only done Kent’s route and he seems much more tame.

I think what kept me going most of the time was the art, the backgrounds in particular are very striking.

I feel like every month there are otome being released on switch that all look so beautiful and I want to play them all.

I bought Lover Pretend because of this thread, and I likely won‘t jump into it for awhile, but I’m very excited for when I do; thanks to @Tradegood's description