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An otome game (乙女ゲーム otome gēmu?, lit. "girl game") is a story based video game that is targeted towards a female market. Generally one of the goals, besides the main plot goal, is to develop a romantic relationship between the female player character and one of several male, or occasionally female characters. This genre is most established in Japan, and is mostly made up of visual novels and simulation games (particularly dating sims). As of 2013, the most representative otome game title available in English is Hakuoki: Demon of the Fleeting Blossom for the PSP and 3DS.
The first otome game is generally acknowledged to be Angelique, released in 1994 by Koei in Japan for the Super Famicom, and created by an all-female team. The game was originally targeted to pre-teen and younger teenage girls, but became unexpectedly popular with older teenagers and women in their 20s. Angelique is credited with "set[ing] up the speciﬁcs and conventions of women’s games: a focus on romance, easy controls and utilizing other multimedia." In 2002, Konami released its very successful Tokimeki Memorial Girl's Side, which brought many new fans to the still-new genre. In 2006, Famitsu's listings for the Top 20 selling love games included seven otome games. Early games borrowed heavily from the iconography and story conventions of "retro shoujo manga", "the archetypical girly heroines, the emphasis on pure, sexless, tranquil romance and on a peaceful, stable setting", but as the category expanded, other narrative and gameplay elements were introduced, including action/adventure, combat and plots in which "the heroine can ‘save the world’ and ‘get the guy’ at the same time".
McKenzie & Co (1995) from American Laser Games and Girl's Club (1992) from Philips Interactive were simulation games for girls developed and released in the US in the past. The first Japanese otome game to be officially translated and sold in English was the visual novel Yo-Jin-Bo in 2006 for the PC. Since then there have been a small handful of releases increasing each year, including Hakuoki: Demon of the Fleeting Blossom for the PSP and 3DS, as well as the Shall We Date? series for iPhone.
The genre has many style elements in common with shōjo and josei manga, and plotwise they are often similar to harem manga. There are also games targeted towards women that are focused on romance between men, called boys' love games (ボーイズラブゲーム bōizu rabu gēmu?), and sometimes there are Boys' Love elements in otome games, but the two genres are usually kept separate.
Otome games released on console and handheld platforms contain no pornographic content, as companies such as Sony and Nintendo do not allow it. There are games released on a PC platform which are rated 18+ for their sexual content. Some games (such as Dessert Love), were originally released for the PC with pornographic content, and were later toned down and re-released for the PS2.
Traditionally, the goal of these games is to have the desired partner fall in love and have a relationship with the player character, but the requirements for gaining a "good end" differ from game to game. While the plots of otome games differ greatly, there is usually a single female main character, and several good-looking males of varying "types".
Gameplay does occasionally not particularly focus on romance, even if there are several characters whose "routes" you can follow. A notable example of this would be games by the company Rejet, such as Diabolik Lovers or Black Wolves Saga -Bloody Nightmare-.
In the visual novel examples of the genre, the player proceeds in the story by selecting dialogue or action choices which affect their relationships in a decision tree format. In simulation otome games, there is also other gameplay which affects the plot, either by playing minigames or by raising stats. The main character (the player) often has several parameters, such as looks, style, intelligence, talent, etc., that can be raised through various activities in normal gameplay. The potential partners usually require a certain parameter or parameters to be at a certain level for them to fall in love with you. There is also often a pure dating aspect of gameplay in simulations. This involves asking or being asked on dates by the love interest, doing an activity with them, and responding to their questions or comments. The player has a choice of responses, and a correct answer will raise your standing with that character.
One feature of otome games that has become common is "full voice" (フルボイス furu boisu?), or having voice acting throughout the game, not only at major plot points. The love interests are often voiced by well-known voice actors, and sometimes having well-known voices takes precedence in the development (and budgeting) stage over interesting characters, polished graphics, or an engaging plot. This is more prevalent in console games (for PlayStation 2 and Wii) and is still rare in handheld games (for Nintendo DS and PlayStation Portable). At certain points, or when the player passes certain requirements, special events can occur, often with a "CG" (computer graphic) as a reward. This CG is a set picture featuring the love interest and sometimes the main character in a pose, and some dialogue.
Links with other media
Otome games have strong links with shōjo manga, with popular titles often spawning a manga series (e.g. Neo Angelique and Meine Liebe), and popular manga series getting adapted to videogames (such as Nana). Some examples of simultaneous releases of a manga and otome game also exist such as Angelique and Full House Kiss. It's also common to find doujinshi featuring popular characters from otome games.
Notable commercial otome games
- Alice in the Country of Hearts (series)
- Amnesia (series)
- Angelique (series)
- Arabians Lost: The Engagement on Desert
- Brothers Conflict
- Café 0 ~The Drowned Mermaid~ (English/German/Japanese)
- Date Warp (English)
- Diabolik Lovers
- Duel Love
- Fatal Hearts (English)
- The Flower Shop (English)
- Full House Kiss (series)
- Girl's Club (English)
- Glass no Mori
- Hakuōki (series)
- Harukanaru Toki no Naka de (series)
- Heileen (English)
- Hiiro no Kakera (series)
- Houkago no Love Beat
- Kaitou Apricot (series)
- Kiniro no Corda (La Corda d'Oro) (series)
- La storia della Arcana Famiglia
- Magical Diary (English)
- Meine Liebe
- McKenzie & Co
- My Candy Love (English/French/others)
- Otometeki Koi Kakumei Love Revo!!
- Palais de Reine
- Princess Battles (English/German)
- Princess Debut (English/Japanese)
- The Royal Trap (English)
- Starry Sky (series)
- Tokimeki Memorial Girl's Side (series)
- Uta no Prince-sama (series)
- Ururun Quest: Koiyuuki
- Yo-Jin-Bo (English/Japanese)
- Your Memories Off: Girl's Style
- X-Note (English)
Notable independent otome games
Notable otome game developers and publishers
- Aksys Games
- D3 Publisher
- Hanako Games
- Idea Factory (Otomate)
- Koei (Neo-romance games)
- Quin Rose
- Winter Wolves
- Zeiva Inc
- Spencer (11 July 2011). "On Bringing Hakuoki: Demon Of The Fleeting Blossom Overseas". Siliconera. Retrieved 5 May 2013.
- Kim, Hyeshin (2009). "Women’s Games in Japan: Gendered Identity and Narrative Construction". Theory, Culture & Society (SAGE Publications) 26 (2-3): 165–188. ISSN 0263-2764.
- GxB English-language games on the Ren'Ai Archives: original free English-language visual novels with female protagonists pursuing male characters
- B's Log: Monthly Japanese language magazine focusing on female-targeted games (mostly otome and BL)
- Dengeki Girl's Style: Japanese language magazine about female-targeted games released in even months (mostly otome and BL)