Here's the situation: You're a stereotypical teenage girl with a life consisting of stereotypical teenage girl activities, like going to school, shopping, and obsessively checking celebrity Twitter accounts. It's a pretty standard, humdrum existence until one fateful day when you find yourself whisked off to a strange land that looks like something out of your history books, only with a lot more glitter and splendor. Not long after, you get a veritable bombshell dropped on you: You're a chosen one tasked with protecting this unfamiliar world from unspeakable evil! But don't fret too much - you've got several male guardians to help you with your new duty to vanquish the vile scourge from the land.
It's not a huge stretch to say that Koei's Angelique was perhaps the first truly successful female-oriented game ever created.
Oh, one other important note - all of your guardians are incredible hotties. You know, maybe, just maybe, if you can figure out their complex personalities, discern what to say and do with them, and support them in their struggles, you'll earn something more than just their sworn fealty.
It's a fantasy scenario for many a young woman, but it's also the sort of plot you'll see in some of Japan's more popular otome (lit. "maiden") games - interactive, romantic adventures designed specifically with a female audience in mind. Although the genre has been steadily growing in popularity overseas for quite some time, otome games are now poised to become more visible to English speaking audiences than ever before.
It's not a huge stretch to say that Koei's Angelique was perhaps the first truly successful female-oriented game ever created. Angelique was released in Japan in 1994 for the Super Famicom platform, and was created by a predominantly female group of developers at Koei called Ruby Party, which wanted to design a title that they sincerely believed would hold particular appeal to the underserved female gaming audience. The result was widely considered to be the first otome game and the kickstarter for many titles to follow.
Angelique had a lot going for it: interesting simulation-style gameplay, a classic fantasy-realization story (train and compete to be a fantasy queen and protector of the universe alongside beautiful male aides), and some downright gorgeous guys designed and drawn by shoujo (girls') manga artist Yura Kairi. It might seem like a very risky title to produce to a Western onlooker, but Japan has a long and rich history of producing entertainment and art geared towards women - particularly in the fields of comics and animation. It would seem only natural, then, that gaming would be seen as another form of media that women consumers embrace.
It was a gamble that paid off - Angelique proved to be a massive hit, spawning numerous ports and sequels as well as a host of supplementary material that continues to be produced to this day. The response to the game proved so strong that Koei devoted a whole branch of their development team to making several Angelique-styled game series with different settings and gameplay elements.
What is it that classifies a game as an otome game? There are plenty of Japanese games with very devoted female fanbases, such as Sengoku Basara and Namco's Tales series, but they don't really fit the category. It might be easy to just say "a game made specifically for a female audience," but the actual answer is somewhat more complicated.