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Games for Girls

Heidi Kemps | 8 Dec 2011 09:00
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Otome games are primarily recognizable by their romantic elements. You, playing the role of the female lead, take the initiative in interactions with numerous exceptionally handsome male characters in order to try to win affection from them - be it in order to earn their loyalty or assistance in combat or political matters, or to win over their hearts as a romantic conquest. Otome games typically take elements from many different genres - strategy, role-playing, multiple-choice adventure games, and management simulations, among others - though the romance element is the most pronounced aspect of the title. Settings, thematic elements, and gameplay vary from title to title: Alice in the Country of Hearts is a fantasy visual novel based on characters and settings of Lewis Carroll's classic, while Namco-Bandai's infamous DS title Duel Love features mini-games that let you care for members of a high school's boxing club in steamy encounters (literally - you get to help the guys bathe). The games tend to be quite text-heavy, as most of the interactions with the characters are carried out through dialogue exchanges, and since they feature large casts of potential love interests, they also tend to carry branching storylines and multiple endings. Many otome games also feature extensive voice-overs by well-known Japanese voice actors. Depending on the game and its platform, the level of romantic activity involved can vary from chaste to quite explicit - some of the PC games depict actual sex, while the console offerings will do little more than a suggestive fade to black.

DS title Duel Love features mini-games that let you care for members of a high school's boxing club in steamy encounters (literally - you get to help the guys bathe).

The genre's impact has been such that many mainstream Japanese titles, several of which are commercially available in English, have also introduced otome game elements into them. Persona 3 Portable features a choice between a male and female lead character, and offers the potential to engage in a romantic relationship with some of the male characters during socialization sequences. Avalon Code is an action/RPG with a similar choice between a male and female lead, and allows the female player character to form a romantic bond with the male NPCs. The heavily shoujo-manga influenced rhythm game Princess Debut has the player taking the role of a young girl learning to dance to impress one of several potential prince mates.

The market for otome games isn't quite as huge as for genres like RPGs and action games that are geared towards a more broad demographic, but the fans of these games are fiercely devoted and loyal to their favorite series and characters, and are quite willing to purchase games and spinoffs across multiple platforms. Tokimeki Memorial Girl's Side, an otome spinoff of the male-oriented Tokimeki Memorial date sim series, has largely eclipsed its progenitor in terms of ongoing popularity, with the core series largely forgotten in favor of the now far more profitable female-oriented edition. Even Sega's massively popular Sakura Wars franchise is changing its image to appeal to women. The latest Sakura Wars multimedia project is Sakura Wars Kanadegumi, where a female protagonist finds herself amongst a secret demon-fighting army consisting of attractive men. The Kanadegumi spinoff is a collaboration with popular manga magazine Hana to Yume, and a comic preview introducing the characters and setting has already begun publication.

Merchandising is also a big business for otome games - a successful title will often spawn manga and anime adaptations, figures, music and drama CDs, even clothing and accessories. (Some of these are the primary means by which Western fans experience otome games - both Haruka: Beyond the Stream of Time and La Corda D'Oro have had their manga adaptations published in English by Viz Media, while Sentai Filmworks sells DVD sets of the Neo Angelique and La Corda D'Oro anime adaptations.) It's a viable enough genre that entire companies like QuinRose can subsist strictly on their successful titles.

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