Otome in the West
In February 2012 something amazing happened. Something that my fellow co-host, Aenne Schumann, and I were anticipating and very excited about; North America got its first significant otome game release in English.
If you are unfamiliar with the genre, otome (which translates to maiden) games originate in Japan and are targeted specifically towards women. The protagonist is usually female and some sort of romance aspect is typically a significant part of the game. In many cases there are one or more characters available for the player to woo (whether that be through dialogue choices or minigames) and depending on your in-game choices, result in different endings. Because of this, people tend to dub otome games as dating sims.
While otome games are ridiculously popular in Japan they haven’t quite taken root in the West. There are a few available as apps for mobile devices if you know where to look, including our favorite supernatural gamebook series Strange Loves, but nothing significant for consoles and handheld gaming systems. Some suggest that there isn’t really a market for that genre here and that localizing these types of games would be too risky and costly.
Well, in 2012 Aksys Games took a leap and released Hakuoki: Demon of the Fleeting Blossom for the PSP. Not only was it an otome game but it was also a visual novel, a popular form for these types of games. In terms of sales, the internet says it did pretty well. This is good news because if it hadn’t, I’m sure Aksys wouldn’t have pursued the genre any longer. And in all honesty, it looked like they were going in another direction when they announced Hakuoki: Warriors of the Shinsengumi (a game that Aenne was eagerly awaiting in last week’s Reset Transmission), although this time with less (no?) romance and more hack and slash.
Luckily, Aksys allowed us to release the breath we were all holding when they recently announced another visual novel; Sweet Fuse: At Your Side is coming this Summer for PSP (long live the PSP)! Not only is Sweet Fuse another otome game but it has other gameplay elements like “engaging puzzle mechanics, and numerous unique story segments” as boasted in the press release. I assure you that this will not be the last you hear of it as I will be promoting the hell out of this game so that it gets the attention it deserves.
If otome games became more available not only would I refrain from importing them from Japan for $70-120 a pop in a language I can’t even read, but it might save a lot of time, effort, and moral justification for the people out there involved in the translation, patching, and distribution of otome games in a legally blurred manner on the net.
But for games to do well, people need to know about them. Those of us who want to see this genre thrive need to do something about it. Rather than sit around wishing that more titles were being localized we need to inform people interested in this genre that there are options out there and create some awareness. To start, we need to talk about these games and make some noise about this genre. We need to support the games we do have available to us and the companies that make them, this includes paying for legitimate copies. We also need to reach out to these companies and give feedback in a respectful manner, which can be done through emails and forums.
Even though our reach might not be that far, we need to do our part to show game developers and publishers that yes, there is a demand for these types of games. If Aksys does well with this niche market, perhaps other companies will get on the otome train.