I played three otome/dating games simultaneously

The last three days have been a strange blur as I lead my everyday life trying to finish my Asian Law and Legal Systems assignment and my triple lives in the digital world, attempting to court a total of 26 different digitally simulated men. An otome game literally means “girl game” and is part of the larger subset of simulation games made popular in Japan. Although visual novel/simulation games exist for almost every genre, the otome style typically has the main goal of developing a romantic relationship between the female character and one of several love interests (usually all males, occasionally females). I was surprised to learn how many there were in the Apple app store (I peruse the Malaysian version), less surprised that they were all poorly designed, “in-app purchases” cash cows thinly veiled in moe avatars and your stock standard bishounen. Despite this, a combination of curiosity and the need to procrastinate led me to download not one but three different games all from different developers to better understand why these games make girls’ hearts go doki doki. This is all purely for research purposes of course.

The Cinderella Contract [Free Dating Sim] 

by Arith-metic

Description

Hot princes offer you marriage contracts. Secret love game begins!

You, a linguistically gifted correspondent, go with a client to a party filled with foreign socialites. Wait, are those hot socialites also princes!? These gorgeous guys clamor around poor, disoriented you. You let a prince escort you the rest of the evening, which passes like a dream. Then, the next day… You’re about to fly back home, when you get caught up in an investigation! Coming to your rescue is a prince from last night…!? And what’s more, he demands that you enter a contract marriage with him as thanks… You can’t turn down his command! Will you find true love at the end of the aisle? Or will you find…

Overview

The Cinderella Contract was the first one on my App store search that actually had some star ratings, this was what prompted me to download it in a never-ending iPhone scroll of prince themed visual novels. The thing to first understand is that because these are all usually English ports of their Japanese counterparts, the language is usually quite terrible. The game begins with a tutorial scenario that basically introduces you to all the princes of these bizarre countries that sound slightly Eastern European and by the end of it, you get to choose which handsome heir to the throne you want to pursue for the rest of the plot. I was a little disappointed when I heard I only got to focus on one character as I was hoping to whore my way around the block as I do in all of my Harvest Moon games. I later discovered though that there is a competing love interest in all five of the scenarios so that slightly makes up for it, except the one where it’s a father-son rivalry for your affections, which was kind of weird.

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I end of picking Asena because he was the only one who wasn’t a prince and seemed like a nice guy for all the twenty-ish minutes I got to know him tapping around on my phone. Once the tutorial is over it becomes exceedingly apparent that you’re going to have to make some hefty in-app purchases if you want to actually advance in the game for more than 10 minutes each play. This is because you are allotted five story tickets per day which are only refreshed at 4 am Japan time and each ticket gives you about five dialogue exchanges max. Adjacent to the story component are also these weird mini games called love trials that can only be accomplished if you undertake love lessons (where they set you up with another player and the one with the best ‘Charm’ stats wins). As your character runs out of stamina really quickly, the only way you can fulfil the mini game criteria and progress to the next chapter is if you slowly grind your way through them by playing them every couple hours or if you buy items that will make you look more ‘Elegant’. It’s actually quite thankful that the grinding option even exists as I found out in one of the later games that I absolutely couldn’t go past a certain point without actually paying for an item.

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Playing games against other avatar reveals that everyone is as cheap as you too because they’re all wearing the standard white dress that kind of look like 16th century English undergarments, and a bizarre array of ‘Dark Devil’ and ‘Cute Angel’ items that come from the free first gatcha spin you get at the beginning. Just like the items to beat the love lessons, all avatar clothing needs to be purchased. At the moment my character is currently part of Asena’s harem (don’t ask) and is his soon-to-be wife except the rival Iruka (misspelled Aruka at certain points of the game, go figure) keeps getting in the way. All in all, it’s your typical prudish good guy, flirty bad boy and unable-to-make-a-decision-or-have-any-body-contact-with-a-guy damsel in distress love triangle.

Shall we date?: Destiny Ninja

by NTT Solmare

ninja

Description

Have you ever had a romance with a Ninja?

Engage in battles with the survival of the ninjas hanging in the balance, seek out and conquer true romance, and achieve success in both love and adventure! Shall we date?: Destiny Ninja is a popular novel type dating simulation game set in an era of Genpei in Japan. In the middle of war… A Ninja appeared in front of me after you lost my memories You have since being put in the midst of the Genpei war and forbidden romance… A romantic adventure life with handsome ninjas and hidden feelings of love… Who is your Destiny Ninja ?

Overview

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Apply your Ribbon NOW! No need to apply Ribbons. Collected Ribbons will be automatically counted

I must confess I didn’t get very far with this game because of the aforementioned purchase road block. I’m also starting to question if all of these app development companies truly are distinct and separate entities as I’m hit each time with the same weird format of having eight different clickable menu options (one being the menu itself), the same grammatical errors, annoying grinds, unabashed ad pop-ups and the overall cheap love hotel design.

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“In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you, Kasemasa” – Pride & Preju-desu

For some reason there are a ridiculous number of hunky ninja men to choose from. I am overwhelmed and hit with the paradox of choice, so I message Gabriel to help me pick my one true shinobi love. He didn’t get back to me quite promptly enough (I’m an eager woman after running out of Cinderella tickets) so I pick Kasemasa because I like the colour green. As it turns out he’s a big mistake because he’s the most hissy, tsundere character I’ve ever come across. It’s enough to render him unlikeable so I suppose it’s a good thing that I wasn’t able to play much further. As with Cinderella, you only have a specific amount of story tickets (or camellia rice cakes as the counter is in this game).

My Forged Wedding

by Voltage Inc

Description

“For just one month… please, pretend that we’re married.”

A sudden proposal to enter a fake marriage. Pretending to be newlyweds started out as a dreadful task, but as you spend each day together, you slowly become drawn to his charm. Will what started as a lie turn out to be true love?

Overview

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The premise of the story is that your character basically got dumped 5 minutes before her parents are meant to meet her fiancé. You’re in a bar with six guys and after briefly getting to know them, you get to decide which one comes to your rescue and pretends to be the guy you’re marrying. Except you kind of have to marry him now since your parents think he’s it.

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I am okay with the zany K-drama plot of a marriage with someone you only just met five minutes ago, I just came from a ninja orgy after all. What really weirded me out was that the game offers your uncle as one of your love interests. Despite the fact that your parents know him and literally just said hi to him five minutes ago, this ridiculous plot of changing clothes actually works because when he enters the scene dressed differently your parents are none the wiser.

I end up resetting the game and switching out my story to one of the other characters, Saeki the script-writer. Different to Asena, Saeki is kind of flirty and lives up to the celebrity playboy ala Iron Man role with a hidden soft spot. The rest of the game plays very similar to Cinderella albeit a lot slower with the supporting characters playing to the usual annoying stereotypes – cue beautiful and conniving passive-aggressive actresses that have a ‘close’ relationship with your husband. Never have I wanted to beat my iPhone more than while playing this game. One bonus I discovered while playing this game though is the option for side quests that take up zero tickets to play. It has no relevance to the main plot but makes for easier grinding and gives you something to do when you’ve run out of everything else.

For all the faults in these games that I’ve pointed out and made a mockery of in this post, the fact is that I’m still playing them. Realistically, it’s probably a blessing that so many functions of the game require in-app purchases otherwise I might be at this all day because like all of our soap operas (both Western and Eastern), the romance genre is scarily addictive. If you can look past all the silliness of ninjas, Japanese-named European princes with harems and incestual undertones, there are glimpses of impressive story elements and the manga-style characters are undoubtedly well drawn. Otome games might be discriminated against for its overuse of typical drama tropes and also for just being an inherently odd type of game, but there’s a huge resemblance between these games and choose your own adventure novels which certainly aren’t a new invention. Both utilise an almost breaking of the fourth wall which makes for a more involved and immerse gaming experience. What was truly the most eye-opening part of it all is that these visual novels are a largely untapped vessel for storytelling. As a critique on the typical ‘plain Jane protagonist that’s constantly being whisked away by handsome, rich men’ plot I suppose that’s more a comment on the submissive female stereotype that plagues Asian countries like Japan. But even in the Western world, it’s a proven formula that has sold for as long as erotic novels has been around, think good ol’ Fifty Shades. But with today’s modern advancements and acceptance for non-traditional gender roles, if they already have meat acceptance, disability fetish and pseudo-beastiality love games, it’s surely not asking too for stronger more opinionated female characters that call the shots against the imba male characters.

Lastly just to clarify, this is totally satire. I swear I’m really not that invested in these games. Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s almost 4 am in Japan.

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samanthawxlow

9 Comments

  1. I actually played my forged wedding and I hate to say that actually enjoyed it during the time that I played it. I never actually got through all the choices and it’s mostly because of like you said the money. The stories weren’t super expensive but I did hate paying for them. Plus they weren’t super long.

    • It’s actually crazy that so many people have played these games! I got a couple of comments on Facebook from other girls who fell in love with these iPhone games. It’s definitely a guilty pleasure, even though I find so many things at fault with it I’m still playing! Who did you pick? I don’t think I’ll have the patience to play through all the stories to be honest. I really don’t like the in-app purchases system, it makes it hard to keep track of how much you’ve spent. It’d be cool if they made one entire story free while the rest could be paid?

      • I know!!! They are actually quite strangely addicting when you first start playing it because you want to know what it going to happen next. In my forged wedding I actually chose Takao, Saeki, Yuta, Ren, Kunihiko, and Yamato. I didn’t get to the last 2 because they were pretty new and all of the other guys had like 3 chapters now. But I just couldn’t keep up so I ended up just forgetting about it. I ended up deleting the game so I wouldn’t spend so much money haha.

  2. I am playing three games at one right now as well – as research for sociology class. Glad to see I am not the only one who is still playing while simultaneously wanting the throw my phone out an open window…of an airplane. I enjoy certain aspects and my competitive nature requires me to get as far as I can in story before quitting. However, the most disturbing scene I have come across so far is the one where the game insisted that I not only forgive my would-be rapist, but find him charming at the same time.

    • Hey sorry for the late reply! The whole concept of otome games is just fascinating, let alone looking at each individual game and how ridiculous they are. Vice recently wrote an article about them too, you should check it out. I actually had a lot of critical comments on Facebook in defence of Male Protagonist X so the fan loyalty to each individual character is quite uh, interesting also.

  3. I found very similar games on the Kindle I own. They were both free and had mostly 4.5 to 5 star rankings. The first I looked into was Royal Midnight Kiss the second was My Sweet Proposal. Both of the games are VERY similar to how you described, tickets reset at 4:00 Japan time, the grinding through etc. What puzzles me the most about the games is that the don’t seem like they would be that popular, but if people are anything like me the sole reason you bought it was because you were utterly bored saw it out of the corner of your eye, and because you are forever single, decided to check it out. Now you’re addicted to a game about how you’re going to get the “man of your dreams” to propose to you.

    • Since I wrote this I actually found some paid apps that have much better play-ability compared to the ridiculous grinding of the ‘free’ ones. They actually play like a visual novel (no grammatical errors, better drawing, better storyline) compared to these ones which seem haphazardly put together to extort money from you. I can send you some recommendations if you want (I mean if you have to burn time, at least burn it well) though note that I haven’t played these in about a year.

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