Above all else, this blog is about being honest — so I have a confession to make: I’ve been in a bit of a blogging rut lately. I live with depression and, lately, it’s been like pulling teeth to get myself to write blog posts for work, let alone for the fun of it.
However, one thing I always come back to when I am depressed is my comfort games: those games you download onto your phone and become absolutely obsessed with when you don’t have the energy to do anything else. For me, those are otome-style games.
While I’m not a gaming blog, and am definitely more of a casual gamer, this post is not entirely out of place given my interest in Japanese culture. In other words, this is yet another extension of my obsession with all things kawaii.
Otome games originated in Japan. The word “otome” is Japanese for “maiden game,” and refers to a story-based game where one of the main goals is to romance a character. Originally, they were geared at women, but they have since become popular with all genders, and many are LGBTQ+ friendly.
The otome style may have originated in Japan, but it has definitely become mainstream here in the United States. If you play Choices or Chapters, then you’re already deeply familiar with the otome concept.
The main difference between otome games developed in Japan and those developed in the United States is the artwork: Japanese otome games tend to resemble the anime style of drawing, while in the U.S., the artwork is more realistic.
If you, like me, aren’t much of a gamer but love a good book or manga, you’ll love otome games. Like Animal Crossing, the game takes little skill to learn and gets you deeply invested in the characters. And, like a good book, the story will pull you in and capitalize on your imagination.
Without further ado, here are five otome games you should check out (both American and Japanese) if you’re interested in exploring the genre for yourself.
1. Obey Me
Obey Me is hands-down my FAVORITE otome game for the iPhone. The premise for Obey Me is that you are an exchange student sent to live with seven brothers in the Devildom. The brothers are devils, while you are human. You are also there with three other exchange students, one of whom is human and two of whom are angels, as well as the Prince of the Devildom. Only the brothers are love interests in the game; of the other four main characters, one is a child and the other three are considered “undateables.” In Obey Me, you can play through the main story, as well as receive chats and phone calls from characters, read side stories, and participate in special events to earn prizes.
Obey Me seems strange and convoluted from the outside, and the story takes some pretty weird turns. But if you’re willing to suspend your sense of realism and get lost in the story, the characters are some of the most compelling you will find in any otome game. Unlike other otomes, you don’t have to choose a route in this game, meaning you can romance as many or as few of the seven brothers as you like. The other nice thing about this is that you don’t need to choose an LI at all, if that’s not something you’re interested in — as far as I can tell, you can skip all of the romantic choices.
Obey Me uses the gacha system, something you’ll find in many Japanese otome games and virtually no American otome games. In the gacha system, you earn randomized pulls from a batch of cards. These cards have ranks and rarity levels that help you beat other players (or, in the case of Obey Me, the computer). You need energy to participate in these battles — in Obey Me, they take the form of dance battles — which are required to progress through the game. That’s the one caveat to this game: it’s annoying to wait for your energy to recharge and hard to earn enough money to level up your cards!
2. Mystic Messenger
*This section has been updated as of June 2021.
I’m going back and editing this section….because I FINALLY played Mystic Messenger! The premise of the game is a bit confusing, but you’re essentially lured into a group chat with a bunch of random guys who invite you to join their secret party-planning association called RFA. Almost the whole game is told through chat, with a few visual novel scenes along the way. One thing I love about this game is that there is NO GACHA SYSTEM in Mystic Messenger! You can also progress through the main story without having to earn any type of in-game currency (though having currency, called hourglasses, definitely helps you binge-play).
Like most otome games, you wind up on a route with a particular character; however, instead of choosing your route, your route is chosen for you based on the number of hearts you have for each character. Hearts can be earned by choosing responses the characters like. There are at least six different characters, including one female, that can be romanced. So far, I have played the Yoosung Casual Story route and the Jumin Deep Story route….Jumin’s route is a bit twisted, but I can’t help but simp a cat daddy!
You can then unlock one of seven different endings (elaborate, right?!) based on your choices over the last 11 days. There are good endings, bad endings, and neutral endings — and you can replay as many times as you want to try to get the ending you’re looking for! My main complaints about the game are about the storytelling: even in Deep Story mode, each route only gives you bits and pieces of the whole picture. The game really gets you coming back for more, because you have to play every route to see the full story and learn all of the characters’ motivations.
3. Ikemen Series
The Ikemen games, created by developer Cybird, send you to different worlds and points in time to fall in love with one of the “Ikemen.” The phrase Ikemen is derived from the Japanese words for “good” and “men” and essentially means a good-looking guy. There are three main games in the Ikemen series (while I call them a series, you can play them in any order and they don’t relate to one another): Ikemen Vampire (“IkeVamp”), Ikemen Revolution (“IkeRev”), and Ikemen Sengoku (“IkeSen”).
Each of the Ikemen games uses the route structure, where you select a love interest after the introductory chapter. In IkeVamp, your love interest takes the form of a 19th-century vampire — but all the vampires in this game are based on historical characters, such as Napoleon Bonaparte and Leonardo DaVinci. In IkeSen, the characters are similarly historical, based on the Sengoku period in Japanese history. And, in IkeRev, the game takes place in the 19th century, but the love interests are members of one of two militias fighting in a dystopian version of Alice’s Wonderland.
Ikemen deserves props for its creative plotlines, which are definitely more elaborate than any I’ve seen in other Otome games. Like Obey Me, the Ikemen games all use the gacha system, though the cards play a less important role in these games than in Obey Me. You collect cards through the gacha and then use them in “Love Battles” to earn intimacy points. These points help you progress through the story: occasionally, you will need a certain number of intimacy points to get past a checkpoint. You may also need to battle to earn in-game currency, which is used to purchase clothing items for your avatar at avatar checkpoints.
Choices is the O.G. American otome game. We call them “visual novels” here in the United States, but the premise is the same: choose a love interest; make choices that impact the outcome of the story. In Choices, however, there is no one main plotline. Instead, there are many books — some of which are part of different series — that take place in different worlds. For example, in The Royal Romance series, you play an American waitress who is whisked away to the fictional land of Cordonia to compete for the hand of a prince. Or, in Open Heart, you play a resident doctor who falls in love with one of her coworkers.
Something that’s nice about Choices is that there are books for everyone. Not every book is romantic, either. There are even horror books, like the It Lives series, and fantasy books, like The Crown and the Flame. Some of these books have romantic plotlines, but the romance isn’t the main element. Others don’t feature any romance at all. You can also customize your character’s appearance, unlike in many of the Japanese otome games. Each game lets you choose a face for your character (meaning more racial diversity!) and a hairstyle. In some games, you can also choose your gender, playing as either male or female.
Choices deserves points for its efforts to broaden racial and gender diversity, especially since this doesn’t seem to be something Japanese otome games think about at all. However, it has come under scrutiny for making some questionable choices regarding race (such as its decision to almost kill off a BIPOC love interest, which was scrapped after protest from fans). If you’re interested in learning more about this drama, I highly suggest you scroll through the Choices Tumblr scene. A lot of people on there are much more knowledgeable than I am about these issues!
The other annoying thing about Choices is that if you don’t want to spend real-world cash, you’re limited in your options. You need story keys to progress to the next chapter, and these recharge every few hours (unless you pay to buy more — which, trust me, gets addicting — or opt for the VIP subscription, which gives you unlimited keys). You also need diamonds to unlock different outfits or premium choices, which unlock additional scenes. These scenes used to be treated more like bonuses, but in the newer books, you often need to make premium choices to even spend time with romanceable characters. Again, you can get around this with the $15/month VIP subscription, which gives you 10 gems a day and additional gem rewards for playing chapters.
5. Regency Love
Regency Love is special in that it is neither American nor Japanese: it was made by Australian indie devs, Tea for Three Studios. It also has incredible artwork with special art scenes. As the name suggests, the game takes place in the Regency period, transporting you to a Jane Austen novel where you are the heroine. You can’t customize your character’s appearance (in fact, she is never pictured) or gender, but you can earn different epilogue endings based on your choices throughout the series, which earn you points toward different personality traits (such as being “Amiable” or “Witty”) and accomplishments (like Riding, Embroidery, and Music).
In Regency Love, you play the daughter of a deceased gentleman whose mother is pushing her to get married and secure her future. The main game features three romanceable characters. One is a stoic older gentleman named Mr. Curtis, one is a bland but kindhearted gentleman named Mr. Digby, and one is the aloof Mr. Darcy of the series, named Mr. Ashcroft. (You may also choose not to marry at all.) If you choose to pay an additional $4, you can also unlock a fourth romanceable character named Mr. Graham; unlike the other love interests, he is a humble redcoat soldier staying in your town of Darlington. One of the best parts of Regency Love is that the storylines are well-developed with many opportunities to learn more about your love interest’s past, as well as ample conflict in the present.
Tea for Three Studios is currently planning a sequel to Regency Love, which I am ecstatic about! The sequel will improve on some of the weak points of the original, such as exploring queer storylines. They also plan to fill in some of the plot holes from the previous story — such as a mysterious letter revealed at the start of the story, which is never really explained, and an estranged older brother who, again, is never really explained.