I love otome games so much. I’ve been playing them since my senior year of high school when barely any existed in the App Store on my phone (my first one was Voltage’s Pirates in Love and I’m not sure it still holds up, to be honest). Otome games or “maiden games” as Wikipedia tells me the term translates to are games made for women (unfortunately they are very much cis-hetero, although some allow women to date other women but still, they are mostly cis) that kind of remind me of romance novels. They are called visual novels or dating sims and they’re basically story games with choices you can make and multiple characters you can fall in love with, usually with stock personalities: the big-brother type (as in your friends older brother who you’ve had a crush on, not 1984), childhood friend, tsundere, childish guy no one takes seriously, etc., etc. Once you start playing, you’ll see the patterns. They’re a really good crash course in romance tropes, if you’re interested in that kind of thing, even if they’re a lot less useful in real life romance. They have one for pretty much every setting you could possibly be interested in seeing, which is actually pretty fun.
Anyways, I plan on reviewing and playing otome games sometimes because they’re technically stories and have the word “novel” in their descriptions. You’re almost always a Japanese woman (although sometimes you’re not, but very rarely), the character usually has pale skin and dark to light brown hair. Usually, they don’t show her eyes in the character stills for “immersion” even though it just looks creepy and doesn’t make me feel any more that the character is like me and she ranges from kind of useless (especially if it’s in an adventure setting) to sad to way too nice. But sometimes she’s okay. There’s still a lot of work that can be done on better characters and representation but they’re kind of a guilty pleasure for me. I will definitely say that they’re kind of problematic, especially with the way the main character is kind of irritating at times, but it really depends on which one you’re playing.
Anyways, if you want to start playing otome games, these are my recommendations for first time players or people who have played but are looking for more games to play that they might not have heard of.
001. Mystic Messenger (Cheritz Co., Ltd)
Price: Free (but in-app purchases allow you to buy hourglasses to progress through stories faster or play through chats you may have missed)
App Store Description: “Downloading a messenger will lead to chatting with hot guys!?” A new type of female-oriented mobile game that you can experience a love story through an interactive messaging app. Receive phone calls and texts depending on how intimate you become with the game characters!”
Favorite Story: Seven‘s is good but I would probably recommend it last. Jumin and Zen both have interesting stories with interesting possible endings.
Mystic Messenger is a weird choice to include first but it’s the most recent one that I’ve played. Its format is very different to most otome games because it takes place in the form of an app that allows you to talk to cute guys (and one girl) but it’s a story that involves way more than just falling in love. The character interactions are great and it’s full of suspense, mystery, romance, and there’s drama and this game made me cry. Technically, this game is Korean and not Japanese but it’s still a fun otome game and it comes up when you search otome games, so I’m counting it. You play by opening the app at specific times to chat with the characters over the course of your day. There are also in-game texts and voice acted in-game phone calls. For the most part, you can play for free, but if you don’t want to wait, you can buy hourglasses to speed things up. Like I said, this isn’t the normal format for an otome game, but it’s really fun and it’s definitely worth it. I loved this game and while it’s goofy and there are plot holes, this is a good choice, but maybe after you’ve played a couple first.
Note: Jaehee has a story you can play but it’s platonic. Unfortunately, you cannot date her.
002. My Forged Wedding (Voltage Inc.)
Price: Free prologue, but every story is $3.99, plus the prologues, second chapters, etc. The whole game is made of DLC, pretty much.
Favorite Story: I really like Ren (the quiet one) and Takao (the big brother type), but they’ve added a ton more characters since I’ve last played and I haven’t played them all. Will update you if anything changes.
App Store Description: 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 out as lie turn out to be true love?
My Forged Wedding is one of my favorite otome games. I don’t really like the fake relationship trope but I really do love this game. Basically, your “uncle” (who the game allows you to date in this story for some reason, I guess because he’s not your “real” uncle but you spend a lot of time calling him that, so…) owns a bar and he and his friends chill out there. In exchange for helping you get a job, you have to help one of his friends with something. Is your “uncle” pimping you out to his friends? Yes. Like I said, otome games are problematic. Anyways, you agree because you’re way too nice and you really need a job because even Japan’s economy isn’t doing too great these days and your uncle says these guys really need your help (some more than others). Depending on the guy you choose, you’re going to need to stay pretend married to them for different reasons: one needs you to pretend so that he can get married before his sick grandmother dies, one needs your help because he’s looking for inspiration for a show he’s writing about a married couple, one is a prince who doesn’t want to go back home yet for…reasons, one is looking for his father who abandoned his mom. Like I said, there are other guys added outside of the main five and the uncle’s story is kind of creepy, but this is definitely one that I’d recommend.
003. Be My Princess (Voltage Inc.)
Price: Same as MFW, prologue is free, but main character stories cost 3.99 a piece (although sometimes there are sales)
Favorite Story: I really like all of these ones for different reasons. Wilfred, Keith, and, Joshua are my personal favorites. Also, the mini-story where you can kind of date the butlers is really good.
App Store Description: You, a regular college student, run into a prince on a street corner.
You then get invited to a party, where you encounter the princes of six kingdoms, and suddenly find yourself closer to royalty than you ever expected!
What will be the fate of a love between you and a future king who carries the fate of his country?
Be My Princess is such a cute game and I was immediately reminded of it when I read that news article about how Prince Harry is going to hire interns or something. You’re a regular girl who gets to fall in love with one of six princes of six countries that are analogous for real places, even ones that don’t have royalty at all: Price Keith of Liberty (*cough* America), Prince Joshua of Leiben (if I remember correctly, which is definitely Germany), Prince Wilfred of fictional England, Prince Roberto of Altaria (which is fictional Italy, maybe), Prince Edward of fictional France, and Prince Glenn of fictional Japan. There are fancy parties and dinners and drinks and general awkwardness. Do you go to school? Sometimes. It really depends. Do you have any friends outside of your love interest? Not that I remember. Are you innocent and naive? Of course you are. But this game is cute and fun and if you’ve ever wanted to be a princess, it’s definitely worth it. I recommend it 100%.
004. In Your Arms Tonight (Voltage Inc.)
Price: Same as MFW, prologue and first chapter is free, but main character stories cost 3.99 a piece (although sometimes there are sales)
Favorite Story: I can’t remember names right now, but your pro soccer player ex-boyfriend is really good, your co-worker is cute, and the one with the art student who’s a bit younger than you is good.
App Store Description: It’s your third month of marriage. You were supposed to have reached the height of happiness at home and work, but this happiness crumbles when you witness your new husband engaged in an affair! In this state, gentle encouragement comes from the man you least expect…
So, In Your Arms Tonight is more adult than the other two Voltage games and deals with more serious stuff, like how to recover after an affair. The protagonist is significantly older, has her own job, and struggles to get herself back together after this devestating discovery. After this heartbreak, she finds herself being pursued by a number of men from her boss, her co-worker (who is so sweet, I adore him so much! Play this story!), and a number of other options. The story changes a bit depending on which one you choose, in some your character divorces her husband and moves out, in some, she tries to work things out but her hearts not really in it, etc., etc. This one didn’t make me cry but it did make me sort of emotional, so if you’re looking for something a bit more mature, then this is the one for you.