By Nicole Chapman – So here we are, 2017, with new years resolutions at the back of the subconscious mind. It’s that time of year when the average homosapian goes on a quest to better ourselves. I myself made a list of the usual generic new year plans and aims, which I’ve no doubt by mid 2017 I’ll have forgotten all about. There is however, one goal this year I have chosen to stick to religiously, my intention to try something new every week. But with winter showing little promise to depart I have still yet to conquer, my enthusiasm to leave the house and adventure is less than optimal, it’s left me having to delve into dark realms of the internet in order to find adventure. I did stumble upon a form of gaming I had yet to sample though last month, (surprising I know!!) Only 6 years ago the Japanese gaming trend of Eroge RPG dating sims was available to those in Japan or the lucky few who could reformat their gaming consoles to play the badly dubbed games imported from Asia itself. For those who are unsure of what I am talking about let me give you a quick run down.
Eroge is a Japanese word that umbrellas a whole range of anime based “romance” games, both suitable and aimed for men, women and pigeon alike (i’ll explain later!). Generally, the games tend to throw yourself into an uncomfortable new situation whereupon you meet a variety of the anime stereotype of characters, in which your choices along the storylines unfolding, will lead you to different romantic endings. Different games play slightly different with a variety of levels of explicit content and Fanservice (Fanservice is a word used in Asian culture to describe those completely pointless panty shots we all know and love thrown into various games, films and comics with no relevance to the storyline other than to amuse the fangirls and boys out there). The age of android phone has changed the game on Dating sims for the world around, and what a wonderful modern world we live in where suddenly all the schoolgirl crushes we could ever wish for have been delivered to our fingertips. Naturally, I was eager to play through a selection of the hundreds of Eroge games available on app stores today and give you a little run down of what is in store for the curious.
Before I continue I would like to put out a little disclaimer to the weak of heart and easily corrupted. Japan Is a wondrous country and by far one of my most influential places I aspire to one day visit, it’s brought us such amazing things as Square Enix, Pokemon, sushi and even the Tamagotchi. It’s a land of deep tradition and young geniuses, but with great power comes great responsibility and unfortunately it’s also the country that brought us tentacle rape, singing toilets and videos of women eating octopus alive… So as you expect when venturing into a highly Japanese influenced gaming world I was bound to find some unusual subject matters and well it would be entirely biased of myself to have not have included an accurate spectrum of the Otome gaming world. I apologise in advance if you are disturbed by any of the below content, curiosity killed the cat and well what can I say…” meow!”
I decided to start with a wonderful game high on a lot of Otome player lists If My Heart Had Wings. Free to download from app stores, this is a generic Eroge game directly from Japan itself where it was originally a graphic novel. The game starts with a beautifully written narrative, you are playing the part of Aoi, a lost young man, who’s returned to his hometown. What straight away struck me about this particular game was that most of your dating RPG focuses highly on dialect in which your choices influence the story. You get an awful lot of very beautifully drawn anime and a lot of narrative in the form of speech bubbles. I.M.H.H.W is visually stunning in itself, but what made it stand out for me is the addition of actual moving animation throughout its cut scenes as you watch the story unfold. Making the first person experience all the more immersive. At times it almost felt like I was watching an anime as oppose to playing.
With most of these types of games as I explained earlier Aoi meets a selection of female characters, upon arriving into a girls dormitory, (place where all female students with co-exist during school), naturally he walks in to find a scantily glad bubbly girl who is completely unaware of her state of undress (which in Japan is completely scandalous and farfetched). As the story unfolds you discover Aoi’s slightly inappropriate mother has enlisted him to work and live in the girl’s dormitory without any additional chaperone, a guys dream come true…. Once you get past the initial cheesy Japanese fantasy based set up, the story itself is really not given enough credit. Aoi meets a variety of girls, geeky, tomboy, bubbly but the real focus, should you chose to follow the storyline is a girl named Kotori who is wheelchair bound. The game deals with some rather sensitive issues on the subject of disability in a completely tasteful and wonderful way. Another weirdly unique twist to this game is the fact both Kotori and Aoi develop a fascination with Gliding, as in the aircraft type.
The game incorporates an awful lot of very informative content on the subject with everything from building a glider, aerodynamics and eventually the glider in flight. I myself usually would’ve had no interest in the subject had it not have been a beautifully composed way to deal with the issue of Kotori being wheelchair bound and the symbolism it carefully incorporates, but does not fixate on. I did notice one more thing about the game which I just had to research, as with a lot of Eroge games brought over to the UK and America, where it has its own large following now, the game was originally designed with a far more explicit content.
A lot of the original scenes and ending choices have been heavily edited, clearly, it’s assumed the western market cannot deal with our Romance stories ending in such levels of filth (let’s not discuss Game of Thrones or 50 shades here shall we?). Despite the editing the game is still well worth playing to the end and the suspense of the relationships hasn’t lost any of its appeal. I couldn’t help but chuckle when during a cut scene the camera angle points directly to a characters ample bosom in a less than obvious way, meanwhile the dialogue reads, something about her “big round ….eyes?”
Moving on from sweet and innocent to something a little less of the hearts and flowers variety. Over the last few years Vampires have come back into western culture in a large way (Even if they do sparkle). I found a game online from a large series of Otome games called Shall We Date? that peaked my interest. Shall We Date games are all more or less of a similar style of game play. They’re all free to download and play however the options of in game purchases is heavily hinted at throughout. Each holiday season has its own in game “event” offering additional purchases to decorate your customisable avatar outside of the base storyline.
To progress throughout the multi-directional game you must collect tokens ect of various types, each day giving you login in bonuses or a daily challenge. All very simple button clicking kind of tasks, however if you chose to play the game without making purchases it can be a slow painful progress. Of course the game is designed to tease and lead you to the brink of your seat desperate to read the storyline more, right before cutting you off and demand randsom of in game coin or real. But I particularly liked a game called Shall we date; Blood In Roses and the reasons are as follows. Firstly the storyline that progresses you throughout the game is actually wonderful despite the cliché romance. There’s a mystery and a dark fantasy like story that follows the game, that’s not all focused on which of the several rather tasty vamps you decide to chose. There’s a comical factor to the romance and actually at times has made me laugh out loud on the bus journeys in which I often partake this guilty pleasure!
You play a female character who ends up imprisoned as such in a vampire hotel, ran by two brothers competing for your attentions for a completely selfish reasons that the plot leads you to discover. You end up finding out that your the ancestor of some great and powerful witch, without too many plot spoilers it all unfolds into a rather good mystery. Being the masochist I am I opted to chose the sadistic brother with a very domineering mannerism to follow through the storyline with and have yet to be disappointed at the various volatile situations it has lead me too as I uncover the hidden softer side of the spiteful Alfred (I say all of the above very tongue in cheek). If a storyline is what you want from your Otome then the Shall We Date covers so many spectrums. Not just the gothic romance, Feudal japan, classic prince and princess storylines, modern day and so many more.
The artwork never fails to impress and the depth to characters to chose from, means there’s so many varied paths to take and crossroads so you could play the game for a year and still uncover more material. The main fault I do find with the game however is the fact that unless you are willing to pay continually to buy ‘tickets’ to unlock plot there is so much you will miss out on. I myself refuse to pay for certain games of this type being sceptical, therefore I’ve been stuck grinding the same quest to unlock the next ‘chapter’ for a month and its slow painful progress.
Next on my list to review and play was something I stumbled across online and could not refuse to download. Once again the game is free to get from your app store and if the content wasn’t so perverse i’d say it was aimed at a child audience. I introduce to you My Horse Prince, a dating game with several concerning factors. You play Umako, a somewhat clearly insane girl with real issues who decides to leave the big city and visit the countryside in search of a good looking guy. I have to point out at this point, as a country girl myself, this is Umako’s first mistake, the type of men you find in the countryside tend to smell like cows and have missing teeth. However, if this isn’t a bad enough life choice she visits a ranch whereupon immediately notices a fine specimen of a man, in the form of a racehorse.
This I can accept, many a female has fallen for the charms of a nice pedigree four legged horse and lived very satisfied lives after, the difference being though that the type of horse, equine women go for don’t have human faces and talk to you in a rather alarmingly suggestive tone! Now don’t get me wrong, I can accept that some people have all kinds of likes, mermaids, fairy’s, vampires as previously mentioned, I’m not adverse to the odd werewolf or even at a push I could accept a dating sim revolving around a centaur. This is none of the above, she literally buys a horse who only she can see, has in her opinion a rather attractive face. If this hasn’t screamed run to you yet, it gets weirder. The game play is child’s work I don’t exaggerate. You level your racehorse through training exercises by clicking randomly at the screen. Your horse even provides breakfast one morning by coming into the kitchen and chopping onions to level. And thus the romance continues, as your horse asks various questions throughout gameplay, whereupon you have to randomly select an answer and hope it pleases your pricked eared boyfriend.
I can only assume this game is a joke, created to grab an audience through sheer ridiculousness. The genius being that it creates a morbid fascination for the player, where you get encaptured in a very addictive thrawl of wanting to see just how far the game is willing to go with this love story between woman and horse. That is however all this game has to offer in my opinion.
So we’ve provided a very broad spectrum of what Japan has to offer to the western world of dating sims. I leave you finally with something again different but actually very playable. This game unfortunately isn’t free to download you pay to play it from the app store. However, in my opinion, is worth the small purchase price of £4.19. It’s pretty cooooooo, no that isn’t a typo. It’s a very popular dating game about a school of pigeons, called Hatoful Boyfriend. Originally for the PC gamer it’s now invaded the android and PS4 world too. You enter the game as the only human student in an all pigeon school, St. Pigeonnation’s Institute, where every birdie is dying to tweet you. Sorry i’ll stop now, honest.
The game literally drops you into a school environment where you meet various handsome pigeons. The game runs similar to most dating games, you attend lessons to level and progress storyline and chose a bird to romance along the way. For less than a fiver you can replay and date all manner of in-depth characters, birdie bikers, narcoleptic school instructers you name it they have it. Anything to pluck your fancy ( see what I did there?). Despite the additional fee there is options to buy pigeon food in game, to increase your chances with the lucky fellow of your choice. Despite the fact you probably think I’m a hypocrite for dissing a game with a horse as the main attraction, I actually consent to this game. There’s so much depth in the storylines surrounding these winged fellows that you find yourself starting as a bit of a laugh and ending up really enjoying the game and wanting to progress any alternative route you can follow.
I could go on forever listing the hundreds of Japanese dating games available to play, although I encourage yourself to go and find a game that appeals to you. It may well surprise you to find yourself half day into a dating game all about pigeons and realise you have to question your romantic interests. I’ve found that this type of game is a wonderful distraction for those pauses in your day between paying the gas bill or taking out the recycling. Why not put a little light hearted Japanese filth into your day? For now I will leave you to attend the many anime boyfriends I entertain daily on my phone and will return to write a new review as soon as the shock of this one has worn out!
lots of love
Niki your friendly neighbourhood nerd!