Storybooks and fairy tales for the digital age – Visual Novels and Otome Games
I have a huge soft spot for this genre. Mainly because I’ve always loved to read and I do really love a good romance story. Combine those two without one just being the backdrop for the other and you can make me happy for many many hours. So happy, that I though I would share a few recommendations. There is a lot of variety out there. There are games that focus purely on story telling, there are those that combine it with stat raising and there are purely text based ones that still have their charm. There is a very large amount of otome games and visual novels out there. Many of them not at all to my taste. Mainly because, as with romance novels, there are typical narrative things and tropes I despise that range from mildly insulting towards women to outright glorification of abuse and actual triggering content. But there are some I really like that don’t fall into those categories. So without further ado and in no special ranking here are some of my favourites: (for Amnesia:Memories go here since I already talked about that one and I’d like to remind people that Amnesia should really not be seen as a romance game but more of the horror survival game that it actually is 😉 )
*featured Image is from The Royal Trap
That was one of the first stat raising games with otome elements I played and I still love it. It has kind of a Harry Potter vibe (you are a new student in a magical school), several different romance interests, stat raising in the form of lesson plans, small challenges and some really great humour.) Not to mention the characters are very nicely written, both in their friendships and in their romances. There are boys and girls alike to romance and their personalities make for some very different story moments. You can go for high school sweetheart, best friends to lovers, dark and mysterious (and actually kinda dangerous) romance, fake marriage trope (though that one definitely falls under the category of more than just a bit problematic – but basically, if you were one of those teens that when reading Harry Potter dreamt about Snape turning out to eb an actual good person underneath this one might be the one for you) or simply sweet and plain romance. There is a lot of variety and I thoroughly enjoyed several replays. Additionally you actually get to customise your character visually. Very nicely done!
Nameless – The one thing you must recall
This one started out a bit peculiar – your main characters dolls turn into real people with a lot (and I mean A LOT) of character. But once I was over their strange premises the game really grabbed me. There are no stats, just story choices and boy can you mess things up. But the art is very professionally done, the music is really complimentary and the game is fully voiced. The voice acting is in Korean but the game is available in English with subtitles. (Very well translated ones from what I understood with my not yet fluid knowledge of Korean – the things I did understand on my own seemed to be translated very thoughtfully given the huge differences between how those two languages work.)
The story is one of the most intelligently weaved stories I’ve read in a visual novel with each route intertwining and influencing the other. All the main characters get an equal amount of attention and bring a side to the story you otherwise wouldn’t get. There are a few bad endings but it felt to me like it’s not as hard to reach a good one as for instance the last route of Amnesia:Memories was. Though when I did end up in one of the bad endings it actually broke my heart.
Cinders is one of the few western made visual novels I have played and I absolutely loved it. The romance isn’t the main focus but it is still an important part. It is a very different retelling of the Cinderella story with a wonderful twist that I, personally, would describe as ” a more feminist version” of the classic fairy tale. It has great writing, quite a few endings and very beautiful artwork. Again no stat raising, just story choices. The story is not going as deep as some other VNs are nor did I get as emotional about the characters, but overall it is a very nicely done game.
Long live the Queen
If you are especially fond of stat raising this is the game for you. You have an endless amount of options, and an equally endless amount of ways to horribly fail and die. The story is a bit secondary to the stat aspect at some points but is still cute and fun. The main goal of this game is literally: Manage to stay alive for about a year. That’s it. And the game does not make this easy. You have to really manage your stats, compromise your goals and try to find a way to make up for your weaknesses. And then you still have to be super smart about it. The worst case scenarios o from fall out of a window to ruin an entire kingdom and throw everyone into brutal war. But hey, no pressure! 😀
From the makers of Cinders, Solstice was their next game. And what a game it is! Purely story driven it comes with two protagonists, a man and a woman, one of them queer, both people of colour. Additionally it comes with en equally diverse cast and y mystery to solve that will keep you occupied. No one is entirely trustworthy, no one is completely good. Just like there is no one actually evil. In this game there is no evil, only circumstances according to the creator and it makes for a very interesting play. The romance aspects are very well written and go seamlessly into the story. Tension between the characters is what brings out a lot of great moments and insights – trying to please everyone instead of staying true to the character you are playing will hurt you rather than help you. It is, despite the mystery aspects, a very serene game – perfect for playing before going to bed for instance – if you can put it down at some point that is.
The Royal Trap
One thing in advance: I am aware of the discourse about the title. And while I think the title was not intended the way it was understood by many people AFTER playing the game I fully understand why it feels really uncomfortable. I still think the title refers to the tagline “Confines of the Crown” and is not necessarily meant to have a dual meaning I can see why it makes people upset. To go into any actual detail about this would be the hugest spoiler for the game there could be. Something that, despite unfortunate wording, is handled really well in the game. So don’t spoiler yourself, seriously!
That said: This is a brilliant game imo. The protagonist is charming and smart and not a damsel in distress. She is one of my favourite protagonists so far because she has actual character and is still relatable. She is the adviser to a prince who is also her childhood friend but she is responsible for avoiding diplomatic incidents and basically making sure he will make a decent ruler one day. Things happen, you have to solve some mysteries and as usual there are different paths, romances and friendships.
This game actually gave me an OT3 ending! And the different paths were all super interesting.
And of course a classic:
Hatoful Boyfriend is a parody game, going into every single bit of stereotype and trope you can think of in regards to both otome games and romance novels. And it does so pretty brilliantly. You play through different routes to unlock the one, true ending which is… basically a horror story. And it’s all with birds. Every single character in this game is a bird. Except for you. It sounds super weird? It is, but brilliantly so! This game is a lot of fun, especially if you’ve played a few other games and have become quite genre savy.
Unfinished and a bit different:
Guenevere is more of an actual novel than a visual novel. But with the added bonus of stats, relationships, different romances and completely different story developments. It reads a bit like those choose your own adventure books and is wonderfully written. It is not yet complete – the author is working on the second book at the moment. The first one alone is already totally worh reading/playing through though. You play Guenevere, the young future queen of England and start shortly before your wedding to Arthur. Whether you and Arthur fall in love, dislike each other or become best friends is up to you. You can also fall for Lancelot instead of course, or Morgana. And with them you basically have your main cast of characters. The four of you can develop wonderful friendships and adventures.
From the page: Guenevere is a character- and relationship-focused interactive novel, planned as a series of seven books. Book I (76,600 words) and the first half (117,200 words) of Book II are now available.
Seven Kingdoms The Princess Problem
Still in Demo mode but it is one of my favourite games out there. It comes with a very complex (but not overly complicated) story line, a wonderful cast of diverse characters, a lot of customisation of your own character, a ton of romances and a lot of secrets and political intrigue. You have to navigate a peace summit, trying to do some good for your country, perhaps fall in love AND not die. It’s a very nice combination of story and stat raising that comes with a challenge and a story mode – the story mode being very forgiving. The characters have in depth personalities and the relationships develop nicely. So far there is a Demo of the first 3 weeks (out of 7) out. The author is aiming for a release towards the end of the year but the Demo alone is very worth playing as it is longer than many complete Otome games are already. And, as someone who is testing the alpha version I can promise: It is a game that will be totally worth buying later on – the things to come are amazing.