Il Fado de Rie, a fallen angel from a science fiction version of Heaven, is probably the best character in Café Enchante. He’s soft spoken and sort of helpless, with other characters comparing him to a tiny bird they want to protect, but he has intellectual depth that pops up from time to time. Il’s largest defining personality trait is that he is really into otome games, which are young girl (range tends to go from middle school to college) oriented visual novels. In probably the closest thing to a self-insert character, I immediately identified with Il, as I am also a grown man who plays otome games. Like Il, I have character merchandise of the men from these games (usually small things, because a lot of otome game merch are cheap or impractical, like note pads or cellphone chargers), and while I don’t have the access to go to park events or pop-up cafes (themed restaurants that have entrees and drinks that represent characters from video games or anime), I can still understand why Il wanted to buy ten crepes because each one came with a collectable coaster. Hell, my current PSN avatar is of the cat doctor Kageyuki Shiraishi from Collar X Malice.
I want to make an admission that when I discuss otome games, I am exclusively referring to the output of Otomate, a branch of Idea Factory. As this continues, my snobbery will increase, but an example of such smugness is how I will not play a mobile otome game. I find them sort of cheap and I get really picky about their art.
What do I get out of otome games and what do I think other people could get out of them? To start, I’ve been reading shojo manga and watching shojo anime for many years, and while that has shifted to reading more Josei manga, targeted at an older audience (it better fits my age range), I still consider myself a shojo liker. I tend to go to shojo for drama or comedy, and that’s also what I try to get out of otome games. I want to see pretty men (and depending on the skill of the artist, pretty women) have adventures, like escaping a locked theme park or defeating an international terrorist cell. Otome games are about one female protagonist being presented with four-to-five different romantic interests and, based on what type of person the player is, dates them in a preferred order. Il loves otome games because they introduced him to the human concept of love between two people. I, on the other hand, zone out during the romantic aspects of the narratives, because I find much of it very selective.
Humor in video games often feels hit or miss. Like most fiction, humor shows up at least occasionally in all kinds of games. For example, the Uncharted games try and fail at humor by thinking that having each of their characters quip back and forth (or even to themselves) is funny and endearing. Possibly worse is when you have games, like the otherwise enjoyable Guacamelee!, where a lot of its humor was using super dated (even at the time) internet reaction memes. There are parody games, but parody can only go so far. Honestly, outside of Okage: Shadow King and its humor centered on how goofy a lot of JRPGs plots are, the only other true comedy game I can think of is the visual novel Pizza Game.
Developed mostly by writer and programmer Plasterbrain, with help by her brother JelloApocalypse who designed the characters and directed the voice acting, Pizza Game is described by Plasterbrain as “a shit-post game, but a fully sustainable shit-post game”. Basically, what if someone made a full-length nonsensical otome visual novel, with none of the nonsense of games like the hour-long KFC dating sim? Pizza Game prides itself on its intentionally misspelled sentences and its parade of pretty unpleasant smoochable men. From the top, there is passive aggressive coffee shop owner with a dark past named Chris, rude tech billionaire who is almost definitely a serial killer named Mr. Arimnaes, an ironic and twisted skater named Warped Lamp, a bland but otherwise harmless pizza shop owner named Keenarnor, and whatever the hell Sensei is.
I like to test different game genres whenever I can, with the only caveat being most of the genre’s not part of my mainstays: RPGs, Action, FPSs, and Adventure, tend to thrive on ramped up player challenges. For example, dungeon crawlers and especially their masochist off-shoot brother (little sister?) roguelikes; are difficult because of features like permanent death and random enemy wave spikes that; intimidate me far more than the looking at any monster at the end of a cave hallway. Hell, the recent Etrian Odyssey 4 with its rocking soundtrack had a casual mild mode specifically made for people like me. I am also dreadful at strategy games; owning almost every post GBA Advance Wars game but have yet to beat even one. Visual Novels on the other hand, specifically the young women-targeted otome games, focus less on the skill and execution. How about I start with the most recently popular one, 2008’s Hakuoki: Demon of the Fleeting Blossom?
Hakuoki, developed by Idea Factory and released in the U.S. by Aksys Games, is a huge franchise in Japan branching into both manga and anime adaptions from its original Play Station 2 release. Like a big fish in a small pond, Hakuoki’s has a swath of ports, Play Station 3, PSP, DS, 3DS, to its various amounts of cell-phone charms and wall scroll merchandise, painting the series as a samurai-filled media juggernaut. Fitting I guess, since Hakuoki is marketed as the first big example of an American release of an otome game.