I’ve written about the importance of representation in media quite a few times in the past, I even have a post series dedicated to talking about inclusion and diversity in nerd culture. Most recently, I wrote a post about diversity (or the lack there of) in otome games and after penning the post an indie developer friend of mine reached out to me about the topic. We had an awesome discussion about the depiction of people of color in visual novels and the importance of wholesome representation. She even gave me some insight into the difficulties some content creators have when crafting characters of color in their games, a perspective I hadn’t considered. I’ve seen quite a few polls and surveys floating around about the content of western otome games and visual novels, many of which have sections dedicated to gauging player interests in diverse characters.
I love that there is an open dialogue about diversity in games, especially in romance themed games since there is a noticeable disparity in the number of otome games that feature black and brown characters in major roles. However, I’ve heard through the grapevine that there are a handful of developers that have been saying that they don’t include darker skinned characters in their games because they “look bad” or aren’t as attractive as non black and brown characters. Some people have stated that it’s harder to create characters with darker complexions using the anime art style common in otome games… and hearing that is really heartbreaking. On some level, I feel like this is just a carryover of colorism, and the notion that dark skinned individuals are not as attractive as lighter skinned individuals (which is not the case at all). But, on other levels, it’s less an issue with darker characters looking bad and more a case of an artist needing more experience depicting characters of color.
There is a demand for more diverse games, heck, this past weekend someone used the search term ‘otome games black girl friendly’ to get to my site and I’m gonna be honest with you guys, it made my whole weekend! As more people start playing otome games (and romance visual novels) the demand for more inclusive characters and narratives will only rise and those who stay stuck in their ways are really limiting themselves. So, for the person that searched for black girl friendly otome games and for the folks that think “darker characters look bad” here are a few Melanin Friendly Otome Games and Visual Novels!!
XOXO Droplets – GB Patch
So, kicking of this list is GB Patch’s XOXO Droplets, a high school romance game/life sim where you can date a group of jerks. Trust me it’s more fun than it sounds… Navigate the social scene of a prestigious boarding school, get a part time job, and make friends, all while also wearing down the members of the Jerk Squad. There are six romanceable guys, two of which sport darker complexions and the protagonist is darker than your usual otome heroine. The game is a lot of fun game with some rather… unique characters and the life sim components aren’t too intense, which is always a plus. Pran is a bit on the orange side, but Nate looks alright and any opportunity to play as a heroine that isn’t a fair skinned brunette is always worth checking out! Also, the protagonist is just so quirky and unpredictable and I love it!
PAIRS – OWL (Jellyfish Parade)
Available On: Itch.io
So this is a game I have covered before and I had the opportunity to interview the developer too, but I absolutely adore PAIRS!! It’s a sci-fi fantasy visual novel that follows two very different couples as they try to salvage their relationships while also dealing with an ongoing alien war between Earth and the invading Naian people. The couples include: two heroes in training, Carmelita and Ricardo and an alien princess and a human baker, James and Kitten Pink. But, what I absolutely love about this game is the diverse cast! Kitten Pink is an alien, but she is definitely coded black and I am all for more sci-fi with characters that are coded black… and I am in love with her full curly bubblegum pink hair!! Carmelita uses a glamour that makes her appear more human and her appearance is that of a black woman!! Not to mention the male love interests are also POCs!!
*Check out my review: Romance Woes Amidst an Alien Invasions – PAIRS Review
Nusantara: The Winged Ones – SweetChiel
Nusantara: The Winged Ones is technically set in Indonesia and a lot of story elements from Indonesian culture which is a perspective that you don’t see too much in the media. I’m not too familiar with Indonesian culture myself, but I am always open to new perspectives and stories and Nusantara is definitely a one of a kind experience! The game follows Tamara, a young woman who is transported from the present day into the past, a world of myths and legends. I am a sucker for myths, legends, and anything fantasy, so this game was right up my alley. But, what I love the most is that each of the love interests has a darker complexion…. and they’re shirtless… This was the first game I played where all of the love interests had darker skin tones and it is absolutely magnificent!!
Where We Lay Our Scene – Cyanide Tea
Available On: Itch.io
Cyanide Tea is known for having games with diverse characters, in fact I covered another of their games, Taarradhin in a past Melanin Monday post (which is why you won’t see it on this list). I’m not gonna lie, I had a bit of an issue with Taaradhin and the seeming sexualization of black slaves in the game… However, I had no such qualms with their newest game Where We Lay Our Scene. Christian is a popular model that’s having a bit of an identity crisis; someday his looks will fade and that will be it for his career. Things take a turn when he finds himself cast in the leading role of an upcoming film, an opportunity that could be just solution he needs for his dilemma. I talked about this game before in an LGBT positive visual novels post, but I included it here because of the protagonist Christian. Not only is he an attractive and charismatic character, but he also has a darker complexion.
When The Night Comes – Lunaris Games
Available On: Itch.io
I will talk about this game until I am blue in the face, because it is seriously awesome! When the Night Comes is an episodic supernatural fantasy romance with a wonderfully diverse cast of characters. Love interests in all shades and hues and a wide range of gender and sexual identities. Just look at the image I included, front and center there are three characters with darker complexions and it is everything I’ve ever wanted and more!! Not to mention, it’s a damn good story too! Political intrigue, mystery, suspense, drama… I could go on!
*Check out my review: When the Night Comes Review – A Devilishly Addictive Supernatural Mystery
Nachtigal – Cyanide Tea
Available On: Itch.io
This was one of the first non-Voltage Inc. romance games that I played and I still remember being really excited to see that the heroine of the game had a darker complexion like me… and you know VAMPIRES!! In the game you play as Miranda Namatgira, a college student on holiday in Belgium, who accidentally stumbles upon beautiful (seemingly empty) castle. Rather than sleep outside, she enters the castle and becomes the unwitting captive of two vampires… This was one of the first games I played with an actual “bad” end (ie. you die), but I think that makes the choices you make all the more important.
As We Know It – Jaime Scribbles
Jaime Scribbles is another developer that consistently creates games with diverse casts, her games are a melting pot of great characters from diverse backgrounds and cultures. A choice that fits well with the post apocalyptic setting of As We Know It, which takes place in an underground city home to an eclectic group of refugees escaping the harsh landscape of the surface. You play as a new resident of the city so you’re still learning the ins and outs of your new home. Like Jaime’s previous game Pinewood Island, the heroine character is customizable so you can change the hair and skin color of your player character. It’s limited, but I still appreciate having the option. The love interests are pretty diverse both in appearance and personality wise. Shout outs to Micah and Gloria for that extra dash of melanin!!
*Check out my review of the game: As We Know It Review – A Diverse Post-Apocalyptic Visual Novel
Hustle Cat – Date Nighto
Hustle Cat is one of those games I kept putting off for ages before I actually broke down and bought it… and it’s worth every penny! Step into the shoes of Avery Grey the newest employee at the popular Cat’s Paw cafe, there’s something not quite right about the staff and the shop, but who cares you need the money! A dynamic cast, funny dialogue, and a surprisingly enjoyable premise… also cats. Magic, mystery, and a lot of laughs, Hustle Cat is one of my favorite games. Like As We Know It, you can customize the MC, again pretty basic stuff here skin tone and gender. The skin tone alterations aren’t as drastic as I have seen in some games, but even still having the option is a huge plus. What’s more some of the love interests have a bit of melanin in them too.
One Thousand and One Days – Arif G.
Available On: Itch.io
I wasn’t big on episodic games until I played When the Night Comes, but I have seriously been limiting myself!! One Thousand and One Days is an ongoing episodic visual novel that takes inspiration from Persian mythology and Islamic lore. In the game you take on the role of the Dreamer, a person blessed (or cursed) with prophetic dreams. Your gift is highly coveted, granting you access to places no normal person could ever dream of seeing. Magic, mysticism, intrigue, and danger await… One Thousand and One Days has a diverse cast of characters that have roots in Middle Eastern, Mongolian, and North African Cultures. In addition to that you can choose your gender pronouns and romance male, female, and non-binary love interests (there’s even poly romance options).
Tomai- Dark Chibi Shadow
Available On: Itch.io
So first, this is a poly game, so if you’re not into polyamory in your romance games, maybe skip this option… for everyone else, Tomai is a short boy’s love poly romance game that was originally created for Yaoi Jam 2017. I’m not a huge fan of poly romances myself, but the art is cute and the story isn’t overly complicated, so I figured why not? The characters were a lot of fun and like I said, nothing too complicated, you’re a dude killing time before the annual Night Festival, spend time with your best bros, your dad, or The Lady. I really like this particular dev/artist because they always manage to include characters with darker complexions in all of their projects, even the collaborations.
I loved Moa Cube’s Cinders, however I will admit that there wasn’t much in the way of a diverse cast… and before anyone says anything about it being a fantasy, Träumendes Mädchen is developing a game called Chronotopia: Second Skin based on the Donkeyskin fairytale and it has a melanin heavy cast… But, I digress. Solstice is a much more diverse game right off the bat, with both protagonists being people of color and the extended cast is equally diverse. The game is a dystopian mystery, so it makes sense that you’d encounter characters from all over on you quest for the truth, but even more than that each of the characters has their own unique story to tell and that’s what really makes this game shine.
Anything from Lovestruck – Voltage Inc.
So, unlike their Otome Romance line of mobile games on Love 365, the stories on their Lovestruck app features game titles with characters of color both as love interests and as protagonists. While I am not a fan of the new free to play format of their Lovestruck app, I do love their game titles. Not only do they cover a wide range of genres and storylines, but the characters are relatable and a lot of fun! From Sci-Fi to Fantasy to Urban Fiction to Supernatural, there is literally something for everyone! But, what really sets their games apart is their dedication to creating inclusive games with characters that will appeal to just about everyone!!
Mermaid Splash: Passion Festival – Sofdelux Studios
Available On: Itch.io
I stumbled upon this one completely by chance and I am so glad I did! Mermaid Splash is such a cute yuri game. Everything from the asthetics to the characters to the writing just screams cuteness!! There are a whopping 23 endings, random in-game events, outfits for CiCi and more packed into this short 2-3 hour game. The heroine and all four of the romanceable characters are women of color and are based on undersea creatures. All around such a sweet game!
C14 Dating – Winter Wolves
I am a longtime fan of Winter Wolves and their games, Always Remember Me was one of the very first English otome games I ever played and I still make sure to check out their newer titles every now and again. While most of their games are pretty hit or miss, I’ve always liked their unique stories and characters, definitely a good starting place for folks looking to ease their way into visual novels. In C14 Dating you play as Melissa Flores an American anthropology student participating in a summer archaeological dig in Belgium. It’s a cute game with some pretty standard love interests, but the real draw is the heroine, Melissa, who is of Hispanic descent. I love seeing heroines of color in romance games and Melissa is an absolute delight! Unlike your usual otome heroine, she’s funny, smart, driven, and open to exploring new things! Honestly, we need more heroines like Melissa!
*Check out my review of the game: [Full Game Review] English Otome-C14 Dating
The Arcana – Nix Hydra
The Arcana has a really invested fandom over on Tumblr and given how awesome the characters are it deserves all the love it gets! I am usually wary of free to play mobile games, but The Arcana is one of the few exceptions, each route is spot on and the characters are absolutely GORGEOUS!! You play as a magician’s apprentice who is unwittingly drawn into a world full of political intrigue and royal secrets when the beautiful Countess requests your assistance at the palace. Each character has a secret and it’s up to you to uncover the truth… There were originally three love interests (Asra, Nadia, and Julian), but they have since added new routes… however, Nadia and Asra are both absolutely stunning!!
Check out my first impressions review: [First Thoughts] The Arcana
Ellaria: Cotton and Cream – Fablesoft
Available On: Itch.io | Steam
Fablesoft has 2 games out right now and they both feature characters of color in prominent roles. Ellaria has a sunkissed leading lady and their second game Plain, has two female love interests of color (definitely check the game out). I am partial to games with black and brown heroines, and I really loved Toffee! She’s a capable warrior, funny, and just a tad bit snarky, plus she’s an elf! How cool is that? There’s definitely more of an emphasis on comedy over romance which I kinda liked and I’m game for anything fantasy!!
Lake of Voices – GB Patch
GB Patch is back on the list again, this time with a horror visual novel with a bit of romance thrown in for flavor. In Lake of Voices you play as Kikka, as she attempts to travel with her fellow soldier, Bemelle, to a nearby village and help defend them against raiders. Unfortunately the village is on the other side of Sinnlos, a cursed lake full of monstrous creatures that attack anyone that dares cross the lake. The game follows Kikka’s attempts to get herself and her companions safely across the lake. Kikka is the real MVP, not only is she a capable warrior, but she is an absolute sweetheart too! She is definitely one of the more relatable heroines I’ve had the pleasure of playing as in a visual novel!
Ultramarine: A Seapunk Adventure – Seven Submarines
Available On: Itch.io
Alright, next up is a short VN from indie developers Seven Submarines, Ultramarine: A Seapunk Adventure. The game is a fantasy adventure visual novel developed for 2018 Nanoreno game jam, and follows Gabrielle Freedman as she takes a trip down into the depths to enlist the aid of the Crown Prince of Atlas! It’s a short game with a lot of potential, but most noteworthy is not just that the heroine and one of the main love interests are Black, but that the game even goes so far as to touch on themes of class and race based discrimination. It’s not fleshed out in great detail (most likely due to the short development time), but when it is addressed it’s handled really well and in a way that is relevant to the plot!
Alrighty, so this is by no means a list of all the games that feature black and brown characters, there are new games coming out every day (and I know for a fact there are quite a few currently in development). But, this is a good jumping off point for folks looking for games with more diverse characters. When compared to Japanese otome games, Western visual novels are much more inclusive with their characters and I didn’t write this post to criticize anyone, I merely wanted to show that there are a ton of great games with black and brown characters and that there is a demand for them!
What makes western otome games and visual novels so much more enticing is the fact that developers are mindful of how multifaceted their audiences are and they are striving to make games that speak to those audiences! Whether that is making games with customizable MCs, or allowing players to choose their gender identity or having more characters of color, visual novels aren’t always a one size fits all medium.
So I turn things over to you guys! There are tons of visual novels out there that feature unique characters and stories! So, if you’d like definitely tell me about some of your favorites!! I’m always looking for more games to play (read: add to my backlog)!!