The end of 2019 marks the end of a decade, and everyone seems to be reflecting on the past 10 years, with their various lists and videos. So I decided to jump on the bandwagon too and reflect on the past 10 years in otome games. Since I didn’t keep up with my Japanese language studies, I’m limited to English localizations (and fan patches), so I can’t speak for the JP only releases. But, I can honestly say that these last few years have been pretty good to Western otome fans, with tons of game releases and announcements coming out (fairly) regularly.
So, I wanted to go back and look at the otome games released between 2010 and 2019 and pick out my favorites. Some years were more fruitful than others for the western otome fandom, but I still stand by my picks for each year and it’s kind of fun to see how my tastes have changed in the past 10 or so years of playing otome games.
2010 – Starry Sky in Spring
Okay this game brings back some serious memories for me since it was one of the first otome games I ever played. This is the only game on this list that didn’t have an “official” English language release, but I don’t recall any other mainstream releases in 2010, so Starry Sky wins the year.
Starry Sky in Spring is the first in a series of four games with love interests based on that season’s zodiac constellations. In Spring (and it’s fandisc After Spring) is the only game to get an English patch, but the series was pretty popular in Japan spanning several drama CDs, manga adaptations, and a 26 episode short form anime.
I was just a baby otome fan when I first played this game and while I’m not as enthusiastic about high school romances as I once was, I will admit that Starry Sky in Spring is a perfect starting off point for folks new to the otome games fandom. The premise is simple enough, you’re the only girl at a former all-boys school that specializes in astronomy based extra curricular classes. Three of your childhood besties attend the school with you and each one harbors a not so secret crush on you. And while there are a few love triangles, the story mainly focuses on the friendships between you and the three main love interests— Yoh, Kanata, and Suzuya. Of the three I have to say that Kanata was my favorite, I guess I will always have a thing for cute blushing tsundere boys, but Yoh is a close second.
Wanna Know More? Check out my review: Mini Review: Starry Sky ~ in Spring ~
2011 – Hatoful Boyfriend
You can keep your I Love You Colonel Sanders and Dream Daddy, this is the OG parody dating sim! Hatoful Boyfriend is one of those games so out there you have to try it yourself to believe and tryst me it’s totally worth it! I picked this game up purely for the lolz, I mean come on, how often can you say you get the chance to play a game about dating pigeons?! Who would have ever guessed that a pigeon dating sim could get so dark?!
Parody dating sims are a dime a dozen nowadays, with everyone trying to claim their 10 seconds of internet infamy. But, Hatoful Boyfriend isn’t just some cheap imitation of the dating sim genre, it’s a lovingly crafted homage. Sure it has it’s ridiculous moments, but Hatoful Boyfriend goes beyond it’s ridiculous premise and delivers something actually enjoyable. There are so many layers to this game and by the end of it all you really feel invested in the world and it’s characters.
2012 – Hakuoki Demon of the Fleeting Blossoms
The Hakuoki franchise was one of the first major otome releases to make its way to the west and Idea Factory and Aksys Games have been milking this cash cow for YEARS! It seems like every few years a new Hakuoki game is released, but I still have fond memories of the PSP version Hakuoki Demon of the Fleeting Blossoms. This otome game was the total package—action, adventure, mystery, suspense, romance, historical events—you name it and Hakuoki probably has it. Sure it took some licenses with historical accuracy, but I can safely say that this game is the reason so many westerners even know who the Shinsengumi are and the main officers by name…
I probably wouldn’t even know about Toshizo Hijikata or the Boshin War if not for this game! Because of Hakuoki I actually developed a genuine interest in Japanese history, granted a very specific period in Japanese history… but baby steps… Chances are if you ask someone to name an otome game the first game they’ll name is Hakuoki and that’s because it is just so damn accessible! It’s available on just about every console and because it isn’t as overtly romance oriented as most otome games it appeals to wider fan base.
2013 – Norn9
Norn9 is one of those otome games that you either love or hate, there really is no in between with this one and I’m one of the folks that like it despite it’s less than stellar localization. This is one of those “non-traditional” otome games, that focuses more on the story than the actual romance and I’m totally onboard with it. Sci-fi mystery is not the first thing you associate with an otome game, but it kind of works here. I love that each of the characters has a unique ability a la My Hero Academia, and there are some really great character dynamics that work well within the context of the game.
Norn9 introduced a different gameplay feature, instead of the tried and true blank slate otome heroine, you could choose between three heroines— Koharu, Mikoto, and Nanami—and they each get their own mini harems to romance. Most games give you a standard set of love interests and one heroine, but Norn9 gave us a variety to choose from and for a Japanese otome game release this was the closest I’ve ever gotten to character customization. Each heroine is so different from one another that it almost feels like you’re playing a completely different game when you switch between them in each route, though Koharu is my favorite since her routes seemed to be the most well rounded.
The story can be a bit messy and there were quite a few plotholes between routes, but as a whole, I really liked what Norn9 was going for storywise. You don’t see too many sci-fi romance otome games and it was a welcome change from some of the more cliche otome romances out there.
Wanna Know More? Check out my review: First Thoughts-Norn9: Var Commons
2014 – Code Realize ~ Guardians of Rebirth ~
Code Realize is one of those games that is just universally liked by the otome community. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone say anything bad about this game and despite it taking me five years to finish a single route I kinda get the hype. Code Realize was a lot of otome fan’s first experience with a heroine with agency—Cardia isn’t just a damsel in distress, she is an active participant in the events of the story. She grows and develops with the story independent of her romance with the love interests and for an otome game that’s huge!
I was a little slow jumping on the Code Realize bandwagon, but after dragging my feet over the years, I’m starting to see the appeal. Code Realize is the amazing world building, it’s set in an alternate steampunk version of Victorian England with characters based on famous fictional figures. I love the way the writers blend so many different histories and stories into one unique world, that exists within it’s own little bubble while still having all these subtle nods to the literary works that inspire the characters. Everything about this game is spot on, from the gorgeous artwork to the steampunk aesthetic to the story and characters, Code Realize hits every mark.
2015 – Amnesia Memories
Amnesia Memories is the only major otome game release that I bought the mobile version for, so I never actually think of it as a “Vita” game, since I played the entire game on my iPad. I think this was the first major otome game localization to have a release on so many different platforms at once (maybe Hakuoki was the actual first), but I kind of wish more otome games had followed suit, because it really made Amnesia much more accessible than some of the other localizations.
Amnesia is one of the best games to start off with if you’re new to the fandom, it balances the romance with story in a way very few otome games have managed and it doesn’t have any complicated game mechanics or gimmicks. The characters are definitely unique and aside from Shin (who is pretty much forgettable) the other love interests leave a very strong impression (I’m looking at you Toma). This game introduced me to my first real yandere character and Toma is one hell of a yandere to start off with… I will never forget my introduction to his cage of love… and don’t get me started on all the bad endings! I have never played an otome game with so many creative death scenarios and it’s lowkey kind of awesome.
Wanna Know More? Check out my review: Mini Review- Amnesia: Memories
2016 – Mystic Messenger
Mystic Messenger swept the otome games community by storm in 2016! I honestly feel like everyone has played (or at least watched the let’s plays) Mystic Messenger it was a phenomenon. Part of the hype was the innovative chatroom system and realtime gameplay that really immersed players in the events of the game. Usually you can play otome games at your leisure, but with Mystic Messenger there were timed events that occurred at specific times each day and if you missed a chatroom or a call that was it for that playthrough. I still remember setting alarms for those 12AM, 3AM, and 8AM chatrooms and to this day I will never forget the satisfaction I felt getting a full 8 hours of sleep after finishing Zen’s route. It was the best night’s sleep I had gotten in 11 days and it was absolute bliss!
This game taught me that I value sleep more than 2D boys, but even though I spent most of my first playthrough in a sleep deprived haze I really enjoyed Mystic Messenger and the chatrooms (what little I remember of them) were hilarious! The characters were all great (except Rika… I LOATHE Rika), but meme lord 707 will always be my bae!! This game spawned a ton of memes and a lot of them still hold up pretty well today so there is no doubt that MysMes has left a lasting mark on the fandom and the world!
Wanna Know More? Check out my review: So You Wanna Chat with Hot Guys… There’s an App for That: Mystic Messenger- First Thoughts
2017 – Collar x Malice
I LOVE THIS GAME!! Collar x Malice is hands down my favorite otome game to date! I usually play a few routes and then move on to new games but with CxM I could not put this game down! I played every single route to completion and the ending was so satisfying! I cannot sing the praises of this game enough! I am a huge fan of the Hotel Dusk and Ace Attorney series, so I was hyped as hell for a police investigative otome game!
Collar x Malice is very story heavy, focusing on the investigations into Adonis and the X-Day crimes and it really gets kind of deep into the police work—searching crime scenes for clues, talking to witnesses and suspects, collecting evidence—the whole nine yards. Each route tells a small piece of the puzzle and you really have to play through the entire game to discover the truth behind everything. There are real stakes for your choices and I live for that kind of immersion in my games. The love interests were all really well written, and the game really takes the time to develop the romance at a natural pace. But, the real MVP of the game is Ichika! She is one of my favorite otome heroines, she takes her fate into her own hands and isn’t afraid to run headfirst into danger. She is an active participant in the investigations into the X-Day crimes and she is always right there in the trenches when things get messy!
God, I love this game so much! Everything was perfect about Collar x Malice and I really want more games like this in the future. The game Side Kicks was released in Japan and it is very similar to CxM and I want that game to come stateside soooooo bad!!!
Wanna Know More? Check out my review: Collar x Malice Otome Review – How Do You Define Justice?
2018 – Psychedelica of the Ashen Hawk
2018 brought us the Summer of Mysteries and with it three big otome game releases—7’Scarlet, Psychedelica of the Black Butterfly, and Psychedelica of the Ashen Hawk— and not gonna lie, I was torn between 7’scarlet and Ashen Hawk for the breakout game of 2018. But, then I remember the brocon ending of 7’scarlet…
Ashen Hawk is a spiritual sequel to Black Butterfly, and while they both feature different characters and setting there are a lot of callbacks to things in PBB that you’ll only truly get if you play both games. Ashen Hawk was an improvement on PBB in every imaginable way, it was seriously like night and day. The characters were better developed, the story made way more sense and the art was soooo much better in Ashen Hawk. There was a lot going on in this game—feuds between the Hawk and Wolf clans, a witch’s curse, a crossdressing heroine— but, everything was given the perfect amount of development that it never felt bloated or confusing.
This is another game where you have to play all the routes to fully understand what all is going on, but trust me the payoff is so worth it in the end! You get invested in the story because the writers did such a great job fleshing them out as people and not just stock characters. Jed is another one of my new favorite otome heroines, because she is allowed to be human. I especially loved her struggle with identity, since she lives as a man despite being a woman and this could have easily become just a cheap gimmick, but the story treats her struggle as a genuine conflict that affects not just Jed, but the course of the entire story.
Wanna Know More? Check out my review: Psychedelica of the Ashen Hawk Otome Review
2019 – Steam Prison
Last, is 2019… I had a hard time with 2019, since this year didn’t have as many “big” releases off the top of my head I could only really think of two— Steam Prison and London Detective Mysteria—the rest were just PC ports of Vita games or sequels. It was kind of a dry year for the Western otome fandom in terms of major releases, 2020 promises to be a bit more fruitful.
But, I did play both London Detective Mysteria and Steam Prison and of the two I liked Steam Prison more, since it was the most “original” of the two titles. Yeah the steampunk aesthetic was used in Code Realize, however I enjoyed seeing a game with wholly original characters not based on literary figures. But, as a concept I really enjoyed Steam Prison, it took a simple idea—two different societies developing parallel to one another—and built an entire history and culture around it. The characters and romance were a bit hit or miss, but the phenomenal world building of the game kept me invested and I loved learning more about the social and cultural norms established in the game. Steam Prison is one of those games I’d love to see expanded on with an anime or a fandisc, just to spend more time with the characters and their world.
Wanna Know More? Check out my review: Steam Prison Review – A Deep and Immersive Steampunk Romance
Welp that’s it for my picks, I kind of limited it to major releases since there are a ton of mobile otome games that come out each year and playing them all is kind of impossible… though Mystic Messenger made it’s way onto the list anyway. As always these are just my picks (and I don’t pretend to be the authority on otome games) so I definitely would love to hear some of your picks!