As usual I’m behind the rest of the otome games fandom—it’s been about a year since Pencil released their localization of the fairytale inspired otome game Taisho x Alice: Episode I and I’m just getting around to playing it. Now, this isn’t the first time this game has made it’s way stateside. Many of us still remember the now infamous E2Gaming localization fiasco of 2017, that brought “Hiragana Alice” and “Katakana Alice” to prominence. But, it seems that the second time’s the charm for Taisho x Alice, with Molly Lee (known also as Verdelish) taking the reigns in this greatly improved English translation of the game—and fan response has been overwhelmingly positive. So now, with the otome community’s collective stamp of approval I figured now was as good a time as any to give Taisho x Alice a try and boy do I have some thoughts about it.
For those of you not familiar with the game—Taisho x Alice is a re-imagining of popular fairytales, but with a twist—each of the love interests are gender swapped versions of famous characters like Cinderella and Snow White! The game was originally released in Japan in 2015 for PC and was split into four episodes, each with two LIs. The first episode features Cinderella and Red Riding Hood’s stories; the second—Kaguya and Gretel; the third episode— Snow White and the Wizard; and the fourth and final episode focuses on Alice. In the game you play as an amnesiac young woman who must navigate the mysterious Looking Glass World and save your Prince Charming, guiding him towards his happily ever after.
Right off the bat, you wake up alone in a dark and colorless world, with no idea how you got there and no memory of your own identity. Just when your loneliness threatens to consume you, you encounter Alice—a foul mouthed blonde haired, blue eyed guy, who wastes no time leting you know just how few fucks he gives about EVERYTHING! To avoid calling you ‘hey you’ he dubs you Hiragana Ali—I mean, Arisu. Like you, Alice has no memory of who he is aside from his name, but, happy to have a companion in this dark world you convince a reluctant Alice to accompany you on an exploration mission. After some time the two of you come across a giant crystal mirror in it you see the images of two handsome men: Cinderella and Red Riding Hood. You decide to step through the glass and into the Looking Glass World and so begins your twisted fairytale adventure.
While Taisho x Alice Episode I is the first installment in a four episode, each of the two routes in the game follows its own unique self contained story. The two routes don’t even feature the same characters save for Alice and the Wizard, but their involvement in the story is minimal. If I had to choose a favorite route, it would have to be Cinderella’s because it seemed to have the most consistent tone, while Red Riding Hood’s route didn’t know if it wanted to be a rom-com or a serious romance. The main focus of each route is helping Arisu “save” her respective love interests from their faults—Cinderella is an arrogant butt who puts too much stock in material possessions and Red has trouble opening up to others.
Damaged boys are practically a staple in otome games, so this is pretty par for the course, but where Taisho x Alice really shines is with its heroine, Arisu. Now, she is a gal who knows what she wants and when she sets her sights on something I’ll be damned if she doesn’t get it! Arisu doesn’t just wait for the plot to happen, she makes it happen—kick-starting many of the events of the game Ever the optimist, she tackles every obstacle head on, rarely letting much of anything get her down. Most otome game heroines are naive in the ways of love, having little to no romantic experience (and Arisu is no different in that respect), but where other heroines are content pining in secret for their chosen love interest, Arisu has no such reservations. She makes her romantic intentions KNOWN, actively pursuing her chosen LIs until they succumb to her affections. Finally a heroine I can relate to! She is smart, funny, and assertive—going toe to toe with the LIs and more often than not getting the upper hand in most situations. I especially loved her dialogue choices which ranged from snarky and witty to shameless flirting, something you don’t see often in most otome games.
So, the translation—first, I want to say that I think this is a huge improvement on the E2Gaming localization and I applaud some of the choices that were made to liven up the writing. There were several times during my playthroughs where some of the dialogue had me cracking up, I honestly can’t remember having this much fun with an otome game. However, my feelings about the translation as a whole is mixed. Verdelish has a very distinctive voice—modern with a heavy reliance on comedy and memes—and while it makes for an entertaining reading experience, it can be a bit jarring at time, because it seems out of place with the flow of the story.
Translating a work can be tricky, since some references and jokes just don’t translate well outside of the original language. Often times translators find themselves having to take artistic liberties with the source material when localizing works so that they are relatable to the new audience, while also retaining the spirit of the original text. However, there are some translators that have a very distinctive voice that eclipses the spirit of the original to the point that it’s hard to view the work objectively. And that is the dilemma I find myself in with Taisho x Alice, it’s fun to read, but some of the jokes were more cringey than funny.
Overall, Taisho x Alice is a solid otome game—I love the twist on the fairytale premise and I especially enjoyed how different each of the routes were from one another. The writing is entertaining and the translation is fun, despite being a bit heavy handed with the memes. The characters were sharply written, with special kudos to Arisu who proves that otome heroines can be just as dynamic as their male love interests. All in all, Taisho x Alice serves as great introduction to the series and I am definitely looking forward to the future installments!