I know, potentially polarizing opinion incoming–don’t @ me.
But, if you’ve been following me for awhile it shouldn’t be such a big shock that I prefer indie otome games over the more “traditional” Japanese otome games. I mean on a very basic level, indie otome games are much more accessible and available than Japanese otome games. Sure, we’ve been getting tons more otome games than we have in the past, but given the volume of otome games being released in Japan annually, what we get through localization is merely a drop in the bucket. Not to mention localization titles are selected and curated by companies that at the end of the day are protecting their bottom line. So the games that do make their way to the West are ones that are considered the most “financially viable” (read: safe).
Most of the otome game localizations that have been released favor more action and drama heavy storylines with the romance taking a bit of a backseat (at least in my humble opinion), sure you have different genres and settings–mafia boys in the 20’s, supernatural cafes, and twisted fairytales, to name a few. But, when it comes down to the stories themselves, there is a distinct lack in lighthearted, slice-of-life stories among the localized titles available in the West. Don’t get me wrong, I love me some action and drama, Collar x Malice is one of my fave otome games, but every so often I need something more chill to balance things out. I thought Café Enchanté would be that chill slice-of-life otome game I had been craving, but instead I got a heart-wrenching emotional gut punch that I’m still not completely over…
And it seems that a desire for more lighthearted romantic otome localizations is a sentiment that is shared by many in the otome community. Many in the fandom have taken to their social media accounts begging for more fluffy romance titles, and yet most of the upcoming otome localizations seem to be much of the same…
I don’t really self insert when I play otome games, because I don’t exactly look like most otome heroines, and it’s made harder when an LI is praising a heroine for her beautiful pale skin… and I have a lovely chocolate brown complexion. But with indie otome games it’s easier for me to see myself and people I know in the characters and stories being depicted on my screen. And we owe that in part to the facts that the teams working on indie otome games tend to be more diverse. Unlike the AAA studios that have to worry about their brand or their bottom line, indie devs create the games and stories they wish to see on the market and because of that indie otome games feel more organic. These are stories and characters created by people with actual lived in experience and you can really tell that there is a lot of love and care baked into these stories.
And before anyone starts–I am aware that Japanese otome games are made for a Japanese audience and expecting publishers to start including more diversity in their games and/or expecting them to start catering to Western fans is not realistic–that’s not what I’m asking for. Rather, I find that indie otome games tend to take more “risks” with the types of stories they create, which makes them more relatable to the wider otome gaming fandom. As with most fandoms the otome games community is not a homogenous blob, we all come from different backgrounds and cultures and identities and while we all love otome games, lets be real otome games aren’t exactly the most representative games out there.
Indie otome games give different types of people to tell their own stories in their own voices and I dunno, for someone like me from a traditionally underrepresented group, it makes the gaming experience that much more enjoyable. When you look at the indie otome scene there is much more variety in the types of stories we see from the romance genre. From queer and BIPOC representation to more slice-of-life and comedic stories–indie otome games are stepping up to fill that void by offering titles that have the representation that is missing in more traditional otome game titles. And as a Black female gamer, this is something I find much more appealing, because not only do I get the fantasy romance stories, but also the representation and diverse stories that I desperately crave in my media.