Update (March 19, 2021): Due to new information I have received, this article has been updated to reflect how otome is viewed in general. I have also added a bit at the bottom to show how I will handle labelling otome going forward due to this information.
About a week ago, I received an ask that was for something I have been grumbling about for a while now, but have never gotten around to addressing on this site (I have on my twitter multiple times though). Over the past few years, more and more games have been released that, on the surface, seem to be otome games. Handsome guys? Check. Flirting with the Main Character? Check. That’s all you need right?
That’s where I think the term is being misused.
Joseimuke is a term used for female-targeted media, so media where the target audience are females fit this category, including otome games, boy’s love/yaoi, shoujo manga, ect. For the sake of the fact that this is (mostly) an otome games site, my focus on this term going forward is going to be with games.
An otome (maiden) game is when there is romance between the heroine (female) and mostly* male love interests. This romance can happen in character-focused routes that focuses on their relationship that ends when the heroine and this love interest get together. But they can also happen in side-stories, that you have to unlock in some way. That’s it. The game may also have a main gameplay type, but as long as romance exists somewhere in the game, it is an otome game.
*There are otome games that may have a female love interest or a female friendship route. However, they are very rare and also this is only something that occurs in otome games.
There are games that contain otome elements that are not otome. Otome elements are usually exclusively male cast and can include flirting with the female player, which include: touching, holding hands, ect. Sometimes, the player character may not have a referred to gender at all.
So, games that have otome elements but are not otome include:
Utano Princesama Shining Live (rhythm, the mobile game)
Ensemble Stars (idol-raising/rhythm depending on which game)
Idolish7 (rhythm game)
Obey Me (card-collecting from what I’ve been told. I’ve also been told the MC is purposefully not gendered, so one could play them as a male)
Twisted Wonderland (narrative adventure JRPG, according to the EN site, who also has a non-gendered MC)
There are other breakdowns that I would like to briefly touch on.
- Otome is exclusively female heroine/MC and mostly male love interests.
- Bishoujo/Harem is exclusively male hero/MC and female love interests.
- Girl’s Love is exclusively female heroine/MC and female love interests.
- Boy’s Love is exclusively male hero/MC and male love interests.
I don’t consider a game where you can play as any gender and/or date any gender to be an otome game either. Any game that mixes any one of those either by letting the player choose their gender or letting the player read different pre-matched couples, I consider a LGBTQ+/(general) romance sim. Update: The term amare has been recently adopted to be the word associated with games with these types of options and varied love interest.
“Wait,” you say. “But I like it when the Main Character ends up with one of the guys and happy ends. If anything having romance in it is otome, then that seems really unfulfilling to me.”
I’m right there with you. I used to be of the mindset that explicit love + happy ending = otome and that was the line. However, I have been told by people who know the Japanese otome industry that this is just not true. As long as there is romance somewhere in the gameplay, it is an otome game.
I understand that a lot of people want to know the distinction. So, going forward, whenever I make a posting for a new game that can be labelled as otome, I will label where the romance is if it has it i.e. Routes and/or Side-Stories.