Once upon a time, our games editor, Al, asked if any of us would like to play and write about Japanese dating games or “otome.”
Otome are story-based romance games largely targeted at a female, heterosexual audience. The player role-plays as the ambiguous main female character whose goal is to develop a relationship with one or more of the handsome males. The focus is on romance although sex can factor in as well. On mobiles and consoles, the games are rather tame due to company regulations, but PC versions can get pretty explicit.
Otome plots differ from game to game—from fairy tale adventure fantasies to urban one night stands—but generally, all otome follow the same concept in which players determine their path through choices within the script. The endings can vary based on those choices; however, a “good ending” is the ultimate goal of the game.
What exactly is a “good end” you ask? Well that’s what we’re about to find out.
Spoilers ahoy! Content Warning: Sexual abuse
My good friend Tiara recently started playing Shall We Date: Angel and Devil, one of NTT Solmare’s many offerings, but quickly decided it was not for her.
Now, Tiara is the kind of person for whom discussions about tentacle sex is small talk. She makes playlists for my gaming romances, and enables all my terrible vices. So clearly she was just having a bad day when she set that game aside.
Or maybe she just needed proper motivation and the company of good friends. When I asked her to play on my behalf, she was hesitant at first. But when I explained that she had to do this FOR SCIENCE, then she was right on board. Later, she invited Monica and Sparkle to join us. And so, our mobile adventures in otome became what I now fondly think of as a friendship dating orgy. For science.
Leaving Shall We Date: Angel and Devil behind, Tiara got us started with Shall We Date: Can’t Say No, as chosen based on an intricate system of—yeah, okay she basically just told me to pick a number between one and seventy. If I’d paid attention to her earlier orders to review the available games, we’d be dating hot ninjas right now in Shall We Date?: Ninja Destiny. Instead, we became Kana Saeki and started our adulterous adventure on a downer.
It seems that Kana has been working very hard at the office and is very tired after another long day. The cute security guard notices. The guard is pretty cute, but Kana is just too tired for conversations. She ought to head home and get some rest, but ends up letting her feet guide her to a quaint little coffee shop instead where she meets the handsome older gentleman who owns the cafe.
He is a kind man. and Kana instantly finds herself spilling the troubles of her day. Her fiance is a jerk who doesn’t seem to care about her all that much—not such a cool feeling so close to their wedding day. Her boss keeps yelling at her. And her old high school crush is flaunting his workplace success.
I think this was the point when Tiara renamed the game Shall We Date: Can You Not? because, seriously, please tell me these aren’t going to be our romantic choices. Can’t we just get down and dirty with that nice cafe owner instead? Tiara named him Silver Fox, and it turns out, Silver Fox has a cute grandson named Leo. Tiara and I pause to discuss the importance of teaching the young what goes where and determine the appropriate location for our wishful threesome. Then this guy shows up in traditional Japanese garb. Things are really looking up!
Even Google knows what we really want and makes an auto-awesome of our number one choice:
Door number four please!…Sigh, fine. This is the first decision of the game and it actually costs money. Fortunately, Tiara has Google credits handy and refuses to give up this time. She let’s me choose, and I go with the angry boss Akira Kasamatsu. Office romance, here we come!
It turns out Akira is an Aries. What a coincidence. I used to gravitate towards Aries guys in my younger, carefree days, and Tiara is one. He works sales at the undergarment manufacturing company with Kana. His stats describe his blood type as A and notes that he wears black undies. I assume he stands by the company’s product. Does he have a girlfriend? “Um…well, not at the moment,” he says, sounding rather suspicious. We’ll just ignore the fact that Kana is engaged already and we’re currently on our way to cheating on her fiance, Kaoru, with her boss. Nothing could possibly go wrong with this decision!
With Akira selected, the game continues with a meet up with Kaoru, the fiance, who informs Kana that things just aren’t working out and they should break up. What? Wait! That sounds a lot like he’s seeing someone else right? OMG game! We’re the ones who are supposed to be cheating and breaking up with him! This is one of the many points where we wished we could channel our inner Commander Shepards and punch this guy. Because Mass Effect has taught us that this is the best way to solve all of our problems.
But Kana is not quite as motivated to discard emotionally abusive garbage like Kaoru. Enter Chief Akira Akamatsu. He’s not yelling this time, but he seems to exist in a perpetual state of angry face. Still, when he learns about the break up, he offers solace in the form of alcohol. As Kana drowns her sorrow, she decides that a night with the chief might be good medicine. But the chief is hesitant. There’s that whole working together thing and the confused emotions after a break up thing. He’s trying to be a gentleman and not take advantage of the situation.
Oh, but Master Chief, we want you to take advantage (actually, we still want to go back and see what Silver Fox has to offer, but alas, we may have to settle for headcanon on that one). Finally, Akira consents and we head off to the hotel for some bow-chicka bow-wow. I have been forbidden from quoting Tiara’s narration of Akira’s exploration of Kana’s body with his tongue, but she has composed an appropriate soundtrack to set the mood.
Akira is sweet, and despite warnings that we would keep the work and pleasure thing separate, he sends her a quick email the next day to make sure she’s okay, praising her strength through such hard times and offering her his shoulder to cry on. Kana appreciates this, though she worries that she was just desperate and keeps thinking about Kaoru even while Akira is taking her body places it’s never been before.
But a mysterious phone call interrupts their second sexy encounter. Who could it be? Turns out that Mr. Kasamatsu is married. Dun dun dunnnnn…
Tiara went on to complete all three endings for Akira and reports the following:
The happy ending and how you get to it was kind of weird to me. I picked mostly the contrary choices, such as blaming Akira for making Kana feel miserable and all the break up options. She decides to stay with him. He ends up divorcing his wife on their anniversary night after spending some time with Kana. Immediately after revealing this divorce has been in the works for a while, he asks Kana to marry. She has doubts because she’s afraid that he might cheat on her and leave like he did his wife, but she loves him so much. Somehow, though, this still makes it a happy ending.
The sweet ending was my personal favorite. It involves Kana deciding that she has to break up with Akira, who doesn’t divorce his wife initially. Kana quits her job and starts working for another company where she’s often praised for her work ethic. Almost half a year passes with no contact with Akira, but Kana is very nostalgic understandably, but she knows that what she’s done is for the best for herself and for him. Her high school crush asks to meet up because he has some questions about the old projects she left behind. She learns then that Akira has divorced his wife. She wonders if it’s because of her or if the issues he kept mentioning were the true reason. Eventually she sees him again in the coffeehouse and they exchange pleasantries and leave it at that. She muses that she thinks they’ll always love each other “from afar.”
Woo boy, these normal endings, bruh. Kana decides in this one that she doesn’t love Akira like she initially thought. She loves the sex, and she’s gonna keep having the sex with him. She tells him that he’s pretty much trash and it makes her vomit to think of marrying him. She doesn’t want him to leave his wife, though Kana does comment on how Akira always knows how to take care of her heart before her body. They’ve agreed to “loving” each other as the moment calls for it. This ending includes him seducing her in his office and cutting her underwear away. After she makes some noises and the gross security guard threatens to come in, Akira jokes she should let him (the security guard) see the goodies. She manages to compose herself just as he busts in the door. Yuck. She ends up getting frisked on the office door.
During Akira’s story, the handsome cafe owner is always there to listen to Kana’s problem, but sadly, never returns our hopeful affection.
While Tiara and I dated Akira, Monica and Sparkle were testing the other options. They really wanted to punch Kaoru too, but settled for playing along to discover how things worked out for the dysfunctional couple. Based on Kaoru’s initial manner and his emotionally abusive nature, we were expecting some 50 Shades of Gray business, but it turns out that Kana likes the rough and dirty sex and Kaoru knows how to please his lady. Unfortunately, his work keeps him away often. He grants her permission to seek her pleasures elsewhere while he’s away, but she learns shortly after that, in a drunken one night stand, he’s slept with Rika, a co-worker, who now may or may not be pregnant, and may or may not end up having an abortion based on your choices.
Kaoru saves Kana from a car accident, and, while in the hospital, she struggles with her conflicted emotions, her work-related stress (that leads to a pregnancy scare), and Kaoru’s pending departure for London for work. She questions Kaoru’s missing engagement ring, but learns that he wears it on a chain around his neck. In the happy ending, Kana decides not to let these issues ruin what they have. She quits her job and moves with Kaoru to London after a cute, drive-thru wedding. Kana reveals that she’s pregnant (while it turns out that Rika was not). In the sweet ending, Kana decides to break it off with Kaoru in order to focus on work and determine her feelings for him. He asks her to keep his ring, in case she changes her mind when he returns.
By now, we’ve discovered that “normal” endings seem to involve lots of sex. Kana decides to marry Kaoru, and sleep with as many guys as she wants in his absence, including the cafe owner’s grandson, Leo, whom Kana says she loves. Kana misses Kaoru and loves him very much. She counts her blessings in this ending—apparently with each and every orgasm.
Finally, Monica took one for the team by checking out the Subaru Tadokoro option. Here’s where things took a turn for the incredibly uncomfortable. We had joked about this security guard seeming like the creepy stalker type when we first met him. Little did we know how close we were to the mark, hence the need for a TRIGGER WARNING from this point forward.
Subaru’s story involves a walk through a dark park where Kana is attacked. Subaru, who always seems to be following her, happens to be there at the time and saves her vowing to always protect her. Later, after propositions from both Akira and Hiro at the office in which Kana politely refuses, she is roughly pulled aside by the security guard who is displeased with how these men are treating her and expresses concern about her working alone with them. He also admonishes Kana for her “attitude” and has repeatedly reprimanded her for being unlady-like.
This is where Monica tapped out and Tiara and I expressed our sincere apologies. None of us expected the game to proceed this way. The game is described as “a dangerous but irresistible love story,” but we didn’t realize that meant rape, and there are no further warnings to imply otherwise. Rape fantasies might work for some people, but when the story took this turn, otome stopped being an amusing distraction and become something extremely disturbing.
Sparkle took over for Monica, determined to get the full scope in order to judge the game accordingly.
Kana manages to push Subaru off of her, apologizing as she escapes his grasp. Then she gets an email from him:
“I’m sorry for ignoring your feelings and forcing that kiss on you. [AUTHOR’S NOTE: That was far more than just a kiss, asshole] However, I think you should do something about your defenseless attitude. You might get assaulted like that again! Please be a little bit more aware of your vulnerabilities. Did I help you realize what can happen if you show yourself so vulnerable towards guys?”
Kana doesn’t see him for a week but pines after him, though she still has her fiance Kaoru. As she wanders the streets, she almost gets into an accident, but is saved by Subaru again. The player can choose to be thankful or to let her Stockholm Syndrome run free by saying, “I really wanted to see you!” Sparkles choices eventually reveal a plot where Kana is kidnapped, drugged, and coerced into doing all sorts of things with Subaru as well as with Kaoru and others—this is prevalent across the so-called sweet, happy, and normal endings. There is no consent, no boundaries, and now we know why it’s called “Can’t Say No.”
We checked out the reviews and realized then that this was one of the lower rated games in the bunch at 3.2/5, athough there were still many 5 star ratings for it. A few note the creep factor in the security guard’s story, and one goes into more detail on the Stockholm Syndrome aspect. We’ve since added our scathing opinions and warnings.
What started as an entertaining adventure with friends became something dirty and disgusting that we all want to scrape from our minds. With the vast number of otome out there, I’d like to think that there are others far less disturbing than how this one turned out to be. Many of the ones I viewed seemed to involve some of the questionable tropes often found within the romance genre, but non-consensual sex? I’ll pass.
If only I’d chosen the ninjas…