Archive for April, 2010

Deep breath…ok here it is! LOVE.101!

April 23rd, 2010

Well, here we are, one week late (sorry miruki!) but I have finally put up my game’s website!

LOVE.101 will be a little otome game set in university. As the heroine, you’re trying to survive the first semester as best you can and see if you can meet someone special at the same time!
Several updates are still to come, and hopefully I can get that ugly link border away from the buttons (I should have just coded it in Flash), but it’s up!

More info on the characters, game system, and of course, release details, to come in the days to come!

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Mag news

April 17th, 2010

I caved and ordered VitZ Revo, and got it a couple days ago. I’ve done Tendou’s normal route, and am in the middle of his dream route. Aa, Vitamin wa tanoshii na~!

I must say though, it looks great on the PSP – very clean and crisp. I also got Dear Girl Stories ~Hibiki~ at the same time, so I’m kind of comparing it to the DS as well. By the way, apparently DGS doesn’t really have any romance in it – d’oh! It’s just a stat-raising game with some almost-romantic-but-not-quite moments in it.

I also got some new magazines, and ooh good stuff in them! Girl’s Style came with an 8-page book about Kazukiyone and Hakuouki, as well as Hakuouki bookmarks and Starry Sky stickers! It’s probably because there’s no CD or DVD-ROM.

I didn’t even realize that Starry Sky got animated, but um yeah, it is! Haha. Girl’s Style also had info on the PSP versions, which will have several additional scenes, backgrounds, and other changes (one is that you can choose to show the heroine’s face, which is good, but sounds creepy that she didn’t have one before :P)

Storm Lover had some info as well, it will not only have routes leading up to a relationship, but will be about maintaining the romance or breaking up if you fail, and maybe even getting back together later! Interesting.

There’s also an article on the game system and some of the scenes in Xechs, it seems kinda complicated so I think I’ll post on that later.

Oh, and Mahoutsukai to Goshujin-sama has a release date! It’s set for July 31.

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Moujuutsukai to Oujisama

April 14th, 2010

The newest PS2 game announced from Otomate for a June 24 release, Moujuutsukai to Ouji-sama (The Beastmaster and the Prince) sounds like my dream game when I was a kid. Princes who turn into animals in a fantasy setting, what’s not to like?

The heroine, Tiana, wants to be a beastmaster like her mother, using a special flute made by her father, but hasn’t found any good animals to train. One day she’s at the market and finds four animals, a lion, a wolf, a duck (it looks like a goose though), and a rabbit, for sale. She trades a valuable brooch for them and takes them home. When she starts feeding them, they act strange, and then they start to talk to her! They explain that they’re actually princes from a neighbouring kingdom and were travelling by ship when an explosion occurred. When they woke up, they had been transformed. Tiana decides to help them get back to their true forms, but doesn’t realize that this their enchantment is only the beginning of trouble that will overtake the whole continent…

The princes are:

Mateus (lion) CV: Midorikawa Hikaru – The oldest brother, he’s very popular with women, but doesn’t chase them – they come to him (probably being a prince helps)

Afreto (wolf) CV: Toriumi Kousuke – the second oldest, all he cares about is getting stronger. He’s a better swordsman than even Mateus.

Rushia (duck) CV: Shimono Hiro – he talks a lot and is kind of lazy. He’s the same age as Tiana.

Eric (rabbit) CV: Kaji Yuuki – The youngest, he’s very cute and often acts childish.

Other characters:
Kraus CV: Yasumoto Hiroki – Tiana has known him since she was a child, but they’re not really friends. Kraus has made Tiana cry often with his harsh words.

Silvio CV: Terajima Takuma – He works at the village medicine shop and is very cheerful and honest with his feelings.

I’m loving the art for this game(I’m a sucker for cute animals and bright colours), and I’m definitely getting it.

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Bits – Hakuouki PS3, BL comics law?

April 11th, 2010

Recent news and random thoughts:

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Romance Videogames – Selected Topics

April 9th, 2010

Here’s my paper! Hopefully the formatting works.

Romance Videogames: Selected Topics
Jill Astley

Presented at the 2010 Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association Conference – Romance Area
April 2, 2010

This paper will first introduce romance videogames, since very little has been written about them. There will be a short comparison of the features of romance videogames to those of romance novels and romance movies, and some words on how these differences affect the user experience. It will also discuss some common tropes in the genre, and whether romance videogames can be feminist.

Romance videogames, though almost unknown in the English-speaking marketplace, are a substantial and growing industry in Japan. They are played on consoles such as the Playstation 2, mobile phones, handheld gaming devices, and personal computers. The games usually target either boys/men or girls/women. In addition to heterocentric games, which are the majority, there is also a niche market for male/male romance videogames targeted to women. This paper focuses on games targeted to girls and women, featuring successful heterosexual relationships as their common goal , or ‘otome games’ .

Otome games range from games where the only interactivity is through dialogue choices, to intricate, role-playing game (RPG) and/or simulation gameplay requiring long hours building up characters. In addition to the common goal of establishing a love relationship, otome games usually also have other, plot-driven goals such as solving a mystery or making a business succeed.

Comparison to Other Romance Media

Compared to romance novels, videogames are a multimedia experience. This gives the user a fairly full sensory experience at the expense of the user’s exercise of her imagination. Also, novels can only be read by the participant, while games can be shared experiences similar to movies. This means that romance games can be played in a social setting. Compared to both movies and novels, the time investment and length of entertainment gained from a videogame is longer, anywhere from 10 to 40 hours, and in some cases even longer. The longer timeframe means that the user can get more invested in the characters. However, videogames are significantly more expensive than novel or a movie ticket, so the time-money value is similar.
Compared to all other forms of romance media, romance videogames are unique in that there are always branching storylines, and multiple heroes (sometimes multiple heroines as well).

Common Tropes
Since there are multiple heroes in each game, certain character archetypes become obvious as the user plays several games, such as the dependable childhood friend, the smart but unfriendly student president, and the misunderstood ‘bad boy’. In character-driven games, often these characters subvert their surface archetypes in new ways to keep the user’s interest.

The most common setup in otome games is to feature one heroine with several heroes. Though there are usually other sub-characters, most interaction focuses on the main characters. To obtain a situation of one female and several male characters, often ignoring or downplaying other relationships such as the heroine‘s family and friends, several common romance game tropes are used.

One common trope is the heroine being ‘dropped’ into an unfamiliar environment to intensify the story and remove distractions that would come up in the heroine‘s normal life. This often takes place in a fantasy setting, where the heroine is swept away from her regular (usually high school) life in contemporary society, to a different time or even a different world. This action often goes hand-in-hand with another common trope; that of the seemingly average heroine who has some quality or power that places her in a special position, which she was unaware of prior to the game.

Often, in these games, the heroine is either the key to a spiritual or magical power that no one else has. This is often the explanation given for her to have a group of heroes protecting her , and often going on voyages to find or use the power .
Another common trope is for the heroine to be a leader of an all-male group, such as the captain of a spaceship (Little Anchor ), head of an army (Sangokuren Senki), or ruler of a continent (Angelique). The many fantasy games where the heroine has special powers can also fall into this category. The heroine’s leadership position is often more symbolic than having any real power, but she sometimes grows into her position .

Another feature that is more common in videogames than other romance media is the ‘invisible’ heroine. This describes the situation of the player, watching the screen, and having the other characters face out from the screen. Because the game is intended to have some effect on the player’s emotions, games usually try to make the player feel as if they are the heroine, rather than simply watching a movie and following along. To do this, the heroine rarely has an avatar that shows up onscreen the same way as the other characters. Often the heroine is either shown as a small picture beside her dialogue, or not shown at all. Also common is that the heroine is not voiced. This situation is reminiscent of a debate in the romance novel industry, where readers sometimes split themselves into those who put themselves in the heroine’s place and those who don’t, and read the book as a third-party observer . To achieve this ‘invisibleness’ in romance videogames, the heroine’s personality is sometimes made bland and unassuming so the player can focus on the other characters’ personalities.

Feminism in Romance Videogames

The romance novel genre is often criticized as reinforcing of patriarchal gender norms. Otome games can be criticized the same way, and on the surface it is difficult to argue that any of them are feminist. Many plots include the heroine being protected by a group of men, and the whole idea of having to choose the ‘correct’ path, or even worse, improve parameters such as looks and fashion, to ‘win’ a character’s love sounds archaic. However, there is another way to look at this. In some games where the story is decided mainly by dialogue choices, the heroine’s personality can skillfully be presented depending on dialogue choices. For example, if a hero teases the heroine, the player deciding to react by blushing and looking down may be interpreted as the heroine having a meek personality, whereas if the player decides to react by teasing the hero back, or even getting angry, a different personality can be developed. The fact that dialogue choices affect the heroine’s affection level with heroes could be explained as the player choosing how they would react, and therefore the relationships that develop would be dependent on ‘compatibility’ with the hero. Also, in simulation games where the player focuses on one or several activities to raise parameters, those activities often involve or are shared as hobbies by the hero who ‘requires’ them for his route. It is true, though, that most relationship routes in current games demand that the heroine act in a stereotypically feminine manner and choose options that flatter or agree with the heroes to a large extent.

In games where the heroine is the nominal leader, the leadership position mentioned before is often more a figurehead position than anything else; it’s common for other characters to direct what the group does, with the heroine making few decisions of her own, or if she does, to be inept at leading. Very few otome games feature a heroine who is competent at her game-related job from the beginning.

However, there are several romance videogames that are feminist either in plot or characterization, or both. In the RPG Harukanaru Toki no Naka de 3 , the heroine is swept away to another world and chosen as the priestess of a dragon god, fated to protect a city by summoning the dragon, and in turn being protected by a group of men. However, she is determined to protect her companions as well, and learns how to use a sword. This is an important evolution from Harukanaru Toki no Naka de 1 and 2 , where the heroine could not directly fight, only help her guardians by healing and cheering them on, and may reflect a preference of consumers for more feminist games .
In the popular PC romance videogame Alice in Heartland (loosely based on Alice in Wonderland), the heroine is sarcastic, cynical, and untrusting. Compared to most romance game heroines, who are often meek, overly trusting, and naïve, Alice does not perform femininity in her behaviour and refuses to change her personality to catch one of the heroes, yet still is able to find love.

The current state of the the otome game industry in regards to feminism could be likened to that of the romance novel industry of the 1980’s. It is enjoying a surge of popularity and is branching out quickly into new settings and types of stories, but in many ways it is still limited in that most relationships shown are heterocentric and involve strict gender roles and not much true equality. It should be mentioned that one aspect of romance movies and novels that is often decried as stereotypical and not representing a true range of relationships is mostly absent from romance videogames. This is the strong emphasis on marriage and a nuclear family as the norm and ultimate goal. This absence is likely due to the difference in cultures between Japan, where most otome games are made, and Western (especially the US) countries, regarding marriage, as well as the obvious fact that most romance videogame characters are in their teens, and thus marriage would seem less realistic or desirable as an end goal.

In conclusion, otome games as a subset of romance videogames, while growing in breadth of subject matter and character types, are often hampered by strict gender roles for the heroine. However, there is much reason to hope that as the industry matures, a broader range of relationships and personality types will be written and games can be chosen not only for their subject matter and art style, but how well the writers create three dimensional characters.

Phew! It looks really long in blog form, hah.

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Hi no Kioku ~Mizu no Senritsu 2~

April 6th, 2010

Hi no Kioku CoverArt
I liked Hi no Kioku ~Mizu no Senritsu 2~ a lot, and was surprised at how little-known it seemed to be. It was released three months after Hiiro no Kakera in 2006, and I wonder if it was overshadowed by it.

First, the setup. It helps you understand the story if you play #1 first, but if it doesn’t appeal to you, I wouldn’t force it – Hi no Kioku, while characters from Mizu no Senritsu show up, is pretty independent of the first – with one exception. Shitara Suguru’s story has strong ties to the first game.

Have you ever heard of the myth that eating mermaid flesh gives you eternal life? Well, this story is roughly based on that myth. Long ago, a woman called Yaobikuni supposedly did just that, lived for 800 years, and could control the elements. Her present-day descendants, the Kusou and the Ichiyou lines, have different abilities. The Kusou all live much longer than regular humans and have superhuman healing powers as well as each having a special power, but the Ichiyou only live a bit longer, and have their own special powers.

The heroine, Kashiwagi Kira, is an orphan who lost her parents when she was only a baby. She’s her high school’s kendou team ace, has a strong sense of responsibility and is a little self-conscious about not being cute. She has a crush on Kyousuke, who came to the orphanage around the same time as her, but is several years older. He has no idea and treats her like a sister. One day they visit a nearby hotel where his parents were killed (his story is in the first MnS game), and Kira stays outside to give him some privacy. She finds a small shrine, and a strange light fills the air. There’s a flash and Kira finds herself holding a sword, with a voice telling her that it will lead her to her destiny. A strange mark appears on her hand as well, but fades.
Over the next few days she has several confusing encounters with both the Ichiyou and the Kusou (after one she wonders if they’re two rival gangs, lol). She also discovers that Kyousuke is in love with Hina (the heroine from MnS).

Eventually she finds out that someone is attacking both the Ichiyou and Kusou, and though they’ve recently reached a truce, this danger is threatening their ceasefire. Depending on your decisions, you’ll join a certain group and try to find out who is behind the attacks.

On to the characters!

Kashiwagi Yoshiharu (CV: Shimono Hiro): He lost his parents very young and lives at Kashiwagi Home. Kira sees him as a younger brother.

Azumi Yasuhide (CV: Morikawa Toshiyuki): The student president at Kira’s high school, he’s smart but doesn’t trust the Ichiyou. He’s from the Kusou.

Shikibu Yoshino (CV: Kishio Daisuke): A flirty Kusou member who saves Kira when she’s suddenly attacked by monsters. He can tell where people are by somehow following their shadows, and also uses ofuda (seals).

Akizuki Ryou (CV: Kondou Takashi): The older brother of Akizuki Kei from MnS in the Ichiyou family, he works as the instructor of the local kendou dojo. He can temporarily put enemies to sleep.

Shitara Suguru (CV: Saiga Mitsuki): The young Ichiyou hunter, he was an important sub-character in MnS. He’s a tsundere, and he also has a guilty conscience so he doesn’t believe he deserves to be happy.

Shana (CV: Konishi Katsuyuki): The bad guy. Can’t say anymore to give away plot!

The beginning half or so is straight visual novel, but once you choose a side, you start to patrol the neighbourhood, and there’s a straightforward but kind of fun battle system. You choose who to patrol with, and during the battle you build up energy to do special attacks. There are several combo special attacks as well.

I like the art, but the tachi-e aren’t that pretty – it almost seems like an anime artist did them, someone who’s used to having to do several frames so they use strong, very simple lines. The CGs are quite good though IMO. I actually think the visuals will translate really well to the PSP and the smaller screen – there are some screenshots here showing different aspects of the gameplay (this website sometimes works for me and sometimes doesn’t…)

I won’t say much about the plot because I don’t want to give things away, but I thought the story was done well, and Kira is one of my favourite heroines. If you like supernatural adventuer (it’s actually listed as a “gothic romance adventure”), I’d totally recommend trying the new PSP version.

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PCA/ACA Conference!

April 3rd, 2010

I’m very sorry, I couldn’t post yesterday because I was out of the country, at The National Popular Culture & American Culture Associations Annual Conference where I presented an intro paper to otome games!  It was a lot of fun, there were tons of interesting papers, unfortunately I could only see a handful of them.
I was in the Romance section, which had some really interesting papers as well as many great presenters! Jessica at the romance blog Read React Review is putting up summaries of the panels.
I’m going to post my paper up here soon, for longtime otome fans it will seem pretty basic, but maybe it will help some people who haven’t had too much exposure to them, and that’s what this blog is for too!

Things I learned on the trip totally not related to pop culture:
1. When going out of town, double check your route on the other side. I didn’t realize that there was a train link and took a 45-minute taxi ride from the airport to the hotel.

2. Also make sure you will have Internet access. This one killed me, the hotel charged $15 USD per day for internet, not even wireless!!!! AAAAAGH.

3. Don’t go exploring the first night in heels, change to flats even if you think you’ll only go a couple blocks! I don’t know what I was thinking (can I use jet lag as an excuse, even though it was only one hour’s difference?)

Not much happened in the last week in otome games – oh, the Hakuouki anime starts today! Other than that, pas beaucoup…

And my next post, should be up tomorrow or Monday, will be a synopsis of Mizu no Senritsu 2 Hi no Kioku, because I finally went and searched through my old IGN blog, and apparently I never did a full post on it! So that will come too.

And now that my paper is all done, I can focus on making the game! Expect the website to come next week or April 16th!

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