Sometimes it feels like games are competing to be as dark and anguished as possible in an attempt to wring a strong emotional response from us. I like getting pulled into a story, but it can be tiring.
Several of these dark otome titles came out recently – Reine des Fleurs, Yoshiwara Higanbana, even Code:Realize and Norn9 are on the more serious side of the genre. So I’ve been using Yunohana Spring as a pick-me-up between playing these games, and it works really well.
The heroine, Yunoha, is the daughter of an ‘okami’ (a female manager of a hot springs inn) of the Fukujuro inn in Kanazawa, a small city on the western coast of Japan known for its historical Edo atmosphere. But she always dreamt of being a fashion designer, so against her mother’s wishes (I guess her dad’s dead?), she ran away to Tokyo three years ago after graduating high school, went to design school and hasn’t been in contact since.
As the story begins, Yunoha gets an urgent phone call from her childhood friend Kintarou (Kin-chan) (CV: KENN), saying that her mom has collapsed and she needs to return as soon as possible.
When she gets back home, Kin-chan says her mom is recovering somewhere (for some reason Yunoha can’t see her), so she needs to take over as the okami for three months until her mom is at full health. Yunoha reluctantly agrees, and meets the other current staff members – besides Chiyo, the head maid, and Haru-chan, the head chef, both of whom she remembers, there’s also a maid, Nanao, who’s around Yunoha’s age, Kouta, the apprentice chef (CV: Ishida Akira), and Nao (CV: Sugiyama Noriaki), a former guest whose credit card got rejected when he was checking out, so he’s staying around to work off his charge. Also, once you start, this guy named Izumi (CV: Kimura Ryouhei) from the rival hot springs inn starts popping up every couple days trying to flirt and get some attention. There’s also another route, but I think he only shows up if you don’t have high enough affection with any of the other guys to start their route, so I haven’t seen him yet.
Yunoha starts out reluctantly but starts to enjoy serving guests more and more, and the common route has several miniplots around helping guests with their problems. Fukujuro isn’t that busy, so there’s a lot of time to focus on each guest. In each situation, you, as Yunoha, have to make a decision which determines if your ‘okami’ level goes up or down.
As per usual in otome games, there are also several decision points where you pick what to do or who to depend on, and after a few chapters, you split off into a character route. After the split, the character route is not that long, and once you’ve played through once, you can choose where to start again, so you can easily start at the end of the common route and play through in a couple hours (or less maybe).
None of the routes are too angsty, and problems are resolved quickly. The aesthetic tone is very pleasant, the patterns and backgrounds have a traditional Japanese feel, and even the colour palette is soothing. There are also chapter intra-scenes with ‘previews’ of the next chapter, where different characters narrate completely wrong ideas of what will happen next (e.g. when Kouta does it, he makes up a story about opening up a zoo).
The game is definitely shorter than average, but long intros and plots which go around in circles to extend the running time annoy me a lot, so I don’t mind this too much. I’d like some more time with the characters, and even though there’s an extra short story for each character after you finish, the volume isn’t really enough to make me recommend this at full price. However, if you could get it on sale (or if you’re willing to overpay a bit for a cute otome game like me), I think it’s a nice change from all the gloomy titles around – if for nothing else, as a palate cleanser between games.
Prince of Stride was a pretty niche title over here until recently, when it got announced as an anime for 2016. But it had a huge build up in otome magazines over a long time. Girls Style first ran a light novel of it, then a comic, and then there were drama CDs.
It’s set in the near future, and focuses on a new high school sport called Stride, which is supposed to be kind of extreme and very cool. From what I can tell, it’s like the 4 x 100 sprint relay but with 5 people and in cities, where you can use the terrain to your advantage. Also (since OF COURSE girls can’t be good at physical activity, but this is an otome game so we need to get a girl in there somewhere) there’s a position called ‘relationer’ who basically tells the relay members when to start running and acts like an in-race coach, kind of, through headsets. And supposedly this position is viewed as critical to the success of the team, and there aren’t very many female relationers because then all the team members like her, or something…
I wrote the above paragraph after playing about an hour of this otome game. It shows my almost-disdain at some of the plot elements. Since I prefer fantasy and historical settings to modern/sci-fi settings, and the whole sport seemed kind of dumb to me (why is it so hard to recruit for this sport which is basically track, running and jumping, with some very limited parkour?), I was biased against this from the start.
Did the game win me over? Or was I right to be prejudiced? Here are my notes before I finished any routes.
Some good points:
So I was already starting to be won over. Now I’ve finished a few good endings, and I think I have enough to do a real review.
The heroine, a first-year at Honan High School, is a little bland but likeable. She also has a voice during races (unvoiced for regular dialogue). I found her backstory with Takeru and Riku, the two other first-years on the team, to be a bit outlandish, but it does give a good reason for them to like her. The romance is interwoven pretty well between all the competitions, though it’s never really in the spotlight, except maybe in the epilogue. If you don’t like heavy-handed romance you might like this approach, though for me it was a bit too light.
Other than that, the plot about the competition leading up to nationals is done very well, and as I mentioned before, the dialogue and interaction is excellent. Each school that Honan competes with has its own personalities and style, and their interplay is pretty engaging. I think after you play once, you can skip the race parts with the same score you got before, which is good because you can’t skip through those any other way. Really good relationers seem to have some sort of telepathic link with the racers, which felt odd to me since there’s no other indication of sci-fi or fantasy elements. The ending race, if it goes well, gets a little more odd in that the telepathic link is broadcast to the entire audience. There’s no explanation for this that I’ve seen so far.
I’ll get my problems with the game, really the whole story setup, out in the open now. One of the ‘themes’ in the game is how expensive Stride is to put on competitions for, since it requires blocking off city streets. It also is apparently expensive to enter, and each school team needs to have a big sponsor. Perhaps there are high fees to enter? They talk about gear, but really it’s just track outfits, shoes, and headsets, so I don’t quite get it. One of the main kind-of antagonists is the head of Stride in Japan, who’s always trying to sensationalize the rivalries and relationships to make the sport more popular with the public. He also has history with the heroine’s father – they were on the same Stride team in university, where they caught the attention of the nation and won dramatically with the heroine’s mother as their relationer (who died a few years ago, not really sure why that was necessary). It’s kind of implied that that whole Stride team was kind of in love with the mother as well. The heroine’s dad, Joe, has been coaching Stride in the US for a while now, but soon after the start of the game, he comes back to Japan and forms an ‘ultimate’ Stride team which is the final team to beat in the game (he asks the heroine to quit her team and join him, but she refuses – you have no choice in this). This ‘rivalry’ is also hyped up by the Stride national head, which all the characters are pretty scornful of. A constrast is made between Joe (stoically and quietly coaching) and the other guy’s philosophy about promoting Stride as a sport as if being commercial is selling out, but they never question their luck in having a big sponsor whose CEO is the older sister of a team member. They’re also completely okay with another Stride team being an idol group to muster supporters (and money). This could be taken as an astute commentary on the complexity of reconciling ideals about the purity of sport with the requirements of surviving in capitalist society, but I didn’t get the feeling that the characters recognized that (perhaps it’s metatextual?). Anyways, there are some points during the game where this can be kind of glaring.
Besides Takeru and Riku, I went through Heath, the captain’s, route as well, and his story has a nice but not very dramatic arc as well. I actually found him more and more relatable as the story went on, about how he feels like he has to make up for his lack of talent with grit and practice and acting like a model captain, which is easy for me to identify with.
Takeru and Riku were more familiar characters. Takeru is the childhood friend whom you forgot about but he never did, and Riku falls for you almost at first sight not realizing that you have a connection from the past. Their stories were well-done too, I have no complaints.
Long story short, I did enjoy playing Prince of Stride. The gameplay is fun – the only change I’d make is being able to choose more than one day’s activities at a time. Though the meta-plots (both the commercialism vs. sport purity, and the telepathy thing) never got a resolution through the routes I played, the character storylines themselves were done well and were fun. And I think the writers did a really good job setting up the other schools and characters as well, I’m actually interested to see what the anime will be like. I kind of hope it takes a broader view and doesn’t focus as much on Honan, but judging from the promo pics…it probably won’t.
I finally found a casual Western game that I consider to fit in the otome genre! Thanks to Valerie’s recommendation on the Smart Bitches’ Regency Love review (which I also might count as an otome game from what I hear, but unfortunately I can’t play it to check), I found Everlove:Rose, which is available on iOS and Android, and published by Silicon Sisters, a company whose aim is to make games for women by women.
For romance novel readers, I think this is a great portal into gaming, and for otome gamers, it’s perfect if you’re interested in a different sort of otome game. For casual gamers, it’s a nice change from all the horror-based hidden object games and stressful time management games.
In Everlove:Rose, you’re a modern woman, Rose, trying to figure out strange dreams you’ve been having with the help of your therapist, Dr. Alys. She wants to try sending you into your unconscious (or something) to experience your past life where the dreams originated. This framing does a couple things: makes things feel safer, since you’re only dreaming, and lets Rose think and act like a modern woman in a medieval setting believably. The only drawback is that you won’t get a regular ‘happy ever after’ sort of ending, since at the end Rose wakes up again in modern times. Still, I think it works for this game.
Once Rose starts dreaming, she wakes up in a medieval village. She quickly meets some handsome men who could easily be on the cover of a historical romance novel, as well as her friend and her aunt, who for a short time is Dr. Alys.
Everlove is a fairly short game (it is casual, after all), but I think it’s reasonable for the price (~$5). There are four men to romance (in order of appearance):
It’s a small cast but they all have their own arcs. As you play you can see how the storyline branches, which is great, though there’s a lot of overlap. There are several simple puzzles along the way that casual gamers will find familiar – hidden object scenes where you gather herbs and piecing together various letters/artworks. Apparently you can skip them once you’ve completed them once – I didn’t find out how but that would make the gameplay even more smooth than what I experienced. The one thing I’d change is that each character’s route is very simple and there’s not much showing the relationship development between Rose and the guys.
As I mentioned earlier, there isn’t a traditional HEA at the end of each story, but there is a small extra scene to complete the background story once you finish all four routes.
Overall, Everlove: Rose is very enjoyable to play and though I’d love some more story scenes to deepen our understanding and connection to the characters, I’m really impressed that Silicon Sisters got so much right on their first romance videogame – and really, it’s still great value. I recommend it to anyone who enjoys romance novels, or casual games with more character/relationship focus.