Twice now we’ve delved into the world of Otome, and twice we’ve played RPG: The Romance Edition. But, sometimes, we aren’t interested in building stats and relationships. Sometimes you just want a good story you can slip into and forget all your worries.
Thankfully, Otome has that covered too. Welcome to the land of visual novels.
Visual novels, or VN’s for short, cover a broad range of games that immerse the player in an interactive story, where their choices shape the outcome of the plot. The goal is to make the correct choices, plot wise, to get the ending you like best. This kind of game put me off for the longest time, due to the lack of gameplay, but one particular title changed my mind. Created by the Tumblr duo Synokoria, Halloween Otome made me reconsider the world of visual novel, all thanks to some real good writing.
Plot is a no-brainer in this situation, as you don’t call yourself a “novel” without a long, complicated story behind you.
You are Emma Cee, or whatever less forgettable name you decide to enter. You’re an everyday girl with a voracious appetite, a playful personality, and a wicked sense of humor. But, more importantly, you’re the lucky girl who just won a free trip to the mansion of the famous and eccentric actor, Erik Valdemar, for his Get-Away Halloween Spectacular (trademark) You’ll be surrounded by celebrities for a full ten days, you lucky scamp.
Cropped in an attempt text readable…
What’s a literal poor girl to do? Well this girl finds herself an archer costume and heads on out. And, as it turns out, this get-away is a contest, and you have three enigmatic partners: Mr. Bandages, a cranky and competitive model; The Count, a charming actor with a very odd sense of humor; and Mr. Wolf, a shy, easily-frightened singer who feels like an outsider. It’s up to you to make the right choices to both win the games and win one of these strapping gentlemen’s hearts. But will you succeed, or will you leave with a bitter taste in your mouth?
As mentioned, the game-play on visual novels is not very extensive. Players are given a story to read, snippet by snippet, with illustration accompaniment. The scenes unfold in the form of a large, hand-drawn background, with character portraits that change expressions and positions accordingly. Every so often you’ll be asked to make a choice that affects the story, and each choice is final. But, thankfully, most also feature a save option, meaning you can reload and try again if you make a mistake.
Each choice you make in game affects your “affection” level with one of the three eligible men, and affects how well you do in the competition. You have a dossier of their skills at all times, and it’s up to you to figure out which man is right for each task. Make enough right choices and you’ll get what’s called a CG, or Character Graphic, which provides a more detailed illustration of what’s going on. Make enough right choices and you’ll get your man in what’s called The Good Ending. Fail to raise their affection levels, and you’ll walk away all alone.
But Halloween Otome features one more thing that made it interesting to me. Since the story revolves around a Halloween competition, you occasionally get to play a minigame. You solve a maze, a puzzle, or some other obstacle, and earn points for solving it quickly. The points are actively tallied at the end of the story, but the story only changes minimally if you win or lose. But if you’d rather not mess with the minigames, you can always turn them off at the start of the game. But this leaves your fate in the hands of random chance, something I do not recommend.
We finally get ourselves into an Otome with some professional-grade Art, and the results are fantastic.
Synokoria take a long time to produce their games, and I attribute part of it to the absolutely gorgeous artwork they have. The anime style is crisp and sharp, with lavish backgrounds and very distinct looking characters. The CG’s range from chibi to warm and inviting, making this an absolute feast for the eyes. If you can handle everything being super bishi and shojo-esque, you’ll be all aboard.
Love Interests (and my suggested playthrough order)
Once again my luck has me testing the ring with the biggest jerk of the game, and this one will test your patience. Mr. Bandages, the photographer turned model, is cranky, conceited, arrogant, and absolutely worthless if forced to survive out in the wild on his own. But, if you’re not laughing at how easily he gets lost, you’ll find yourself enthralled by his oddly sweet attempts at flirting and his protective nature. He’s rough, real rough, but may just need someone to bring him back down to earth for a little while.
But maybe you’re not into men who are clawing and argumentative. Then the sweet and adorable Mr. Wolf may be more your cup of tea. Almost constantly blushing and afraid of making people upset, this up and coming singer feels like he’s constantly lost under makeup and wigs, and feels he’s nothing special. But if the right girl gives him something to fight for, he’ll find his courage.
My personal favorite of the group turned out to be the last one I tried, and it was well worth the wait. Count is the traditional charmer, constantly dropping Casanova style lines that ring hollow when you realize one thing: he says it to all women. Traditionally, the player has to push through it and draw the real person out, but Emma has a third problem on her plate: What happens when her secret comes out? Would he make it work? Could they make it work? But it turns out The Count is hiding a secret of his own, one that I really should have seen coming in the long run.
With beautiful music, great art, and well written characters, Halloween Otome is a great gateway VN for anyone on the fence about the genre. The added bonus of the Halloween competition, plus the engrossing story, create a fun experience with easy replay value. It’s a nice, fine balance between game and story, one which I still remember fondly to this day.
Next Time: Heartstring Bugs
Was this your gateway to the world of Otome? Feel free to comment below! And don’t forget to like and follow for more just like this.