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How to Get Away With Singledom on Valentine’s Day

‘Tis the season to be lovey-dovey. That is unless you are, either by choice or unfortunate circumstance, unendowed with a significant other. Fret not! The miracle that is Japanese virtual gaming is here to pull you into a world where anything is possible—even love.

An otome game—or an otoge, for short—literally translates to “girl game.” It’s an interactive visual novel or a plot-driven video game that caters to a primarily female market.

You play from the point of view of a protagonist who gets to meet and interact with a set of characters—typically, a bunch of hunky, able-bodied men. These characters have their own distinct personalities and physical appearances to satisfy anyone’s type. Traditional gameplay involves going through the story and choosing among various dialogue or action options, which can either increase or decrease what are called Love Points.

With recent dating sim releases, however, these games can even target a male market. More so, there have been a number of games in the industry, which have since challenged the conventions of an otoge. Stepping away from the textbook boy-meets-girl plot, many of these games marry atypical plots and unconventional characters resulting in a genre that’s as unendingly diverse as one can imagine.

Which is why we’ve come up with this list of game changers to keep you company this Single Awareness Day.

Katawa Shoujo by Four Leaf Studios

  • What Is It About?

You are a high school boy named Hisao and you’ve just been diagnosed with chronic cardiac dysrhythmia. In other words, you have a heart condition. You end up moving to Yamaku High School for Disabled Children where you learn to adapt to your new circumstances and make new (lady) friends.

  • Where Can You Play It?

Available for free on both Mac OS and Windows. Download here: [http://www.katawa-shoujo.com/download.php].

  • Why Is It Even On This List?

At first glance, you’d think this would be offensive and even misogynistic. After going through the game, however, you find that it provides sensitive treatment for the characters. There’s Emi, for example, a track and field athlete who runs on prosthetic legs. But it doesn’t stop there. The interactive features of this otoge allow you to see them as whole human beings who are more than what they seem to be missing.

 

Hakuōki: Shinsengumi Kitan by Idea Factory

  • What Is It About?

It’s nearing the end of the Tokugawa shogunate. You’re searching for your father, a Western trained doctor who went missing in Kyoto, and run into a group of murderous men. You are saved by the Shinsengumi, a squad of (handsome) samurai who then take you into their custody.

  • Where Can You Play It?

Available on PlayStation consoles such as the PS3, PS Vita and PlayStation Portable as well as on the Nintendo DS.

  • Why Is It Even On This List?

Inaccuracies aside, Hakuōki is an interesting look into Japanese history during the Edo period. For reference, this was the time in Japan when they began merging their culture with Western influences—thus meriting reluctance from locals as well as the eventual fall of the samurai. Except with some magical elements involved. Plus, the dialogue is accompanied by voice actors and background music for a more intensive experience.

 

Hatoful Boyfriend by PigeoNation Inc.

  • What Is It About?

You are invited to study in the exclusive St. PigeoNation’s Institute. All the students in this school are sapient, quasi-anthropomorphic birds. Also, you are the only human being in this school.

  • Where Can You Play It?

Available for free on Mac OS and Windows. Download here: [http://fuwanovel.org/novels/hatoful-boyfriend-holidaystar]

  • Why Is It Even On This List?

If you’ve found that Parokya ni Edgar’s “Don’t Touch My Birdy” really resonates with you, this is the game for you. This game, undoubtedly, is on a different level of absurd. However, it is a very emotional and serious read once you get over the fact that all your friends are aviary creatures. Bonus: One of the characters is a Luzon Bleeding Heart, so hoorah for Philippine representation.

 

Love! Sushi Rangers by KOYONPLETE Inc.

ith it.

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  • What Is It About?

Your father suddenly packs up and leaves you to go to a sushi-maker conference and you are left to manage his sushi bar in his absence. The good news is that you won’t have to do this job single-handedly, because the premade sushi in your father’s restaurant can turn into able-bodied sous chefs.

  • Where Can You Play It?

Available for free on the App Store and Google Play.

  • Why Is It Even On This List?

This one’s for the lonely food lovers out there. Some people might find themselves thinking about how food can never break their hearts the way people do. Let’s be real here, there are some particularly tasty dishes you wish you could date (Just me? Oh, okay). In Love! Sushi Rangers, this dream might not be so far away.

 

LongStory by Bloom Digital Media

  • What Is It About?

You’re a transfer student in Weasel Heights (the names get weirder, BTW). When you get to your locker, you find out that the previous owner went missing. It’s up to you to solve the mystery and steer your way through the wilderness that is high school.

  • Where Can You Play It?

Available for free on the App Store and Google Play.

  • Why Is It Even On This List?

This is the only game on this list with realistic world building. You play a quasi-socially anxious character—whose sex and gender you can decide on in the beginning, mind you. There are two male and two female potential love interests and you can end up with any one of them regardless of your chosen gender. The queer sensitivity in this otoge as well as the issues tackled (e.g. mental illnesses, bullying and sexuality) make the gameplay feel realistic and more human.

 

Arabian Nights Love Story by OKKO

  • What Is It About?

After accidentally rubbing a lamp you received as a gift, you get sucked into the world of a genie. If you wish to return to your real world, you must fulfill the wish of the lamp’s former users. They happen to be attractive Arabian men.

  • Where Can You Play It?

Available for free on the App Store and Google Play.

  • Why Is It Even On This List?

 

The men in this game are people of color, which is refreshing given the flagrant whitewashing in most video games. But that aside, are you not sold by Sinbad’s wordplay (see screenshot)? It’s so bad that it’s good.

 

Splendidest Otoge by Bloom Digital Media

  • What Is It About?

After you finish baking a tiramisu for a client, you take a quick nap. When you wake up, the tiramisu is missing from the fridge. In its stead is a tall, dark and handsome young man who resembles said Italian dessert, kinda.

  • Where Can You Play It?

Available to play for free via web. Play it here: [http://loserhaven.com/otome/otoge.php]

  • Why Is It Even On This List?

The makers know the premise is the literal worst. The game is self-aware of the absurdity, so much so that it’s kind of funny. It’s a short textbook otoge without the reverse harem. Also, the rough sketched drawing style gives it an adorably raw feel. Who needs a Valentine when you’ve got a tiramisu boyfriend?

 

Honorable mention:

Be My Princess by Voltage

Sleepytime Boyfriend by Visualworks

Starry Sky series by Honeybee

Tokimeki Memorial by Konami

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