Games — How Idea Factory (Otomate) Creates Otome Games

Siliconera recently posted an interview with Norihisa Kochiwa, development director of Idea Factory. Otomate is a studio under Idea Factory that focuses on romantically themed visual novels aimed at women. Some of their games have made it over to the west, such as Hakuoki, Sweet Fuse, and Amnesia: Memories. In the interview Kochiwa goes over thematic decisions for new games and bringing out their titles worldwide.

“What we at Otomate would like to focus on and strive toward now is to work with various partner companies and creators to bring more of our Otomate titles to fans worldwide! We appreciate all your continued support!”

“Also, we would love to have feedback from western otome fans! Our first step is to try and introduce otome games as part of gaming culture in western countries, and grow the otome genre with our fans!”

It’s nice to hear that they are making efforts to bring out more otome games globally! We’ve seen part of their efforts recently with Idea Factory International releasing Amnesia: Memories for PlayStation Vita and even porting it to Steam!

Additionally, the otome games Aksys announced for Vita a while back just had their release dates revealed. Code: Realize will be out October 20th and Norn9 will be out November 3rd!

Games — Amnesia: Memories released!

Otome dating sim Amnesia: Memories was just released for PlayStation Vita and for PC via Steam on August 25th! You can even get a significant 40% discount on the brand new Steam release if you buy it before September 1st. The iOS and Android releases will be out later this month!

But honestly “dating sim” seems kind of a misnomer when applied to something like Amnesia. In the West it’s used as kind of a blanket term to describe any romantically-themed interactive game, which can be both easy to understand but also confusing when nuance is concerned. The term “otome” is gaining some prominence, though (it’s even used in the Steam tags). But Amnesia itself plays out more like a mystery adventure visual novel, where your traumatized heroine tries to navigate existing relationships with guys she doesn’t remember via parallel worlds, thanks to the help of ethereal Orion who acts as your guide and your snarky commentary (he says what we’re all thinking, in a very meta sense).

So don’t go into Amnesia expecting to build sweet relationships among a pool of options. Instead each guy is honestly kind of a jerk and at times terrifying, and through dialogue choices you’re trying to suss out what your relationship even was in the first place without raising suspicion. It’s like watching a soap opera mid-season and trying to work out all the backstories. I find it very interesting!

Thinking about all this I’m reminded of this recent article by Carli Velocci in Bitch Magazine about text-based horror games and how marginalized women engage with it and use it as an outlet for everyday fears.

Games — Final Fantasy XIV

It’s been a while since I’ve really gotten into an MMO. Long gone are my college days of 40-man progression raiding vanilla World of Warcraft. I have so many other games I want to play and things I want to work on I can’t bring myself to dump the requisite hours into online role-playing games. I also worked professionally as QA on one for quite a few years, so they’ve kind of lost their glamour.

Before WoW I played a lot of Final Fantasy XI. To the excessive point where I felt I had to do something drastic. I snapped all my install disks, sold off my fortune of gil, and deleted my level 62 Beastmaster while wearing her full Artifact armor and Monster Signa staff—a sort of viking funeral. I remember the hardships that the old Japanese MMO designs required. Which is why I was extremely hesitant to start playing Final Fantasy XIV, their newest Final Fantasy MMO, when it initially came out 2010. And I later heard it was pretty bad. Bullet dodged.

Then Square-Enix announced the FFXIV complete overhaul with a new director at the wheel. I wasn’t sure how this was going to work out and the revamp was made live in 2013, a time period when I was very busy. But gradually I was hearing how legitimately good the new FFXIV, subtitled A Realm Reborn, was. I finally grabbed a cheap copy during a Steam sale last year and gave it a shot. And wow, they weren’t wrong!

They even tied the world remake into the story, similar to WoW’s Cataclysm. I find the trailer for it very emotionally stirring….

Imagine my shock when I’m doing one of my first questlines, complete the requirements, and instead of requesting I go back to the quest giver in town, like I was used to in FFXI, I could turn it in at an outpost nearby and even pick up further quests there! This is something we’ve come to expect because of modern usability introduced by the likes World of Warcraft and I was really happy that simple questflow had made it into FFXIV. Also there were a lot of sidequests to gather and level up on, no more grinding on tons of enemies in forced parties.

Final Fantasy XIV cribbed a bunch of systems from other popular Western MMOs as well. There are public quests that pop up similar to Warhammer Online. Enemies’ special attacks are telegraphed by AOE indicators on the ground ala Guild Wars 2. Reputation systems and daily quest allocations like World of Warcraft. Simpler travel systems via paid attuned teleportation, Chocobo rentals, airships, boats, and personal mounts. This all seems like really basic stuff but seeing how they implemented it all so fast after the initial launch is amazing! The latest expansion even added in flying mounts.

I’m also compelled by the main scenario epic storyline pulling me through the game. It feels very Final Fantasy and so many references are lovingly weaved into the game with masterful localization. Magitek armor, Judges, summons, Cid. A recent patch added in a Gold Saucer area where you can learn how to play Triple Triad. I enjoy that the class system is not tied to a particular avatar and instead you can switch your class via weapon equip and level each one individually on your same character. Some advanced roles even require you to progress multiple classes to a particular level in order to unlock their starter quest.

Time did a profile on the new director, Naoki Yoshida, and it goes over a lot of his Western gaming influences.

I’ve read that Dark Age of Camelot is one of your favorite games. What other games, either past or present, have been the most influential to you as a producer and director?

As an avid online gamer, I can’t go without mentioning Diablo and Ultima Online. Diablo taught me about the joys of playing online with other players, and how to add value to an item so that players would obsess over it. I don’t even want to think about how many hundreds of hours I’ve put into that game (laughs). As for Ultima Online, the thousands of people sharing one world, the thrill of player killers, and role-play that is very free, were all very impactful to me. There are many other games that fuel my passion, but I would list these two as must-haves. I can still talk through the night about all of the episodes I had in-game.

Read the rest of the profile on Yoshi-P here!

You can buy Final Fantasy XIV itself for PC, Mac, PS3 or PS4. You can also get it on Steam where you can even pay your monthly subscription fee via your Steam Wallet.

Manga — Happy 801 Day!

It’s August 1st, Yaoi Day (8/01: Japanese eight can be read “ya”, then zero as “o”, then one read like “i”). My friend Anne has a really good short breakdown of the genre if you’re unfamiliar with it.

I thought I’d take this opportunity to post the list of BL (boys love) manga recommendations that I’ve been planning. For a while friends have been asking me to recommend BL manga that I enjoy and that would be good for beginners. I’ve also been asked by other friends for recommendations that deviate from the typical 90s-esque CLAMP-Shoulders Yaoi-Hands styles that are most prevalent. There are a lot of artists working in the genre so styles can range significantly.

If you want a BL history lesson I can’t recommend more Moto Hagio’s Heart of Thomas printed in a nice hardcover edition by Fantagraphics. It’s a shoujo series from 1974 and one of the earliest examples of mainstream women manga artists exploring themes of same-sex relationships. While BL media can be fraught and filled with problematic portrayals that in no way reflect realistic homosexual relationships between men, it is an interesting space to explore because it’s one where women have a lot of creative power in, as far as the Japanese market is concerned.

My tastes in BL manga tends to lean towards odd-couples with some domesticity, humor, and a bit of smut, so that will be present in my following recommendations. I definitely have a longer list and I plan to do a follow-up post outlining some series that would totally be on this list if only they were officially localized. It’s also safe to assume that these books are rated 18+.

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His Favorite – Suzuki Tanaka (free preview)
I wasn’t sure what to think of His Favorite at first and grabbed it out of boredom, but it charmed me pretty quickly. This one is about an unattractive boy, Yoshida, and his popular classmate who takes a liking to him, Satou. At first Satou can come off as pretty pushy, but I enjoy how their relationship ends up in later volumes and the silly backstories. The Rumic-style humor and stylistic weighted lines of the art kept me coming back for all 7 volumes. Also I should note this one is very tame as far as any sexual content goes, so it’s a good start for those not feeling ready to take that plunge yet. Can be read in either digital or print (with more options on the SuBLime website).


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Awkward Silence – Hinako Takanaga (free preview)
Enthusiastic and consensual relationship from the get-go! Yes! So unfortunately rare (and lamentably doesn’t remain true for the second pairing in the same series). Satoru is an introvert who has trouble making his expressions apparent on his face (which for the reader is supplemented by thought bubble exuberance and small expressive avatars). So this leads to communication issues with his new boyfriend to work out. Lots of misunderstandings that thankfully get resolved quickly and end up being more cute than irritating. Can be read in either digital or print (with more options on the SuBLime website).


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Apple and Honey – Hideyoshico
I am a big fan of artist Hideyoshico! She captures very cute interactions between her characters and draws such expressive faces. Apple and Honey is actually side stories intersected with a different couple’s short story in the middle. The other volume, His Rose Colored Life, is the main couple set in a college and is a bit more melodramatic than the other books on this list. I recommend getting these ones in print instead of digital, the transfer quality leaves much to be desired.


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Crimson Spell – Ayano Yamane (free preview)
Crimson Spell has got that corny fantasy romance novel aesthetic going for its covers and I love it. It’s about a prince getting cursed by a heirloom sword and traveling with a sorcerer in order to find out how to remove his demonic affliction. Artist Ayano Yamane’s books regularly top the New York Times Bestsellers list for manga when they are released (Crimson Spell volumes as well as Finder) and she is surprisingly popular here. One thing I didn’t expect from Crimson Spell was the humor. It reminds me of Bastard!! but with way more actual sex. This one is only available in print.

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Manga — Gengoroh Tagame TCAF panel transcript!

(it’s probably safe to assume most of these links are pretty NSFW)

In Toronto a couple of months ago I had the privilege of attending a panel featuring the world-renowned gay comic artist Gengoroh Tagame. Japanese manga artists don’t often tour worldwide so being able to see them in person is a rare alignment of the stars depending on what festivals you’re able to attend that given year (I still remember being devastated at missing out on Naoko Takeuchi visiting SDCC in 1998).

The panel also featured Tagame’s long-time translator and localizer, Anne Ishii, and her collaborator at MASSIVE, Graham Kolbeins. Additionally there was Leyla Aker there, SVP of Publishing at Viz, able to offer insight into the other side of the coin, BL (yaoi) manga (Viz owns the imprint SuBLime).

What followed was an insightful look at Tagame’s artistic history and the changes that took place in the gay manga publishing space over the past couple of decades in Japan. As a historian and a critic Tagame is very thoughtful about his art and hearing his lived experiences and take-aways was fascinating.

I highly recommend reading the entire transcript of the panel, thanks to Deb Aoki!

Tagame also shared some of his evolving thoughts on genre boundaries and the controversial term “bara”:

“When I look at gay art in comics as a critic, I get really anxious about that division precisely because the simplistic way of dividing it is that BL represents more romance, narratives, thinner body types, more effeminate characters. And then so-called “gay manga” would be just more diesel, big guys and more hardcore sex, etc.

But what happens when the creator is a woman doing more hardcore work? Is that considered gay? Is it BL just because she’s female? Is it about the audience, or is it about the creators? So those are definitely things I think about a lot as a critic.

Furthermore, going back to the gender of creators, that’s problematic as well because sometimes BL creators– and I’m speaking just from personal acquaintance with some of these creators– may be biologically female or identify on the page as heterosexual women, but sometimes they’re actually lesbian or transgender.”

“I mentioned in the Massive anthology that I actually personally hate the description “bara” comics, because it’s inaccurate and a false representation, but I’m thinking now based on all the issues I’ve just delineated that “bara” could actually be a very convenient term to describe the situation, or the style.

The reason I hated the description “bara comics” is because the one thing I wanted in the 21st century for people to stop appropriating this terrible word in association with gay men. I don’t want there to be any link between this derogatory term with the gay community. But, seeing it used as a way to describe just the content makes it apparent that it’s very convenient for talking about art that is linked by characters that are muscle-y, huge, and hairy, versus more feminine theme of willowy, romantic figures. That’s a delineation that I can appreciate, I think now, the more I think about it– “bara” could potentially emancipate the content from its creators.”

Read the rest of the transcript here!

You can also read more interviews with Tagame and other gay manga artists in Massive: Gay Japanese Manga And The Men Who Make It.

Games — Hatoful Boyfriend on Vita & PS4, Holiday Star coming

I’ve already obtained every single Steam achievement for Hatoful Boyfriend, even completing the epilogue after the final dreadful route. Yet I am still compelled to buy the game for my PlayStation Vita which was released just last week, along with for the PlayStation 4. They added an additional route written by Hato Moa, featuring the bird Tohri who is normally only found in the prequel Holiday Star.

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Lucky for us Hatoful Boyfriend: Holiday Star has also been announced for the makeover treatment and will be coming out from Mediatonic and Devolver Digital in the Fall for all supported platforms (PC. Vita, and PS4). I have a friend who has played through the original doujinshi release of Holiday Star and she reports it’s just as messed up as the first game, so I’m extremely excited for it.

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If you are unfamiliar with Hatoful Boyfriend then Laura Hudson makes a compelling argument for the subversiveness of the game in her review. And if you aren’t even sure how to approach dating sims like Hatoful Boyfriend in the first place then I can certainly teach you. But if you’re an old pro like me and my friend Julian, you can listen to us talk all manner of Hatoful Boyfriend spoilers on the Gamers with Jobs podcast.

I love Hatoful Boyfriend. Creator Hato Moa is such an interesting person. You should definitely follow her Tumblr!

I also highly recommend the Hatoful Boyfriend drama CDs. They’re adorable and feature a cast of really talented and popular voice actors (Shuu is voiced by Dio from JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure). You can even buy translated Hatoful Boyfriend manga drawn by Hato Moa on the Amazon Kindle store.

Anime — Pillow Boys

Lately I find myself having to explain Japanese drama CDs to people more and more often. It’s because a lot of the techniques used in these situation audio dramas, usually aimed at women, have been finding their way into other media that makes it over to Western awareness, most recently being the Fire Emblem if binaural voice over dialogues when getting intimate with your army (wear headphones for this).

The topic also came up when I was livetweeting the new anime Makura no Danshi, a currently airing show that can be watched via Crunchyroll. While this new anime doesn’t have the ASMR-inducing voice effects that the binaural recordings do, it has the same sort of scenarios that one-on-one drama CDs involve, basically dude talking at you and telephoning your character’s lines back. Each week a different animated guy will sit and pleasantly chat about your day for five minutes.

Once you break past the initial embarrassment factor it’s nice to chill and bask in the presence of a piece of media unabashedly catering to women.

If you’re curious about more stuff like this, many longer drama CDs exist. They range from transmedia tie-ins to existing properties, radio-style dramas, one-on-one situation CDs, BL dramas. There are even plenty of spicy 18+ offerings. Translations usually abound online thanks to Tumblr, if you don’t mind following along or being surprised after the fact about what the sweet Japanese guy was actually growling in your ear.

Or you can wait for Fire Emblem Fates to come out next year!

Goods — Ugly Fenris

People responsible for Western games merchandise, we need to talk.

Lately a lot of my friends and artists I follow have been catching up on the Dragon Age series. I noticed when they hit Dragon Age 2 a big uptick in Fenris adoration came about. I was quite the fan of him when I played originally and find he still is a favorite of mine. But there’s not really any merchandise to buy of him, oddly enough. So they get by with fanart and fan-made goods.

Then imagine my surprise when I see the same artists reeling at the little vinyl Dragon Age 2 figures being sold at the most recent San Diego Comic-Con. Turns out you somehow made Fenris ugly and this is definitely not the kind of goods they want on their desk. I certainly don’t, which sucks because in general I do want a desk-Fenris. Not this McDonald’s Happy Meal gremlin, though.

(It’s not even the problem being “Oh no he’s ugly” it’s “Oh no literally the only figure I can legitimately buy of him is terrifying to behold.”)

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Look, I know you guys are all chasing that Funko Pop! dragon of cheaply made vinyl blobs to line the walls of Newbury Comics but that’s just not gonna cut it for the players who I see most often championing your games.

And it’s with situations like this that I see a completely different approach to merchandising for women in the West versus Japan’s extensive goods market aimed at women. There’s a really big disconnect between what the fans I know want to buy and what is provided.

I realize sheer side of geographical area and retail shelf space are a completely different beast in the United States versus Japan, but in a world where you can distribute most everything online and where plenty of spots are somehow made for niche resin superhero statues: why is it still a limiting factor?

Japanese companies like Good Smile have now gotten to a point where they’re teaming up with other figure company Max Factory and opening a separate brand, Orange Rouge, to handle creating Figma, Nendoroid, scale statues, and other collectibles of male characters for women fans. And Western companies like Marvel team up with Good Smile to make a bunch of cute little Avengers Nendoroids, among other things. They can even make Solid Snake look adorable.

What’s confusing is why more Western game companies don’t collaborate more often with Japanese companies like Good Smile to produce higher quality figures. It’s not unheard of, even for BioWare themselves. They teamed up with Square-Enix’s Play Arts KAI for some Mass Effect action figures. And they paired up with Kotobukiya for the Shepard and Liara sexy bishoujo statues, but only women figures nothing of the men characters of similar quality for women fans to buy. It’s a bummer.

I guess there’s that Garrus bust? I don’t know of anyone who would want a bust…

Give me a statue of Fenris like this, on a throne of broken crates like at his trashy house and with a bottle of wine. As he do.

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Games — Understanding Dating Sims

After publishing my article on DRAMAtical Murder, Polygon has let me write up something new, this time concerning dating sims in general. I’ve always wanted to make a sort of how-to-play 101 piece on dating sims to link to my friends because I noticed a lot of them were having trouble understanding visual novel gameplay systems and repetitive story branching. It’s not exactly the mechanics breakdown I promised in my otome history post but it is another step in the series.

Also published recently is my friend Miellyn who wrote an article about romance in a wide variety of video games for Vice, and she was kind enough to get a quote from me for it. We were both on a Romance in Games panel at PAX East 2014, which was quite bawdy and a lot of fun! There’s also a lot of BioWare folks quoted in the article as well, along with my good friend Arden who made Kindness Coins.

I’m so excited to see interest in these kind of games and topics of romance increase. There’s a whole lot more to be explored in the genre and the inspirations these games cause could turn into some really unique games down the line!

Steven Universe

Through my past couple of sick days I’ve been using the time at home laying on my couch to blast through Steven Universe, a show breathlessly acclaimed by all of my friends. I had been enjoying all the fanart but hadn’t watched much of the show myself, until now.

I’ll admit, Steven Universe didn’t grab me at first. I had seen the pilot last year when it went up online and found the concept interesting but irritating at the same time. As I got further into the show itself I saw more details on the Crystal Gems’ relationship to their youngest, half-human member Steven and I became endeared to all of them.

Steven Universe doesn’t balk from delving into themes of non-traditional family units and even consent. All the characters are their own flawed beings, with three non-human Gems trying their best to act as mothers for the half-human child their beloved colleague left behind. Steven is just a kid and watching him learn how to negotiate with parental units who don’t always know what best to do is fascinating. They all learn and grow from each other.

I also really enjoy all the anime references and throwbacks, with plenty of allusions to Revolutionary Girl Utena, Sailor Moon, Ghibli, etc. You can even spot little references in the backgrounds, like Steven’s Gitaroo Man and Cloud Strife figurines.

You can now watch the first half of Steven Universe streaming on Hulu, and the rest is up on Amazon Instant.