Introduction to Boys’ Love Games

 

I could spend a whole entry (or entries, even) explaining what boys’ love, or BL, is, but for the purpose of keeping things short I’ll provide a simple explanation: BL/yaoi/shonen-ai is a sub-genre of Japanese manga, written by women for women, that focuses on the romantic and often sexual relationships between men. The genre has expanded to games, and since I feel in the mood to talk about BL games (thanks to The Gay Gamer, who inspires many of my posts these days), that’s what I’ll be covering today. This is by no means a definitive guide or anything, I’m just getting things started.

Have you ever heard of the genre of games called “dating simulation”? If you haven’t, it’s because they are virtually non-existent in the west, due to presumed lack of interest, I would believe. They’re very popular in Japan, though, with names like Love Plus for the DS garnering all sorts of international news coverage for spurring some men to do various amusing public proclamations of their love for the game such as marrying their virtual girlfriends.

Well, just as there are dating sims for heterosexual men, so are there dating sims for women (bet you didn’t know that). Not only are there games for girls where you control a female avatar as you try to win over the love of the man of your choice, but there are also games where the main character is male. These are BL games.

Most BL characters could easily be mistaken for girls.

Most BL games are relatively explicit in nature, and are thus limited to PC-only releases due to the strict ratings system for game consoles. Nevertheless, there are a few tame BL games available for consoles, mostly the PS2 and PSP (yes, they still make plenty of PS2 games in Japan).

Perhaps the most popular BL game developer is Nitro+chiral, with titles like Lamento and Togainu no Chi garnering tons of fans in Japan. You can find censored versions of Togainu no Chi on the PSP and PS2, but Lamento (see first image) is too explicit to port, so it remains PC-only.

But never fear! There are, well, two English BL games (I was convinced there were more but as of writing this I did a 30 minute Google search and couldn’t find anything else). Absolute Obedience for the PC is one, and in my opinion, the better-looking of the two. JAST USA, the company behind the localization, is also behind the first BL game commercially available in English, Enzai. Sadly, though the company has since localized quite a number of male-oriented eroge (“erotic games”), these two titles remain the only BL they’ve released so far.

BL games are, on the whole, visual-novel style, meaning you’ll mostly be reading through dialogue and textual descriptions, occasionally being prompted to make a choice, and then for all your efforts you’ll be treated to a number of lovely CGs along the way. Characters are, on the whole, fully-voiced, and voice actors play a significant part in the popularity of the games themselves in Japan. Each game features numerous potential partners for you to choose from, some varying in difficulty as to how tough they’ll be to “get.”

In closing, I’ll confess that I’ve never really played a BL game. Sure, I know a lot about them, and I own the PS2 version of Togainu no Chi, but I haven’t played a significant amount of it. I have played the heterosexual, or otome, counterpart to BL games, where you play a female avatar who is out to find herself a male partner, simply because I quickly tire of visual novels. When I play a game, there is only so much reading I want to do! Otome games are much more interactive, for whatever reason, and offer various stat-maxing options and mini-games to keep you interested enough to play them through until the end. But I’ll save that for another post! Here, have some Togainu no Chi! Let me know who you’d go for if you were to give it a play.

Who would you pick? (image courtesy of NCSX)

About Anne Lee

Also known as apricotsushi. Anne can be written with the kanji for apricot (杏), and sushi was the most quintessentially Japanese thing I could think of when I was 13, resulting in my goofy, albeit memorable, nickname.

  • Ooh, I like this post as well as the promise of more to come! It’s a very nice introduction to anyone curious about the BL game world.

    I totally thought there were more officially published games for the US market as well. Guess we’re both just going a little mad. Even though I really like the art for a lot of these games, I’ve never played BL games either! However, I have played the general, straight sims and a couple otome games (which are a lot harder D: ). Oh, and a SPRINKLING of lesbian games which seem the hardest to find of all!

    As for which character I’d go for… I’ve always been partial to that guy with the red jacket and claws. Probably wouldn’t be such a good idea in reality, but this is game world :).

  • Great post, apricotsushi! I look forward to reading more of such posts in the future, and learning more about BL/yaoi. It’s interesting and kind of surprising to me that so many BL games exist in Japan. How much do they censor the PSP/PS2 versions, BTW?

    As for which one I’d choose — honestly, I’m not all that into the more willowy men that seem to be the focus of BL stories. (I much prefer the muscle-y guys seen in most bara comics/games, although I’m not into ‘bears’ in real life.) If I absolutely had to choose, though, I’d probably go with the scruffy-haired guy in the middle.

  • Thanks for the comment, Marcus!

    I’m surprised otome games are harder than the straight ones! I’ve only ever played otome games when it comes to dating sims, so I can’t compare them. I absolutely can’t get through them and have a good ending without some sort of guidance, though!

    That guy looks pretty tough! I find it’s the weirder characters that have the most interesting scenes, though, you know?

  • Bryan- Thanks!

    Censoring is usually done by just editing the explicit images so that the characters are covered, or by just keeping them out of the game altogether. As you play through the game you’re “rewarded” with still image CGs and in the 18+ ones you often get sex scenes, but it’s not too hard to take them out of the narrative if there arent’ too many for PSP or PS2 releases.

    Haha, I know from your blog that you’re more into the scruffy sort of guys so I figured you probably wouldn’t be too interested in most BL characters 😉 If I had to pick though, I’d probably go for the guy in the bottom left corner…