Late last year, I decided to bring back the monthly Community Game-Along roundup posts after a suggestion from a reader. But with my trip to Japan at the end of November and the hectic holiday season, I completely dropped the ball on posting roundups for November and December‘s themes! I’d still like to highlight some of the great contributions and game selections from folks who participated, so I’ve decided to combine both months for today’s post. I’ll do my best to make sure I’m not this late again!
I’m always a little sad when Halloween is over and November 1st rolls around, because that means cute bat and spooky pumpkins decorations are no longer in season. But to combat the post-Halloween blues, I’ve decided this month’s Community Game-Along theme will be one of my personal favorite genres: visual novels!
Who doesn’t love visual novels? It seems like everyone is hot on the genre these days, with more and more titles being localized into English and events such as the International Love Ultimatum Jam making visual novels, particularly those of the romance variety, increasingly visible. There are even some folks who would like to take that love for visual novels one step further to make their own, which is where the recently-released engine TyranoBuilder comes in. Touting an easy to use interface, the engine has large shoes to fill considering its competition, Ren’Py, is available for free and has been the go-to engine for western visual novel developers for years. Does TyranoBuilder bring enough to the table to make it worth the $14.99 price tag, or does the sweet price of free reign supreme?
A new month means a new Community Game-Along theme, and this year, May is all about visual novels! We’ve had a ton of great otome game visual novel announcements recently, and while romance definitely is a central theme to many visual novels, for the month of May, any and all visual novels are game!
If you’re new to the visual novel genre, now’s as good a time as any to start! While visual novels generally forgo traditional gameplay to focus on text-based narration, voiced dialogue, and the occasional decision to change the course of the story, many other genres also incorporate visual novel elements. In the interest of getting as many people involved as possible, any games with significant visual novel portions, such as Danganronpa and Zero Escape, are going to be included in the “visual novel” umbrella.
Since we didn’t get a lot of buzz for last month’s theme (poor Yuji Naka!), I’d like to remind everyone to utilize the hashtag #VNMay on social media. All you need to do is pick a game that fits the theme and talk about your experiences to participate in the Game-Along. Don’t forget to share any lengthier thoughts you may have in blog posts, podcasts, or your favorite medium of choice! If you’re stumped as to what to play, here are a few games to get you started.
Who doesn’t love a good visual novel? English speakers are slowly catching on to what might my favorite video game genre, one that focuses on text-heavy narratives and “choose your own adventure”-like branching story lines instead of complicated, action-based gameplay. Whether it be a traditional dating sim, otome game, or something else entirely, visual novels are unique and now, even easier to make yourself!
Idea Factory International is scheduled to have their first ever press event sometime next month, and I’m crossing everything that can be crossed in hopes that they announce an otome game localization for the PS Vita. It’s been a little over a year since they first commenced operations on September 30th, 2013, and despite a wealth of otome games in the Otomate line at their disposal, they have yet to release, let alone announce, a single title.
But why haven’t they? Comments from publishers in the past have alluded to the immense amount of money and work that goes into localizing the book’s worth of text in the usual otome game, but dialogue-heavy RPGs such as Idea Factory International’s Hyperdimension Neptunia must be a similarly text-heavy affairs. Of course, there’s also the argument that series such as Hyperdimension Neptunia already have an established audience in English, whereas many otome games do not, but Idea Factory International has already had relatively good success with a number of games in their Hakuouki otome game series on various platforms (most recently smartphones).Idea Factory International has already published a number of games from one of its subsidiaries, Compile Heart, so it’s not a stretch to assume that it could just as conceivably work with its otome game subsidiary, Otomate, to bring one or more PS Vita games to an English-speaking audience.
I contacted Idea Factory International regarding the inclusion of certain Japanese games on the site, but was told by Marketing Coordinator David Alonzo that it did not indicate an intent to localize said games. If nothing else, however, it shows that Idea Factory International has some interest in informing English-speaking fans about their otome games, though they haven’t kept their site up to date with every single release.Looking at the game section of Idea Factory International’s website, it’s interesting to note that there are two listings for Japan-only PS Vita otome games, Hakuouki SSL ~sweet school life~ and AMNESIA World, both spinoff titles for their respective series. With new games coming out from Otomate nearly every other month, it’s noteworthy that these are the only two Japan-only PS Vita otome games listed on their site.
It’s also worth mentioning that a new company called Otomate World recently launched a website, Facebook, and Twitter account. So far, it has only been used to promote iOS and Android versions of Hakuouki, which currently only appear to be available in Asian markets (when I attempted to view Hakuouki in iTunes, for example, it asked me to switch to the Vietnamese store). These smartphone versions of Hakuouki do not appear on Idea Factory International’s website.
But is it necessary to appeal to a broad audience for an otome game to be successful in English? While smartphone games are certainly easier to get into people’s hands due to nearly everyone owning a device that can play them, the fact that the Shall We Date? series and others have seen so many installments suggests that there is definitely a market for otome games in English. Unfortunately, most console otome games over the past few years have been released for the PSP, and it’s not a stretch to say putting the effort to localize and release a PSP otome game in English in 2015 would be financial suicide. However, the PS Vita is seeing more and more otome games, particularly from Otomate, and while the install base is but a fraction of the smartphone market, have Hakuouki and Sweet Fuse not proved that there is room for otome games on underdog handhelds?In response to my request for a comment regarding the potential of Idea Factory International localizing an otome game, David replied, “I will say that we’ve heard a lot of requests from people to bring over certain otome titles, and I think it’d be awesome to do so! Hopefully we can do so in the future, but for now we don’t have any news about that.” Notably, the company has a section in its forums for localization requests that features an otome game thread that was created in November 2013 and remains relatively active. Otome game fans seem particularly interested in AMNESIA, which was also one of the top requests in Aksys Games’ forums (which are currently down, so unfortunately I can’t provide a link to that thread). AMNESIA, Diabolik Lovers, and Hakuouki are undoubtedly Otomate’s most popular series in Japan currently, but the fact that Hakuoki is the one to have received an English release suggests that AMNESIA and Diabolik Lovers might not have as wide-reaching appeal (as someone who has played both, I can attest to that).
I was originally going to make this article a list of otome games I would like to see announced at Idea Factory International’s press event, but in all honesty, I don’t care. There are so many Otomate titles to choose from on the PS Vita now, from AMNESIA and Diabolik Lovers to Code: Realize ~Sousei no himegimi~, Binary Star, RE: VICE[D], Kokuchou no Psychedelica, upcoming Shinobi, Koi Utsutsu, and more, that I would be happy to support whatever it thinks will be most successful. But if Idea Factory International announces the rest of its lineup for 2015 and chooses not to include an otome game, I feel it will be making a clear statement that handheld otome games are not an avenue it does not consider worth exploring.I don’t profess to assume anything about the business end of games localization, and don’t want to sound like I am dismissing the risks involved with localizing games with very niche audience. However, we have seen time and time again that western publishers are happy to take risks with titles that will appeal to the hardcore “otaku” crowd, such as Idea Factory International with Monster Monpiece and NIS America with Criminal Girls, both of which required editing out potentially offensive content in order to release in western markets (it’s worth noting that despite getting a European release, Monster Monpiece never made it to Australia).
I really hope, for the diversity of niche Japanese games in English, that my cynicism is proved wrong.
Update: IFI announced that they’ll be localizing AMNESIA under the title Amnesia: Memories!
Note: I don’t intend to discredit the importance of smartphone otome games, but rather assert that there is a wide range of quality games being released on the PS Vita that would be great candidates for potential English releases.
The trial edition can be downloaded from the MangaGamer website (the product listing page is very NSFW, so beware before you click) or this blog post if you have trouble creating an account on their site. While the game is for PCs, the game’s translator Haro has posted a tutorial on how to run the game on a Mac (which I myself have done). The demo covers the game’s opening scenario as well as one sex scene for each of the main characters, and will probably take about an hour or so to complete depending on how fast you click through it.
In No, Thank You!!!, you play as the amnesiac protagonist Haru, who takes up a job at an upper-class bar after saving the bar’s owner from being hit by a car (which, subsequently, is how he lost his memories). During his first night on the job, you’re introduced to the five main characters and get a glimpse of the game’s overarching narrative before the game offers you the choice to of whose butt you wish to grab, which then leads into a sex scene with that character taken from later in the game.
The main reason I wanted to check out this demo was to see how the localization fared, and I’m happy to report that I wasn’t disappointed! Haru’s internal monologues are often quite humorous and all of the text flowed really well.
Another pleasant surprise was the fact that text you’ve already read appears in blue – a simple addition, but one that’s really helpful in visual novels when completing multiple character paths. I’m surprised not all companies do this!
Of course, one of No, Thank You!!!‘s big claims to fame is the option to toggle the men’s hair on and off at any time in the game. I’ve never seen a BL game do this before, but it’s great that they’re able to cater to different tastes! I hope more games follow suit in the future.
|This doesn’t really sound like sexy fun times to me…|
In the interest of being honest, I think it’s important that I also mention a few issues I have with the game so far. Haru is an extremely outgoing protagonist that takes control in all of the sexual encounters in the demo, making him a traditional seme, and nearly all of the sex scenes have some element that makes them not completely consensual. This continues the trend seen in the bar scenes where Haru constantly invades the other characters’ personal space. He often proclaims that he’s engaging in “sexual harassment,” which is a term often used jokingly in Japanese media (and is similarly used for humorous effect here), but personally, I don’t really find a character that is constantly “harassing” everyone to be all that appealing.
Similarly, I would much prefer to see sex scenes where both parties are really enjoying the encounter, rather than the one-sided slant all but Hiroyuki’s takes in the demo. I’m sure the full game sees Haru’s relationship with each character develop to the point where everyone is clearly having fun when they do have sex, but I didn’t really like the way pleasure was depicted as repressed/resentful in the scenes in the demo.
Regardless, I very much want to support the release of more BL games in English, so I will happily pay $39.95 for the game when it does come out. If my impressions have you on the fence, I highly recommend you check out the demo yourself! I would love to hear everyone else’s thoughts.