Last year at the Tokyo Game Show, Level-5 announced they were making an RPG on the 3DS specifically targeted toward girls. I was interested by the idea. What exactly is a "girl's RPG." Would it present girls with a strong female role model or would it just be a traditional princessy love story? But whatever I expected from Level-5, I never would have guessed that it would be set in a Japanese hostess club. I couldn't believe it.
Before my third year of college, I had never even heard the word "hostess club." Then I met a girl who had worked for an especially skeevy one during her study abroad in order to make ends meet. At the same time, a member of my major was writing a thesis on the hostess culture. So by the end of my junior year, I had acquired a rather large amount of knowledge on hostess clubs, especially given that my first step onto Japanese soil was still a few months away.
However, you don't need a college education or time in Japan to see a hostess club. They are appearing in Japanese games more and more. But "what exactly is a hostess club" you may ask.
A hostess club is a bar or lounge where you choose a charming and beautiful girl to entertain you for the night. They will sit with you, talk with you, and drink with you for as long as you stay. I want to be clear from the start, hostess clubs are not a prostitution racket nor a strip club. Rather than stimulate clients sexually, they do so emotionally. Hostesses hang on your every word, laugh at every joke, and generally act as if they are head-over-heels in love with you. You receive most of the ego-boosting trappings of a loving relationship without needing to spend the time or effort to maintain one in the real world. In other words, it's like having a pretend girlfriend.
So what is it about hostess clubs that has them appearing in more and more games?
The Yakuza series has had a hostess club mini-game since the first game came out in 2005. In most games, you are even the owner of the club. In the last few titles, it has spread out into a near minigame collection of its own ranging from dressing them up in sexy outfits to playing ping-pong with them. But why hostess clubs in the Yakuza series at all?
The setting of Yakuza, Kinchicho, is almost as well known for its hostess clubs as it is for its ties to organised crime. These days, the game's producers go so far as to use real hostesses as capture models, and then show off the real hostesses at various tradeshows in order to promote the game. The girls have become one of the series' greatest selling points.
The Dream Club games don't just have the hostess club as a minigame. Instead they revolve completely around the experience of visiting a hostess club. You drink and converse with the girls, hoping to make one really fall in love with you. The rest of your game time is spent doing odd jobs to make enough money to pay for your time in the hostess club.
And while the last two examples — especially Dream Club — are geared to a male audience, there are more than a few games geared toward male-populated "host" clubs instead. None of these is more popular than Ouran High School Host Club, the story of a girl forced to join her school's own host club — while dressed as a male of course. This story has been made into manga, anime, live-action dramas and even a movie. While ostensibly a comedy, the DS game (updated port of the PS2 title) is a dating sim in which you try to hook up with your other host club members as you follow the manga's general story.
In each for these, the hostess club in an integral part of the game. Yakuza has hostess clubs for the crime setting and sex appeal. Dream Club has them to pander to lonely, moé-loving otaku. Ouran Hight School Host Club uses the host club setting as a backdrop for a romantic comedy. Yet all these games are aimed at adults while Cinderellife uses a hostess club as the setting of a modern-day fairy tale — a fairy tale targeting impressionable young girls.
But is Girl's RPG: Cinderellife really as questionable as it seems on the surface? Stay tuned throughout the rest of the week for further coverage of Girl's RPG: Cinderellife.