Otome games such as Mystic Messenger and Tokimeki Memorial Girl’s Side are made specifically for women. The genre began with with Koei’s 1994 game Angelique. Nowadays, otome games are mostly visual novels with a lot of reading, but the genre started with a dialogue-light management sim. When I sat down with Tim Rogers to play it for the first time, I saw a lot of the building blocks for later otome games, and a few ideas I wish would come back.
Like a lot of otome games, Angelique never made it to the West, so we had to play this one in Japanese. Tim translates this game as I play – and also teaches me how to spell Kotaku in Japanese. In the world of Angelique, when the current ruler of the universe, the Queen of the Cosmos, wants to step down, she hand selects two people as potential successors. In this case it’s Angelique and Rosalie, a pair of Japanese high schoolers with French names. While dating is a big part of the game, your actual goal is to develop a piece of land that the current Queen has given you. You need to use the help of the Guardians, who are also your eligible bachelors, to make your land more desirable to live in and have a higher population than your rival. It’s a management sim with dating, which sounds like a game that was personally made for me.
Angelique has a lot of the hallmarks of otome games I love. There’s a bunch of cute boys to date, including the flamboyant object of my affection, Olivier. Rosalie is your stock arrogant rival, complete with princess curls and a haughty laugh. It also has music that slaps, especially Olivier’s glam rock inspired theme. Further, Angelique has elements that I wish more otome games had. A lot of otome games right now default to a visual novel format. That kind of game, which is mostly reading, lets you get to know characters better but sometimes doesn’t give you a lot of opportunity to interact with things beyond a few binary choices.
In Angelique, I found myself really getting into trying to manage a kingdom. The gameplay wasn’t especially deep – every day you’re given four actions, which you can use to either help yourself out or sabotage your opponent – but there was enough there for me that I felt invested in winning. As a game designed with women in mind, I felt like while it relied on some stereotypes, such as the idea that women love dating, but it wasn’t patronising or infantilising to play. In fact, I really want to play more. Get bent, Rosalie.