As someone who always loved reading manga and books of different genres since a very young age, there usually are a few things I look forward to in a visual novel; art style, general writing, plot development and character behavior. As good as some Otome games can look with their beautiful CGs and nice premise, not all the ones I tried managed to satisfy my tastes due to a poor writing and/or questionable game mechanics. In this article you can find my personal recommendations, listed for any avid reader constantly looking for something new to enjoy.
I admit it, I am quite the hopeless romantic. I’ve mostly been into shoujo manga and romance books during my entire youth, appreciating their exciting plot twists, intrigues and dramatic implications. The reason why I like playing Otome titles goes well beyond the simple “boyfriend simulation”, which I’m not exactly that fond of per say. The visual novels I specifically seek are full of suspance, angst and unpredictable developents, possibly without falling too much into clichés whether or not the story has a realistic nature or a completely fictional setting.
Platform: Mobile (Apple, Android), PC (Bluestacks, Nox Player, etc)
Price: Free. It has in-game purchases for hourglasses and calling cards.
Story: The lead female character receives a mysterious message from a stranger after downloading an app from the store. The young man claims to be in possession of someone else’s device, which he found lost somewhere in town and would like to return as soon as possible. However, being in a rush for a trip Abroad he asks the MC to find the address he located and leave a note for the owner to let them know the phone is in good hands and will be handed back soon.
As shady as the situation might be, the girl offers her help fearing that whoever lost their phone may end up in trouble without it. Things take a very suspicious turn the moment she finds herself in front of a locked door protected by a code, but the person in chat seems to have the right solution at hand and a clear idea of what to expect from the other side. Feeling somehow threatend, the MC digits the provided password and successfully breaks in, soon realizing that she fell into a big fat trap and the person she spoke to most likely stole another guy’s identity. A new chat messenger appears on her phone’s screen afterwards, with five unknown people holding a lively conversation. Upon seeing a new name on top and assuming they have been hacked, the new characters start feeling alerted and demand an explanation for her intrusion. It won’t take them too long to realize she is in fact unaware of who the RFA Association is and despite an initial distrust on their part, the MC will be convinced to coordinate their upcoming charity party in 11 days and replace the former organizer who passed away two years prior (and owner of the currently empty apartment). Who was Rika and what is going on truly around this group?
Routes available: Seven (Common gameplay has three routes, Deep Story has two, Another Story added two more).
Endings: Normal Ending (no missed chats at all + less than 10 guests by answering their emails), Good Ending (no missed chats + more than 10 guests by answering their emails) and different Bad Endings along the way (too many missed chats, not enough hearts gained during the conversations, specific options selected instead of the correct ones). If you get the Good Ending you can access the After Endings with 20 hourglasses, which may offer an additional story/epilogue in a couple cases.
The chat system feels quite realistic and it is undoubtedly fun to play. The phone calls are a good touch for being voice acted and they allow you to get a more clear idea of how those “people” sound and act with the player. The game is in Korean, but the overall text and subtitles have been translated into English, Chinese and Spanish. The story is incredibly well developed, with tons of plot twists and mysterious secondary elements that won’t really be explained, leaving them up to the player’s interpretation. Each route takes a specific path and gives you different outcomes, also depending on your choices in game. Some routes can be less interesting than others, but it still can be engaging and make the player feel part of the story.
Mystic Messenger also offers a female route. While you don’t really experience any explicit romantic relationship, all the signals are there.
Per contra, it is extremely easy to miss the chats during the day. The game will prompt you to select your time zone at the beginning and thus you shouldn’t miss anything as you sleep at night, but if you have a full time job or school/uni with upcoming exams, being on your phone whenever a new notification pops up can literally be impossible. While I do like the realistic aspect of the messenger, you can hardly play the game properly if you don’t have enough time for it. The convos left behind can be unlocked and replayed before switching to the following day, but a certain amount of hourglasses is needed to proceed. You can at least obtain some while selecting specific answers and also by inspecting every guest’s profile. Unless, of course, you decide to buy them.
Be aware that hourglasses are required to unlock Deep Story and Another Story as well.
If you want to read more about this game, check my Mystic Messenger post here.
Developer: Voltage Inc.
Platform: Love 365 App on Mobile (Apple, Android), PC (Bluestacks, Nox Player, etc)
Price: The app itself is free. The main stories published so far on it cost around $4-5, POVs and side stories between $2 and $5, a couple rare special stories can go up to $8 (please note that my prices are displayed in €, thus they may not be 100% accurate compared to your currency). Unfortunately, the app recently introduced the Love Choice system, you can read more about it here.
Story: The female lead character is a Planetarium worker from Tokyo, with a huge passion for the stars since a very young age. One night, she wishes with all her heart the sky will clear out the next day for the Star Festival she organized with her colleagues at the Planetarium to take place as scheduled. A bright light suddenly appears in the clouds above and races to her at high speed, before enveloping her whole body into a white, blinding glow. The MC will wake up in her own bed, discovering six unfamiliar men dressed up in a peculiar way standing around her. Said men introduce themselves as Gods of the Stars, later stating she herself is a former Goddess reborn as a human (proved by the presence of stars in her eyes). All six of them have been punished by the King of the Heavens for a sin they previously committed, who sealed their full power with a mark printed on their skin and exiled them to Earth indefinitely. Forced to choose one of the men to serve her purpose and erase their sin, the ex-Goddess will undertake a magical adventure full of twists, love and heartbreaks.
The story is actually split in two parts. The second prologue takes place after the first section of the game, with the mark of sin erased from all six Gods and no romantic bond formed with the MC (in other words you can choose one or the other depending on the route you want to play first). The remaining Gods of the Stars will finally have their own story then, keeping her safe from the Dark King and whatever such a demon and his minions are plotting in the shadows against the Goddess of Fate and the Heavens above.
Routes available: Twelve. All the Gods have 2 seasons and special stories.
Endings: Blessed Ending and Forbidden Ending. Both endings are good, they just happen differently according to the player’s choices. There’s no Bad Ending in this game.
SCM was my very first Love 365/Voltage title and in all honesty I wasn’t expecting much from it at first. The writing is surprisingly good, apart from some typos along the conversations and first person descriptions. The character design is absolutely stunning and each God has his own interesting background without sounding repetitive. The routes are never really the same apart from what they hold in common and the female protagonist is somehow the only former Goddess with power still locked inside despite her memory loss. Her hidden capacities may even awaken at different times throughout the game and depending on the route you’re reading. SCM only offers happy endings, but the game has a lot of angst in the middle and a fine rollercoaster of emotions.
The MC’s reactions can be slightly questionable most of the time, though. Her constant embarrassment for every little thing the guy does or says, even if they’ve dated for a long time up to that moment, feels like an unrealistic behavior to me. The fact she’s strong, self-sacrifing and a hard worker kinda makes up for the extreme amount of insecurities in the romance aspect at least and in a few routes she even acts bolder.
Labyrinths of Astoria
Developer: Voltage Entertainment USA
Platform: Lovestruck App on Mobile (Apple, Android also available on Amazon), PC (Bluestacks, Nox Player, etc)
Price: Free, it has in-game purchases for hearts and tickets.
Story: The main character is an agent working for the Hell and Earth Relations Agency (H.E.R.A), an organization enstablished to keep the activities of the mythological Gods and monsters in the human world under control. Upon arriving at work one day, her Demigod boss and friend Alex Cyprin offers her the chance she’s been waiting for a lifetime; Hades is drawning in paperwork and requires an expert’s assistant to get the job done, someone skilled enough to finish the given tasks quickly and fit to attend the Summit on Olympus. Which path will you choose?
Routes available: Seven (plus substories and sequels).
Endings: Normal ending and Passionate Ending.
The plot is really nice, especially if you are into Mythology. The writing has a very minor presence of typos and flows pretty well, the characters have a good development and the protagonist is the perfect example of what any woman would like to be (strong, successful and independent). The art style has a more Western approach (less manga-like), but the character design is equally pleasing. There also is a plot twist related to the main character that will make her whole role in the story even more meaningful.
Note: While relationships between close relatives isn’t uncommon in Greek Mythology, this aspect isn’t really mentioned in Astoria. Hades and Persephone remain fond of each other just as uncle and niece and Zeus only cares about her as a precious daughter with no other dirty intention.
While the main stories are played in first person, the sequels in-between have the MC properly displayed in her fullest. This story (like many others on Lovestruck) also has LGBT characters such as Medusa and Alex Cyprin (non-binary).
Still, prepare yourself because Lovestruck uses the Love Choice system. You can still play the entire game for free without spending a cent, but in order to unlock the Passionate Endings and/or enjoy deeper moments with the character you are going for (including more NSFW scenes), a certain amount of hearts is required. You can mostly buy hearts selecting different packages: 20 hearts for $1.99, 60 hearts for $4.99 (20% bonus), 125 hearts for $9.99 (20% bonus), 260 hearts for $19.99 (30% bonus), 580 hearts for $39.99 (45% bonus) and 1500 hearts for $99.99 (50% bonus). The prices can be even higher depending on your currency.
Alternatively, you can gain more hearts through the daily bonus, unlocking new puzzle pieces that can make you earn some if you manage to complete the boards. I can’t really say I like this method because you need one heart for each draw all the time apart from the first try every day, ruining (in my opinion) the whole purpose. Thankfully there is a new feature in your stats about “quests”, where you can earn free hearts by completing the listed tasks.
The Lovestruck devs have also implemented the “Fanhearts” competition, where you can post a fanart for their stories according to the monthly theme. You can add up to 2 submissions for 10 hearts and should your picture be selected for the showcase you can get 100 more.
Thankfully, the app now allows you to re-read the previous chapters with all LC options unlocked if you previously got them, without forcing you to use hearts again and pay a second time. I am honestly grateful for this change.
Tickets have to be purchased too if you consume the two at your disposal and want to read more at once without waiting, otherwise they will recharge within a couple hours each.
Havenfall is for Lovers
Developer: Voltage Entertainment USA
Platform: Lovestruck App on Mobile, PC (Bluestacks, Nox Player, etc)
Price: Free, it has in-game purchases for hearts and tickets.
Story: The main character is a regular worker for the local bowling alley, desperate to gain enough money for her younger sister’s studies and allow her to finally go to college for better opportunities. However, the MC will soon find out the close friends she has known for a very long time are hiding an unbelievable, supernatural secret and that Havenfall itself is not only a simple “hole of a town” as she always believed, but a way darker place with terrifying truths hiding around the corner.
Depending on the route you’re going for, all prologues start differently.
Routes available: Six. Two male vampires, one male Djin, a female werewolf, a non-binary devil and a female vampire hunter.
Endings: All series conclude with a cliffhanger and only the finale will have a standard epilogue.
Havenfall is one of my absolute favorite novels and I would recommend it a million times over. I can’t help but offer it praise for the incredible writing (seriously, one of the best writing I could find in a visual novel among the ones I’ve played) and captivating art style. The female protagonist is an absolute dork, she stands her ground with no fear and would do anything in her power to protect the ones she cares about. The background music is also one of the most beaufitul Otome soundtracks ever made, it mesmerized me since the very first episode I tried and I can’t get tired of it despite the repetition. The game has a bunch of pop culture too and historical mentions due to some characters’ age. Last, but not least, the relationships feel way more realistic because of their many colors and difficulties.
Story: If you have never been in love before and wish to be treated like a real princess by your Prince Charming, or if you experienced a significant heartbreak and want to remember how going out with someone feels again, the agency of rental boyfriends is available for any woman’s desire. While the female protagonist believes that what these hired guys do is pointless, as they create the perfect dates which only portray a fake relationship and nothing more than a beautiful illusion, she will soon find herself thrown right into such an unknown world against her will. When her uncle is taken to the hospital after collapsing at work, he will ask her to take his place at the agency during his recovering, because (to her surprise) the man is none other than the actual founder.
Despite an initial disappointment for her new job, the MC will soon understand what it truly means to be a rental boyfriend and why these guys are strongly required by so many ladies in town.
Routes available: Six.
Endings: Wishful ending and Fullfilling ending. You can unlock one or the other depending on your affection points.
If you like shoujo manga you’ll find this reading quite pleasing. I personally wouldn’t rent a fake boyfriend for anything in the world, but it still was an interesting point of view to discover and I could at least understand the meaning behind it like the protagonist did. I only played two routes so far, In Haruka’s I admit I didn’t particularly enjoy the MC’s reactions in a few situations, while I found Aito’s much more satisfying and serious regarding the plot writing and the way she behaves.
Nevertheless, there are a few downsides you need to consider before playing. You have to wait for an entire day before getting 5 more tickets and the scenarios are way too short for my tastes. You also can’t unlock the CGs and special scenarios unless you pay for the requirements and that could be a let down considering how expensive it will be. Still, you can enjoy this game even without buying anything (I played it entirely for free) and if you got other stuff to check out in the meantime, it’s not that hard to wait 24 hours to read more. It surely makes it last longer and I can’t say it’s too big of a deal in my case.
You still receive a good ending and quite detailed sex scenes (nothing extreme, mind you) without buying anything at all, you can gain points to proceed with the story by completing some missions and challenges between chapters where no purchase is needed, without counting the daily bonuses. The lack of CG could also be bypassed thanks to the internet; all pictures have been already posted all over Google and other places, so it won’t be a real loss in the end. All in all, Rental Boyfriends is a very relaxing visual novel and for what it offers for free I think it’s still worth a try. You just need to get used to its system and waiting times.
Note: The standalone app will be terminated on August 2019, all routes are going to be transferred to the Honey Magazine platform along with other titles developed by Okko, but you won’t be able to carry over your progress. The app is still free, as all the stories on it apart from the special options with rubies.
Note: This game is currently available as beta on the Play Store for some and in apk form for the ones who cannot access the download due to Country restrictions. The official version hasn’t been released yet and there actually are no real news about it’s development either while the full game was expected a long time ago. Fans are still waiting for Cheritz to confirm it is still a thing and it will be released at some point this year or the next, so right now we can only test the waters with what we’ve got and see where it leads us.
Story: You will once again play as the main female character, downloading a dating app of sorts from the Store with a cute AI guiding you through the profile creation in order to find the perfect match for your personality. However, things will not go exactly as intended (you don’t say…) and the unknown man using the chat as a personal journal won’t have the slightest clue of how you got there in the first place, nor why you were instructed to find a date as he was mainly supposed to test a not yet released app on his own. However, despite the initial shock in finding another person into the empty convo, the mysterious user named TEO will express excitement for being able to finally talk to someone rather than being bored by himself, hospitalized due to an accident that broke his arm and leg as he was filming a dangerous bike scene in the fog.
Routes available: One
Endings: N/A. The beta allows you to play for 14 days, being unfinished there is no way for us to know how it will end (although Cheritz said there won’t be any bad ending at all). The game seems to have a pretty mysterious side too, where strange people appear in TEO’s photos as if they’re stalking him for whatever reason.
The Ssum is very similar to Mystic Messenger (even has MysMe Easter Eggs), but it features a more practical functionality. The app will set different chat times along the day respecting your own schedule (more or less) and you can also visit the calendar to re-read the previous conversations. Needless to say, the chats require some attention in order to develop TEO’s opinions and feelings for the player; he will share his daily experiences and frustrations, posting selfies and photos about his surroundings while also writing down notes about you and the way you respond to him. The character design is pretty interesting and follows a realistic approach instead of the anime-like style we encountered in Mystic Messenger. The way it’s set, the game offers a slower pace when it comes to building a relationship with TEO and nobody knows what will happen after the 2 weeks of beta.
Who is TEO exactly? How come the app company is no longer answering the guy’s calls and devs went suddenly MIA without paying him anymore for the part-time job? What’s the PIU-PIU AI actually instructed to do with the two of you?
The chat system works with batteries, even if you could technically skip them in order to play normally without spending money. You can only purchase some from the store or earn free ones eventually (the feature is currently locked). You need at least 10 batteries for the green/special comments in order to speed up the relationship process and unlock more pictures, 15 for the phone calls and 20 or more if you don’t want to wait before he comes back hours later to chat with you.
Inevitably, being a beta app it could also be extremely buggy.
Warning: The app seems to be afflicted by a weird glitch since June 15. Both the APK and the Play Store version prevent you from logging in (even as guest), because an error related to an abnormal program running pops up all the time. It is unclear if this has to do with connection problems on their end or some kind of odd block. I will post an update should that be fixed, or in case Cheritz responds to our reports.
Diabolik Lovers (Haunted Dark Bridal)
Platform: Playstation Portable, Playstation Vita, Playstation 4
Price: Ranges between $30 and $50, depending on your currency and where you buy it.
Story: Yui Komori is a 17yo girl with a normal high school life, destined to change drastically when her priest father moves oversea for an urgent job and prevents her from following him along. Yui has to transfer to a different town and locate the mansion (rumored as haunted) where a relative of hers is supposed to live. The doors open on their own upon arriving, while nobody is there to greet her at the entrance. Six siblings will then appear in front of her one by one like phantoms in the living room before shamefully presenting themselves as vampires. With nobody else left and no other place to go, Yui accepts to live with them while dealing with the constant fear of being attacked at any moment, until the shocking truth about her presence in the mansion and real identity is officially revealed.
Routes available: Six, all brothers have their own route
Endings: Vampire Ending, Manservant Ending and Brute Ending.
Diabolik Lovers also features an animated series.
The art style is lovely and if you are into dark/gothic stories with vampires, this title is a good catch to play and a good show to watch. The game features a few sequels and the anime has two seasons.
Be careful if you do not appreciate tsundere personalities and sadistic behaviors. Being vampires, the male characters can treat Yui pretty harshly by forcing their bites on her neck, chest and thighs.
Scandal in the Spotlight
Story: The lead female character is an aspiring screenwriter, desperately trying to climb over the top in order to be hired for an important movie script. However, the notebook containing her most recent texts has disappeared and Makoto, a friend working at her favorite cafeteria, gives her two free tickets for Revance’s concert in order to cheer her up. Although the group of popstars is literally number one in all Japan, the MC is not particularly familiar with their music and decides to share Makoto’s gift with her best friend (who, in turn, is a huge Revance fan). As she is invited to the backstage by none other than her boss, the girl finds herself in a very uncomfortable situation where the man uses his position and importance for her future career to sexually harrass her. Two Revance members step forward preventing her from being assaulted, while her strong rejection inetitably irritates the man who in turn threatens to cut off any upcoming opportunity for her work.
The idols then recognize her as the young woman sitting in the front row during their concert and ask her to reach the Penthouse where they’re staying for the event to let her know Makoto’s real identity and the reason why she has taken his place among the audience. The young man is in fact the mysterious sixth Revance member known as Ryo; the actual lyricist for the band and the one responsible for her notebook disappearance. He stole her words in favor of Revance’s new song, captivated by her beautiful writing as he was going through an unbearable, endless mental block. Ryo then abandoned the group without leaving any trace behind, recommending the MC as the perfect candidate for their future lyrics.
Routes available: Eight. All Revance members (including Ryo) have their own route with POVs and substories, plus two more characters in the second part of the series.
Endings: Romantic Ending and Dramatic Ending (no bad ending).
I have a few considerations to make about this title. The first time I tried it when Kyohei’s route was free on Love 365 a few months ago, I didn’t feel particularly impressed by it, not as much as I thought I would be when I watched the prologue. I actually streamed it on Discord via private screenshare for two friends of mine and we all agreed about the same negative aspects at the time. For example, apart from Nagito the other Revance members are extremely harsh and teasing with the MC, to the point they may make you feel bad about yourself for a moment there if you are particularly sensitive. If you’re used to tsundere characters and anime in general it probably won’t affect you too much, but I didn’t appreciate their constant coldness in the beginning. Another thing that left a bitter taste into my mouth, is the fact they used the MC’s screenwriting dreams as the perfect mean to keep her tied to Revance, desperately needing someone who could write their songs and take Ryo’s role.
And here you may ask, why am I even recommending this title if I disliked it so much? Hold on, I’m getting there!
I admit it took me a while to actually feel into the story at all, but the more I played out of curiosity through free monthly stories, the more I started to see how nice and fun these guys can actually be. Kyohei develops a heartwarming devotion for the MC the moment he falls in love and no matter which route you go for, all members will clearly get attached to the girl and support her dreams whatever the consequences might be. The plot will become more interesting as well the farther you go with it, introducing different kind of challenges for the couple with a good amount of angst and humor. The sequels and substories contain a lot of perks, which completely erased my initial impression and made me appreciate this series quite a lot recently (and Little Yamada is enough reason to play it, no kidding). All in all, SITS is worth it and I’m sure a lot of you will enjoy it as well.
Developer: Nix Hydra Games Inc.
Platform: Mobile (Apple, Android), PC (Bluestacks, Nox Player, etc)
Story: The player is a prodigy Magician, left on their own by their wandering Mentor Asra. The night of the latter’s departure, Countess Nadia of Vesuvia visits the shop with the sole purpose of speaking to you, mentioning one of her prophetic dreams and the intention of changing your fate whatever it takes. The fascinating woman invites you to her Palace then, in need of your rumored skills to locate the Count’s murderer while offering protection in exchange.
That same night, the mysterious Doctor Julian breaks in as soon as the Countess takes her leave. He claims to be looking for Asra himself, filling your head with endless questions about said man and what he’s actually hiding from you. Where did your Mentor go and what is going on in the shadows?
Routes available: Six (one has been freshly released, only one chapter available)
Endings: Upright Ending and Reversed Ending
The Arcana is an incredible journey through magic, fantastic creatures, love and mysteries to solve. The relationship between Asra and the player seems to go way beyond the Master-Apprentice connection, where a strong feeling on both parts can be seen from the first portion of the story. The game begins with a long prologue, which allows you to meet the most important characters and make you decide which one you want to romance in a route. You can even switch between routes without losing progress, nor waiting to be done with one in order to start a new path.
The art style is very different from the one we have seen so far in other visual novels, but I really love the character design and the colorful tones in the illustrations. The characters are in my opinion fantastically made and the good aspect of this app is that you are free to choose the protagonist’s sexuality. You won’t see them at all throughout the game being written in first person, but you can decide to make them a female, a male or a non-binary character.
Each book (and the prologue itself) use coins for the special choices and keys to re-read chapters, but you can also buy the different books for 500 coins and unlock the paid choices along with them. Keep in mind though that if you decide to get the whole thing for each character, the final cost might become a little too much to handle. Depending on your currency, a whole route may even reach $100, which is definitely the highest price I’ve ever seen for a visual novel. If you still want to give this a shot without spending a similar amount of money, you can either avoid most of the special choices (that would take a lot away from the experience, no doubt), or spin the wheel to gain free coins (just like Lovestruck, the first draw is free while the others require 20 coins).
Developer: Lucydream Inc.
Platform: Mobile (Apple, Android), PC (Bluestacks, Nox Player, etc)
Story: Humans are coexisting with mythical beings called Mystics. These supernatural creatures hold animals and plants features and the lead female character is part of this incredible dimension herself. In order to investigate over a case that threatens to break peace between the two species, the lead female character transfers back to her old team in order to find out why a Mystic officer has been killed and who might be responsible for such a crime.
Routes: This game is actually very recent and I just started to test it out on my own. There are at least seven characters you may be able to choose from eventually (including a female).
Endings: Sixteen different endings from what I’ve read, including bad outcomes.
The characters’ lines are ALL voiced in Korean. The game is fully translated, but it’s still interesting to hear the actual voices rather than a repetitive background music the entire time (and I actually spotted a Mystic Messenger VA, maybe even two if my ears aren’t completely melted in the heat). If you like urban fantasy and investigations, this story may be a the perfect reading for you.
Unfortunately, this is another game with odd/complicated mechanics when it comes to earn free stuff. You need clovers and keys to access collected notes, pick special choices, etc, while you can buy them regularly from the store as you do with any other app, you can also gain some by following specific instructions. If you don’t mind downloading and trying out more mobile titles I highly recommend to follow those tasks in games like Lord Mobile or Empires and Puzzles. It all depends on what works best for you.
On Love365 and Lovestruck there are many other series worth mentioning, but the list would become way too long for me to write.
Which Otome game did you play among the ones listed and which one is your favorite? Do you have any other standalone app you’d like to recommend? Feel free to leave a comment below with your recommendation!