Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Games for Adults: Otome wa Boku ni Koishiteru


Otome wa Boku ni Koishiteru Review


                When you play a particular game genre for several years you end up getting so used to its tropes that you get this feeling of knowing what to expect whenever a new game of that genre comes out. However, there will inevitably come a game that will surprise you by doing something different from what you’d expect and in a good way. This particular surprise was Caramel Box’s Otome wa Boku ni Koishiteru, released by Mangagamer on November 23, 2012 under the title “Otoboku – Maidens Are Falling For Me!” (in case you’re curious Otoboku is the standard abbreviation for the game with the subtitle being the literal translation of the original title). I admit I probably shouldn’t have been surprised since after its original Japanese release of January 28, 2005 the game not only received multiple ports and an anime adaptation, but was also the second best-selling PC game in Japan at the time and would appear in the national top 50 sellers several times. Yet somehow it flew past my radar until now…but that aside, Otoboku has truly proven to be worthy of all that praise and I’ll explain why.

 

Pros: Likable and memorable cast of characters, overall story is well told, excellent artwork, good music, great voice acting.

Cons: Ichiko’s route is disappointingly weak, the later parts of Yukari’s route are pretty bland, would have been nice if Kimie had a route.

WTF?!: Do they actually make these kinds of chocolate? If so I really want some…



                In Otoboku, you play as Mizuho Kaburagi, an effeminate young man and heir to a prosperous corporation.  Upon his grandfather’s death he is informed that his grandfather’s last wish was for him to attend an all-girls school. With the help of his childhood friend Mariya, Mizuho is able to make for a very convincing girl, so convincing that a series of misunderstandings leads to his being elected as the school’s “Elder Sister”, the school’s idol. And this is only the start of the misadventures that await Mizuho… 

                When I first heard about this I was kind of expecting the story would be something similar to Edelweiss’ slice of life humor with a lot of jokes centered around narrow escapes by Mizuho of being found out, but to my surprise I was completely wrong. Otoboku surprised me many times with how well written its story turned out to be, often times doing things I wasn’t expecting and doing them well. The writers (for the most part) do a good job at integrating drama into a pretty light hearted story overall as the drama focused story elements are around for just the right length of time, not coming across as dragged out nor do they seem like a sudden sharp contrast to the light hearted slice of life prevalent in the story.

            Speaking of which, that brings us to another aspect of the story that managed to remain consistent throughout the entire game: the air of elegance of the setting. Basically the setting being a high class all girls’ school creates this as a precedent for the students in terms of mannerisms, school traditions and the like, but it integrates well with the light hearted-ness of the story that it feels natural and never really comes off as oppressive (unless you count one particular early story arc). Really this combination kind of comes off as relaxing (I’d dare say this may be one of the most relaxing things I’ve ever read, and that counts books), kind of giving a feeling of being at some high class establishment where all you feel like doing is drinking tea and taking in the atmosphere (which is really weird considering I’ve never been in that situation in real life). Of course, the game’s story takes full advantage of this setting, using it to create interesting story arcs, character interactions and moments. I’d have to say some of my favorites involve how naturally the “Elder Sister” position ends up fitting Mizuho, sometimes a little too well for our hero’s comfort…

            Of course a game with a good story should have good characters to drive it, and I can say that Otoboku has an amazing cast behind the wheel of it (click here for profiles). Every major and semi-major character is a joy to read about once the story kicks off from the mysterious Shion to the occult infatuated Kei to Takako’s character development. Each of these characters have their own unique personalities and quirks, and most of them have their own interesting little stories to read before any real route begins. This helps to establish a very believable circle of friends for Mizuho and also makes for the right setup for the romance to begin whenever the heroines’ routes start.

            Moving on to the heroines’ routes, let’s start with how I rank them:

1)      Takako

2)      Shion

3)      Kana

4)      Mariya

5)      Yukari

6)      Ichiko

            Beginning with Takako’s route, I have to say that not only is her route my favorite of the game, but if I were to make a top ten list of favorite routes I’ve read through in the visual novel genre then this one would definitely be in there. This route manages to do everything required to make a good route in a visual novel right, and with flying colors. To begin with, the chemistry between Mizuho and Takako is great to read from Takako’s confusion in regards to her feelings towards Mizuho before her route starts in not knowing he’s really a guy to how well the two interact with each other once they begin a relationship, which subsequently makes it very believable. The character development Takako goes through in her route is also well handled, matching well with how the pre-route story content sets things up for her to question and change her viewpoints on things such as rules and traditions. The changes she goes through feel natural and their being connected to her relationship with Mizuho actually help in establishing said relationship as one where they’re both equal partners. Finally, the story in the route is just plain enjoyable as it’s packed with so many interesting things that just make you want to read more of it. We get to see Mizuho be badass, some of the funniest scenes in the entire game are in this route, and the subplots involving the student council aren’t just interesting but also wrap up really well with the ending of the route to make it unique, satisfying and actually feel like the most natural conclusion.

            Shion’s route comes in at a very close second as her route’s story is extremely close to being just as good. It surprised me by doing several things I didn’t expect like approaching an story arc in a completely different way from the other routes without necessarily feeling like a cop out or how it seemed to be going in the direction of a very over used trope in this genre, but suddenly stopping short of it and going in a more interesting direction. The chemistry between Shion and Mizuho is also good and I liked how their interactions matched well with how they were both keeping secrets, which later end up tying together into a very satisfying plot resolution late in the route. For those reasons I can say the story and conclusion of the route are good and satisfying, but I have to say what keeps Shion’s route from tying with Takako’s is it slows down a little at the end. It’s understandable why considering the events late in the route do bear some character moments in its aftermath, and to the route’s credit it does well with that. The problem is I think it takes a little too long to move on from that and to the ending, whereas Takako’s route had its share of subplots but none of them felt too long. Still, I’d only consider this a minor flaw as I think the route was still an enjoyable read all the same.

            Kana’s route comes in at third place because it’s unlike the previous two it’s simply a good route. The relationship she has with Mizuho I think is very cute and one of the best parts of it story-wise I found was the unlikely friendship that forms between her and Takako. Its only flaw for me was that aside from those two things, the route’s story didn’t really do anything to wow or really grab my interest like the first two. Moving on, Mariya’s route I consider a decent as I did find her character alright, her relationship with Mizuho had interesting points, and her story of trying to find a lot in life to be satisfied with was a good one. The route’s main problem for me was that it didn’t really do much with the aforementioned plot elements aside from what was necessary, whereas at least in Kana’s route it had two plot elements to catch my interest.

            Now we come to the last two routes in the rankings: Yukari’s and Ichiko’s, and to put it frankly, these were the two most disappointing routes in the entire game (yes, even compared with the extra mini stories you unlock after completing the main story routes). I will say Yukari’s route has a good start as it does a good job building up the relationship she has with Mizuho and even has her involved in an early story arc in a way she wasn’t in the other routes that I really liked. What shoots this route down is the fact that out of all of the routes in the game this is the only one that overdoes it in the drama area of the story, electing to wallow in the melodrama brought on by Doug Walker’s second most hated cliché: the liar revealed. Pretty much every reason for why this cliché is groan worthy (detailed in this video (14:40 if you want to skip) can be seen in this route, and the fact that unlike movies this goes on longer than ten to fifteen minutes doesn’t make it any better. It’s also not helped by all the other routes where this could have come up simply skip over that cliché and move on with their stories.

            Finally, with Ichiko’s route what puts it at the bottom of the list is because it disappoints because it does nothing with its main heroine. Considering how significant a character Ichiko turns out to be later in the story for both Mizuho and most of the heroines, particularly in a scene in each route that I can only describe as heart wrenching even though you know what’s going to happen, you’d think the game’s writers would do something interesting or different with her in her route yet for some reason they don’t. They never really approach any opportunities for drama such as being a ghost and how that could affect her relationship with Mizuho, nor do they try for any moments of comedy such as having her interact with characters she doesn’t in the other routes of the game (I’m sure I’m not the only one who wanted to see her meet Takako after the latter’s reaction to the possibility of the existence of ghosts). All that happens in the route is we get some very short story scenes, a couple of ero scenes, and then it’s off to the end scene and credits.

            Thankfully, I can say that because those last two routes are minor ones they don’t really impact your enjoyment of the game that much and are only the real faults Otoboku has in the story department. If I was going to nitpick, I’d say the only other flaw for me would be that Kimie doesn’t have a route since the game does make it obvious she has a thing for Mizuho and Takako’s route shows she’s an interesting character too (and to anyone asking why I’m not complaining about Shiori, Kei, or Michiko not having a route the game’s story gives a good reason why). Maybe someday the folks at Caramel Box will give us a fandisk with a route for her, but I’m afraid that’s less likely than a Sacchin from Type Moon.

 
            In the area of presentation, Otoboku does well on all fronts. Not only is the artwork for the characters and event CG really good, but the game also uses its own uniquely drawn SD character art for comic effect very well in the comedic scenes (they even use CG with stick figures for that well too). The voice acting is superb, with the entire cast (including Mizuho) being voiced with each VA perfectly capturing and portraying the right emotions for their characters in each scene they feature in. The music is good as it sets the right atmosphere for each scene, unfortunately none of the tunes are good not enough to stand out on their own though.

            As for the ero scenes, they’re all really good in both the art and voice acting department and I can also say their well placed in the story. I do find it kind of odd that Kana of all the heroines has the most ero scenes (and the kinkier ones too).


In Conclusion:
            Otome wa Boku ni Koishiteru is probably one of the best acquisitions that Mangagamer has made in the past couple of years. Here we have a game with a largely excellent (and funny) story, a cast of memorable and likable characters, and great artwork and voice acting. I’ll admit the story isn’t perfect, but at least the two disappointing routes are short and easily overshadowed by all the other routes. It’s definitely worth a read and to be honest if you were going to start playing eroge, then this would make for a good starter game.

Final Score 8/10 Awesome

Author Recommendation: Buy it now.

Should point out that Mangagamer has a physical release out that you can buy here (warning page contains NSFW images).

As for the anime, it’s actually pretty good (follows Takako’s route in the end), though I do think it could have been longer. Will admit it is a bit weird hearing different VAs from the game play some of the characters, but you do get used to the changes quick enough. There’s even an extra omake episode that’s pretty funny.

2 comments:

  1. $44.95 is a pretty steep for a VN if you ask me especialy for a digital on Mangagamer...

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    1. Well, the physical version offers a little more than just the game so it might be worth getting that over the digital version. Should point out that Otoboku is a pretty high profile game that MG managed to acquire which explains the high price.
      Still, MG's games do eventually get a price drop so you can always wait it out.

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