Not long ago, I was unofficially diagnosed with an immunological disorder that, at heightened times, keeps me stuck in bed. I went to play one of my many mobile games and found I had run out of memory (WHAAAAT?! NONSENSE!) and had to delete a ton of apps. Upon searching the app store for updates, some new, smaller apps were recommended, and they were a kind of game I’d never played before: otome games.
Otome games, from what I could gather at the time, are games mainly geared toward women—like shoujo comics, but in game format. Just like shoujo, they can run the gamut from slice of life, drama, mystery, and … dating sim. For the first time in a while, I figured, “Eh, I’ll give it a shot.” Most of the ones I found were either the Shall We Date? series, or Voltage Inc. I was more drawn to the Voltage Inc. games since I didn’t have to constantly pay to move the story forward with in-game purchases for items needed to pass checkpoints (as was stated in the app store reviews, what a drag).
But paying between $4 to $9 per story? I mulled it over, then finally made the jump, as I realized that I’m literally paying for choose-your-path visual novels. Many reviewers have complained about having to pay, but I would hope they would understand why this is a thing. Players are essentially buying romance novellas, and the writers, artists, musicians, and other content-creators deserve their due!
Most of the games are directed at cishet women, and therefore contain primarily heterosexual romantic options, though some newer ones are offering women and nonbinary/trans romantic leads as well (which I am eager to get my hands on and read).
The first app I downloaded was Kissed by the Baddest Bidder. The prologue makes it seem very sketchy and triggery, but I’ve found the rest of the story is relatively tame, thank goodness (aside from one story path with the character of Mamoru). The premise is that the protagonist has knocked over an expensive statue and is having to make up for it by, essentially, being put up for sale. Turns out the sponsors of the black market auction are far from okay with it, and ‘buy’ the protag themselves to save her from a horrible fate in the hands of someone with far worse intentions.
And that’s where the choices come in.
Once brought to the penthouse, the protag is told she can choose who is essentially responsible for watching out for her while the sponsors figure out what to do. The auctions are black market, and the sponsors are high-ranking people, all with their own reasons for being involved. One is a thief who only steals from crooked people, treated in-game as a modern Lupin III. There is an artist, involved in appraisal, but searching for a personally important piece of missing artwork. Another is a detective looking for clues about a trafficking ring and figuring out who killed his partner. Then there is a CEO looking for his lost sibling, and another who is a mob boss trying to make big changes in the organization.
Each character has unique, deeply involved storylines. Character development is amazing and spans 14 full chapters. This seems very typical of Voltage Inc. dating sim games; complex characters are never just as they appear on the surface. The cocky leader has concerns, the flirty boyish guy has a lot of pain and loneliness in his past, and the quiet one hides a deeply passionate personality.
But while the initial types are similar throughout each game (jock, leader, quiet, boyish, flirty, etc.), the deeper layers are all different. The flirty character in one game may hide his insecurities about dating, so he overcompensates; or it could be that he’s flirty because he never felt like he belonged or has no other apparent talents.
The backstories are also extraordinarily compelling—more so than in most games I’ve played. It makes you want to know more about every character (not just the one you chose) and it even pushes you to sympathize with some of the most standoffish characters. Seeing the deeper parts of people and how they slowly open up is a reward on its own for sure.
The deep interactions and growth of the friendships among the non-player characters is also compelling and thrilling. When different characters joke or cry with each other—even becoming extremely protective if one of them gets stuck in a vulnerable spot—is new in romance-type storylines from what I’ve seen, and I’m intrigued and excited by the prospect.
All of these stories are rated T for Teen, but the sub stories should have a variety of ratings with about half of them sexual in nature and deserving of M/AO ratings (especially the newer ones with the CEO character Eisuke). The sub stories are available for separate purchase, usually much smaller in length, and are only around three to five chapters. Some are adorably cute and fluffy, and some are worthy of AO ratings for older players in that they are extremely suggestive or outright adult nature.
Overall, I have become enchanted by these games from Voltage Inc. and have since purchased more in different series (as a musician in my spare time, Scandal in the Spotlight has become a fast favorite, don’t judge me), but KbtBB is where it all started, and all because I thought Ota, the artist, reminded me of the real-life musician Hyde. DON’T. JUDGE. ME.
Just have fun and try it out yourself!