Welcome back to the big fat otome multi-series! My first post looked at the history of otome and the second covered localised and non-localised otome developers. If you missed them, I recommend reading them (especially Part 2 since I’ll be referring to many developers)!
We’re taking another look at who’s who in the otome world, this time…the localisers and publishers! With some analysis and a pinch of (optimistic) prediction, I think we can illuminate the direction otome has and will go.
I tried to do something I haven’t seen before and actually log every officially localised otome in this spreadsheet. I used a combination of referring to the English Otome Games Wiki, vndb, and old-fashioned scouring. This spreadsheet covers console and PC releases (mobile omitted due to sheer number), although mobage ported to console are included. I can’t promise that it’s completely accurate or comprehensive but it should be a good starting point and I’ll try to update it with new releases when I can. Anyway, it has all the gritty details (use the filters!) and I’ll be using it to analyse the games themselves in another post.
This post ended up being ridiculously long so I’ll cover OELVN developers and publishers in a separate post/spreadsheet. I want to treat OELVN otome/amare with equal validity as traditional otome and there are so many interesting things happening in this space that deserve a proper analysis, so for your sake and mine that article will be coming at a later date!
Warning: this list doesn’t cover all the players! I’ve deliberately omitted some stray publishers like Degica, who have localised the odd otome but aren’t very relevant.
Okay, we’re moving onto the good (and bad) of localisers but I first want to link to Yankee Banchou’s fascinating post on otome localisation. They go into great detail about its intricacies and costs. It’s a very well researched article that helped shape some of my thoughts for this post so definitely read it!
Aksys Games (2006)
Titles localised/confirmed: 27 (22 excluding remasters/ports)
Aksys is the most important figure in otome localisation and the most reliable for licensing quality titles. They deal solely with Otomate and started tentatively publishing Hakuouki and Sweet Fuse but picked up pace during the Vita era:
2012: Hakuouki (PSP)
2013: Sweet Fuse – At Your Side (PSP), Hakuouki (3DS)
2014: Hakuouki (PS3/mobile)
2015: Code: Realize – Guardian of Rebirth, Norn9: Var Commons
2017: Period: Cube – Shackles of Amadeus, Collar × Malice, Bad Apple Wars
2018: Code: Realize – Future Blessings, Psychedelica of the Black Butterfly, 7’scarlet, Psychedelica of the Ashen Hawk
2019: Code: Realize – Wintertide Miracles
2020: Code: Realize − Guardian of Rebirth, Code: Realize ~Future Blessings~, Collar × Malice, Collar × Malice – Unlimited, Piofiore: Fated Memories, Café Enchanté
2021: Olympia Soirée, Dairoku: Agents of Sakuratani
2022: Variable Barricade
TBA: Lover Pretend, Paradigm Paradox, Kimi wa Yukima ni Koinegau, Piofiore 1926
We can see that in good years, Aksys typically releases three unique titles. 2019 was scant between the transition to Vita and Switch but 2020 was a bumper year that included three ports of old games. Judging from what series they’ve ported and localised fandiscs for, I assume Hakuouki, Code Realize and Collar x Malice are their most successful series, which lines up with general sentiments among the community. 2022 is their most promising year yet in that we’ll presumably get four/five completely new titles.
Looking at some trends, there’s a penchant for mystery in their chosen games, although this is somewhat expected for route-based games structured around an overarching narrative. They’ve localised twelve otome set in the modern era (55%), eight historical/alt-history titles (36%) and two sci-fi/futuristic titles (9%). Unsurprisingly, most take place in Japan. 73% have supernatural or fantastical elements and I’d consider the vast majority heavy in tone and/or theme. Exempting the Code: Realize fandiscs, only the upcoming Variable Barricade and Lover Pretend appear light-hearted, although who knows whether they’ll pull another Café Enchanté on us.
I’m personally keen to see more comedic or fluffy otome since Aksys have been under fire for licensing ‘safe’ options. So far, traditionally shoujo-esque or lighthearted titles are stuck in the realm of mobage or mid-tier publishers like D3 Publisher, so there’s room for premium titles in this vein. That said, this might be out of Aksys’ hands. In a 2020 Siliconera interview, Asuka Yamataki, Aksys’ Production Manager, states:
“I’ve noticed the overall tone has been shifting a little bit in that otome games used to be something girly with butterflies and sparkles and something males might find just for otome’s literally, but lately as seen in the Collar x Malice series as well as Piofiore: Fated Memories, the story is more deep and dark even with a hint of the sinister.”
In reliably catering to the otome market, Aksys has been crucial for the genre’s popularisation. They aren’t above criticism, however, and the community has frequently called them out for poor QA. The most notorious was Collar x Malice – Unlimited, which contained a huge number of grammatical mistakes, typos, and dodgy formatting, which were compiled into a spreadsheet on Reddit. Thankfully, Aksys listened to feedback and rectified these issues in a patch a few months later, but this was one incident of many. Overall, Aksys’ quality is hit or miss – some titles are fine but the problematic ones get much more attention on social media now.
Other limitations are practical in nature. As mentioned, Aksys is bound by what Otomate develops and it’s extremely unlikely that they will expand into non-Otomate titles. Therefore, Aksys is generally limited to console releases, although a few Otomate games have been ported to PC by a different publisher (7’scarlet and the Psychedelica games were handled by Intragames). Conversely, non-Otomate titles only have a chance in the hands of other localisers, most of whom are far less prolific than Aksys.
Perhaps the most controversial issue is Aksys’ divisive attitude to their female audience. Ben Bateman, a former Aksys editor, advocated for greater validity and respect for otome in an old interview with Siliconera:
“I think the most important things anyone can do are […to] treat the genre and its fans with the same respect anything else gets. I think there’s sometimes a tendency to dismiss otome games as just “Oh ha ha pretty boys”—which, to be fair, is something I’m probably guilty of from time to time—but a lot of them have plot and character depth that put other games to shame. They get pushed to the side or made fun of a lot, likely because gaming is still kind of a boys club, but my hope is that as they become more and more common otome games will get the same treatment in terms of coverage, marketing, and discourse that our other story-heavy games like 999 and Virtue’s Last Reward do.”
But more recently, Aksys advertised their 2018 otome as for ‘casual gamers’, emphasising their mystery elements whilst minimising their romantic appeal. This is obviously frustrating since female gamers have historically been dismissed as a ‘casual’ (read: less ‘legitimate’) audience culturally and within the industry, despite the fact women form a significant part of the market. Read generously, it’s a tactless faux pas. Nevertheless, a greater awareness of why such attitudes undermine their audience would go a long way.
On a similar note, there is a tendency for companies to cast their net as widely as possible, which has resulted in minimising the more feminine aspects of otome. In Bateman and Yamataki’s quotes, otome is described as unexpectedly dark, deep and plot-heavy, and thus accessible for everyone. While this is true for certain otome, this disregards traditionally ‘girly’ games and suggests they are less valid or desirable. I understand this stance on some level. Otome is a niche. Aksys isn’t working with a huge budget and must make careful choices. What titles make the most return (and thus enable future localisations) goes hand in hand with courting a wide audience. I also don’t believe they’ve made bad choices – Collar x Malice and Piofiore are widely loved and obviously successful enough to warrant the localisation of their fandiscs. Likewise, men shouldn’t be excluded from the market nor is it wrong to enjoy otome on any level (my partner loved Mystic Messenger and Cafe Enchante’s intricate plots and characters, even if he wasn’t particularly invested in the romance).
Nevertheless, it’s a shame that reiterating otome’s ubiquitous appeal sometimes comes at the expense of excluding parts that are less marketable to men. If people want the most saccharine, romantic, unicorn rainbows otome (and look at how popular some mobile titles in that style are), there is nothing wrong with that. Why should ‘casual’ female-orientated games be regarded as less important? There are a vast number of games, genres, and styles out there. Look at the boom of critically and commercially great ‘casual’ games: Animal Crossing: New Horizons, Night in the Woods, or the plethora of wholesome indie games currently under the spotlight in mainstream media. These are considered less serious than the latest gory splatfest but they aren’t treated any less seriously. I’m cautiously optimistic that we’ll see a similar attitude shift for otome. As noted, Lover Pretend and Variable Barricade with their rom-com premises are different from Aksys’ usual staples.
Idea Factory International (2013)
Titles localised/confirmed: 6
IFI is the international branch for Idea Factory, the parent company of Otomate. As Otomate’s otome are predominantly handled by Aksys, Amnesia (2015) and Hakuouki Kyoto Winds and Edo Blossoms (2017/2018) were IFI’s stray localisations for a long time. It is very exciting then, that they recently confirmed Cupid Parasite (November 2021), Birushana Senki (TBA), and an unknown otome title during their Online Summer Festival. It’s an enigma why IFI are localising several otome after years of nothing but it’s a good sign for the market’s viability. They seem to be testing the waters by choosing a light-hearted modern title and a serious historical drama reminiscent of Hakuouki. The confirmation of three titles mirrors the style of Aksys’ annual otome announcements, although it’s uncertain whether they’ll continue this pace unless they achieve outstanding success.
If they continue to localise otome somewhat regularly, I’d expect more Otomate releases, which good-or-bad means Otomate will dominate the international market even further. Note that Otomate does publish other developers’ otome and interestingly Birushana Senki by Red Entertainment is an example of this, so other developers partnered with Otomate do have the chance of being localised. So far Cupid Parasite and Birushana Senki are confirmed for Switch but there’s precedent for IFI’s PC ports. Both Amnesia and Hakuouki Kyoto Winds/Edo Blossoms were ported to PC. I’m not sure how successful sales-wise these versions are considering they are regularly and heavily discounted, but Steamdb/Steamspy estimates roughly 100k+ owners for Amnesia, 30k+ for KW, and 10K+ for EB.
At any rate, it’ll be interesting to see these localisations. The community is very positive so far, especially after the reveal of Cupid Parasite’s generous Limited Edition. IFI are inevitably going to be compared to Aksys and hopefully they’ll provide healthy competition.
Titles localised/confirmed: 1
pQube is a London-based publisher for indie and Asian games. They entered the otome scene recently with the localisation of Bustafellows for PC/Switch in 2021. Bustafellows is undoubtedly an experiment and how well it sold determines whether pQube pursues the market further. That said, they made a good effort with Bustafellows and supported its release with a high quality Collector’s Edition, which has sold out (and is receiving a limited second run as of January 2022)! I imagine the majority of Bustafellow’s sales were on consoles and Steamdb estimates less than 10K PC sales by review count.
If pQube continues to localise otome games, they’re in the position to partner with non-Otomate companies. pQube could continue to work with eXtend and bring over Bustafellows’ sequel or Side Kicks, which shares the same universe. However, eXtend has a short catalogue so pQube might consider branching out to other developers. They have strong links with MAGES, which has a new female-orientated branch called Love & Art with two otome/joseimuke games under their belt. Alternatively, pQube has localised some adventure games by Kadokawa, who have co-developed some otome games (Prince of Stride with Vridge and Fortissimo with Otomate).
Titles localised/confirmed: 4
Mangagamer has been promoting the niche visual novel market for decades but they primarily cater to the BxG/GxG eroge audience. Since 2015, they expanded to include the odd female-orientated game (including BL). In total, they’ve localised four otome:
2018: Fashioning Little Miss Lonesome (R18)
2019: Steam Prison
2020: Fxxx Me Royally!! Horny Magical Princess (R18)
Mangagamer is PC only, which limits their licensing options, but grants them the unique opportunity to localise adult otome and partner with some of the smaller otome developers. I could see some non-localised companies like MariaCrown (Yoshiwara Higanbana), Aromarie (Chou no Doku), or even Daisy2, fitting into their profile.
Mangagamer’s biggest issue is inconsistency. As they license a large number of visual novels, their titles are often delayed, so I wouldn’t expect otome titles on a regular basis. Nevertheless, it’s promising that they are showing a keener interest in their female audience and vice versa. In their licensing surveys for the past four years, women made up 25-30% of responses and there were a few recurring otome on their most wanted list: Ken ga Kimi, Diabolik Lovers, Chou no Doku, and Yoshiwara Higanbana, the latter of which hit 2nd and 3rd place for the last two years. Despite these titles ranking highly, Mangagamer haven’t made any announcements and instead localised the Kalmia8 otome, which did not rank at all. This suggests that they haven’t come to an agreement with the relevant companies or aren’t interested in these titles. Obtaining licenses is definitely a tricky and expensive matter. It is telling that Mangagamer haven’t secured many high ranking non-otome licenses as well, so it’s not necessarily for lack of trying. Female-orientated media is clearly a bonus for Mangagamer but hopefully we’ll continue to see the occasional otome release.
D3 Publisher (1992)
Titles localised/confirmed: 14
A Japanese developer and publisher under Bandai Namco, D3 have brought quite a number of otome overseas. Unfortunately, the majority tend to be mediocre titles from Dogenzaka Lab or OperaHouse that are generally less polished than the otome localised by other English publishers. They also rarely market these games so higher quality titles usually fly under the radar but they’ve localised two premium titles well: Nightshade (2017) and Bakumatsu Renka Shinsengumi (2021). Considering Bakumatsu Renka Shinsengumi was a 2004 PS2 game, they are one of the rare few to revisit games older than a couple of years.
XSEED Games (2004)
Titles localised/confirmed: 1
XSEED is a subsidiary of the Japanese developer and publisher, Marvelous Inc. They have a long catalogue of non-otome games but localised London Detective Mysteria by Karin Entertainment in 2018 for Vita/PC and were responsible for some series with otome elements like Avalon Code/Rune Factory/Story of Seasons. It’s unlikely that they will localise another traditional otome game in favour of their larger JRPG/action franchises. London Detective Mysteria didn’t get much of a reception by XSEED or the community and didn’t even receive a physical version except by Limited Run Games.
Sekai Project (2013)
Titles localised/confirmed: 3
Sekai Project is a major publisher for bishoujo visual novels. In 2017, they announced a branch for female-orientated games called Maiden Voyage but only The Bell Chimes for Gold followed and since then Maiden Voyage has been ostensibly abandoned. They recently localised a few random otome: Creature Romances: For the Ladies (2020) and Nekopara – Catboys Paradise (2021), a short and free April-Fools-turned-actual-game. However, they don’t appear interested in localising big-name otome. Considering Sekai Project experienced extensive layoffs in 2018 and have been mostly working freelance thereafter, I doubt they have the intention or horsepower to expand into otome properly.
On the wall of shame, I want to acknowledge some of the bad practices of mobile publishers. I’ve mentioned Abracadabra’s Chou no Doku mishap in the last post but this isn’t the only occasion where premium otome have been ported to mobile in poor condition and without voice acting. NTT Solmare originally ported several Otomate games, such as Princess Arthur, Scarlet Fate and Demons’ Bond, as paid apps but they all have been discontinued and inaccessible for several years, despite remaining on their website. Like many mobile companies, NTT Solmare has transitioned to monetisation practices with gacha (Dear Otome) or ticketed (Story Jar) systems on their library style apps. The Beastmaster and Prince and Wand of Fortune series are stuck on their Story Jar app and while tickets are free, they are short-lived and slow to replenish, which encourages players to spend much more to progress than a traditional paid game.
I’m not intending to disparage the otome mobage market. Mobile games obviously are a valuable part of the market and several free-to-play titles like the Ikemen series or Samurai Love Ballad are very successful and do strike a fair balance between monetisation, convenience and a high quality product. That said, I wish developers would be wary about licensing traditional console titles for mobile, considering former mobile ports have been historically exploitative and done little justice to the original work. The differences between these platforms and their respective game structures are inherently difficult to bridge. Moreover, the mobile market is considerably more volatile as applications can be discontinued without warning – sometimes through no fault of the developers/publishers own but rather Apple/Google’s shifting policies.
What has changed? The short answer: it’s complicated. The very first English localisation was Yo-Jin-Bo in 2006 but it wasn’t until nearly a decade later that otome localisations became more commonplace. Aksys is the most reliable and prolific localiser of high quality otome but even they have had a few quieter years. Meanwhile, other companies like Mangagamer or Roseverte are reliable but more infrequent.
It’s promising that there are new and returning contenders but it isn’t guaranteed that these developments will endure. pQube might pull an XSEED and do a single localisation, if Bustafellows isn’t lucrative enough. Similarly, IFI’s newfound enthusiasm might be short-lived. From the premature Maiden Voyage to poll bait, it’s easy to count disappointment amongst the successes. So far, the only publishers to consistently release more than one title a year are Aksys, D3 Publisher and Operahouse/Digimerce, although the latter two were most prolific between the years of 2015-2018 and have since tapered off.
It’s easy to forget but the games industry moves at a startling and unpredictable pace, even if it doesn’t feel like it in the gaps between releases. The localised otome market is relatively new and you’ll see on the spreadsheet that much has happened during this short period. After Yo-Jin-Bo, we didn’t get yearly releases until 2012 but from 2015 the number of releases suddenly exploded to around 10-12 localisations per year (2019 was an exception due to the low number of Aksys and D3/Operahouse titles). In general, the number of releases hinges around a few stalwart publishers and are rounded out by various more erratic publishers. In the last two years, the number of publishers are very spread out as most localised only one game, but the quality of games has been good and several came from previously unlocalised or unexpected developers. We’ve seen otome from eXtend, Neko Works, Vridge, and Kogado Studio, so perhaps more developers are opening up towards an international audience. And, if we include joseimuke properties, Broccoli (Jack Jeanne) and Koei/Ruby Party (Touken Ranbu Warriors) are localising overseas for the first time.
Several pleasantly unpredictable events have happened lately. We might be at the turning point of an otome renaissance, although this line is rather optimistic. Evidently, the Japanese otome market isn’t in the best of health considering several studios have closed or transitioned into mobile titles. Furthermore, most major studios besides Otomate haven’t shown explicit interest in the international market. We’ve gotten standalone titles from mid-sized companies like Karin Entertainment, eXtend, Red Entertainment, etc. but there haven’t been any concerted efforts to establish long lasting partnerships like the Aksys-Otomate one yet. Interestingly, very new and/or small companies, such as Poni-Pachet, Primula, Otusun, and Kalmia8, appeared most willing to deal with the international market either by self-publishing or entrusting their games to non-Aksys publishers. The ones with history drag their feet, which isn’t surprising considering traditions and the potential cost involved. I can’t speak for why smaller/newer companies appear more willing to localise. The increasing globalisation of games, especially Japanese ones in other genres, might be a factor. Newer outfits might also be trying to get a foot up by competing in a bigger market and they would theoretically command less money and be easier for publishers to license, but it’s impossible to pinpoint why without more information. Consequently, we’ll likely see the odd localisation from indie outfits but it’s difficult to predict what and who will be involved.
That said, I want to be positive about the future of otome in the West. Perhaps it isn’t a renaissance but there are fascinating developments in this space and the community is thriving. So what can we as fans do to better otome’s chances? Well, the obvious thing is to support the releases you want to play! Initial sales and limited edition sales send a message. So if you can, vote with your wallet. Nonetheless, financial support isn’t the only significant factor. Nowadays, there are many avenues to have your say. Participate in otome communities, engage with localisers and developers and, yes, fill out those surveys! Another understated method is to support the voices of the community – bloggers, podcasters, streamers – or become one! Content creators with good followings can forge connections but, more importantly, it promotes the Otome Armada’s growth and indicates that there’s a hungry audience to tap.
If you’ve read this far – thank you! I hope I’ve shown the market has come a long way and, yes, there’ll be more posts coming. Look forward to my ventures into the OELVN space and other trends across otome! If you’re new around here… Welcome and look out for my monthly Good Goings posts – I usually start with Otome Corner for news about upcoming games!