I feel it is time to expand the repertoire of this blog a little more. I started anime reviews sometime last year. This time we’re branching out to otome games. I have been pretty much repulsed from watching dramas or movies for a very long time and during this time I focused on games instead. I discovered Voltage in October last year and I have been checking them out ever since. They are fun.
Voltage is a Japan-based company which releases otome games for mobile devices. They have an English subsidiary which translates the stories to English. Despite competition from companies like D3 Publisher, NTT solmare, Okko, Arithemtic and some others, they still seem to dominate the market, and are very popular. Their apps are pretty much like animated dramas.
This fairly long post will contain a look at the things I think Voltage does well and wrong, as well as a break down of some of their apps that are available in English, along with themes and my personal preferences (because I’m a voltage prisoner too, although lately less so as i am disenchanted by the tendencies i see). I’ll run a series of voltage posts discussing my perspective on the plots and characters of each of the apps in greater detail.
What is otome game? I think that a way to think of an otome game is that it is usually addressed to female audiences and usually has a female protagonist who can establish a romantic connection with several available characters (a harem). It is a genre that is well establshed in Japan and one that only has begun to flourish over here. Achieving a romantic relationship can be the main goal of an otome game or one of the goals beside some other plot objectives. How that plays out can be genre specific, or rather there are various forms the otome game can have. There are rpgs with otome elements, stat raising simulations with otome elements and finally otome-based visual novels. Visual novel-type otomes are probably most common. As long as there is a female protagonist and possibly choices that deterermine her ending with one of the characters.
Yo-Jin-Bo title screen. Yo Jin Bo is a time travel-comedy otome game. You get to be a princess protected by your bodyguards, a most typical setting for a harem game.
Romances in otome don’t have to be GxB. There are same gender otomes developed for pcs- check out winterwolves, an indie game company which offers a mix of visual novels/rpgs with otome elements and usually includes both GxB and same-gender options for romantic routes.
Structure of Voltage Stories and Endings
The form of otome Voltage does is pretty much a visual novel.
All apps follow similar structure for each of the available characters. We talk of character’s route when we refer to stories about that character.
Stories on a character’s route usually consist of: Main story- Epilogue – Sequel – Sequel Epilogue. This is called a season. The stories may then continue to a season 2, structured much in the same way. Sometimes there may be a season 3 planned…but whether or not we get sequel seasons is an all together different matter.
Example interfaces with season 1 strucutre.
Main stories chart the progression of the relationship and let you meet and get to know the characters. Main stories are exactly what they mean: they are the core story, with all the drama happening, that lead the MC to end up with her man. These main stories are usually between 12-15 chapters long. They are followed by epilogues, which are short conclusions to events presented in the main story. Epilogues are typically 2-3 chapters long. Main stories tend to have two endings, sometimes three; epilogues are short conclusions to longer stories and always have just one ending.
Most of the endings are divided into good endings and happy endings. There tends to be little variation between them, that is to say: regardless of whether or not you get a a good ending or happy ending, the outcome is similar: you end up with your man. There were a few exceptions to this, but they were a bit too bittersweet. So I personally appreciate that they towned down on this. Nowadays, the main difference between happy and good ending is how explicitly graphic or how romantic the ending scene is. These happy and good endings are also getting new denominations in newer apps. In Star-Crossed Myth we have a forbidden and a blessed ending, for instance. Although to be fair, in SCM in particular these denominations do have some nuanced plot implications.
Over the years they had some variations in the model of arriving at the two endings for the main stories. Some of the games could have the main story branch out into (purchasable) Another Story, like in Kiss of Revenge. The most typical approach was to have two endings readily accessible regardless of whether or not the story was read. In newer apps (Her Love in the Force, True Love Sweet Lies, Star-Crossed Myth), there is a love meter which measures which ending you’re getting after choices you make in each chapter. There is one CG for both endings. Furthermore, completing both endings unlocks a bonus end movie. You can buy (yes, you can spend even more money) an end set if you don’t have the time to replay the story and unlock the second ending. To entice you to spend more money, the end set may contain a bonus story.
A separate category are “substories“. Substories are special stories that are mostly about fluffy moments between Mc and the chosen character. They aren’t very concretly placed in the main narrative but with some characters you can more easily notice the time frame of the special story. A lot of substories tend to be seasonal stories where MC and her man celebrate holidays together. Substories are complementary and not required to enjoy a character’s route. But they often add that extra moment for your pairing of choice that can be a lot of fun.
The Pros and Cons
- One of the pros of playing voltage is its availability. The apps are easily and readily available on your phone. The prices for each of the routes aren’t too exorbitant. On the other hand, they can rack up quite quickly if you lack self-control. For every character, you have to buy each story (main story, epilogue etc) separately. All of these stories are priced at around 2-5 USD, depending on length, number of endings, images and bonus content. This is the same for all characters. They do sales for anniversaries and holidays. Ocasionally they bundle up stories. Bundles contain most, if not all, stories from one season for one character. Bundles also tend to be a little cheaper than byuing a character’s stories separately. Most importantly, they are fun and can resonate, like dramas.
- The stories are a bit like dramas and they have some resonance, depending on character type. But it is starting to be easy to predict which type will be released first and sell best, which may indicate they are becoming a little formulaic in this approach. They may run the risk of becoming a bit too stale with this template. It would be time for them to change the formula but…I guess it’s true what they say: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. As long as the apps will sell, they probably won’t have any incentive to try something new. They still manage to keep them fun though.
- Artwise, character style is anime. I do like my pretty bishies/ anime guys as much as i like my happy GxB romance in various games (not only otomes). Backgrounds tend to be reused very often and only a few really stand out- buh that’s not really a major issue for me. Nonetheless, Star-Crossed Myth improves on that as it has many new and pretty backgrounds along with a pretty ui. CGs used to be vertical but in most recent apps they have been made horizontal and they aren’t always full-length- a part of cost-saving plan, I tend to think. But pretty graphics may lead to form being put over content. I’d rather they continued to work on content more. To be fair, though, not all backgrounds need to be unique, either. And voltage had plenty of unique background arts that really made a difference for a given scene. Here are some examples – I think they managed to create many magical/realistic and pleasant background scenes that do set the mood well.
- I do think that one of the major problems with Voltage may be deacreasing variation, particularly in the character types and order in which they get released. There is always the oresama/jerk, the sadists- and these are always released first. There can be the gentleman/flirt type, the childhood friend type, the boss/mature gentleman type, the tsundere type. Very rarely do they give unique types There are usually six main characters plus some others added later, depending on the popularity and sales of the app. Aside from decreasing variation, I have to add some irresponsibility in managing the integrity of some of their characters and somewhat problematic content of some of their sub stories.
- The other problem is the release rush Voltage is in to stay in competition. They release new apps every other month. The more new apps they release, there is a danger that customers will stop buying the old ones- leading to stories in older apps never being finished, despite the fact that there is content in Japanese versions.It is a bit of a nightmare with voltage. They are in way too much of a rush to release. They release and release. They may oversaturate the market this way. In contrast, their competititors like ntt solmare seem to go about releases at a much more steady pace and seem to take care to cater to all of their characters in the same manner.
- Part of the appeal of such a voltage otome game is that, unlike in dramas or harem animes, you can choose who your cannon pairing is and make it your favourite story as there are enough character archetypes to fit most tastes. These archetypes tend to mixed and rehashed in some way or another in each app. However, less popular characters and stories are not given equal treatment. It creates the sense that equality of content is only used by Voltage as a bait to start spending money on them and then they ditch those less popular characters in favour of what sells. I don’t like this. Some characters never get season 2 stories or sequels at all even if their stories exist in Japanese version and fans of those characters are left disappointed. They wait forever for content that is likely to be skipped and never to be added. To their credit, though, the English subsidiary works very hard to translate as many stories and as quickly as possible. That’s why I”m also against so many new apps being released- they spread themselves to thin as it is.
- The future of the apps and stories in those apps is very uncertain. Recently, Japanese Voltage announced the decision to permanently shut down and remove from stories 10days with my devil, giving the customers only a month’s notice. The decision came as a shock to Japanese Voltage community and Voltage community on tumblr. Apparently, Voltage would take no messages about this, either. They just shut it and that’s that. Such a step is still unlikely for English apps. Nonetheless, Voltage in general seems like an uncertain expense especially if they are unable to work out a compromise between cost-saving and keeping the games up and running. These apps end up costing the players quite a bit of money. Having them removed from stores all together in this ways seems a bit of a radical step that does not respect the customers’ money and ends up being a little discouraging, to put it gently.
All in all I would say Voltage is a bit of a sweet prison. You return for more when stories with appealing template/frame idea are released and when you recognize a favourite character archetype. They are essentially selling happiness to girls and/or perhaps in that way fulfil some girlish fantasies. One thing to note, though. While girls, or young women in their early 20s are the main target, Voltage also has male customers as far as I have seen. They are fun though. I do like their characters and plots. and background art.
Anyway, this demand does not seem to motivate Voltage to make anything fresher and less formulaic than they have been doing. They could use to come up with a greater variety of characters and change up which character types get released first. Despite all the qualms I have about them, I have had my fun with Voltage and a few apps remain my favourites. It is because i found character archetypes that are to my liking in a plot that was like a fun animated mini drama. And some stories were pretty good and resonated with me.
The Voltage Apps and Themes
One thing to note. Regardless of the theme, the role of MC (MC stands for Main Character) is always similar. The characters need and value the MC because she comes to understand them and save them in one way or another- and this recurs regardless of the framing concept. She is less or more concrete in various apps but fact is she always comes to rescue the guys in some ways, she saves them somehow. And they come to love her for her understanding, compassion and refresing frankness and honesty. I do personally like most of Voltage MCs, but I’ll come to discuss this in another post.
One of the most common framing theme in a lot of the apps seems to be deception/lie of some sort, something a little illict or uncomfortable that allows the mc to gradually learn about the characters
- My Forged Wedding – you came to Tokyo in search of work, but you end up setting up a forged marriage with one of the six guys you meet at your cousin’s bar. They need you to pretend to be their wife..for one day..but then one day turns into three months..and then..well. You can guess.
- Kiss of Revenge: you have lived your entire life wanting to take revenge on a hospital where a mistake in operation cost your mother her life. You deceive everyone trying to get closer to specifically one character you know is the culprit..But in the process you fall in love and you begin to feel conflicted. This app ended prematurely because of poor sales, unfortunately. The premise was stronger than in other apps. even if the story was on the melodramatic side of things, with the main character being really stuck on the idea of revenge. I liked this app also because characters had more strongly humane motivations and felt less like standard otome archetypes. For a drama, this would be a very typical plot. But for a game app, this was a fairly mature story…that was sadly abandoned due to lack of interest.
- True Love Sweet Lies – You are a photographer who gets into trouble by taking the wrong photo at a wrong time and place. You need to be protected by a group of detectives, except they all need you..for different reasons. They don’t tell you the truth on how you will be useful to them. The lies here are actually interesting to an extent because some of the characters are noble idiot types who lie because they deny themselves a chance at happiness for the sake of someone else.
- In Your Arms Tonight – The husband you married as a result of arrangement made by your parents has cheated on you. Its up to you whether you give him a chance..or whether you start a different romance. Maybe you can allow your childhood sweetheart, now a well known soccer player, sweep you off your feet? I personally really loved that app and the MC was really determined, had her doubts as well as dreams and worked hard at everything. Give the cheating husband a chance, I think everyone deserves at least one and the cheating husband in this app, Koichi, has trully great development on his route. The cheating husband is the cold jerk type from dramas, asically. His heart is closed to love as he never had a good model for it. But over time he does open up and to her credit Mc is really amazing on this route. I loved this story.There is also Another Story which changes things around and deals away with the cheating apsect, giving Koichi the chance at romance he really deserves. Well Another Story is a series of special stories for all characters but it was especially nice for the cheating husband. It’s an app where MC trully works at a relationship and I found the MC to be really relatable. I loved this app. It’s one of the lucky ones to get all content from Japan translated..except Japanese Voltage abandoned it before finishing all stories. Too bad. There were some interesting characters left who never got their wedding stories.
- Love Letter From Thief X- it’s more like secret identity plot. The guys here have days jobs but are moonlighting as Robin Hood-like thieves who protect works of art. The Mc is the granddaughter of a great artist and she is the key to uncovering one his treasures. Bad guys are after the treasure. MC must stay with the thieves. What happens?
- Her Love in the Force- you got into an elite male-dominated police academy by some sort of mistake, maybe it was a little lie too, a lie made by your previous supervisors to get you into this academy. I enjoy the pacing in this app. The characters have strongly written backstories. Even the sadistic Kaga…his bark is worse than his bite. Kaga is a sadist who likes to boss you around but he has a deep sense of integrity that I really liked. He’s one of the better oresama types, with more convincing characterization. But the one recommended route here is definitely the hacker Ayumu- his story will leave you in shambles since it is well done, with a lot of showing rather than telling. Writing and pacing are exceptional in this app. and it;s one of my favourites from Voltage.
- My Forged Wedding
- 10 Days with My Devil – you are meant to die but somehow you get saved. A group of devils and angels who take care of transporting the soul to heaven realise its a mistake they made. But you ask them to postpone ending your life by 10 days as you have things lef to do on earth. They agree under the condition that you will live with them to allow them to keep an eye on you. What will happen in those 10 days? Will they still go through with the plan?
- Pirates in Love : By accident you wind up on a pirate ship and you are allowed to bunk in with one of the crewmates. You begin a crazy fantasy journey. Will you fall in love or walk down the plank?
- Seduced in the Sleepless City: You are a journalist for a gossip rag and win access to a vip casino. You get drunk and accidentally spend the night with one of the celeb guys there.. Nothing happens but just maybe you got your next material for a story or series of stories? Will he help and where will that lead?
- Enchanted in the Moonlight – a group of demons is after your powers. Some of them make contract with you by leaving a mark on your body. In exchange they will protect you from other demons.
- My Sweet Bodyguard – one day you find out that you are the prime minister’s daughter and suddenly your life is in danger. You are assigne a group of elite bodyguards…the only condition is you can’t fall in love. But will that stop you? The stories are on the lighter side as the opponents are kind of ridiculous, but it is a part of the charm of this app. I really like it. I think this sort of story could make a good plot for a fun drama, actually.
- True Love Sweet Lies
- Kissed by the Baddest Bidder you accidentally find yourself sold at an illegal auction to one of five not very kind men. They agree to buy you and keep you with them, under the condition you won’t talk about the auction to anyone..or they will get rid of you. So now what? For me personally, Baddest Bidder is the most problematic of their apps so far and also the one which steps up on graphic descriptions of intimacy a bit too much. But stories are still quite engaging, the plot makes for compelling stories and all stories have a different flavour to them as each of the guys brings a different kind of “danger” with them. It;s a good app, if you can accept the premise.
In Star-Crossed Myth a god who sinned will seek out your help in redeeming his grace. This one is rather vivid on descriptions of intimacy..but it feels cold and less resonant than in older apps. Similarly to lie/deception framed apps, Star-Crossed plays on a downfall, and the need for mc to save the guys. There is a sense of division and impossibility to be together like in 10days wth my demons – because humans and gods cant be together.
In Metro Pd you are a struggling rookie detective- it kind of feels like You’re all sourrounded. In Dreamy Days in West tokyo you will accompany the MC from her school years to marriage- you will see her grow up with her chosen guy. This was such a nice idea. In Serenditpity Next Door love just may knock on the door to your apartement.
There are a few other apps, for instance Finally in Love again, where you can experience a noona romance. In Be My Princess and Be My Princess 2 you court princes- almost like Prince and Me kind of thing -an ordinary girl meets a member of royalty. In Our Two Bedroom Story you are forced into a living arrangement with a colleague from work, even your boss – sounds very much like Hotaru no Hikari…but I don’t like OTBS for reasons I’ll discuss some other time, mainly the fact that they leave out a major plot idea unexplored, they throw it in just there and don’t do anything with it. I felt like OTBS is not engaging enough. There are also some school-based apps that I never played and ….new apps on the way, something I really dread.
Aside from paid apps, Voltage also has a few freemium games, which are basically derived from their main paid apps. These are: Be My Princess Party, My Forged Wedding Party and recently released Sleepless Cinderella: Party. Fremium titles are not free from problems, either. But similar problems apply to freemium apps released by Voltage competition, most notably: too many special events and requirements needed to pass them.
My personal favourite Voltage apps are
- Metro Pd: Close to You
- Love Letter From Thief X
- True Love Sweet Lies
- My Forged Wedding
- Her Love in the Force
- In Your Arms Tonight
- Seduced in the Sleepless City
- My Sweet Bodyguard
- Serendipity Next Door
I’ll proceed to discuss them first; each Voltage app will be covered in an individual post. Bottom line is, though, personally I really enjoy Voltage myself and I wish the best of luck in improving themselves and their apps for continous success and enjoyment of everyone.