a story-based video game that is targeted towards women. Generally one of the goals, besides the main plot goal, is to develop a romantic relationship between the female player character and one of several male characters.
“Otome,” which means “maiden” in Japanese, is an appropriate title for the game type. With its stylistic, heroic men; its symphony-sweeping music; and its promise of adventurous, everlasting love, it’s hard not to be intrigued.
That is, if you’re anyone but me.
If you’re me, you couldn’t care a hoot about these games.
And yes, I will continue to lie to myself this early in the post.
Since my re-emergence into playing video games on a regular, casual basis, I’ve noticed that otome games and other romantic-style visual novels are appearing more often in my Recommended lists and on the channels of some of my favorite YouTube gamers. At first (especially when the thumbnail or trailer depicted a group of “sexy” men vying for a single girl’s affections), I rolled my eyes and clicked past the sucka. “What a bunch of melodramatic dribble,” I quipped and continued browsing Steam, Xbox and my Google Play recommendations.
Otome Gaming Floodgates
However, the gaming market has become more saturated than usual with otome games. The suggestions kept popping up. My curiosity, despite my best efforts, began to sprout. And it culminated when I noticed famed gamers Markiplier, Jacksepticeye, and finally Game Grumps playing what appeared to be a normal, adorable guys’ romantic visual novel (known as a bishōjo) game.
Doki Doki Literature Club.
Now, I will say this. This game is free to play on Steam, so if you enjoy games with horror themes, I highly, HIGHLY recommend playing it.
Yes. This is a horror game.
Yes, I watched the trailer. Do not be fooled.
Doki Doki Literature Clubis a horror game.
Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Anyway, as I mentioned before–I saw enough YouTubers playing this game that I finally grew more than curious of otome and bishojo games. Why in the world are they playing this silly dating game, I thought in disgust. What could they possibly be thinking?
Granted, with DDLC being a horror game, it holds a slightly different agenda than traditional, love-soaked otome games. I also learned that watching it (or rather, watching Danny of Game Grumps react to playing it) was a pleasure all its own. Horror aspects aside, though, it was obviously a game that its creator, Danny Salvato, put a great deal of time and thought into. I’ve read that one of his main reasons for even creating the game was due to his own love/hate relationship with the romance visual novel genre.
I can understand his inner conflict.
Still, I continued to resist the pull of non-scary otome games–until I was introduced to one that was both traditionally otome and wonderfully unconventional.
Dream Daddy – a Dad Dating Simulator
aka…An American Otome Game
How did a game called Dream Daddy hook me?
Jacksepticeye played it. And durn it if he didn’t make it look good.
The Game Grumps backed it, supported, and launched it through their company.
Game Grumps? Seriously?
Welp, now I have to play it.
You are a single father raising your precocious high-school daughter as she prepares to transition into full adulthood–and college. You’ve just moved to a new town where the nightlife (and day life, really) are swarming with attractive, handsome, sexy, charming…daddies.
The game is ambitious in that it takes a gaming style founded and popularized in Japan, and adapts the structure using a wide spectrum of American male tropes. Not only that, but it incorporates the LGBT community by exploring perspectives from a single, homosexual/bisexual father’s point of view. Getting back into dating is hard for everyone–and this game proves it.
From a gameplay perspective, the artwork is clean, and the dialogue between characters is fun while allowing the player to remain engaged by choosing conversations and actions, thus impacting final outcomes and even storyline endings.
“Okay, cool,” you say. “That is different. Any other reason I should like this?”
Did you not watch the trailer? Look at the daddies.
LOOK at them.
The Depth of Otome Games
Each of the “daddies” in Dream Daddy has a distinct personality and set of standards that you get to know as you play the game and select one to woo. What makes this so interesting is that the best choices to make for one daddy (eg. self-deprecating humor) may not fly for another.
None of the daddies are the stereotypically idealized version of a single male form. So, no–not a bunch of John Cenas with different hair colors. Real people have different preferences, and this game caters to this in ethnicity, age, body size, body type, and even fashion sense. Options range from a freckled, bearded redhead with a big belly and a near-boastful regard for his genius daughter, to a slender Hellsing-esque Alucard lookalike with the eye of a Beetlejuice-sponsored interior decorator.
On top of their appearances and personalities, each papa is a person dealing with his own real personal issues. Insecurity, faith, depression, social anxiety, and self image are just a few of the topics that arise. As you date and raise your own wily daughter (cuz yeah, you’d have to balance that in real life, too), you as a player can decide whether the issues are something you want to embrace, date around, or label as deal breakers.
The Otome Game Rabbit Hole
And that’s how otome games get you.
You pick one outcome, but then you grow curious about the other options. You wonder if you could have made your date want you more. You fantasize about dating another daddy, so you restart with a new route. You pick an okay dialogue choice–dang it! Now you have to reopen a save point from, like, an hour ago because you were so involved in that addictive minigame to save more often.
And don’t get me started on accidentally clicking the Skip button when you only mean to turn up the volume!
Or, so I’m guessing.
I will say–writing down this timeline of interest does make it easier to see the inevitable progression this journey into otome games has taken me. With my unparalleled knowledge and experience in the gaming genres I have already mastered (/sarcasm), I was bound to become too intrigued to not start exploring these new ranks.
It was only a matter of time before I went full native.
Yep–native for a full-scale, 100% traditional-yet-fully-adapted-for-an-English-speaking-audience otome game.
I never thought I would go there.
I certainly tried not to go there.
So then why, pray tell, have I played this game on my phone every day for the last three months, without fail?
I didn’t just dive in. I created an underwater domicile.
Disclaimer: I am in no way affiliated with The Blackwell game series or Wadjet Eye Games. All characters, likenesses, images, etc. are their exclusive property. Opinions listed here are mine, and the fan story is purely for entertainment.
It’s been five days since The Blackwell Epiphany (by Wadjet Eye Games) was released. It’s been two days since I finished it.
I’m not here to give a full-scale review on the game—although goodness knows I could. Thankfully, there are already a plethora of reviews out there, which leaves me time to do my part.
So many months ago, I had planned on writing a full-scale chapter book of one of the “lost” Blackwell adventures. Purely fanfiction and not at all affiliated with Wadjet Eye Games! Unfortunately, that thing called a full-time job, a freelance business and school all got in the way.
In lieu of this disappointment, and with the release of Epiphany, I felt a surge of emotion and—dare I say it—inspiration. I also felt the need to redeem myself and actually write a story that I completed.
Done and done. J
I’ll be perfectly blunt—I wrote this because, as fulfilling and absolutely astoundingly awesome the ending to this game was, it still didn’t fulfill my inner fangirl towards the one thing I wanted more than anything.
Did it tease the heck out of it? Oh, heck yes, it did.
And dagnabbit, writing this addition was the only way I could squelch it.
Blackwell Epiphany – Epilogue
Warning: Contains spoilers!
It was an ice-bitten January afternoon on the outskirts of New York City, more than thirty years to the day his life began anew, that Joey Mallone lay on his deathbed once more. This time, there was no confusion. There was no urgency or fear. Instead, there was just acceptance—and peace.
Resting comfortably, a blanket on his lap and his head propped up with plush pillows, Joey closed his eyes and smiled. Funny. He had a feeling that if someone had told him a long time ago that he would see death not as an warden, but a long lost companion, he might have clocked them in the jaw. The consideration was a flickering dream now, like an unsure memory.
He heard footsteps approach outside his bedroom door before a tentative knock struck the wood, and a voice called through to him. Swallowing carefully, he thought to answer, inviting the person in as he always had. The words were just formed in his mouth when he stopped. Stopped, grinned just a bit, re-shut his eyes and fell limp.
The seconds passed, counted by the miniature grandfather clock on his dresser, before the door clicked open. “Joey?” The silhouette in the doorway peeked around the threshold, hesitated, stepped forward, rushed to the bedside when Joey didn’t move. “Joey?” Hands pressed to his shoulder and began to shake him fervently. “Joseph!”
“Gah.” The formality of the greeting yanked him out of his prank, and he raised his hands in protest. “Come on, sweetheart. You know I hate when you call me that.” The woman barely heard him as she lightly smacked his arm and scolded him for scaring her. His chuckling only made things worse, and they were doing their best to maintain a grouchy discord when another person entered the room with a tray of food.
“God, you two suck at that,” the young man said. He was strong-shouldered, tall, and looking crisp in business slacks and a button-down shirt rolled up to the elbows. Joey eased off his jovial griping to assess the man’s attire.
“You went to the office today, didn’t you?”
“Nah,” the man said with perfect New England twang, setting the tray on Joey’s thighs. “Church. Susie took the baby to her sister’s but said she’ll be here in an hour.”
“Susanna,” the woman corrected. She was of Italian descent; though her hair was almost all gray, it poured down her back in a thick braid, presenting a remarkable contract to her weathered, olive skin.
Joey reached for the end of her braid, wanting to feel the tasseled edges as they brushed over his fingertips. She used to get annoyed with it, but when she saw what a tactile person he was and how much joy he seemed to receive from such a simple act, it didn’t bother her so much. He said, pinching one of the lower knots, “She should have brought her here. I wanted to say goodbye.”
The young man and woman glanced at each other, something that was well noticed by Joey.
The young man tried to make light of the comment, as he always did. “Come on; you’re doing fine. The doctor said your pneumonia’s gone. You just need a few more days in bed.”
“He said that two weeks ago.”
“Joey.” The woman leaned in and adjusted the bed sheets. “Look at you. You’re doing better every day. Soon you’ll be making your own meals again, and we’ll be walking around the lake like always.”
Joey’s hand trailed up the braid, passing across the woman’s jawline, touching and cupping her cheek. “Sam,” he said. She frowned a bit, and he tried again. “Samantha.” Her beautiful features softened. “I’ve been down this road before. I know the signs. I know what it feels like to go. Soon. Very soon.” He extended his free hand to the young man, who took it without hesitation. “You’re gonna have to take care of each other. You and Susie and the baby. And don’t you forget to mind your mother, you hear me? Make her feel like a queen.”
The man tried to laugh, but something caught in his throat, and he blinked quickly. “Just like you.”
“You’d better do better than me, or I’ll come back and kick your ass.” This warranted another attempt at laughter, which was slightly more successful. Tears still filled the man’s eyes, and his mouth still crinkled. “Hey, now, none of that. You know this isn’t the end. Hey, come here.” He pressed his hand to the man’s head and brought the sobbing form down beside him, while Samantha stealthily moved the food tray.
After a minute, the young man composed himself, leaned back and gave him a tremulous smile. His brown hair was mussed from where Joey had ruffled it affectionately. “Ah.” Tears streamed anew, flowed down his cheeks and dripped from his chin. “Ah, Dad.”
Joey beamed, seeing the wondrous mingling of himself and Samantha in every molecule of the features before him. “My Danny Boy.” Slapping his cheek a bit, Joey said, “You’re gonna do good things, Danny. You just make sure to enjoy yourself while you’re at it.”
Danny kissed his hands, Joey’s forehead, and every inch of skin on his father’s face, mumbling, “Ah, Dad,” as he did.
“Go on; clean yourself up before your wife gets back. Don’t want her thinking I’m gone already.” It was with massive persuasion and further convincing from Samantha that Danny finally sniffled and shuffled over to the bathroom to splash water on his face. Samantha took his place on the bed, still moving the sheets up to Joey’s chin, humming as she did so and passing light, sweet glances at the man before her as she did so.
“You know,” said Joey, watching her, “you’re just as beautiful as the day I met you.”
The muscles around her mouth twitched, and Joey knew she was thinking something impish. “That must have been why I was still single.”
Samantha grinned, brilliant and bright. “My beauty hadn’t kicked in yet.”
God. He remembered why he fell in love with her, why he had pursued her, why he had asked her to marry him, why he hadn’t regretted a single day with her.
Finally, the bed sheets smooth enough for her liking, Samantha folded her hands in her lap and gazed at them silently for a moment or two. When she raised her brown head, her eyes were strange and bright. “So,” she said. “Tell me the truth. Which one are you looking forward to seeing more?”
The question left him sincerely thrown off, but that was immediately allayed when she opened her mouth once more.
“Which one: Lauren or Rosa?”
All at once, he was back on that day over thirty years ago. He was back in that severe winter storm in front of the Grace School, feeling the frosty wind sting beneath his jacket collar for the first time in over half a century.
He was back in that moment of…living again.
The rush of breath, the snow in his eyes, the disbelief at the beating of his heart.
And yet, for that brief moment of exhilaration, he would have returned it all had it meant saving the woman with the red hair and the black coat lying in the snow.
“Rosa.” He had stood over her, unsure of what to do. He’d had his tie on, of course. She’d needed it. He tried to give it to her; she hadn’t answered. He was truly infantile in this form, and for the umpteenth time of many times that night, he had admitted it. He’d needed her to help him.
Standing over the bridge, pouring her ashes towards the river, he’d realized that was selfish thinking. Rosangela Blackwell had not been placed in the world just to help him. She’d been placed there to help all of them. Despite his grumbling, his groaning, his complaints that she was not strong enough, she had almost singlehandedly saved the world from a massive (if not physical, then at least emotional) breakdown.
And she had done it not because she had to. Not because Joey had told her to.
Because she wanted to.
Those were the thoughts that drove Joey those first few years. It had been a little rough getting used to the regular needs that a human body required. He had to get a job, his own place, some finances. He went to work at a retail store, worked his way back into tailoring and high-end fabrics, and in less than a decade was purchasing for some of the up-and-coming fashion designers in New York.
Then, he met Samantha. She was strong yet gentle, exuberant yet mature, knowledgeable yet naïve. She could be smart and, if you tested her, a smart aleck. When Joey pushed her buttons, she pushed back.
He encouraged her to release her own line of fashion, and soon enough they branched into their own business. Within two years, they were married. A year after that, Danny was born. Each new blessing was a stronger foundation for why he had not been allowed into the light. Even as a spirit, already dead, his corporal body decaying in the ground…it hadn’t been his time to go.
Rosa, with her mind shattering, struggling against the responsibility and the weight of the universe inside her, knew this. And she had taken the time to give it back to him.
Danny had granted them a new point of view as he grew loving his parents, hating his parents, making mistakes and discovering that Joey’s quirky wisdom was well-founded—and always right. And when Danny married and had a child of his own, Joey realized just how Lauren Blackwell could justify turning her back on him to take care of Rosa.
It was something that took him a long time to understand, Lauren’s rejection of him. Despite all of his tricks and charm, he had never been good deceiving strong-willed women. Lauren’s attitude had amazed him and allured him at the same time, especially when she had seen right through his talk. He thought he could help her break out of her shell until it came to him that he—and the ghost-saving—had put her in that shell in the first place.
Time as a ghost had taught him so much. His time in life had taught him more. Now, at the end of it all, he had to wonder what the time beyond both would do.
Joey returned to the present and focused on Samantha, who was gazing at him so earnestly. “You talked about them all the time when we first met,” she said. Gently. “And then again, these last few months. It was almost like they were coming for you. Or you were going to them.”
He dipped his head a bit, but the thought of them doing what they did best brought his resolve back to the forefront. “They were good women. They went through a lot of hard times, sacrificed a lot to help others. And they put up with me.”
“Then they must be saints.” Softly, slowly, she laid her head on his chest as she murmured, “I used to wonder if I would ever live up to their legacy.”
The revelation stunned Joey, especially coming from Sam’s mouth. “You never had to live up to anything.” His hand shook as it found her braid and squeezed it. “You just had to live, and you did. Continue to live. Live for me. Live for yourself, the way you always have.”
Her crying was evident in her voice. “You’ll wait for me over there.”
“Of course. Forever.”
“And you’ll wear your best suit.”
“I’ll have one made just for the occasion.”
Samantha’s next request was muffled by the bed sheets. “Don’t forget me.”
“I couldn’t if I tried, sweetheart.”
Joey Mallone passed away that evening in the presence of his wife and son, their hands holding his as he went. The passing was simple and soft, just the way he expected it to be. He knew his family would be alright, and so there was no limboing into the “node space,” no stepping through a doorway before he entered the light. There was just…the light. White, bright, and warm. It had never been warm before. That’s how he knew he would make it this time.
The light faded from his eyes, and he found himself standing on a street corner. It was daytime. There was a woman standing beside him. She was about thirty, with her long dark hair in a low, messy ponytail. She was wearing a short-sleeved white blouse, a dark red skirt, and simple flat shoes. She was also smoking a cigarette.
Only she would smoke in Heaven.
She glanced over at him, passed a glance over his tailored suit, and let out a monotone, “Hmph.” But then she smiled, and her smile was like the sun.
“Hmph yourself,” he said, and smiled back.
“So,” he continued as she finished her cigarette, “I guess you’re serving as my escort.”
“More or less.” She released a ring of smoke, leering at it as it dissipated. “You don’t know how amazing it is to do this without worrying about my health.”
“No, but I’m sure you’ll tell me.” Joey paused at the sound of his voice and the vitality within it. Not just that, but the smoothness of the skin on his hands, the thickness of his slicked-back hair. He knew, without needing to peer into a mirror, that he looked as young and fresh as the day he was reborn.
Presently, Lauren tossed her butt into the air, only for it to evaporate into a shimmering smoke itself. With a jerk of her head, she turned down the street and started to walk. “We wanted to make things more familiar until you got used to it up here.”
The pronoun made his senses jump. “ ‘We’?” Using his aura, he could feel other spirits in the near vicinity.
“You made a difference in a lot of people’s lives. Not everyone may have been able to see you, but you got a lot of admirers over the last century.” Lauren hesitated. “I guess…I knew what we were doing, but I never really…thought about it, you know?”
This place felt so good. It bugged Joey that Lauren would feel this kind of regret in this environment. “Who could? You were young, full of life, when this big blue bum appears out of nowhere and tells you you’re gonna have to start saving spooks for a living. No more normal life, no more fun.”
“Yeah. Well.” She stopped entirely and turned around to face him, eyes clear and without cynicism. “You knew we needed to stay focused. You knew it would mean something someday.”
“Some days, yes. Some days, no.” He wouldn’t say he hadn’t had selfish motives. In the beginning, he had kept her working for him, to maybe complete his quota. In the end… “All I knew is what to do. And we did it.”
“Until I stopped you,” Lauren said and held up her hand before Joey could retort. “Look. I’m not here to guilt trip you. I understand. Up here, you understand everything. The truth doesn’t make you angry or hurt. You can just…talk. So I’m talking now and I’m telling you, I’m sorry. And I’m talking again and saying, thanks.”
These were two phrases Joey never would have expected Lauren to deliver to him in any situation—not even sarcastically. It took him a second or two of staring before he could even dare to put forth a half a smile. “Thanks?”
She nodded, presenting him with a graciousness and warmth that, on their first run together, would have melted him into a spectral puddle. “Yeah. Thanks.”
It was funny. Here, in this place, that was enough. The time they had worked together solving crimes, saving ghosts, had left him lonely and anxious. When Lauren had acknowledged him for the first time on Earth, he would have given his best suits just to touch her, just to stroke a loose lock of hair from between her eyes. But now, she said, “Thanks,” and it was just right. He could be carried on that thanks.
He nodded back, pleased, and allowed himself to be walked around the corner of the street. It was a good thing Lauren had prepared him with her kind words, because the throng of spirits that met him multiplied his delight infinitely. Souls that he had been once, souls that he had saved, souls that had heard of him had all come to welcome him on the other side. Music of a dimension that he could hardly fathom radiated through the streets, and marvelous arrays of décor lined the buildings. Everyone was dancing, laughing, jumping, and singing at the same time, and one by one (or group my group), they approached him, reminding him of their stories and thanking him fresh. The accidental suicide from the high rise. The college students who got mixed up with the wrong crowds. The “sad sacks,” now sad no more. They were all here. And they were all happy.
But something was missing. Amongst the reunions and massive degrees of happiness, something was missing. Joey didn’t even realize it until he felt himself lifting his chin over the throngs of spirits, craning his neck for a certain figure, tilting his ear for a specific reproach.
The celebration might have extended minutes or even weeks. He couldn’t begin to count the number of faces who greeted him or the length of time he was outside in that street. The sun never seemed to set so much as turn into a pleasant, rose-hued dusk, one that finally began to send the spirits away. The crowd thinned, and Joey soon enough caught sight of Lauren at the end of the lane, gesturing him over with a cigarette caught between her fingers. He met her, and they resumed their stroll through the strange town.
“I don’t think I’ve ever received such a warm welcome,” he said, trying to sound jovial. He couldn’t stop his eyes, however, from flitting over the lit windows in the shops and the buildings, squinting at figures as they performed their duties inside.
Lauren said, “I’m sure they think it’s long overdue. We’ve been waiting a long time.”
A woman with red hair stepped out a shop, and Joey stopped and stared. Her skin was pale, her clothes shiny black leather, her hairstyle a perfectly coifed Mohawk. She glanced at him, nodded and smiled, and continued down the road. “All of you?” he asked, as a worry that he hadn’t previously considered began to sift through his mind.
With a puff of smoke, Lauren said, “Hmph,” and laughed. “I was wondering how long it would take you to ask. Come on.” She turned to a building, opened a door, and went inside. Joey stepped in behind her.
“She didn’t want to bother you until you were ready,” Lauren was saying, but Joey had moved in front of her and was already scanning the area.
They had entered a coffee shop, sparsely filled with people. A trio, two women and a man, sat in a corner of the shop, talking quietly. Both women had brilliant red hair, though the woman facing Joey had a rounder face and no glasses. Joey crossed the tiled floor slowly, his eyes on the woman with her back to him. The redhead facing him caught his eye, and a smile played across her lips. She nodded upward in his direction, and the second woman turned around, saw him, and stood up.
Joey took her in as he closed the space between them. Just as it was with everyone up here, she hadn’t aged a day since he’d last seen her. If anything, she looked even younger. The years of ghost-saving had been erased from her skin, leaving it unstressed and unlined. Her hair fell in a loose, vibrant ponytail over her shoulder, and her blue, button-down blouse only enhanced the vibrancy in her eyes, even behind her spectacles. He found it hard to talk at first and was forced to swallow once, twice, before he could get his words out.
“I see you still got four eyes,” he said.
“I see you never discovered blue jeans,” she replied.
The exuberance in his soul, building into a near-unbearable bundle of energy since he had first arrived, burst at last. He stepped forward and embraced her, holding her to him and kissing her forehead softly and tenderly as he mumbled everything that he had wanted to tell her for the last three decades. Things that he had told her ashes, the air, the sky, the ceiling of his home. Things about Samantha and Danny and his business and his travels. Things about life and death and living and loving and friends and family. Things about things.
After he had finished, and they continued to embrace in the middle of the coffee shop, Rosangela mumbled into his chest. “That was a grandpa kiss.”
He squeezed her tighter, wondering if tears were a norm up here or only allowed on really special occasions. “Yeah, well. When you’ve lived as long as I have, Red, old habits die hard.”