In terms of art, story, gameplay, and price, CINDERELLA PHENOMENON is one of the best otome games I have ever played.

“Otome game” literally translates to “maiden game.” These games feature romantic relationships typically in a visual-novel format. Players and game developers also refer to these games as “dating sims.”

These games can also be loosely split into two categories: free/indie games and professional/paid games. It’s true that not all indie otome games are free and not all professional games require you to pay; however, there is enough of a trend in the qualities of these games to make this distinction.

Both types of games have their pros and cons. For example, indie games tend to have less polished artwork, and professional games can come off as generic cash grabs. In any case, before going into what makes CINDERELLA PHENOMENON so great, we need to establish the pros and cons of both professional games and indie games.

Pay-to-Play Otome Games

From AMNESIA: MEMORIES

Pros

Overall, professional otome games have higher-quality art, voice acting, and gameplay. This is definitely because these games, like AMNESIA: MEMORIES, are supported by large, established corporations like Idea Factory who can afford to pay teams of professional developers to create games. Similarly, the “Shall We Date” the NTT Solmare Corporation finances phone app game series.

Otome games are more captivating when there is flawless art to look at and voices for the love interests. It never hurts when game visuals are easy on the eyes, especially when its characters are incredibly handsome and confessing their love to the player. These aspects of professionally-made games can make the romance feel more real and personal.

Lastly, professional otome games often have more merchandise and the potential for anime adaptations. When players fall in love with a game (or maybe characters in a game) they inevitably want tangible mementos! Games that are funded by big companies have an easier time providing merchandise like key chains, art books, and plushies. Plus, what’s not to like about seeing your favorite characters come even more to life in an anime?

Cons

One downfall of professionally made games is that the stories and characters can be very generic. Often, game developers make the main character incredibly dull, sometimes even leaving out the main character’s eyes in the artwork. This is usually so that any player can project themselves onto that character. However, this can be incredibly irritating. The main character without any individuality can come off as ditzy and passive, which can frustrate the player.

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To cater to as many hopeless romantics as possible, it seems like otome game creators re-use story lines over and over. There are countless vampire and ninja dating sims, and even more prince and celebrity ones. While these games can be interesting if they’re the first ones you play, they are not memorable stories. The storylines become very predictable after playing a couple of games.

Typically, there is the bad boy type, the flirty type, the cute type, the smart type (who wears glasses), and then the quiet type. After playing enough games, the characters lose their individuality and merely fulfill a cookie-cutter fantasy that is interesting only at the moment.

The other pitfall is that players feel pressured to pay money to play the game, particularly in phone app games. Players might have to wait hours or days for the “points” or “tickets” they need to unlock new chapters in a game. This would be all right if players could progress a reasonable amount with the daily moves allowed, but usually, they can only progress one scene before having to wait another day.

For example, MY CANDY LOVE only gives you a maximum of 20 “action points” a day, which is sometimes not enough to even encounter another character while walking around the school.

Free/Indie Otome Games

Pacthesis Games Website

Pros

Indie games seem to be stronger in the storyline department than some professional games. The stories are more unique, and the main characters tend to have stronger personalities. This is probably because individuals or small teams generally create indie otome games, not for money, but to tell a story.

Pacthesis is a notable example of indie dating sim creators. Her most recent game, STAR DAYS SIM DATE, is a story about a girl who goes on a journey with aliens to discover where people go after they die after her best friend passes away. Other indie games like DREAM DADDY: A DAD DATING SIM also explores storylines and relationships outside the standard high school romance view. While DDADDS is not necessarily directed towards a female audience, it shows how indie dating sims tend to reach outside the standard tropes.

Cons

One of the main cons of indie dating sims is the art quality. While indie games are colorful and appealing, there is a clear difference in quality between them and professional games like DANDELION or NAMELESS. Typically, you won’t get the same stunning visuals from indie games, mainly free indie games. This is primarily because the creator may just not have the money to buy better software.

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Another downfall can sometimes be the voice acting. Not necessarily the lack thereof, since many professional games also lack voice acting. However, it’s clear when the voice acting for different characters is not recorded with the same mic, or sometimes a little awkward.

SEDUCE ME THE OTOME is an example of an indie game with voice acting. The game as a whole is enjoyable and interesting. However, sometimes the voice recording for one character is not as crisp as clear as the one for another. This is another limitation of equipment that independent creators may not have access to.

How CINDERELLA PHENOMENON Compares

The Visuals

Lucette from CINDERELLA PHENOMENON

CINDERELLA PHENOMENON is so great because it escapes the cons of both indie and professional games.  The game was created by Dicesuki, a small company with one previous game, LOCKED HEART. Dicesuki funded the game on Kickstarter where they made about two times more than their original goal! The results can be seen in the artwork. The visuals and music in CINDERELLA PHENOMENON are gorgeous.

The Story

The game’s story is also incredibly interesting. Much like Pacthesis’ games, CINDERELLA PHENOMENON has a very interesting premise: the Fairytale Curse. The curse is different for every person but is always a cruel or ironic twist on a Hans Grimm fairytale. In the kingdom of Angielle, people continue to fall under the Fairytale Curse. You play as the main character, Crown Princess Lucette, who falls under the Cinderella curse.

In a twist, she goes from riches to rags and must perform three good deeds to break her curse. The other love interests also are under Fairy Tale Curses inspired by the Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and so on.

Lucette talking with King Genaro, her father, and Ophelia, her stepmother

The main character is not at all generic. She is cold, elitist, and pretty dislikable. However, by playing as her, you cannot help but start to sympathize with her. As you progress through the game, it’s clear that everyone has kept the truth from her. Figuring out that truth is part of the mystique and plot of the game, which you learn more and more about by playing through all the routes.

While other otome games keep the routes pretty separate, CINDERELLA PHENOMENON gives players a reason to go through the entire game. While the romance is key, it is intertwined with the actual plot of the story, which makes the game memorable.

The Gameplay

That brings us to gameplay. The game makes it very easy for players to go through all the routes. The entire game is free. Nothing is hidden behind internal payments like phone app games, and there is no wait time to play like in MY CANDY LOVE. Then, for the truly impatient, you can auto skip to the next choice whenever you want. This is perfect for going through the game to unlock all the routes and get the full experience of the game.

Final Thoughts

CINDERELLA PHENOMENON menu screen

There are hundreds, if not thousands of games in the Otome and dating sim genres. At this point, it can be difficult to find one that stands out and makes a significant impression. While many “generic” dating sims are enjoyable to play, a veteran might find more intricate stories more appealing.

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As someone who has gone through many, many dating sims in her life, I found that CINDERELLA PHENOMENON addresses everything I took issue with in other games. Lucette is a unique and complex character. She is not one of those generic, aloof mannequins that I could not project onto. The premise of the story is incredibly unique, unlike the typical “high school” romance.

Lastly, the relationships that Lucette can pursue are genuinely interesting and contribute to the plot of the story. By exploring each relationship, the player discovers more about Lucette’s confused memories and the aftermath of the war between humans, fairies, and witches.

CINDERELLA PHENOMENON left me feeling almost like I owed Dicesuki money since I didn’t pay anything for such an incredible experience! It is a game worth playing, even if otome games are not your thing.

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2 Comments

  1. Alma

    December 30, 2017 at 2:08 am

    Omg I agree entirely with all of these. I’ve been played many otoge (the indie and pro one), but Cinderella Phenomenon really are one of my most favorite otoge(s). And it’s free omg its free like wow i didn’t have to pay to get suchamazing story. Can’t wait for the fandisk.

    Reply

  2. Leafさんの夢が。。。

    July 26, 2017 at 12:36 am

    Amen. I just played this game this month and I am ready for the fan disc. I was floored by the quality this game had and it’s a shame that the creators weren’t able to take any compensation for it outside of donations. This game definitely deserves to be played, and it’s entirely free, which still blows my mind.

    Reply

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