Most otome games tend to be rather straightforward affairs. You have a heroine, someone who is often devoid of personality so the player can better envision themselves in the role, and an excuse for her to be exposed to multiple men she could plausibly romance. It is rare for other story elements to appear around this and be explored, but it does happen from time to time. The Charming Empire is one of those games that offers a little extra exposition. Yes, the heroine is suddenly exposed to five men who all happen to be single, but players also get to deal with the troubles that can come from being thrust into a royal life.
The Charming Empire begins with the avatar’s life being upended. She is tangentially related to the current ruler of Japan in this Taisho period piece. (Not by blood, though, so her “brother” can still be a potential bachelor.) Her mother and her were sent to the countryside after a divorce, where she was raised by an elderly couple. Her brother, Soshi, summons her to the palace and keeps her locked up as she is trained to become a proper princess. This means she is exposed to various teachers, a childhood friend and a bodyguard who all just so happen to be single!
What is interesting about The Charming Empire is how each route explores some political and societal elements.
What is interesting about The Charming Empire is how each route explores some political and societal elements. In pretty much every route, different class and power dynamics are explored. In Koichiro Sera’s storyline, we have the princess falling in love with the bodyguard, which is forbidden, and come to understand what life is like when you go from a girl living in the countryside to someone in a position of power. Kei Yoshimine is the former prince of a defeated country who is a prisoner of war, living in the palace and acting as a tutor, and his route explores that and surviving in a duplicitous court. And Soshi is the ruler of the empire himself. While the stories are definitely romantic, there is a level of intrigue here that adds a bit of depth to the stories.
The stories in The Charming Empire are told well. There are the rather odd breaks that make chapters rather short, due to it originally appearing on mobile devices, and an occasional grammar or spelling issue, likely due to the same reasons. Yet even with these occasional issues, I feel like the content of the routes feels more compelling than previous D3 Publisher otomes released on the Switch, like The Men of Yoshiwara: Kikuya. Our heroine here has more of a personality to her, especially in Kei and Koichiro’s routes, that results in more interesting and forceful responses in prompts. Romances seem to grow a bit more organically, since in many situations we spend more time trying to learn or work with these men instead of just fawn over them.
Especially since The Charming Empire excels in other areas. This is the first otome game from D3 Publisher on the Switch to have voice acting, which is a rather big step in increasing immersion. There are a number of different backgrounds to explore, even though our heroine is mostly confined to the palace grounds in her stories. Even the event CGs seem more meaningful, as they cover a number of different moments in her life and are often not lovey-dovey. Things feel a bit more natural in The Charming Empire, as though romance is not the only thing that matters in this princess’ life.
While all of this does make The Charming Empire more engaging, a number of quality of life features are absent. A big one is the lack of a quick save and quick load function. In previous D3 Publisher Switch otome games, like the aforementioned The Men of Yoshiwara: Kikuya, this element is present. It makes it easy to quickly save before a decision, make a choice, see how the story progresses, and load if things did not go the way you wanted. That it is somehow not here is inexplicable and makes rolling back involve more steps and menus.
Things feel a bit more natural in The Charming Empire, as though romance is not the only thing that matters in this princess’ life.
But a bigger issue comes from the affection indicator. The Charming Empire is one of those otome games that has an image appear after you make a choice, letting you know if the target’s affinity for the heroine has gone up after choosing a response. The problem is, I have noticed this indicator appears regardless of which decision I make. There were times when I would make choices that I knew were probably wrong, but the “Up!” would still show suggesting that the guy was happy to be insulted or see the princess let him down. Since there are no other means of checking affection levels in the menu, as there is with The Men of Yoshiwara: Kikuya, it is impossible to know how well you are or are not doing until the very end.
The Charming Empire is missing a few of the niceties visual novel fans have come to expect from their games, which does take away slightly from the quality of life of the game, but I feel like it makes up for that with its story. It is always refreshing when we get an otome game that brings up issues other than romance, and this title does that. The voice acting is well done, it looks great and the story manages to suggest love is blooming while we learn more about the kingdom’s political and societal situations. It has an often satisfying story to tell.