Otome games prove love can happen in the most unlikely places. So far, I’ve fallen in love while attending a school for pigeons, trying to get back to my child beauty pageant weight, being held hostage in an amusement park, suffering from amnesia, acting as a mascot for vampire-Bakumatsu period warriors, restoring a farm and managing a fighter for a high school fight club. Romancing Ozmafia’s fairy tale-inspired men, all of whom also happen to be members of mafia families fighting for territory, isn’t going to phase anyone else keeping up with the endless flow of dating sim visual novels.
Which is fortunate, because you don’t want Ozmafia’s unconventional premise to scare you away. MangaGamer’s first otome title is a fanciful adventure filled with charming characters, clever writing and colorful storylines that demand you pay attention. A lot’s happening here, and it will take a few playthroughs to appreciate it all.
Ozmafia is an otome visual novel geared toward older players, a fact evident from the first few moments. Fuka, our heroine, is running through a town. She’s being chased by an unknown assailant determined to kill her. This isn’t a situation where there’s some hilarious misunderstanding. Caesar, head of the Wolf Gang, wants Fuka dead. (Naturally, he’s also a romanceable bachelor.) She’s lucky enough to run into Caramia, don of the Oz family, and his consigliere Kyrie. She’s rescued, but not entirely. Fuka has no idea who she is, why Caesar was coming after her or what she’s doing in town. Caramia takes Fuka under his protection, after introducing her to the dons of the Andersen, Grimm, Heidi and Longboots families, and players have an opportunity to connect with the characters of this world while learning who exactly Fuka’s is.
While it may not always be evident, developer Poni Pachet considered everyone’s original inspiration when putting the cast together and elements of all characters’ origins shine.
Naturally, every character represents iconic characters from famous fables. The members of the Oz family, Caramia, Kyrie and Axel, are the Lion, Scarecrow and Tinman. Pachet Longboots is Puss in Boots. Robin Hood runs Sherwood Clinic. The Oscar Wilde “salon,” for consenting adults, is run by Dorian Gray. While it may not always be evident, developer Poni Pachet considered everyone’s original inspiration when putting the cast together and elements of all characters’ origins shine. Kyrie is brilliant. Hansel and Gretel are always together, make sweets, and can be quite childish. Pashet is very independent. Robin Hood may not be a thief, but he is a neutral force ready to aid those less fortunate. Portrayals aren’t accurate, of course, but they’re close enough that people would have been able to identify who everyone is supposed to be even without names like Hamelin or Scarlet.
The way the characters are presented fits well with the manner in which Ozmafia is told. Most otome visual novels are written in such a way that they could be enjoyed by a wide audience. Anyone with an appreciation for a good romance could easily understand every encounter. Ozmafia has a rather remarkable script and localization. Nothing’s dumbed down. Mafia-terms are sprinkled throughout, with the player expected to stay immersed and keep up with all everything. Three and four-syllable words abound, and I had the distinct impression that the game is trying to make you think, rather than offer an opportunity to chase after pretty people.
Though, putting it that way does Ozmafia a disservice. There are many otome visual novels that come across as rather superficial. They look pretty, but offer nothing of substance to the player. Here, you’re presented with some complex storylines and situations that may have you questioning loyalties and motivations. You might not even be pursuing a romantic path. Two of the nine routes are platonic. You could find yourself presented with a question where both responses seem equally valid. You’re supposed to really think about these characters you always considered figments of your imagination as people with their own thoughts and feelings.
This reveals Ozmafia’s true intentions; it’s about Fuka finding a place for herself. Her joining a mafia family is really a rather blatant allegory for finding a group of people who will love and accept her for who she is. Maybe that means finding love with a member of the Oz family. Perhaps that entails a deeper friendship with someone like Paschet. It could even mean a harem ending in a questionable establishment. You’re forming connections with people around you, learning to trust and bond even when you aren’t sure of yourself. Even though you’ll end up with one character romantically, some storylines see you bonding with the members of their famiglia as well. It’s more powerful than a typical otome game, as it resonates with a desire we all hold. We want someone to appreciate and understand us.
This reveals Ozmafia’s true intentions; it’s about Fuka finding a place for herself.
Of course, that appeal to a primal urge isn’t the only thing that makes Ozmafia so attractive. It’s also an exceptionally pretty game. The character portraits and environments are evocative of a watercolor painting. There’s an ethereal quality to every element of the game, fitting considering the nature of every character. There are also multiple character portraits for each person Fuka can end up with, which is much appreciated. Many games stick with one static image, which will be flipped depending on the character’s position on-screen, for the entire game.
Ozmafia grabs hold of you and doesn’t let you go. It pulls you in with these faces that seem so familiar. You know and recognize them, but how? It holds you close, telling tales that encourage you to get invested in these people’s lives, pick a side and forge an unbreakable bond. Then it tells you a story, teases you with the truth and gives you an ending that might not always be happy, but leaves you satisfied all the same. And, with so many storylines and endings available, there’s more than enough incentive to return and explore every one.