Heroines in otome games are largely blank slates. They’re our opportunity to connect with the characters and story. It’s easier for them to be bland, passive stand-ins, as it makes it more plausible that multiple men could want the same woman and allows for more immersive self-insertion. It isn’t the only option, though. From time to time, we get games where the leads are stronger, more opinionated figures. While this might make it more difficult to connect and pretend we’re in the game, these unorthodox otome heroines enrich the story, making it more believable, entertaining, and memorable.
Think about one of the most memorable heroines in recent memory. Who comes to mind? It might just be Hiyoko, the only woman at a school for birds. Hatoful Boyfriend’s Hiyoko is the Deadpool of otome heroines. She breaks the fourth wall. She believes violence is pretty viable means of solving problems. She has an obsession with certain sorts of foods. She’s practically indestructible. (Practically.) She even has a tendency to spout outlandish phrases, like, “I must return to my people with the spoils of war, lay my bloodied sword at the feet of my great king and celebrate my conquest of all the lands from here to distant Macedonia.” The girl is odd.
Which helps make Hatoful Boyfriend stand out. Well, that and all the pigeon dating. Regardless. It’s a situation where you could have an ordinary, passive heroine. She’d be overshadowed by the rest of the cast and the stories. It wouldn’t be believable. Not that this game’s scenario is plausible in any way, but Hiyoko’s unusual attitude makes it more appealing.
Hiyoko isn’t the only otome heroine acting out. Alice from Alice in the Country of Hearts, which briefly appeared in English as Alice in the Heart ~Wonderful Wonder World~, has similar tendencies. But then, we can’t blame her. When we meet Alice Liddell, it’s in a garden where her sister is reading her a story. Her sister who happens to also be apparently involved with Alice’s former tutor, a man she loved. This has turned Alice into a stubborn pragmatist who doesn’t believe she’ll ever fall for anyone. That’s when Peter Rabbit, a white rabbit, attempts to lure her away to Wonderland. Alice is having none of that, because who chases talking white rabbits?
So, Peter turns into a man with rabbit ears, forcibly abducts her and she’s left in a Wonderland divided into multiple factions, major cast members who can’t die and extremely violent and over-dramatic people. Though she clearly comes across as someone who values life, she doesn’t pull punches. Literally. She throws punches at Peter for his actions, kicks Merry Gowland when he tries to get too familiar and even has sharp barbs prepared to wound people with words. She can be sweet, sure, but she’s also surly. Which is what you’d expect from someone in a foreign, fantasy land who apparently can’t leave. This makes the scenario better. We appreciate her behavior, because it is how a reasonable person would act. We remember, because how many otome heroines punch a potential love interest?
Don’t take this to mean that every unorthodox heroine has to be over the top. There are examples of more ordinary ones in games such as Norn9: Var Commons. Nanami is one. She looks like your typical heroine. She’s very small, pretty and delicate. However, her attitude and abilities are outside the norm. Her ability to erase people’s memories have left her detached from others. She’s old and analytical. Being a ninja, she’s also a lethal and skilled professional that occasionally thinks of herself as a tool. This allows for more precise and blunt conversations than you’d expect, which fits seeing as she’s one of many on a mission to deal with the possible end of the world.
She’s accompanied on her journey by Mikoto, another possible Norn9: Var Commons heroine. She’s not as unusual as Nanami, but still out of the ordinary when compared to other otome stars. She’s awkward around men, due to her upbringing, and her power to create protective barriers often leads her to believe her way is the right way. So we have someone who alternates between being something of a bossy know-it-all and an unusually awkward and uncertain teenager. It’s an interesting dichotomy. One that makes her as memorable as Nanami, and ensures Norn9: Var Commons stands out among its peers.
And then there’s Sweet Fuse. When a game stars the imaginary niece of Keiji Inafune, you expect her to be something special. Trust me, she is. Saki is an outspoken and intelligent young woman who often drives the plot. Despite being surrounded by a few competent man, all of whom can be romanced, she’s the driving force beyond escaping the theme park where Count Hogstein is holding them captive. In many scenarios, it’s only with her aid that they manage to escape.
But that isn’t the primary reason for her worming her way into our hearts and minds. Saki has a temper. When she gets mad, she doesn’t hold back. Her outbursts are far removed from the demure and respectful behaviors we expect to see in otome heroines. It’s always why she inspires action. Saki doesn’t sit back and let things happen in Sweet Fuse. She yells it out. That gets results. Her calling out crazy people on their behavior is realistic and makes the game better.
There are many great otome games out there. Plenty of them are memorable. Tons are enjoyable. When the heroine is someone atypical, though, you’re guaranteed a romantic experience you won’t forget. Heroines that talk back and fight back make people take notice. Games fortunate enough to have stars like this will always stand out.