I sincerely doubt the world needs this, but that sort of thing has never stopped me before. Have an extremely biased guide of several dating sim games, organised by some arbitrary metrics.
Word of warning: this will be long (4k words), because I’ve played an embarrassingly large amount of otomes.
As a disclaimer: obviously this is a personal opinion. If you (as a lot of people do) enjoy the more forceful bad boy type in your dating sim, I’m not going to judge you. I, however, don’t, so this list is very specifically going to call out games for how they treat the protag.
Featured here: Amnesia: Memories, Blood in Roses, Cutie Demon Crashers, Destined to Love, Dream Daddy, Hatoful Boyfriend, Hustle Cat, Ikemen Revolution, Ikemen Sengoku, Lost Alice, Midnight Cinderella, Monster Prom, Mystic Messenger
A note on play styles.
These games come in a few flavours, which is important to know if you’re gonna try them.
- The vast majority of the mobile games here follow a basic visual novel structure. You pick a guy and read through the different chapters, and depending on your answers you’ll be leaning toward one of two or three endngs. Since these are free to play mobiles, there’s a bunch of challenges you will need to log in daily to pass.
- Mystic Messenger is the main outlier, since it’s a chat simulator that plays in real time.
- The pc games tend to be more complex, with interlocking routes and more endings, generally. You’ll need a number of skill points to meet character A for instance, or you’ll need to do a series of actions to reach ending B.
Hands down one of the best mobile otomes out there right now. I found this when searching for pics of Masamune Date (from a different game) and I’ve sort of been obsessed with otomes since.
Platform: Android (free to play, pay for premiums)
Story: MC gets sucked into a wormhole and finds herself 500 years back in time, in Sengoku era Japan. She drops in on the exact moment where Nobunaga Oda, the Demon King, would be assassinated at Honno-ji. She stops the murder, disrupts the timeline and now there’s a bunch of hot warlords vying for her attention.
Protagonist’s spine: Reinforced steel. This is one of my favourite protags, because she is Super Sassy and doesn’t take shit, unless she’s literally being threatened with a sword. The protags where I feel like I understand their actions are few and far between, but this is one of them. Except when she goes far beyond mere bravery to get her man, and decides to forgo tampons and, like, wifi, to live 500 years in the god damn past.
Squick factor: Low. This game is made by Cybird, a company that appears very big on consent. The guys generally treat MC with respect, probably more than could be reasonably asked of a Sengoku warlord. The only worrying stuff happens in the Obvious Yandere route, but you kinda know what you’re getting yourself into with that one.
The Good: I friggin love the writing for this game. The guys feel like real characters, there’s a ton of interaction between them and I need to give this game extra points for the story events, which are almost invariably gold. This is where the makers stop giving a shit about realism and just go for what they want to write. There’s ones where all the guys are suddenly idols, there’s a Christmas episode, there’s one where they battle through cooking and cleaning. It doesn’t take itself serious, is what i mean, and it’s Hilarious.
The Bad: This is one where the in-game art (aside from the CG’s) is actually not that great. Hideyoshi’s smile is kinda weird looking and the models feel a little outdated at this point.
Best Warlord: This is very difficult, because a lot of them are dreamy, but let’s just say that I need a Mitsuhide route so very badly.
The newest Cybird game and my current fave.
Story: MC falls down the rabbit hole when she tries to give a rushed White Rabbit man something he dropped. She ends up in Cradle/Wonderland, where war is about to break out between the Red and Black army, the Hearts and the Spades. Everyone is hot dudes and MC is considered Alice the Second (after the one from Through the Looking Glass).
Squick factor: Low. Again: Cybird game. This means there is steamy situations and sex scenes, but they’re blatantly consensual. The routes I’ve played so far keep well within the bounds of what I would consider romantic.
Protagonist’s spine: Varnished wood. In general MC is self-propelling with occasional bouts of bravery. You can tell why she’s doing the things she’s doing and how she reacts to situations feels sort of logical. She’s hard-working and caring and a little naïve, but the fact that she’s canonically a woman from early 19th Century London does put a lot of her actions in perspective (like the amount of bullshit she puts up with).
The Good: The writing is fun. There’s a good mix of angst and just… general comedy. The characters interact with each other a lot, and it feels like they’re a big loud family, especially in the Black Army, which is more like a frat than anything else. The art is also decent. The backgrounds are utterly gorgeous and most of the guys are very good looking. When I first started the game I was weirded out by the blinking animation, but I have since gotten used to that.
The Bad: I found some of the plot rushed. Like you spend so long slow burn growing toward each other, and then suddenly stuff has to happen action movie style because we’re running out of chapters. The final chapters of Fenrir’s route were just plain dumb. Like could that BE more of an obvious trap. Come on MC, I expected better of you. Also, since this is a very new game, not that many routes are out (four at the time of writing).
Best boy: Hooo man. Of the routes that are out, Ray is very… oooof. But my fave chars are probably ‘so done’ Sirius (the fact that he’s voiced by Suwabe has nothing to do with this, surely) and ‘also quite done’ Kyle, who is both a doctor and an alcoholic wreck of a human being.
You know Mystic Messenger, it’s like one of the biggest otome’s of the past few years.
Platform: Android, iOS (free to play, pay for extra saves and stuff)
The Story: MC follows a text message to a weirdly high tech apartment and this somehow puts her in the position of party planner for a secretive group of weird people. It only gets more complicated from there. The game plays out in real time, via chat conversations and the occasional story segment.
Squick factor: Um. I personally wasn’t weirded out, but I also decided very specifically not to play Jumin’s route. This girl did her research. The routes in Another Story are also very over the top and would probably bug me. While I love the Saeran character, I don’t think I’d be able to handle that route. So: highly dependent on chosen route.
Protagonist’s spine: Adderall. It takes a specific kind of person to download a chat app and follow the instructions given by a random stranger therein. It takes a much stranger person to sit in an apartment with a bomb and just keep inviting people to a party. MC is on a different level from us mortals.
The Good: I loved the game mechanic, because it felt very real. The player is following a chatroom, just like the character is. Besides that, the story is completely bonkers and I appreciate that.
The Bad: Did I mention it plays in real time? Because it plays in real time, meaning you get chat conversations at two in the morning. I was very sleep deprived when I played this.
Best boy: 707. Dude is funny and deep and hot and relatable and smart and I want to give him all the hugs.
One of the few decidedly mlm games I’ve played so far. You’ve probably heard of it since it was the subject of much hype and much controversy. Markiplier played it. Friggin Buzzfeed has video’s on it.
Platform: PC and Mac (it’s on Steam)
The Story: MC is a Dad who moves into a neighbourhood with a lot of other single(-ish) dads. Time to work it.
Squick factor: Low. This is primarily a humour game: there’s a ton of dad jokes and silly mini games, and a distinct lack of kabe don’s. The canon routes are all very thoughtful.
Protagonist’s spine: Barbecued sausage. Player Dad just goes for it. He’s flexible and caring enough to handle the more sensitive subjects, and self aware enough to deal with random crime and weird drunks.
The Good: I remember opening this game and, in the character creation screen, telling a trans friend of mine ‘omg you can wear binders’, and the sheer Glee of his reaction. That’s the kinda stuff this game was, partly, made for and it is appreciated. I really liked the tongue-in-cheek writing, most of the jokes landed and the whole thing is just a lot of fun.
The Bad: Some of the minigames are annoying. Why the hell are you making me play Bejeweled with fish? I also had a hard time sympathizing with some of the kids. I mean… Lucien straight up tries to murder someone? Ernest is ‘rebellious’ but he’s also an ass.
Best dad: Damien has the best route, but have you Seen Mat? Holy moly.
Not worth it games
This game should come with a friggin warning, so I’m giving it here. Its popularity and star rating is a terrible indicator for how much you may enjoy this game. It presents itself as a cute dating sim with gorgeous art, but it devolves into straight up horror, and not in the good way. This feels like a guidebook written in the 1800’s to tell young women their place. Not even mortified intrigue could make me finish this.
Platform: PC (Steam or Google Play) and PlayStation Vita
Story: MC wakes up with amnesia. Someone hurt her and she doesn’t know who to trust. You’ll need to figure out what happened.
Squick factor: Super high. Like… so high. Everyone treats MC like shit and she just lets it happen, even developing all kinds of Stockholm Syndrome as she falls in love with these asshats. MC’s childhood friend supposedly loves her but is such a tsun and just… doesn’t communicate while also treating her like a small child. One of the other characters is so popular he has a fucking harem but MC is just supposed to wait for him to actually fall in love with her. And don’t even get me started on that friggin yandere. *shudders* Even the secret route ‘true love’ character is a million types of wrong.
Protagonist’s spine: Undercooked custard. MC has the self preservation skills of a wet sponge and whoever is playing this is supposed to get turned on by high concept ideas of S&M that are just written out so badly everything feels like an abusive relationship.
The Good: *sigh* The art. The art is very pretty (I’m upset at the art since it sucked me into the horror). Also, as a visual novel, this one is complex as all hell. There’s a ton of endings (most of them deadly) depending your actions as a player. It’s vast, is what I’m saying. Also, I hear the clover route isn’t as bad as some of the others, but I was too weirded out to try.
The Bad: See rant. This is one of those games that really seems to glorify the whole possessive, abusive boyfriend shtick, but it’s ok because he loves you, really. Ugh. Just… ugh.
Best boy: Kent? I guess? He doesn’t appear to be actively abusing MC at least.
Shall we date: Lost Alice
I wondered if I should include this because I literally played like ten chapters and then deleted it, but that in itself should give some indication.
Platform: Android (free to play, in-app premium purchases)
Story: MC wakes up in the forest with amnesia (I see a trend). Turns out she’s in Wonderland and everyone thinks she’s Alice. Most of Wonderland’s characters are, predictably, hot men.
Squick factor: Unavailable. I didn’t play far enough to see but some of the men are quite pushy and also it’s a Shall we date app, so… tread carefully.
Protagonist’s spine: Cement. This is an MC that puts up a fight, which I respect. Sadly she does so in that ‘needlessly aggressive’ way that anime characters sometimes have. I didn’t find her particularly sympathetic.
The Good: The art. It’s always the art that gets me.
The Bad: The UI annoyed the shit out of me. This is a free to play, pay for premiums game, so some level of mindless clicking is expected if you try to play for free. This one had just too much. There was friend greeting and picture rating and princess lessons and got knows what else, all taking a ton of time. Trying to get to the home page popped up at least four different ‘now on sale’ screens every single time. The writing wasn’t good enough for me to deal with that.
Best boy: Well there’s a cat. So.
This game is set in a cat café, that was all the encouragement I needed to buy it.
Platform: PC (Steam)
Story: MC is invited to take a job at a cat café. Turns out everyone in the café is cursed, and also they’re into you.
Squick factor: Almost non-existant. This is a very tumblr friendly game in the sense that your love interests are both male and female, and none of them are particularly pushy. The relationships feel pretty natural and mostly consist of MC helping their love interest with some subquest.
Protagonist’s spine: Cucumber. MC is actually pretty cool. The game does that ‘modern western game’ thing where you get to pick a gender and a skin colour for your protag and the general atmosphere is ‘tongue in cheek’. MC doesn’t let people walk over them, but they’re generally helpful.
The Good: CATS. The premise of this game is pretty neat.
The Bad: According to Steam I played this five months ago, and I pretty much forgot about it. Fun game but not particularly memorable.
Best cat: Landry. Tall, gentle giants are a particular weakness.
Shall we date: Blood in Roses
This is me giving Shall we Date another shot, because the amount of hot mildly medieval boys was intriguing.
Platform: Android (free to play, in-app premiums)
Story: There’s two, because this app has been around for a while and now has two ‘seasons’. The Witch stumbles upon a supposedly abandoned castle and gets imprisoned there by a bunch of vampires. The Hunter, meanwhile, seeks out the castle because she wants to stop an attack on her village. Both come to realize that the castle is now a hotel for monsters, and that its denizens are both not what they imagined, and also hot.
Squick factor: Highly dependent on route. The Witch literally starts in a jail cell, so you can imagine the Stockholm Syndrome shit that goes down. Also, this is a personal preference, but I’m really weirded out by a lot of blood play stuff so most of the vampire routes are gonna be… problematic. Shall we Date games don’t shy away from sex scenes and I like that, but coupling them with drinking blood ‘to get in the mood’ is a rather specific niche. The game does offer a number of other options for you to court, from werewolves to wizards and… grim reapers? It’s a mixed batch. If you’re not into pushed boundaries I can offer one tip: stay away from the vampires.
Protagonist’s spine: Sand cookie. She has one, but it’s brittle. I’ve mostly played Hunter routes and it’s like… she tries, and she can take care of herself but she also tolerates more bullshit than necessary, ya know.
The Good: The art is good, and some of the storylines are intriguing despite my reservations. I’m still playing it (mostly in a quest to find a good ending where MC doesn’t die to become a weird immortal creature). The UI, while annoying, isn’t as bad as Lost Alice’s, or so it seems.
The Bad: The writing is very hit or miss. There’s routes where the guy just sort of lowkey stalks MC, until she suddenly decides she’s incredibly in love with him. There’s others that make even less sense, and then there’s ones that feel more natural. In general, MC’s actions don’t seem to have a lot of thought put into them.
Best boy: So far: Gordon. He’s cute and sensible and tortured and not incredibly antagonistic.
You’ll notice a friggin ton of Cybird games on here.
Platform: Android (free to play, premium purchases)
Story: MC gets, mostly by accident, chosen to be the Princess of Wysteria. As such she must prepare to govern the country when the king dies, and choose a consort from a number of suitors.
Squick factor: Low. Not only are these men respectful of her, they’re rather literally treating her like royalty. Having said that, there is a lot of the typical hurtful tsun stuff going in several routes.
Protagonist’s spine: Lightly done steak. There’s something weird going on with the protag in this game. When it comes to governing, she’s tough as nails. She’s thrown into a situation she wasn’t ready for, and while this stresses her out 24/7, she performs admirably. On the other hand, her main reaction to literally anything when it comes to love is ‘Oh’. She cries a lot, at times she feels like a wet rag. There’s a bunch of situations she could have just solved by going ‘Yeah I’m into you’. She’s complex, I guess.
The Good: The writing, while melodramatic, is nice. The art is good as well.
The Bad: This is an old game and it doesn’t perform that well on my current-gen smartphone. Expect to push certain buttons several times before the game realizes what you’re trying to do. Also the loading takes ages.
Best boy: For me, Sid, because he reminds me of Aomine Daiki and I’m weak for that type of personality. As far as routes go, Leo’s probably had the most impact on me.
Destined to Love
I’ll be honest, I started this because of an event in Ikemen Sengoku that would give me cross game storage. Don’t judge me.
The Story: MC gets flung back in time (this is also a trend, it seems) to the 1800’s, a few weeks before the Ikedaya incident will make the Shinsen-gumi a historic Legend. She meets, and chrams, a whole bunch of historical figures.
Protagonist’s spine: Cured leather. As a modern woman sent back in time, MC is probably fairly sassy by the standards of the time, but she remains mostly polite. She’s tough, considering the circumstances, but quite pliable in that ‘we’ll see where this goes and make the best of it’ way.
Squick factor: Low. There’s one character that just screams ‘red flag’ but I have yet to try his route. Since this is a Cybird game, most of the guys are pretty respectful.
The Good: I really like the premise? As the title suggests, MC’s love is part of a higher destiny, one that transcends time, and it’s one of the reasons she has to go to friggin 1800’s Japan. She has a hand in making history. This amuses me. Also, the guys are pretty good looking.
The Bad: This is a fairly old mobile game and you can kinda tell. On a technical level it’s not as bad as Midnight Cinderella, but again the touch buttons aren’t always responsive. Besides that, some of the writing is rather clunkily translated and a bunch of the art is low res.
Best Boy: I haven’t played all the routes here, but Katsura is a god damn sweetheart, and Kyo and Yamazaki seem adorable AF.
The weird: the special ones
The reason I know otome’s exist. This one shot to meme status a few years back.
Platform: PC (it’s on Steam)
Story: MC is one of the last remaining humans after sentient birds took over the world. She gets enrolled into an elite school for pigeons.
Squick factor: Medium to high. The major thing to understand about Hatoful is that on the surface it looks like a particularly silly dating sim with pigeons, but dig deeper and it is Also a full blown apocalyptic horror story. And it follows the genre where a wrong move gets MC horrifically killed.
Having said that, several of the routes, including the god damn serial killer one, didn’t bother me as much as something like Amnesia, because they were not sold as romantic. Maybe it’s the whole pigeon thing, maybe it’s the general weirdness of the plot, or maybe it is because said serial killer actually goes ‘Surely you knew this would happen’, before he guts you.
Protagonist’s spine: Gummy bear. MC is highly forgettable, but therefore also like… not annoying. The main focus here is on uncovering the many layered plot and the player character doesn’t really have a scripted personality, she just embodies the player’s actions.
The Good: This whole game is so out there. There’s a reason it became so popular. It’s an Experience. The plot is over the top and intricate and Weird, and that makes it intriguing. There’s a ton of routes and endings, some more secret than others. The ‘human’ version of some of these birds is kinda hot (sadly that includes the serial killer).
The Bad: the plot is so weird and meandering that it’s kinda hard to follow at times. I’m fairly certain it takes several guides to unlock all the endings.
Best Birb: It’s been a while, but I remember liking Yuuya’s route quite a lot.
The new hype.
Platform: PC (Steam!)
Story: MC is a student at Monster High, and is trying to get a date for Monster Prom with one of the hot people.
Squick factor: None. I mean, nothing that happens here is in accordance to health and safety norms, but that’s kinda the point. It’s a parody game, making fun of all the hoops teenagers are willing to jump through to become popular.
Protagonist’s spine: Coagulated blood. MC is willing to make deals with demons, wear corpses as a hat, anything really. The question is very openly: what could I do to make them like me.
The Good: It’s a funny game. I like the characters, who embody everything from the Mean Girl to the Hipster Nerd and the Needlessly Aggressive Jock. The art is simple, cartoon style, but pretty neat.
The Bad: Everything is very tongue in cheek, which leaves it a little… light for my tastes. I don’t feel like any of the routes matter in the grand scheme of things, MC hasn’t truly touched anyone’s heart. The whole thing is a joke game, so it’s funny, but a bit shallow.
Best monster: Polly, the permanently stoned party girl.
Cute Demon Crashers
Technically a sex game? But a really very special one.
Platform: PC (free! Here!)
Story: A portal opens in MC’s house and four Incubi/Succubi drop through. To apologize for the inconvenience, while they wait for a portal back, they offer to teach MC about sex.
Squick factor: I’ve written about this game before and the best thing, the very best thing about it is how incredibly consent-minded it is. Like, even if you’re already in bed, getting it on, there’s always an option to turn back and leave it at that. The demons are really just there to help MC find out what gives her pleasure.
Protagonist’s spine: Rock. Obviously, MC is mildly upset about four random demons showing up. As mentioned before, what happens next is mostly up to the player.
The Good: It’s free and the art is pretty and I love the premise.
The Bad: Kinda short, but again: free.
Cutest Demon Crasher: *cough* Orias *cough*