At the risk of overgeneralizing, I feel like it’s safe to say that you can often tell a lot about how good or bad a story will be based on the visual novel’s title. Like everything there are certain exceptions, but as a general rule I’ve found that VNs with extremely specific titles like Cosplay Fetish Academy or Sepia Tears tend to be lackluster and unintentionally bad, and rarely have any great depth to them. So when I stumbled upon a VN called Seduce Me the Otome on Steam, which not only made a serious decision to have “seduce me” in the name despite its PG-16 rating, but also felt the need to specify that it was an otome, I knew I was in for a special treat. And so I grabbed my moonshine and salsa, downloaded the VN, and dug in. Ten minutes in, I knew I was right.
As I expected, the story wasn’t too complex or revolutionary. You play as a girl named Mika, though you can change the name if you’d like. She is a senior in high school from a wealthy family, just drifting along until graduation in an area outside of modern-day Chicago alongside her two best friends, Suzu and Naomi. Her life is suddenly turned upside-down by the death of her grandfather, a rich CEO of a toy company who leaves his fortune and estate to her. She is quickly moved into her new home by herself, whereupon she immediately discovers five demon boys sprawled out on the floor of the mansion. Introductions are made, and soon she finds herself living among a reverse-harem of incubi.
Seduce Me the Otome (henceforth just Seduce Me) was a fully-voiced game, minus Mika who has no voice actress. This wasn’t uncommon in older dating sims, but more recently protagonists have been getting voiced, so I wished that Mika was too just to make the VN seem more modern. You’re already breaking your reader’s immersion by having multiple images of Mika up at all times, so a voice actress wouldn’t have hurt things too badly. The voice actors that were used for the rest of the cast aren’t bad; earnest is the word I would use to describe most of them. I do wish that they had been able to find older voice actors for the father and grandfather though, because frankly they sound about the same age as the demon boys you’re trying to date. At least there was a good variety of voices in the cast, and some of them (like Diana’s voice actress) really sold the characters for me.
The aesthetic for the game is a mixed bag. The backgrounds vary from pretty good to good, but the actual character sprites are rough. Their bodies are ok, but their faces are hard to look at since most characters having their eyes drawn too close together and more than a few have the same face. They have a decent range of poses, but there were several scenes (especially on the demon boys’ routes and Mika’s flashbacks) where you just have a plain background for a while with only a dialogue box below, because for some reason it was too much money, time, and/or effort to draw children sprites. In addition, Mika’s sprite that stays in the bottom lefthand corner looks like her eyes are always tilted skyward, and even if that was done intentionally it’s a poor design choice since this makes her appear to be constantly and creepily gazing up at the reader. The CGs are mediocre and only emphasize the so-so nature of the sprites. The music was all right; I liked the opening and closing themes, but the background music was average and often not there at all; whole chunks of Seduce Me were played in absolute silence, and whether that was a glitch or a deliberate (and poor) choice, it made the VN less enjoyable for those sections.
As for the story, the best thing I can say about Seduce Me is that it gave me more than a few good laughs, and not intentionally. The idea of a girl suddenly been moved into her grandfather’s deserted house, letting five demons move in with her after two of them sexually assault her, being kidnapped on multiple occasions, and other events of the same caliber genuinely made me laugh. It was just so ridiculous.
The author is also guilty of one of my biggest writing pet peeves, which is to tell something without showing it. She insists that Naomi and Suzu are the best of friends who just happen to have different personalities, but every interaction I saw between the two of them was bitchy and had to be mediated by Mika. A girl that was labeled as a friendly rival to Mika consistently came off as nothing more than a garden variety mega-bitch. Lastly, the writer also keeps claiming that Mika’s dad truly loves his daughter, but (except for the tail end of one route), all I saw in him was a business-minded asshole that couldn’t even be bothered to carry his daughter’s bags into her new home after forcing her to move into the mansion and live there by herself. Don’t just tell me that these people feel and act one way or another, give me a scene that backs up your claim! And as a minor grievance on this point, Mika would occasionally reference other characters (particularly K) that I never encountered in a certain character’s route, because going on that route had ensured that I would never see K or other characters. Perhaps a bit of editing was in order there, or inserting a minor flashback to let me know who this person was (rather than just telling me that they would approve or disapprove of something).
The villains were all right, but served more as vehicles to move Mika and her chosen SO’s story along than as actual sources of conflict to the overarching plot (what little plot there was). The first one, Malix, was a swearing murderous devil whose motives to attack and kill the demons were never really clear to me. The second one, Diana, was at least interesting and fun to listen to, so part of me wishes that the Malix character had been cut out entirely so Diana could be present in the whole story. Maybe then I would have felt like Diana was more of a threat and less of a new inconvenience now that the other one (Malix) had been removed with all the struggle one requires to get chip crumbs off a hardwood floor with a new vacuum.
Mika herself was pretty pathetic, serving as a damsel in distress for most of the story and drawing a wide variety of characters to her despite having few (if any) redeeming or enticing elements to her personality. There was even a scene where she argued with a teacher in class about the true meaning of the Little Mermaid story, and the other students literally applauded and cheered for her afterwards. I’d call her a Mary Sue, but there was already a Mary Sue in this story who served as her rival and was possessed by a demon, so Mika must be something else. Plus it’s not like any of the other characters were extremely well fleshed out, so perhaps I should let that go.
The biggest issue I had with Seduce Me wasn’t the writing, however, but the pacing. Clearly the writer wanted to get us to the boys as quickly as possible and was willing to throw the story under the bus in order to make that happen. Mika gets called to the principal’s office within the first 15 minutes of playing to find out that her grandfather has died and will be buried on the same day. Now let me just pause right there and say that, as someone who used to write obituaries for my job and talked with funeral home directors on a near-daily basis as a result of this, I can tell you that if you asked a funeral home to pick up a body and have it embalmed, stuffed in a coffin, and put in a grave (already marked with a headstone) in under 24 hours, they would laugh you right out of the building. It just doesn’t happen. But grandpa is dead and buried, and the will is read at his grave immediately after the service because Mika is the only one who got anything. Once she gets home after that, Mika is told by her father that she’ll be moving into dead grandpa’s house the next day, and she packs up all her belongings that night and is moved out of her family home come morning. Major events like losing a beloved family member and finding a new home are not supposed to go by so quickly; you need time to get your reader invested in the characters and their struggles at the beginning of the VN. But no, we need to hurry forward to the sexy incubi (who, by the way, are not at all overtly rapey and prone to sneak into her bed at night, contrary to actual incubus mythology), so screw any feelings of sadness or conflicted emotions.
Almost as bad, but perhaps more unforgivable, was the lack of effort put into each of the character’s individual routes. In otome games, I expect certain elements of each character’s route to look at least somewhat like the others; in Seduce Me, for instance, every demon boy you romance goes through the exact same chain of events (you meet, you bond, he tells you his true name, you’re kidnapped, he saves you, you bond more, Diana shows up, you’re saved by the power of true love, the end). The human boy and each girl have different scenarios, but I felt like Naomi and Suzu’s routes were more similar than different. This kind of storytelling is somewhat acceptable as long as each romance option is different enough to make all their routes enjoyable. What I cannot forgive is the blatant copying from one route to the next. It wasn’t just scenarios, entire paragraphs of story were copy-pasted across multiple routes, often with the only variation being the name of the person you were romancing. That is just lazy, and if it was too much work to write individual scenarios and scenes for each character, then perhaps there should have been less routes available and fewer characters to romance in the first place. In fact, the best route was the one where you throw the boys out and later become a powerful demoness queen of hell. That’s right, the best route in this dating sim involves not dating anyone at all.
At this point, it probably sounds like I’m crucifying Seduce Me and am about to condemn it to the same circle of hell that I’d send every copy of Bionic Heart 1 and 2 into, were I ever given that power. But here’s the really strange and messed up thing about Seduce Me: I liked it. I honest to god enjoyed playing it. While writing this, I’ve been trying desperately to come up with reasons other than inebriation for my enjoyment of such a bad VN, and I think that it all boils down to Seduce Me being just the right kind of bad. The writing is terrible enough to make me laugh and say “What the hell” at least once every five minutes, but it’s good enough to keep me reading. The sprites are poor enough to make me shake my head, but not so ugly that I can’t look at them. The story has just enough pull to suck me in without really getting invested in the characters, and the music is pleasant enough that I didn’t want to mute it and put something else on in the background. This is a greasy burger on a bed of oily fries that have been smothered in enough salt to cure me like a piece of meat, and while I can’t argue in favor of any redeeming qualities about this meal, I’m going to happily eat the whole plate.
Seduce Me the Otome is available on Steam and from the creator’s website for free; since its release, multiple characters have also had epilogues released for their routes, and even a drama CD if you can believe that (though you have to pay $5 for the CD). Honestly, if you’re looking for a shallow romance story that’s unintentionally hilarious, grab it and play through a couple routes. Plus there’s a sequel in the works now too, and part of me really wants to see what happens next. There are much worse VNs out there to read, and at least this one put a smile on my face.