The balancing act of bad endings in the otome genre

Within the sphere of otome games, there are a lot of talking points worth discussing. A very interesting one is that when games are focused on primarily selling a romance story, there is a lot riding on how lovable its love interests are — they’re often the main selling point, after all!

But the genre is also fond of experimentation, and this can often be seen through the many and varied endings otome titles have. And sometimes these endings — particularly the “bad” ones — prompt us to ask ourselves if the pay-off was truly worth it in terms of how they might affect our perception of the story and characters.

Some are a lot more successful and memorable than even the “best” endings out there, while others go completely against the entire tone of the product. So let’s discuss those sometimes heart-breaking, often times disturbing, and almost always entertaining bad endings.

Heavy spoilers ahead for Piofiore: Fated Memories and Steam Prison!

Otome game bad endings

Otome route beginnings: The good, the bad, and the ugly endings

How do we make our way to a bad ending? Usually, it’s through selecting “incorrect” dialogue options in order to do damage to our selected love interest’s opinion of us — with this ultimately being the deciding factor in them losing interest in our main character.

In the most traditional of otome titles, the game will end if the player has not managed to rank up enough “love points” by a certain point in order to literally qualify for a character’s love. But in more modern titles, a variety of “parameters”, often exclusive to each game, can be seen — and these offer different paths for our doomed relationship to follow. And sometimes even death spices up the drama and tension! After all, what is a fate worse than simply being rejected and forever alone?

Both Amnesia and Collar x Malice feature standard bad ends where our Heroines are met with a blank screen as a “dead end” for choosing options that put them in danger. Reaching such bland “bad endings” in these games is dependent on making some seriously questionable choices that may well cast the player’s intelligence into doubt. Examples of this include Ichika from Collar x Malice choosing to follow a gunshot noise without any backup, or walking through poorly lit alleyways during the night.

On the other hand, both of these games manage to excel in utilising more substantial bad ends as something more in certain cases: Collar x Malice features short scenarios after certain deaths that showcases the aftermath of the tragedies and further explore other character’s responses to events otherwise unseen across the rest of the game, and Amnesia’s bad endings hint at the true revelation discovered in its final route.

Outside of these unique examples, bad endings are there to not only be completed for achievements and CGs sake, but to emphasis the most important and almost only ever defining element of an otome — our choices. They truly reinforce the player’s understanding and appreciation of how impactful our choices are — choices that determine the fate of our main character and her world, teasing the possibility of her doomed fate and highlighting the true terror and danger of it all.

They can and should encourage the player to take better care and consideration when determining which option might lead to a better outcome. It’s all about appealing to the player, right?

Otome game bad endings

What truly benefits from it

So, what is most appealing in regards to the player’s wants and interests? How about how our choices reflect on our main character’s behaviour?

Mystic Messenger does this well, whereby the selections make it obvious how you want the MC to come across when conversing with the love interests: either as a supporter, or an enabler to them and their issues. How you treat them, and thereby their attitude and opinion of you and the main character, is understandable when their behaviour and thoughts are being encouraged by you — so do not be surprised when their bad ending comes by if you’ve been steering things in that direction!

And by extension, if you are projecting yourself onto the main character and playing the game blind, the way in which you are playing may not reflect what the developers intended for their main character — it may even end up showing that you’re incompatible as a partner to a specific love interest! It is a thoroughly engrossing and often eye-opening journey to know that you are successfully winning over your favourite love interest no matter the game in question — and often just as interesting when things don’t quite go so smoothly.

When it comes to the love interests, bad endings can often revealing more sides to a character that we would otherwise never get to see. They can add depth and new points of view in response to particular events — even if, canonically, they are typically extended “what if” scenarios.

Occasionally, these endings can even contain extra lore or snippets of story, worldbuilding and information. Cheritz’s Nameless, for example, somehow manages to pull off both impressive and displeasing bad endings.

The game is heavy on mental health, with certain bad endings highlighting the inner turmoil of our main character and hinting at certain revelations — but others do nothing more than reinforcing the all too common “love meter” parameter not having reached a particular threshold, giving our heroine a swift but not too unbelievable death, such as by being taken out by a bus. (I’m glad I got married when I did – Ed.)

Probably the best use of bad endings in terms of storytelling can be seen in Piofiore: Fated Memories. Its bad endings continue on for as long as your more typical “normal” and “good” endings — but the game inevitably pulls the rug right from under us as you suddenly realise that you and the heroine are not at all safe. The best use of this in the game is, without a doubt, seen in the bad ending of everyone’s favourite bad boy, Yang.

Yang, the cold and ruthless leader of Lao-Shu has the player under his thumb by the mid-point of the game, as we believe we are on our way to a happy ending. We’ve witnessed their chemistry build, and seen Yang seemingly grow warmer to us across the game’s already lengthy runtime at this point.

When we finally run into yet another CG, specifically the highly romantic depiction of the pair on our heroine’s balcony, we’re reassured that we are on the right path, and that our feelings are mutual — when suddenly, we are thrown into bloody battle and are effortlessly used as a shield by none other than Yang himself. Such wicked narration that absolutely blindsided its players!

Otome bad endings: Piofiore

For shock factor?

In some cases, bad endings are shocking due to how they fail to correlate to the story, themes and messages of the entire game. A prime example of this is with the infamous brothel route of Ozmafia!! because it is so out of left field in regards to the rest of the entire game — Ozmafia!! as a whole contains a whopping 10 other routes, with none of them ever dipping as far into depravity and sexual content teasing compared to this notorious narrative path.

Despite how uncomfortable and dissociated with the rest of the game this route felt, however, it did add to the feeling that Ozmafia!! was one of the more experimental otomes we’ve seen here in the west — well, that and its “love triangle” system between the main three love interests within their own respective routes. This game certainly knows how to play with hearts.

But if we are talking about shock factor, we must give a mention to the immensely popular yandere archetype, which is supposedly the favourite love interest type of Japan’s gamer demographic. This type traditionally indicates plenty of red flags as you start to play through their route; they leave breadcrumbs throughout to hint at their truly worrying perception of what “love” is.

But the sudden yandere ending is a whole other can of worms. Remember Heishi from NORN9, who should have otherwise been a harmless and adorable genki type? Sure, chuck in a sudden yandere bad end to ruin all the love and affection I have had for him across the entire game! This is a method of blindsiding I’m not especially partial to; this is not the man I fell for.

Otome bad endings

How about a more recent example? Nicola, Dante’s right hand man and dearest friend from Piofiore: Fated Memories is a newer offender of this unfortunate move; it felt like the writers were grasping at straws to deliver a thrilling and disturbing bad end. In contrast to someone like Amnesia’s Toma, whose character raised constant red flags throughout his entire route — and yet somehow ended up being possibly the most popular yandere otome love interest here in the west — Nicola presented no such behaviour. Ever.

The suddenness of Nicola’s whole psyche breaking due to Dante’s death was truly believable considering their bond, yet it still manages to leave a sour taste because it was never hinted at early on. It ultimately brings into question the characterisation of Nicola — how far can he actually be trusted? How fragile is his mentality that he could suddenly become unstable enough to cause harm to those he cares about? But this is not our most worrying example, and especially not so when compared to a certain other love interest within the same game. Hold onto your seatbelts.

Paying the price

Massive, unexpected shifts in personality can cause characters to behave outside of their established traits — and this opens up a wealth of possibilities that challenge our expectations of them. It can even lead to events that we would never foresee, due to how seemingly outlandish this sudden behaviour can be.

There are two possible explanations for this: simple lazy writing, or an attempt to make the character more complex, adding to their depth and overall memorability. More often than not, regrettably, many of these endings feel like they fall into the former category — with the most egregious examples coming from the aforementioned Piofiore: Fated Memories, and an outrageously shocking bad ending found in the game Steam Prison.

A quick bit of backstory on my perspective first: I played Steam Prison as soon as it released on Steam back in February of 2020. I was blissfully unaware of Fin actually having a route until it dropped in October of the same year. It took me until later this year to play his route (and after doing so I swiftly revoked my ever being intrigued in its side character of Sachsen for committing the same shocking acts here) — only because of what I had experienced in the other love interests’ routes in the base game. What I had seen destroyed my intrigue and sense of fondness for the character — and all because of one bad ending.

In the bad ending of Eltcreed’s route, Fin kills our hero in front of the main character and attempts to sexually violate her right next to his fresh corpse. While I cannot say how I would function after being tortured for as long as he had suffered through, the sheer fact that a love interest commits such an abhorrent act manages to play on my mind – is all truly forgiven with his own good ending, and even in the true route’s end?

Are we expected to forgive and understand such actions just because we should? The real tragedy here is how truly sweet and loveable Fin is before the torture; he is shown to be in love with Cyrus from the very beginning, making this bad ending all the more horrifying and hard to swallow.

Otome games bad endings

And then we have the infamous case of Piofiore: Fated Memories (yes, it’s back for a third time this article!) with its poster boy, Dante, who has no excuse of torture to explain his actions and reasonings. In what is one of the darkest bad endings within the western otome library of games, we have Orlok’s bad ending, where Dante imprisons the route’s main love interest and severs the MC’s tendons in her legs, proceeding to sexually violate her in front of the gravely wounded Orlok. For yet another love interest who is otherwise always so considerate, kind and respectful to our beloved Liliana across the entire rest of the game, this is character assassination at its worst.

All’s good that ends well

It seems I have mostly been complaining, but the discussion on bad endings will vary for each and every one of us. Some of us love the darker and more disturbing events, and even I am all for it when the story allows it to go as south as it can go, or when it is in line with the characters’ behaviour. For example, Period Cube, despite all its flaws, may be the easiest to compliment in such a case, as the majority of its bad endings are in fact far more entertaining and fitting to its love interests’ routes.

It is also refreshing to see our own player character be the one to lose control and be the cause of the end game tragedies — and I’ll just come out and say it that Poyopoyo’s bad end should have been the only ending to his route! It is safe to say that this level of creepiness and discomfort from a scenario writer who has worked on the Diabolik Lovers series before was not a surprise in retrospect.

On the flip side, many bad endings are played as a joke, which is at complete contrast to every single example of a bad ending we have previously discussed. A prime example of this is Code: Realize, which swiftly and easily ends the game when the player sticks to their strong and independent response of not needing Lupin’s help as the very first selection of the game. And do not get me started on Fashioning Little Miss Lonesome, which quickly shows the player what hilarity is about to ensue as soon as they choose not to get out of bed on their first morning as the main character.

All in all, otome games generally manage to hit the nail on the head when delivering on certain genres and intended emotions, and especially so with its bad endings. Many are purposely tragic, others can be bittersweet, and some are just down right horror-inducing — and we’re all for it. Because love them or hate them, they sure do know how to leave a lasting impression on us — and it is always fun to see so many differing opinions on them.

So what is your take on otome bad endings?

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Lilia Hellal
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