It’s the day after your grandfather’s funeral. At your father’s behest, you’re being forced to move into the mansion that your grandfather left you. It’s all so sudden, but maybe it’s for the best. After all, this might be an opportunity to get away from a borderline abusive family, and to finally exercise the freedom you’ve so desperately longed for. So you pack your bags, open the doors to your mansion, and what do you find but five sexy men already roaming its halls? What’s more, they’re not men, but incubi who have escaped the depths of Hell to live a life of their own.

A strange series of events, I know, but it’s how Seduce Me: The Otome decides to introduce itself. A visual novel from Seraphim Entertainment, Seduce Me takes the supernatural romance that Twilight popularized and adds a boy band element into the mix. I don’t have a problem with this idea. What I do have a problem with, though, is the execution of that idea. Between the game’s many mechanical problems and the unresolved issues the game’s ideas present, I have a hard time seeing the game as the compelling romance it wants to be.

367120_2015-06-12_00039However, I still want to give the game a fair chance, because there’s a surprising amount of depth to it. Beneath Seduce Me’s romantic veneer, I see hints of relatively weighty ideas. For example, freedom. It’s a broad topic, and one the game handles very well. This is largely thanks to Anderson, the protagonist whose life I described in the opening paragraph. (I’m using her last name because you can use whatever you want for her first.) For her, freedom isn’t some idle concern, but an essential part of her character. The life she leads as the story begins is suffocating; it leaves her very little room to express herself. Getting away from all this would naturally bring her closer to living the kind of life she wants. Thus, we have sufficient reason to believe that independence from her family would mean something to her. And I must admit, Seraphim’s choice to make Seduce Me a visual novel was a clever one. What better way to explore the power of choice than through a genre where the player can only make choices?

Granted, this reading isn’t without its faults. For example, Anderson doesn’t have as much freedom as she thinks she does. The story vaguely implies that some third party is manipulating things behind the scenes to make sure everything works out in the end. And even discounting this, Anderson’s ability to choose for herself depends quite a bit on luck. As the granddaughter of a wealthy toy tycoon, Anderson has several opportunities open to her that not many other people would have. That includes her romantic entanglement with the incubi…sort of.

367120_2015-06-11_00028But I don’t think any of this hurts the story as much you’d think. For Seduce Me, it isn’t about the opportunities you have or the ability to create them for yourself. What the game really values is the fact of making a choice at all. It doesn’t even matter what choice you make. You can ignore the incubi and choose to follow in the family footsteps, if you wish. What’s important is that you make use of the opportunities ahead of you, whatever they might be. So at least in terms of Anderson, this existential reading holds strong.

What of the incubi, though? Their desire for freedom is just as valid as Anderson’s, due in no small part to how similar their situations are. Like the protagonist, the incubi fled a life of luxury in an attempt to live their lives as they see fit. Yet by exercising her freedom and romancing one of the incubi, Anderson encroaches on the object of her affection. Why would these demons find the life she offers so appealing? They would face many of the same pressures that they fled from, just presented a little differently. Unfortunately, these are the only options available to them: romance Anderson and gain their “freedom”, or get dragged back to the demon world with their tails between their legs. They’re bound either way.

And that’s if they’re lucky enough to win her affection, since whoever she doesn’t romance gets dragged back to the demon world, anyway. There’s no ending where all the incubi can live as they please. Why is their freedom worth less than Anderson’s? Sure, the game tries to reconcile this loose thread, albeit in one of the story’s more hamfisted moments. But the takeaway from this scene is ultimately that the feelings of the incubi whom she doesn’t romance don’t matter, because everything she does, she does in the name of true love.

This brings me to my view on the game’s characters. As I romanced each incubus, I struggled to view them as anything more than their basic archetypes. Erik, for example, is the suave charmer; Sam, the soft-hearted musclehead; and Matthew, the baby of the group. While each one has their own backstory, and maybe an emotional reaction to their situation, the characters lack the richness I would need to imagine them as actual people. Although these problems prevented me from feeling emotionally invested in the story, they make perfect sense from a romantic perspective. The game only values the incubi (along with anyone else Anderson can romance) insofar as they allow the player to fulfill some romantic fantasy. So it makes sense that the game would only give these characters enough personality to serve that function. Outside their respective archetypes, these characters are absolutely interchangeable. Not only does the writing shuffle them through the exact same story beats, logic be damned, but it also reuses many of the same lines between stories; just with the names switched around.

367120_2015-06-12_00009Yet in doing this, Seduce Me puts a heavy burden on its romance, a burden I don’t think it’s equipped to bear. The characterization is partly to blame. Without organic characters, none of the relationships are going to make sense, as they have nothing to build on. However, the story’s problems go much deeper than that, as Seduce Me mistakes infatuation for love. Real love, substantial love, takes time and work in order to bloom. Most love stories I’ve experienced realize this, and take place over enough to allow that love to bloom.

Seduce Me, by contrast, deems this amount of time unimportant, and instead lets its characters fall in love over the span of a few days. That’s right: days. They’re willing to aggressively make out after a day of knowing (astonishingly very little about) each other, and then jump straight to sex a few days later. How does this reflect the true love the game claims it depicts? If anything, these events feel sudden and unrealistic. They’re certainly not enough to serve as the basis for a strong relationship. It’s even a problem for relationships we know developed over a long time, romantic or not. Although we’re told these characters have known each other for a long time, we only ever see that time reflected in very brief snippets, meaning any developments feel just as sudden as before. So with the romance failing to make sense, the flat writing becomes a problem once again.

Finally, there are the game’s technical problems to consider. Given everything else the game has had to deal with, I’ll try to keep each point brief:

  • The voice acting is generally sub-par. I recorded some of the lines here, to give you an idea of what it’s like. Mild spoiler warning.
  • I also found the art to be amateurish. Expressions are awkwardly plastered onto characters’ portraits, and on top of that, we have to deal with basic continuity problems. The latter point is evident from the beginning: Anderson notes how dark and rainy it is outside, only to turn into a classroom that appears bright and sunny. Perhaps more telling is Anderson’s portrait. It’s prominently displayed in the bottom right until about halfway through the game, when it disappears for no clear reason.
  • The writing makes a lot of weird choices. It begins with plot points that needlessly complicate the story, and continues into very awkward dialogue. Characters describe sounds with visual language and atmosphere/moods with colorful language. In addition, Anderson repeats the phrase “strange and fluffy” enough times to give True Remembrance a run for its money. And unlike Kingdom Hearts II, another game that suffers through uncomfortable moments, the story doesn’t have enough charm to ameliorate these awkward moments.

In the end, Seduce Me’s problems all stem from a lack of craft. It’s evident throughout the game, from the shaky premise its love story rests on, to the characters who barely exist outside that story, and to the mechanical problems that drag down the art and writing. I’d say you can appreciate this game ironically if that didn’t feel so spiteful. It’s not as though the game completely lacks value. I don’t see anything wrong with the ideas Seduce Me wants to communicate, yet its lack of depth and other problems leave a lot to be desired.