The Point of Bishoujo Games
By mikey
Friday, December 9, 2005

Just what are the basics of bishoujo games? What kind of people play them and why are some of them so convinced of their power? Is there a way for a stranger to understand their principles?

These are some of the questions the classic gamer will inevitably ask. Sure enough, most of them can play through one or two bishoujo games, but becoming a fan and liking them more than just a filler when one is waiting for the next installment of Final Fantasy isn't the common thing to happen. Bishoujo games, visual novels and dating sims seem to lose a lot of fans because it's not immediately apparent what these games are really about.

The following few lines may be able to help you understand them more, help you tune in to the concept, appreciate them for what they are. Starting off with why they are so...


Remember, that classic-style bishoujo games, be it the text-intensive visual novels or statistics-oriented dating sims, are from the same family of art forms that are manga and anime. Therefore you have to expect a very static experience. In manga, images are not moving, in anime it's often just the mouth and eyes that move. If you are used to 3D sceneries flowing around you at 60 frames per second, you won't really be impressed. But expecting something lively is really missing the point. These games are built to be static, and precisely because of this you will feel them being immediately connected to the world of anime and manga. If you understand the basics of this Japanese style of drawing and animation, it's not hard to realize that this is the best way anyway. And it has a nice side-effect on...


The truth is, if you become a bishoujo/ren'ai gamer, chances are you will get away with a very basic playing machine. Since the visual novel and dating sim games use static images for most of the time, and even dynamic images aren't rendered in realtime, a 300MHz processor with a resonably tweaked Windows 98 and something like 32 MB of RAM will often be enough. Better still, new releases aren't getting more demanding, because static pictures will, well... always be static pictures. And so, while the common Western game will have dynamic visuals and static story, the visual novel and dating sim will have the opposite - static visuals and... dynamic stories. And these are also known as...


It's very important to be prepared for how the games are structured. While in classic adventure games the plot is given, in bishoujo games (save for a few purely visual novels), you will have choices to make and outcomes of the game will be different. But this is not only to bring some variation to the experience. These games were designed with multiple and very different paths from the start. It's not really your standard detour in an otherwise linear plot.

And it somehow makes sense. Since primarily you will be interested in one of the girls, it's only logical that you want to experience her story. If you can remember those Choose Your Own Adventure books where from time to time you jump to different pages to continue your story, this is much the same concept. So it's important to know this. You surely will have different expectations when you pick up a CYOA book than if you pick up a standard novel. And like the difference between those two books, you should expect a difference between a classic adventure and a bishoujo game story. When you know how the game works, you'll be able to enjoy it much more. This said... you do understand it is all...

Big Eyes, Small Mouth

You see, even though current games are all about 3D and polygon count, it is the hand-drawn point-and-click adventure that bishoujo games will have the most in common with. The old adventures were truly immersive, partly because the photorealistic environment never quite feels as warm and in turn - never quite as human, as something drawn by hand. Even though modern anime is being produced with lots of clever technology, the cartoonish style while not close to reality, will always feel closer to the heart.

The focus on eyes in anime is there to better convey emotion and it simply works. Anime works have a natural talent to make their fans emotional, partly because of their stories, but also because the drawn environments are more abstract. In order for this level of abstractness to work however, it's also very much about how the player can buy into this concept. Especially, since you will need...


You will have to bring a lot more to the table with you this time than you normally need to when playing classic games. In a typical Western adventure/RPG, everything is already cooked and ready for you and you're presented with the game on a nicely decorated plate full of anti-alias, 3D acceleration and interactive landscapes. What you see is where you are.

Playing bishoujo games is a bit more "demanding", if you want. The thing is because of the lack of full environmental graphics, you will have to use your imagination to fill in the missing parts. Often you're just given a background picture and you must construct a world from it. A famous feature is that much of the action takes place during black screens, simply because often it would be too complicated and uneconomical to show it. But if you ever read a book, you should have no problems with it. And, mind you, the experience you create will often be much stronger than the experience you get served. In terms of imagination, this is a compromise betweeen a full text book and its motion picture adaptation.

Of course this is not to overglorify text-and-picture games and see in them the ultimate gaming experience. But it's an experience that you can see as an alternative. There are tons of people who are "retro gamers", chasing circles and squares around a pixellated backgroud image. So why should it be not possible to have this kind of gaming alongside the more mighty and popular forms? And speaking of popular, there is one element that is really popular in these games. And it's...


It's pointless trying to hide it. These games often include sex scenes and it has more or less become their trademark. To be perfectly honest, I have never ever experienced a sex scene in these games where it was anywhere close to... passable. There is apparently no dignified way of portraying this. Try to do it with descriptions and you end up making up hundreds of ridiculous synonyms for two basic words. Try to go the poetic way and the game feels like a trash romance for housewives. So get ready for lots of completely unfitting scenes and "dialogue" between them.

The idea is, though, to understand that these scenes somehow need to be there. You can make your own theory on just why it is so. Perhaps it's tradition or fanservice, perhaps it's showing the full picture - not only the psychological, but also physical side of love, perhaps sex scenes are like the spot on a beautiful face of a beautiful girl - remove it and it becomes dull. Perfect, but dull.

The Point

So just what is the point of a bishoujo game? Why should you play one, why should you give one a try? Well, for starters, if you like manga and anime, if you like the general feel surrounding the Japanese cartoon culture, and you like a bit of interactivity, this may be a great way of getting what you want. In addition to that, it is not impossible to find one or two titles that you will actually like. It is too bad that most of the English releases do not feature demo versions, so you're mostly left with your instincts to guide you. In general though, over 70% of your experience will depend on the timing and your approach.

Currently, if you're someone who likes a bit of hentai and a story or so in between, these games are perfect. It's actually very good to start off with a hentai title, because so many of these games are just that. Then, when you have accepted this element, you will be able to enjoy some of the more story-based titles much better.

There's a lot of bad words going on about these games. "They are only about sex", "the best ones never make it into English", and "playing them means you're a teenager without a real relationship". I don't suppose this will sway the more hardline opponents of bishoujo games, but hopefully, if you understand them and if you know their structure and reasons behind them, you'll be able to better know what to expect. If the place, time and mood are fitting, there are really very few games that will not give you a nice and in many ways a unique experience.

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mikey runs ATP Projects, has released several English bishoujo games and maintains the
English Bishoujo Games Encyclopedia.

"The Point of Bishoujo Games" © 2005 mikey. All rights reserved.
Contents of this article are purely the views of the writer and does not necessarily reflect those of Ren'Ai'ai

Content© 2005 &, unless otherwise specified. All rights reserved.