Ah Otome. We meet again.
My love-hate relationship with the subgenre is known by most in the Otome faithful, but I have to say that English Otome developers have learned a lot since I first took notice of them back in the day. Beyond just a growth of talent that has given us such titles as The Royal Trap, Blue Rose, Aloners and now Backstage Pass (screw you Mattie), there is also a bit more self-awareness in the English Otome titles I’ve played recently. I truly believe many in the new generation of developers get just how absurd this subgenre can be and we are getting just as many titles having a bit of fun with Otome as are playing the genre straightforward.
Konbini Life is one that walks the line between satire and playing it straight fairly well. Originally started as a project for this year’s ILU Jam, Konbini Life has taken a life of its own and is still in development as we speak. However, we do have the demo that was completed in time for ILU Jam and I was a little taken aback at just how good it was. In fact, it pissed me off a little, because if we had this quality of Otome when this site first started, I wouldn’t have my reputation…nah, I probably still have it. A lot of those Otome titles deserved it. Anyway, back to Konbini Life and why it works so well.
A great deal of its success is in its premise. You play as a young woman named Natsu employed at a konbini; essentially a Japanese 7-11. By itself, the premise here opens up several interesting narrative options for the game starting with how Natsu ended up working in the konbini in the first place. This option puts Konbini Life on a different path than many Otome that make the romantic interests and relationships the crux of the entire game. With only the demo, I cannot say that is the route they’ll take. But with what is hinted about Natsu’s past and her uncertainty with the future, there is a greater chance for Natsu to be the narrative catalyst for her own game with any romantic subplot supplementing her character arc instead of defining it.
I know that’s a lot to hope for, but the potential is there to make it happen. Natsu herself goes a long way in making this a reality because she is one of the more relatable Otome heroines I’ve ever played. The thing with most of these ‘maidens’ is that the story has to bend to the fantastical in order to make logical sense. Not just in the sense of setting or even supporting characters, but the protagonist herself. That isn’t to say that fans of the genre don’t deserve their own idealized characters, but it is to say that it limits the stories you can tell that makes the protagonist relatable to the audience. In many ways, it’s like trying to tell a story featuring Superman. Yes, there are great Superman stories out there, but there are just as many bad ones because of the inherent power of his character.
Natsu isn’t fantastical or really idealized. She’s a little quirky, but also intuitive and is currently just looking to keep her head above water. Yes, the potential for romance is there, but it feels like something she’d get around to eventually and not something she’s ever going to leap into headfirst with no consideration. It’s that grounded feeling that I think will endear Natsu and her story to a much wider audience and give that story a chance to be far deeper and more interesting than it would if it was just another typical Otome maiden.
Finally, there are her potential romantic partners. Again, this is where otome usually bends to the fantastical, but here it makes a certain amount of sense. Everyone she meets as a part of her job, so the fact that one of them is a wealthy model-looking foreign is par for her environment. My issue with it is that these guys very easily fall back into some familiar romantic stereotypes. Natsu’s coworker, nicknamed ‘Grouchy’, will be our resident tsundere with a tragic backstory, the foreigner is an airhead who has more money than what’s probably good for him and the third option, a salaryman, is an otaku. The game pulls a lot of its humor from Natsu dealing with these guys and a lot of those jokes don’t land because the jokes have been beaten to death well before now.
There is some potential for some situation humor just based on Natsu’s personality and with the demo ending just as a potential relationship starts, I have nothing to say this will be an issue that can wreck the entire game. But considering how grounded and realistic Natsu is as a protagonist, I’m a little surprised it didn’t translate to her potential beaus. Dialing them down a bit will go a long way in making any potential relationship believable, but more so it will actually make interacting with them fun. It’s one of two areas the demo tripped up for me and it should, at least, be reconsidered in my humble opinion.
The second area the demo tripped is with its presentation. Konbini Life looks fantastic. I love the washed-out color palette and the designs of the characters, which gives me flash backs to SC2VN for some reason. However, there is no music. That isn’t a make or break issue, but how a game sounds goes a long way in tying the visual and narrative elements together. Without any hint of how that will go, it gives the audience an excuse to mute a future soundtrack to replicate the feeling of the demo. It all depends on what type of music the developers decide to go with, so it’ll be interesting to see what they choose. For now, though, the silence is deafening and needs to be addressed quickly.
Overall, I liked what I saw of Konbini Life far more than I expected to. If they can give us a more grounded supporting cast and ensure a quality presentation, this could easily be one of the better English Otome titles I’ve come across. I wish the developers luck and we’ll be keeping an eye on this one as it moves forward! For more information about Konbini Life, check out the itch.io page here. JP3: OUT.