How would you like a samurai warlord from the Sengoku Period as a boyfriend?
A smartphone game in which players choose a match from a selection of 15th and 16th century warlords has captured the hearts of many women nationwide and abroad with its easy TV-drama-like mock romance. It also offers events where players can “marry” their favorite in-game characters in a new form of “romance.”
“He’s so cool,” a 31-year-old woman from Chiba Prefecture says with a smile as a blond-haired character on her smartphone screen gives her a command.
The character is a depiction of the famed Tokugawa Ieyasu, nicknamed “Tanuki Oyaji” or “the sly old man,” who later became the shogun of the Edo Period (1603-1868).
Players can date Ieyasu in Tenkatoitsu Koi no Ran Love Ballad, which loosely translates to The Love Ballad of the War in Unifying the Country, by Tokyo-based game developer Voltage Inc.
“I love how Ieyasu is cold but also affectionate,” said the woman.
In the game, the player is a female protagonist who progresses through the story by choosing actions and responses, which appear on-screen as if one is reading manga. Players can also have relationships with up to 10 samurai characters, including Akechi Mitsuhide. Players sometimes need to purchase in-game items to win the hearts of the characters.
The woman from Chiba has spent tens of thousands of yen on in-game purchases in a single day, but her husband, who attended the same middle school, is understanding.
“My husband is a kind man. My affection for my in-game boyfriend is a thing on a different level,” she said, adding that her many in-game romantic interests lightened up her life.
Since releasing their first dating simulation game for cellphones in 2006, Voltage has released over 100 game titles.
“The games have spread to working women and housewives from their 20s through 40s, thanks to the fact that they can play them without a game console,” company Vice President Nanako Higashi said.
Last year, Voltage hosted an event in which players could pay a fee to submit a fake registration document to “marry” characters from the game.
A 43-year old single woman living in Okayama Prefecture paid to register marriages with a total of 10 aristocrat and samurai characters.
“In real life, relationships aren’t going well which hurts,” she said. “In games you’re allowed to date two or three people at the same time, and even if it doesn’t turn out well, you can do it over,” she said.
Dating simulation games are even beginning to capture the hearts of women overseas. Osaka-based NTT Solmare Corp. has released localized versions of similar apps in over 160 countries with a focus on the North American market.
Because a one-way romance doesn’t appeal to most North Americans, the company avoided including stories with pushy characters trying to seduce others, as is often seen in young girls’ manga.
Likewise, in contrast to the slender male character designs popular in Japan, tall and muscular characters are more popular overseas.
“With things like games and anime, Japan’s otaku (geek) culture is spreading overseas. We want to release content that’s going to capture the hearts of people worldwide,” an NTT Solmare official stated.