Thursday, October 17, 2013


Shall we Date Ninja Love Game for GREE belongs to a series of games created by NTT (Nippon Telegraph and Telephone West Corporation) Solmare, which is according to their home page “the No.1 Mobile Comic site in Japan”, and also a major global distributor of mobile comics.  The Shall We Date Series consists of multiple spinoffs:

Shall We Date: Ninja Love Mobile Game, is an app that you can download on your  iphone through itunes. It is also accessible on Android and the PC version from the NTTSolmare website.  Ninja Love is a visual novel mobile game, and belongs to the genre of Himekoi that generally falls under the umbrella category of Otome Games. Himekoi games, which translates to Princess love, in my definition refers to games where the player experiences the feeling of being like a princess. The protagonists of these games are young women and as the player you face a very fortunate dilemma of having to choose one of four bishonen to date.
Ninja Love alludes to famous historical figures of the Sengoku Period (Japan's feudal era) and through a parodic rendering of historical facts (as well as fiction), the player is invited to relive and rewrite, to some extent, a Japanese history. In other words, the Sengoku Period is not only used as a backdrop, but allows the player to relish in Japan’s nostalgic past. In doing so, one of the cultural implications of the game—despite its emphasis on romance—is that it has a didactic purpose, but it also engages in discourses of patriotism and in defining a national identity. In response to the question posed earlier in the semester “What makes a Japanese Game?”, I argue, that it contains an element of Japanese history, in its broadest sense. But of course, this element is one of the many characteristics of Japanese games.
Meet the Characters

 You can unlock these characters by achieving super happy endings with two of the main characters OR pay!


So What are Some of the Features of  Mobile Dating Games?
-Less active participation required of the player
-No voice over. Still images with occasional facial expressions and gestures
-You are reading dialogues (and lots of it)
-Music (each ninja has his own distinct background melody, which is reflective of his personality)

            Ninja Love seems to be a very popular game as the NTTSolmare Facebookpage indicates that they now have up to “300K users”. I predict that the number of spinoffs available suggests the immense popularity of himekoi games across the globe.  The application is available in 32 other countries  not including Japan (See NTTSolmare).
 Upon reading several blogs and reviews of the game, here are what some players have to say:
  •    I actually quite enjoyed this game! The characters were hilarious, the dialogues range from cute to crazy (despite the countless grammatical errors lol), and the CGs were surprisingly satisfying in the cute and [the] hot department (´`). Don’t expect too much from it, but the game exceeded my expectations (kiokunoaria)
  •      Overall, I give a 8/10 stars–mainly because I’m biased with all of the shirtless/half-naked men running around half the time in the game. (Jacqueline Cottrell)
  • This is the only game that Solmare NTT [sic] with background music playing with a very aesthetically pleasing game to look at~ sparkles (Corlee 1289)
In relation to the emphasis on the aesthetic pleasure that the player experiences as she ventures on a journey with her selected suitor as indicated in these three comments, it is evident that himekoi games render young men as objects of female gaze, inverting the conventional role of woman and woman’s bodies as carnal objects and spectacle for the male gaze. [1]

This inversion of conventional gender roles I think on the one hand seems to celebrate the liberty of female sexuality by providing woman with an outlet to explore her sexual or romantic desires—although within a virtual Japanese world—while on the other hand, it also reinforces fixed and patriarchal notions of femininity and masculinity in ultimately validating discourses of heterosexual romance. Many otome games, I think, employ a fairy-tale narrative and doing so sets up a happily-ever-after ending, which becomes the ultimate goal of the game. The player is, in most cases, rendered as the damsel-in-distress, emphasising her powerlessness and helplessness without the protection of her male suitor. The idea of knight-in-shining-armor, though, reinforces a power dynamic that polarizes gender difference. In other words, woman is weak/man is strong; woman is passive/man is active. While to some extent Ninja Love conforms to these generic conventions of otome games, it also complicates these dichotomies by allowing the player to contribute and participate in the assassination of Oda Nobunaga and to restore peace. So in Kotaro’s route, for example, he thanks you for your help in overcoming a foe, which I think demonstrates a mutuality or partnership between the (female) player and the male character, encouraging, to some degree, ideas of equality.
            Moreover, Ninja Love caters to an audience that wants to feel like a “princess” and to be pampered. So while hegemonic discourses of gender propriety are articulated in the game, the player is most likely consciously aware of their role as the female subject and is not necessarily internalising the gender ideology exhibited in the game. However, critics such  as Fusami Ogi who writes extensively on shojo manga writes “we cannot say that the texts [so in this case himekoi games] do not reinscribe the man/woman power relationship because they are written for female readers alone and thus do not affect male readers in any way” (78). Moreover Ogi argues that one of the limitations of the shojo manga genre is that it presents marriage as a natural goal for women. This is also the case for Ninja Love. “In this game, there are three alternative endings consisting of the Happy Ending, Normal Ending, or the Unhappy Ending[. . .] only the Happy Ending rewards you with the last event picture possible for the character of your choice whereas the other ending does not merit anything” (Corlee). This reinforces that the player’s successful completion of the game relies on her ability to make the right choices throughout the game in order to either get married or end in copulation with you ninja: there is no option to live an independent life.
To what extent do games like Ninja Love provide women with a sensation of experiencing or exercising agency within a virtual reality and space? Do women play otome games as a means to escape their mundane and ordinary lives only to ultimately conform to them in games?

[1] BUT does it really?! The idea of a virtual gazing had been suggested in class. That is, since the male character is staring at the player in her eyes throughout most of the game, there may not be an inversion of the male-gaze after all. This idea is particularly interesting in comparison to the ways in which female characters are portrayed as avoiding eye contact with the male player in Ero games, where her coyness invites the male gaze.

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