Developed By: OperaHouse Corporation
Published By: D3Publisher
Category: Romance Visual Novel
Release Date: 3.29.18
Charming Empire for the Nintendo Switch is a classic example of the otome visual novel. The player assumes the role of Amane Kosaka, younger sister of the emperor, as she navigates romantic relationships with one of five hot anime guys. There is a short prologue where Amane finds herself whisked away from a quiet life in the countryside where she had been raised by foster parents. Her brother Soshi has sent for her to be brought to the capital, where she will be married off for political purposes.
Once in the capital (which doesn’t have a name) of the country (also unnamed), Amane begins a lonely life of being trained to be some rich jerk’s bride. Eventually, she finds her way into town where she meets whichever of the five hot anime guys the player chose at the beginning of the game. There are some set story events that happen no matter which guy you choose, but there are some minor differences in the stories based on the characters’ backgrounds and personalities. No matter which one you choose, the story is kind of boring. Amane has no real agency or control over her own life, even as she is allowed to “choose” a romantic partner. I couldn’t get into her story and none of her love interests were particularly compelling, so there wasn’t enough story to engage my interest throughout the game, which is a huge issue, as the story is the only thing that really matters in a visual novel.
Charming Empire is a typical visual novel-style game; there is no real game to play, you just scroll through text to get from one scene to the next. Occasionally, the protagonist will have to make a choice. Every choice I made produced a graphic announcing “Up,” but it never mentioned what was “up.” I didn’t know if there was a score, or if there was any stat being tracked or what. I never got anything but “up” when I made a choice, so I don’t even know if there is another outcome for choices. It was unclear, and I was uninterested enough in the game that I didn’t really bother going back to see if there was anything different going on if a different choice was selected.
The game looks solid enough for what it’s trying to be. The characters are drawn in a style that should be very appealing to fans of the genre, especially Toki Tanba and his dreamy brown eyes (yes, I had a favorite. He owns his own café! So chic!). The main issue with the game’s visuals are the lack of variety; each romantic option has a set of locations that Amane visits, so the backgrounds often get repetitive. Unlike some other visual novels I have played, the romantic interests are the only characters in the game that have character models appear on screen when they talk, so the men are the only characters you get to see. There are occasional special screens during important scenes where you see Amane and a background character or two, but not that many. The visuals got very tedious by the time the story ended, even though they were well-drawn.
The main selling point of Charming Empire is the voice actor cast. The developers went out and got some famous actors to fill the roles of the love interests in the game, and they got some good ones. Tetsuya Kakihara (Natsu from Fairy Tail), Toshiki Matsuda (Eijiro Kirishima from My Hero Academia), Takuya Eguchi (Takeo Goda from My Love Story!!), Toshiyuki Toyonaga (Mikado Ryugamine from Durarara!), and Kenjiro Tsuda (Seto Kaiba from Yu-Gi-Oh!) make up the cast, and they do a great job voicing their characters. Unfortunately they are also the only characters with voices, which makes for a rather unengaging audio track for the game. Conversations have no back and forth, and it ends up just sounding like someone reading lines. Combined with some uninspired background music, the audio for the game just feels half-finished.
There is no game to really play, and as such Charming Empire can be experienced equally well on a TV or in the Switch’s undocked mode. When the choices pop up on the screen you can select your choice via controller or touchscreen, so I guess there is that difference, but it doesn’t amount to much in terms of the game experience.
TL;DR: Repetitive but pretty visuals, uninteresting story, and good voice acting for male characters, but none for anyone else. The game just feels half-finished.