There are few developers who are as consistent as Otomate when it comes to thoughtfully pushing the boundaries of the stories videogames can tell. The framework of an otome game is perfect for exploring the depths of the human soul at its best and worst, and Otomate has long made that its focus: enchanting, sexy romance games full of devilishly handsome men, that use the emotion and vulnerability inherent in such for some deep-seated, insightful reflection. And from that legacy, Olympia Soiree might be one of the studio’s most potent, confronting, and powerful yet.
At the centre of Olympia Soiree is Olympia herself: in a mysterious world that draws heavily on Shinto mythology, she’s the last surviving member of a clan whose prayers to Amaterasu and ritual dances keep the sun shining in the sky. She was born and raised on a secluded island with the rest of her people, but after a mysterious incident wiped out the rest of her people when she was still a small child, she was taken to the neighbouring, populous Tenguu Island for safety—a safety ensured by her living more or less in isolation in the care of one of the island’s elders. But on her eighteenth birthday, she’s finally given the freedom to come and go as she pleases, and tasked with an important duty: to find a husband and start a family, lest her sacred bloodline die out and take the light of the sun with it.
What she finds is a world that isn’t just full of colour, but where colour dictates everything. Tenguu Island is rigidly segmented into classes based on hereditary colour traits. People with blue hair and blue eyes all live in their own district, appropriately adorned with blue decorations and wearing blue clothing; yellow, red, green, purple, and so on each have their own district, and intermingling between colours is uncommon at best. It’s also a place of strict hierarchy: the primary colours rule over Tenguu, with secondary colours further down the food chain. Those unlucky to be born with the traits of multiple colours, or the brown that comes from having so many colours mixed together, are deemed “failures” and forced to live in an underground slum called Yomi—not literally the Shinto underworld, but that name is no coincidence.
It’s a world where marrying for love is nearly non-existent, where preservation of bloodline and colour purity is everything. A place where the circumstances of one’s birth, even something as superficial as eye colour, can be the reason for a life of poverty with no hope of ever seeing the sun. It’s an oppressive regime for all but those at the highest ranks, and not because of some authoritarian rule, but because history and traditions have built a system that, unfair as it is, most people are largely supportive of, and the people who suffer the most are hidden away, unable to make their voices heard.
In this premise, Olympia Soiree sets up a biting commentary on class disparity that forms a major thematic thread through the whole game. Olympia is horrified but what she sees, and being the kind, determined person that she is, she soon becomes a strong advocate for change. It helps that, being of the fabled White class, she’s free to move between the different districts (and Yomi) as she pleases—all the better to get to know the actual people beneath the colours. Through her eyes, Olympia Soiree dives deep into class conflict and structural oppression, exploring both human impacts and the inner workings of such a society with a degree of nuance and emotion that’s rare to see.
Class may be the driving force behind Olympia Soiree‘s narrative, but its backbone, its heart and soul, is in the exploration of what it means to be a woman in a society like this. Tenguu Island’s colour class system is carried through bloodline, and to that end, marriage and procreation are heavily controlled and regulated. The inevitable consequence of this is a society where a woman’s worth is determined largely by their child-bearing potential, where their primary role is to incubate the next generation. I’ve never seen the word “breeding” used so much to refer to human sex, and that’s deliberate—on Tenguu Island, women are treated like cattle.
It’s here that Olympia Soiree is at its most potent, its most confronting, and its most insightful. You can guess what happens when the status of women in Tenguu and the complete disenfranchisement of the people of Yomi intersect, and this game doesn’t pull its punches—out does down some grim roads where comparisons to The Handmaid’s Tale are apt. But it also does so with care and thoughtfulness, putting the oppressed, the downtrodden, the abused at the centre of their own stories. Ultimately, it’s a story about reproductive rights and sexual liberation—the freedom that comes with it, and the horrific consequences when such things are lost.
It’s also a story about love. It doesn’t take long for Olympia to decide that she’d rather marry for love than obligation, and her journeys through the different districts of Tenguu let her cross paths with some intriguing potential suitors. From a stern keeper of the island’s records to a flirtatious doctor, from a noble who fiercely defends the colour class system to the “Jigoku-dayuu” (the Steward of Hell) who watches over those in Yomi, the love interests in Olympia Soiree are a captivating lot, both on their own merits and in the ways they embody different aspects of the game’s themes. The unique perspective of each route adds layers to a complex web of conflicting personalities, differing beliefs, and outlooks on Tenguu’s way of live.
They’re also exceptionally attractive. Otomate is unmatched when it comes to designing alluring, utterly beautiful men to fall in love with, and Olympia Soiree is no exception. Everyone will have their favourites, of course (Yosuga… 😍), but each suitor has the looks and the charm to get the heart racing. It also gets decidedly erotic, far more than most otome games—though never explicit, this game isn’t shy about depicting sex. And given the themes of sexual liberation, it fits: there’s a stark difference between sex and “breeding”, and Olympia Soiree uses its sexy moments to make that distinction abundantly clear.
When it comes to actually picking your chosen one, this game eschews the puzzle-like nature of juggling competing relationship figures in favour of a simple character selection. The routes themselves are fairly linear too: binary choices, each with a “right” answer that leads to a good ending and a couple of different bad endings for the others. The result is a less “gamey” visual novel than a lot of Otomate’s other works, and that won’t be to everyone’s taste—I know I prefer a lengthy common route with a lot of intertwining threads and route-determining choices—but for the story that Olympia Soiree tells, the simpler structure works. For one thing, it makes it easier to fully explore every path, in a game where those individual routes are really part of a much greater whole.
As the person at the centre of all of this, Olympia is a wonderful protagonist. She’s bold and determined—indeed, a major aspect of her character is her decision to stop living life passively as a “doll” that exists solely to fulfil a duty, and to make her life her own. She’s also playful, naive, shy, bashful, and seeing her explore herself and how she fits into a world as rigid as Tenguu Island and learns to fight for change is uplifting.
She’s also an excellent lens through which to explore the game’s darker themes. Her position as someone who is almost worshipped, who both exists largely outside the colour class system but is tied inherently to it, makes hers a useful perspective for dissecting the grim realities of Tenguu’s social hierarchy. Likewise, the pressure put on her to “breed” and her determination to marry for love instead of obligation puts her at the centre of the game’s exploration of reproductive freedom, and her rich characterisation ensures that even at its most challenging, Olympia Soiree is always grounded in humanity.
This all ties together with an absolutely beautiful art style. Colour, obviously, plays an important role in this game, and that feeds into vibrant backdrops and memorable character designs, for minor characters as much as the main cast. Olympia Soiree draws heavy influence from Shinto mythology in its setting and tone, and that feeds into every aspect of the visual design, from building architecture to a pervasive, ethereal feel—especially in Yomi, and in flashbacks to Olympia’s secluded home. Every scene, every character portrait, and especially every CG is absolutely mesmerising.
Otomate has a rare gift for weaving together enchanting, sexy romance and thoughtful, often challenging themes. Olympia Soiree is as fine an example of that as any, using its romantic themes to go down some dark, confronting roads—but roads that need to be travelled, to say things that need to be said, and ultimately ending up in a hopeful place. And with the studio’s penchant for sublime artwork, sharp writing, and absolutely gorgeous character designs, it’s an enthralling journey from start to finish.
Developer: Otomate / Idea Factory
Publisher: Aksys Games
Platforms: Nintendo Switch (reviewed)
Release date: 9 September 2021
A review copy was provided to Shindig by the publisher.