The Devil Is in the Details
Picture this: Three handsome humanlike demons come into your life. Would you take their hand in an eternal covenant? Bemoan their damnation? Grab a cup of coffee? Finally, My Devil Lovers – Remake by developer Genius Inc, offers a chance to answer the age-old question, “If I were romanced by a slew of handsome demons, what would I do?” The answer to such a question is fairly predictable… and set behind paywalls. That’s not even to mention the fact that what you find behind such boundaries isn’t very pretty, either.
The Black Book
This visual novel/otome story game casts you as a photographer looking for love. Your character (whom I named Chartrice in my playthrough) is visiting a local bookstore when she sees a mysterious black book on the counter. This game doesn’t really do subtlety, as apparent by the actual words “Black Book” creepily etched on the front of the tome. The bookseller offers it to you for free with a menacing glare. Upon going from the bookstore to your photography gig, you realize that your clients know a bit more about you than you do them. After several other encounters with similarly acting strangers, your character starts to suspect something is up.
You reluctantly follow your new acquaintances to their hotel home. Remarking at the coincidences of the day, a gang of “angels” descend, attacking the group. That’s right. In typical anime/dating sim fashion, you’ve been drawn into a bloody holy war. The reason? The Black Book has sought you out to make a pact with a demon, one of your new friends, to support them as a mortal in their war. While you don’t really get to experience the action of fighting against the angels, the aim of the title is to figure out which demon you should partner with. The catch is that you must seal your pact of mutual protection with a kiss. Thus begins the quest for paranormal romance.
My Devil Lovers is fairly limited in its conversation options. You have the opportunity to choose how to respond to prompts by another character, often propositional in nature. There are usually two options, with a catch. While one is fairly tame or expected and free to select, the other is often the riskier, sexier choice. The catch? The latter stays locked behind microtransaction-acquired gemstones. While you do start off with some of these items at launch, it’s only enough for one alternative choice. Obviously this puts a damper on things if you want a fully free-to-play experience.
The Actual “Romance”
The game’s writing is about as good as you’d expect from a studio that’s put out 60 other titles in the same genre. The demon bachelors represent three of the seven deadly sins: pride, wrath and lust. This presents each with archetypes to base their personalities on. Out of all three, wrath is the most interesting, and the game very intentionally frames him as such. Your interactions with him are usually a little more in-depth as he spends a lot of time postulating the way in which art and literature could be wrathful, not just violence.
Unfortunately, the quality of the wrath character does not extend to the other two. While it may not be the critic’s job to pass absolute moral judgement on fictional characters, I feel the vehicle in which their intentions present themselves must be noted. Gray and Lucius (lust and pride, respectively) portray many abusive and manipulative characteristics, framed as acts of romance. Mainly, these demons frequently deny the consent of the protagonist in their dialogue. They will often insist upon talking more when asked to leave (by direct player dialogue choice) or forcing physical contact on any level. Your protagonist has her hand, face or torso held by the demon, spoken to with implications of further sexual aggression. For example, when Lucius asks to stay the night at one point, it takes several vehement “no’s” from the protagonist before he concedes and crashes on the couch.
Leave It, Don’t Love It
Obviously, at the end of the day, My Devil Lovers is a mobile game. Whether or not the player takes these behaviors as models for real romance is entirely up to them. Even still, any piece of media that perpetuates the cycles of abusive behavior without a disclaimer that such actions will hurt others should be called out for it. It is especially concerning considering this style of game is generally marketed towards young women. This type of media does not combat abusive behaviors; it normalizes them.
My Devil Lovers – Remake is another perpetuation of manipulation by men under the guise of tricking people into thinking the man can “fix them.” Despite being set in a fantasy world, the real implications should not go unmentioned. Normalizing behaviors that trick others into romantic encounters, well intentioned or not, is hurtful to players who just want to follow the story. The men in this game are rewarded for their persistence against objections with an eternal bond. I would argue that this goes even beyond normalizing to the extent of romanticizing abuse. Players are better off spending their time with titles that reinforce independence and show clear consequences for harmful actions. My anime devil boyfriend just isn’t worth it.
Is It Hardcore?
As part of a veritable otome factory, Genius Inc’s latest entry romanticizes abusive behaviors under the guise of charming, anime-style escapades. The quality of the rhetoric or animation matters very little when paired with themes that discourage relational autonomy.