OZMAFIA!! review impressions
Have you ever wished you could date the Cowardly Lion, Scarecrow, or Tin Man from The Wizard of Oz? Whether you’ve always wanted to or not, otome visual novel OZMAFIA!! allows you to do just that, and much more.
Romance games aimed at an audience of women (known as otome) have slowly been gaining recognition outside of their homeland of Japan, but English releases are still few and far between. That’s why, despite having no strong feelings towards romancing personified The Wizard of Oz characters, I was eager to dive into OZMAFIA!! as soon as it hit digital shelves.
OZMAFIA!! is the first otome game release from publisher Manga Gamer, and is one of only a handful of non-mobile Japanese otome games to be officially released in English. Like much of the genre, a lot of it is hard to take seriously, but it oozes the kind of cheesy charm I love about the romance novels I occasionally devour in one sitting.
I already mentioned the game involves dating men modeled after the Cowardly Lion, Scarecrow, and Tin Man from The Wizard of Oz, but what if I told you they were all members of a mafia? It is called “OZ MAFIA,” after all.
But the romance options don’t stop there. OZMAFIA!!’s renameable, amnesiac protagonist Fuka finds herself in a strange town in the middle of a conflict between multiple mafias, all made of up characters inspired by famous literature and fairy tales.
If The Wizard of Oz characters aren’t to your liking, there’s always the big bad wolf (here named Caesar), the pied piper Hamelin, or even Robin Hood. Puss in Boots is personified as the only female route in the game, Pashet, but unfortunately her storyline does not develop into a romance between her and the player character. Though it’s refreshing to see a friendship option in a game otherwise centered around kissing cute boys, a queer romance option would have also been welcome.
Outside of the eternal quest for smooches, there is an overarching storyline to OZMAFIA!!, but it’s one you will have to sit through multiple endings with each of the game’s ten characters to uncover. Gameplay is standard visual novel fare – occasionally there will be text-based choices to make, or a map filled with character portraits for you to choose who you would like to spend time with. It’s not always clear whose route you’re currently on, but certain text selections will reward you with a chime to indicate that you picked the “right” choice to get on the good side of that character.
Many romance visual novels fall into the pattern of having a long “common route” at the beginning of the game (where you make choices that determine which character’s path you will progress down) until the story splits off, but OZMAFIA!!’s large cast means that each playthrough can see the story go in very different directions. The Oz trio clearly have had the most effort put into them, however, meaning they generally have the longest storylines and most endings to complete. Some scenes won’t even be unlocked until the second playthrough of a character’s route, however, which felt like unnecessary padding in an already long game.
The large number of branching stories may also account for the occasional awkward pacing, which results in some scenes cutting out too quickly, or others hanging a few beats too long. Though the overarching plot and character motivations made more and more sense the more routes I completed, players less experienced with otome visual novels may be left confused and frustrated in their first playthrough.
Despite seeming pretty tame at the start, there is one storyline that delves into very heavy themes, including prostitution and rape, so consider this a content warning. I have yet to complete all routes of the game so I can’t speak to the ones I haven’t yet played, but the game’s tone can vary greatly depending on the focus of a particular route.
Despite some meandering, and soap opera-level shenanigans, OZMAFIA!! knows how to get its hooks into a starved otome game fan. The visuals are gorgeous, and each romance option oozes with his own particular brand of charm. On top of that, the localization is top-notch, with characters using patterns of speech from the fairytale worlds they’re inspired by, a modification to the original Japanese script that does wonders for characterization. It’s clear that Manga Gamer has put significant effort into ensuring the game reads as smoothly as possible – something that, unfortunately, can not be said of all otome game localizations.
Little did I know when I first booted up OZMAFIA!! that I would come out with a newfound appreciation for The Wizard of Oz’s Tin Man. I may not love every route and character the game has to offer, but just like a trashy romance novel, I’m still going to savor every juicy encounter. If fairy tales, drama, and gorgeously-illustrated smooches are things you look for in your video games, then I imagine you will, too.