I’ve played a lot of visual novels in my time, but not much otome. So Olympia Soiree, a substantial otome with serious themes from developer Otomate localized to English by Aksys Games, was a great opportunity to try something new. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I’m glad I gave it a shot. Olympia Soiree was an experience I found well worth it.
The Island of Many Colors
Tenguu Island is the island of colors. Each person is born with color, and color dictates every aspect of life, from one’s occupation to whom one might marry. The primary colors—red, yellow, and blue—stand atop the societal hierarchy, and the more different color traits one has, the lower one’s station. Those with a great many color traits are even considered unsightly by the ruling classes and sent to live underground in Yomi, a place whose name means “hell”.
Enter “Olympia” (her real name is Byakuya by default or can be changed by the player), Lady of the White. The women of White, who reside on the nearby Tennyo Island, are worshippers of the goddess Amaterasu and protectors of the sun. But after a disaster known as the Red Calamity wiped out the rest of the White, Olympia is the last of her people. Without women of White to offer their prayers, the sun will eventually fade, shrouding the world in eternal darkness. Thus, upon her eighteenth birthday, the leaders of Tenguu Island task Olympia with finding a husband and having children to carry on her color. While marriage on Tenguu Island is normally strictly limited by color class, Olympia is allowed to choose any man on the island. She also carries the wishes of her late mother: that she should find her soulmate and become happy.
As its setting suggests, Olympia Soiree deals with some serious topics. Tenguu Island is rife with color-based discrimination and bigotry. Women face oppression too. Society expects them to get married, have babies, and stay out of the way. While I think Olympia Soiree is careful in treating these issues thoughtfully and portraying them as problems that need to be corrected for Tenguu Island to have a future, there are clear parallels to real-world racism and sexism and some of the horrible things that have been done because of them. Not everyone will be comfortable with this. If you aren’t, Olympia Soiree probably isn’t for you, and that’s completely fine.
Legends and Lore
Tenguu Island is home to a wealth of lore and mythology, and Olympia Soiree patiently immerses you in its world as its stories unfold. The island holds many mysteries, from gods borrowed from Japanese folklore to its relationship with lands beyond the ocean. The game includes a glossary with additional details about important terms and characters but avoids infodumps. Olympia Soiree trusts you to gradually absorb its world as you look through Olympia’s eyes, and in turn asks for your trust in its measured reveal of its secrets. As the mantra of Tenguu Island states: “The waves bring forth what one seeks.”
I was impressed by how effectively Olympia Soiree built its world without resorting to the kind of long-winded exposition that kills pacing. The secret is in the structure. Rather than try to cram all the worldbuilding into the common route, Olympia Soiree uses each of the love interest routes to focus on a different aspect of Tenguu Island’s mythology or way of life. So instead of being told about Tenguu Island or sent off to read background lore, you get to experience the world as Olympia through organic stories that don’t push off the romance and drama for the sake of infodumps. By the time you reach the final routes that unveil the central mysteries, you’ve spent long enough with the island that you’re ready to learn the truth.
The White Lady
Due to her insular upbringing, Olympia is very much an outsider to Tenguu Island’s culture and traditions. As such, she provides a lens for the player to look into the world of Olympia Soiree whom they can easily empathize with. Olympia is kind and compassionate and abhors the evils ingrained in Tenguu Island’s color class system. She’s not afraid to speak her mind when she sees something she thinks is wrong, but can also be naïve and childish. Desiring change is necessary, but only the first step, and Olympia is a strong protagonist because she comes to understand this. She carefully listens to those around her and proactively takes steps to bring her vision of a better world to fruition, even if those steps are small at first. And as she learns more about the island and finds stalwart allies, Olympia grows into a leader ready to stand tall for what she believes in.
I was sometimes frustrated by the way Olympia Soiree frequently had other characters use Olympia’s empathy against her to shut her down. Olympia would often take a stand in a conflict only to retreat and blame herself for being foolish as soon as the other side said “well what about my opinion?” I understand that Olympia prioritizes the wellbeing of others and treats even those who scorn her with kindness because that’s simply who she is. But not every viewpoint is worth considering. Nor is it wrong to defend oneself from abuse. I wish Olympia Soiree had occasionally allowed Olympia to have a little more of an edge, especially since female characters are so often asked to be infinitely kind and accepting of emotional burdens.
A Land and its People
Olympia Soiree has excellent characters across the board. Characters’ actions are driven by believable interests, and whether someone stood with or against me, I could always put myself in their shoes and understand why they made the choices they did. Even when those choices were awful, they were still very human. Characters might lash out in response to their own suffering, act selfishly, or sacrifice one interest for the sake of another. Olympia Soiree doesn’t try to vindicate those who support the evils of Tenguu Island’s society, but neither does it make these people cartoon villains you can mindlessly hate. Few of the antagonists felt truly irredeemable. This reinforces the important point that oppressive societies don’t persist because everyone gets up every day and resolves to be as horrible as possible. Rather, too many people, most of whom are decent people in other respects, accept or take advantage of the system rather than challenge it.
The nuance extends to relationships, and you often see different sides of different characters in different routes. Their interests manifest differently depending on the events, and characters who support you in one route might serve as antagonists in another. Olympia Soiree’s romance is thoughtful too. While your preferred love interest will of course be a matter of taste, all of them have multiple sides on display over the courses of their routes and something to offer Olympia as a romantic partner.
Choose Your Fate
Olympia Soiree opens with a standard common route and has six love interests, but only four of the six—Riku, Kuroba, Yosuga, and Tokisada—are initially available. After completing their routes in any order, you unlock Himuka, and after completing Himuka’s route, Akaza. The first four routes, in addition to their love interest, each focus on a different aspect of life and culture on Tenguu Island, while the final two routes delve into the central mysteries that linger just out of frame.
Each route has two bad endings and one good ending, and Olympia’s fate is determined by your choices. There are no choices in the common route. When it concludes, you simply select which love interest you wish to pursue. The character route then features a sequence of binary choices, where one choice is “good” and one choice is “bad”. Many of the choices are small or feature similar options, so it can be difficult to tell which is which. Luckily, a compass gives you immediate feedback. The dial moves toward the sun when making a good choice and toward the moon when making a bad choice, and it’s easy to jump back a few lines and pick the other option if you want a certain ending.
While traditionally structured, neither Olympia Soiree’s choice system nor its bad endings add much to the experience because neither have much substance. Choices at most affect a few lines of dialogue and sometimes feel like a bait and switch. For example, Olympia might be offered the choice to see someone or not, but if you choose not to, she thinks for a moment and sees them anyway. The bad endings are short, often only a couple scenes, and seem tacked on for the purpose of showing Olympia and the others suffer. These endings often see things go wrong in arbitrary ways and in some cases have characters take actions that are way out of line with their earlier behaviors and beliefs. In addition, too many of the bad endings include sexual assault. Not every bad thing that happens to a female character needs to involve rape! There are unlocks tied to the bad endings, which might provide some incentive to play them, but narratively there isn’t much payoff.
A Spectrum of Suitors
Otome wouldn’t be otome without the love interests. So without further ado, let’s take a closer look at the lineup of dashing gentlemen who might win Olympia’s heart.
Tokisada of the Green is one of a few Outsiders, individuals who were not born on Tenguu Island but instead washed up on its shores. The Outsiders are viewed as godlike figures by the Island’s inhabitants, as the knowledge they brought from the outside world transformed life on the island. Tokisada, who has only recently arrived, feels the weight of this expectation. What will be his miracle?
Tokisada is the only love interest who is younger than Olympia. He possesses an insecurity and earnestness that can be both endearing and frustrating. Seeing him honestly bare his heart to Olympia as he seeks to understand what love means and find his place activates that maternal instinct. He’s the kind of cute and uncertain guy who makes you want to care for and encourage him. He’s also immature, headstrong, and easily influenced by others. Sometimes, it’s hard to tell how much of his pursuit of Olympia is love versus desire for purpose or to meet expectations. Tokisada is a good guy at heart, and he and Olympia have some sweet moments together, but I felt like he wasn’t quite ready for her.
Riku of the Blue is a diligent and esteemed noble of his color. He serves in Tenguu Island’s military, where his dedication to duty and tradition often put him at odds with the free-spirited Olympia. His first impression is quite negative, especially compared to the other love interests who are openly interested in changing society. But as Olympia gets to know him, she finds Riku is a sensitive man doing his best to find his path and balance the expectations he carries. The two make a cute couple. Riku is adorable when he becomes flustered (which is often) and radiant when he strives to stand beside Olympia as the best version of himself. Though I initially thought little of Riku, he has outstanding character growth and became one of my favorites by the end.
Riku’s route explores marriage and family on the island. There is great pressure, especially for those of the primary colors, to produce offspring of their color. Thus, many marriages among the upper colors are arranged for precisely this purpose. But the heart wants what it wants, and love may not cooperate. Society views those who choose to love and be loved outside the color classes as a destructive influence to be eradicated. Much of Riku’s growth happens as he is forced to confront these issues on a personal level.
Kuroba of the Black is a playful flirt, skilled doctor, and Akaza’s right hand man. He comes on strong, teasing Olympia and seemingly laughing off his difficulties. But beneath the jovial exterior, Kuroba has his share of scars. To the sun-loving people of Tenguu Island, the color black is cursed, a sentiment Kuroba understands all too well. It was only his ability as a doctor that allowed him to escape a life of hardship on the streets of Yomi. Kuroba’s aggressive teasing can be trying, but when he takes off the mask, it’s hard not to be drawn in by the compassion and determination born from his own experience with oppression. I enjoyed the chemistry between Olympia and Kuroba too. Their banter is fun, and when it comes down to it, I think their values and experiences make for an authentic and well-written relationship.
Much of Kuroba’s work consists of combating a fearsome leprosy-like disease called haku that afflicts the island. Individuals stricken with haku lose their color and eventually rot away. Haku is most prevalent among the primary color classes (due to their tendency to inbreed), and so there is great urgency from the Island’s leaders for its doctors to find a cure.
Yosuga of Yomi is the proprietor of a bathhouse and something of a leader to the people there. Members of the upper classes ignore Yomi at best, and many treat its people as objects to be used for their enjoyment. Yosuga does what he can to shield the people of Yomi from the worst of the abuses in the face of an official government that looks the other way.
Yosuga is smooth, seductive, and more than happy to flirt. He’s popular with the ladies and always seems to know exactly what to say to knock Olympia off-balance. In contrast to Kuroba’s more joking comments, it’s never quite clear if Yosuga means what he says. There’s an ominous darkness behind his disarming smile too. Yosuga carries heavy burdens and is willing to fight for what he holds dear, even if it means sullying his hands. He also comes across as somewhat controlling and self-absorbed. He ended up being one of my least favorite love interests because he so often tried to push Olympia out of the important decisions.
Pierce the Veil
The last two routes of Olympia Soiree finally delve into the central mysteries of Tenguu Island that have, until this point, lurked in the background. Himuka’s route explores the mythology of Tenguu Island. How did this strange world and its colors come to be? Who, if anyone, sits on the island’s throne? It was fun to finally get answers to some of the questions that linger over the other routes. However, I didn’t love Himuka as a love interest. For one, his obsessive adoration of Olympia is creepy. As she says, he doesn’t look at her for who she really is. And once you find out why he’s so obsessed, it feels even weirder. In the end, even as the story gave their relationship time to grow into something healthier, I just wasn’t feeling it. Himuka is an interesting guy, but perhaps not my type.
Akaza, on the other hand, is very much my type, and I had been eagerly anticipating his route as I played through the rest of the game. While he’s known as “The Iron Mask” for his even-keeled demeanor, Akaza is also thoughtful and kind. But more than that, an unquenchable flame smolders in the core of his soul. Akaza possesses an unyielding desire to bring change to Tenguu Island in a way that seems to go beyond simply wanting to do the right thing. And Akaza is the kind of guy that when he says he’s going to do something, you can only believe it will happen.
Akaza’s romance with Olympia hit all the right notes for me. Akaza is bold enough to make his move with confidence, but always comes from a place of kindness and respect toward Olympia, and he’s protective toward her without demanding she stay on the sidelines. When I learned the significance behind Akaza’s steely resolve and saw how it brought him and Olympia closer, it made me root for them even more. His route brings Tenguu Island’s and Olympia’s stories together and builds to a soaring climax that resonates with Olympia Soiree’s main theme. Meaningful change comes from those who challenge themselves and others, do what they can no matter how small, and refuse to accept being told it’s impossible. Akaza’s route is a moving finale and fitting conclusion to the grand narrative of Tenguu Island.
Olympia Soiree isn’t an 18+ game, but that doesn’t mean things don’t get hot and heavy. Narratively, there are clear sex scenes. The visuals show some of the foreplay and the aftermath but fade to black during the act itself, which is not described. These scenes are steamy without becoming lewd, and some of the accompanying CGs have implied nudity to go along with this. Olympia is no prude either, which I liked. She’s comfortable expressing her desire for her lover without couching it in forced modesty or agonizing over whether she’s perverted for enjoying sex.
Art and Sound
Olympia Soiree is one of the best looking visual novels I’ve played. Stunning backgrounds infused with chromatic brilliance bring Tenguu Island to life. You see that truly it is a land of myriad colors. Character sprites are intricate with animated mouths and eyes, and each major character has a distinct look. Event CGs are likewise exquisitely crafted, and the presentation makes the most of them by zooming and panning to emphasize different details. While the quality of Olympia Soiree’s art is top-notch, it did seem like there isn’t that much of it for the game’s 50+ hour length. This isn’t actually true. The problem is that bad endings have unique CGs, and this eats up a lot of art that, in my opinion, would have been better purposed elsewhere.
My thoughts on the music are similar. Olympia Soiree’s soundtrack is excellent but could have used more content to add variety consummate to its length. The songs make use of traditional Japanese instruments to complement the visual aesthetic of Tenguu Island and feature bold melodies and symphonic flourishes that make them pop. They’re quite memorable, but this can be a double-edged sword, as it reminds you that Olympia Soiree is a 50+ hour game with a total of 24 short BGM tracks.
The voice acting is stellar. While many visual novels borrow the over-the-top style found in shounen and shoujo anime, Olympia Soiree’s voice acting is more reserved. This doesn’t mean it’s stoic or flat. Even the Iron Mask is subtly expressive. But because the characters don’t hem and haw excessively over slice-of-life escapades, the VAs keep an extra gear in reserve, and hearing them finally unleash themselves in the big moments is incredibly effective. If you read my reviews, you’ll know I’m a supporter of voice acting for protagonists, so I was disappointed that Olympia is unvoiced, but this is sadly standard and expected.
Olympia Soiree has a robust suite of features and extras. You can adjust individual voice volumes as well as text and skip speed, although even the fastest skip speed is rather slow. I’d recommend saving often to avoid needing to skip as much as possible. You can also jump back to any line in the backlog, which is useful if you accidentally skip a line or make the wrong choice. You can even remap the controls if you want, a rarity in the visual novels I’ve played.
In addition to the usual CG gallery and music player, Olympia Soiree features a number of unlockable short stories. Some are lighthearted extras, such as the ones where the love interests introduce themselves and talk about their preferences. Others give characters additional background or showcase short romantic scenes between Olympia and the love interests. You unlock these by playing through the various endings, and they’re gated in such a way that you don’t need to worry about spoiling yourself.
Olympia Soiree stands out for its nuanced characters, detailed world-building, and ambitious storytelling that thoughtfully tackles difficult subjects. Oh, and the romance is great too! I wish the bad endings and choice system had been more robust and that there was more of the excellent art and music, but these are minor quibbles. If you’re open to a serious story that touches on challenging themes—and want to romance some dashing men along the way—I’d highly recommend Olympia Soiree.
OLYMPIA SOIREE IS HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
Many thanks go to Aksys Games for a Nintendo Switch review code for this title.
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A veteran of Oregon Trail and Battletoads, Wes has been playing and talking about games for as long as he can remember. He’s down to try almost anything, and he especially enjoys games with gripping narrative experiences.