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Dating simulator video games are only now starting to build a fan base internationally, but digital romance is such an established genre in Japan that it’s already evolved into several even more segmented sub-niches. Unsurprisingly, most early titles revolved around a high school boy with a harem of willing lasses circling around him. As time went on, dating simulators for girls caught on, resulting in the otome (“maiden”) game where gallant suitors compete for the leading lady’s affections.

Regardless of the protagonist’s gender, though, there have been so many dating simulators released in Japan that you have to do something pretty unusual to stand out from the pack now. We’ve seen titles where the love interest is an alpaca or pigeon, but now comes a romantic video game starring a girl who’s been transformed into a traditional Japanese kokeshi doll.

Kokeshi dolls were originally produced in Japan’s northeastern Tohoku region, although now their popularity is such that they can be found and purchased all over the country. Kokeshi never have arms or legs, and while some modern versions have a more curved, fuller figure and separate pieces of wood used to create a hairstyle, the most traditional design is a relatively narrow cylinder topped with a spherical head, onto which the features and hair are painted directly.

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The newest Windows game from indie developer outfit Caracoro, titled simply Kokeshi, is centered on a group of three friends, the female main character, and her two childhood pals. One day, the main character is cursed by a god, and finds herself transformed into a kokeshi.

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Unable to move or even change her facial expression, the girl, who is controlled by the player, has to rely on the help of her two friends, the easy-going, blond-haired Kakeru, and the serious-minded Tsutomu.

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Thankfully, Kakeru and Tsutomu shun the dating simulator cliché of being self-centered jerks, and instead the two put their heads together as they try to find a way to return their childhood friend to her human form, despite their clashing personalities. And while these sort of story-driven games produced in Japan often feature explicit sexual content, Kokeshi, like its indie brethren Stella Cielo, takes the high road by avoiding such scenes and being an all-ages title.

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Caracoro promises four possible endings, and given the nature of the genre, we’re guessing one has the main character living happily ever after with Kakeru, and another sees her coupled with Tsutomu. Games of this type almost always include some sort of “bad ending” as well, in which we’re guessing the girl is trapped forever as a kokeshi. That leaves one more possible outcome, and given that even developers Caracoro themselves bill Kokeshi as a “(dumb) otome game,” our money is on something zany. Maybe the curse spreads, turning Kakeru and Tsutomu into literal hunks of inanimate wood?

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The free trial version of Kokeshi can be downloaded right here on Caracoro’s webpage, while the full version goes for 600 yen (US $5.90) on otome game download site Stella Worth.

Related: Caracoro
Sources: IT Media, Caracoro
Top image: Caracoro
Insert images: Livedoor, Caracoro