I did not expect that my first day on the job helping run a cyberpunk brothel would be spent lifting a trade suspension. Maybe S&M actually stands for Shareholders & Markets and I have been misled about what goes on in certain clubs.
The cops are behind this financial problem, putting a freeze on business in the Old Quarter as their unsubtle way of flushing out a smuggler operating somewhere in this particularly seedy part of the city of MoonFall. Fixing the situation falls to me, an outside Facilitator recently hired by a guild of well-armed sex workers right out of that Sin City story where one of them is a ninja for some reason.
I'm a go-between expected to keep the peace between the Courtesan's Guild and MoonFall's other factions. In this case, two of the red-light district's factions can help me out. One is the Old Watch, vigilantes who apparently have a thing for running across rooftops and keeping tabs on crime in the area. The other is the Iron Cartel, who are crime in the area. Picking a side will boost my affinity with whichever I pick, and if I handle the smuggler right I'll get a boost with The Board, who run the city's police, as well. It's the kind of reputation system you get in games like Fallout: New Vegas, and a pleasant surprise to find in a horny anime RPG.
Memoirs of a Battle Brothel is pleasant surprises all the way down. Quests have multiple paths through them depending on your skills—in one playthrough I get into the smuggler's hideout by hacking a locked door, in another I charm their co-worker—and the writing is sharp and self-aware. When I recruit Hatsuo, a muscular show-off who has heard of wearing shirts but wasn't really listening at the time, one of the first things I can ask is whether his jacket even buttons up. (It does not.)
It's got a tactical turn-based combat system as well, with my party of anime mercenaries (some Guild members, some affiliates like me) all having class abilities of their own. The cyborg stripper has a medical laser. The Guild madam just straight-up casts spells. That's a whole other thing—like Shadowrun, MoonFall is a cyberpunk setting with a dose of fantasy, where magic has returned after taking a few centuries' holiday.
So sometimes it's like that bit in Sin City where the sex workers go to war to protect Old Town, but it also has a questline where I travel to the Abyss—the place magic leaked out of—and find a multi-leveled horror-fantasy otherworld. That's quite a contrast with questlines where I'm trying to track down a serial killer, or deal with a conflict between the Guild's traditionalists, who have some old-fashioned ideas about gender and body modification, and the progressives who want membership to be open to all.
The brothel itself is an upgradeable home base. Though running it day-to-day isn't my job I do get to decide whether to build privacy booths or a diner, and whether to hire more security or more janitors. Again, it's not as sexy as you'd expect. And though there are sex scenes, they're pixel-art placeholders to be replaced later in development. [Update: Although new animations are in the works, the originals will remain as well.]
Memoirs of a Battle Brothel is the work of Memory of Eternity, whose previous game was Singularity: Tactics Arena (opens in new tab), a sci-fi RPG inspired by the shared-world of the SCP Foundation (opens in new tab) (a collaborative fiction project creating a database of spooky X-Files reports into supernatural phenomena that was also a big influence on Control). You can see a lot of the same ideas at work in the earlier game, especially when you're exploring the Abyss, just minus the adult stuff. Singularity: Tactics Arena was funded by a Kickstarter that raised $2,022 (opens in new tab). Memoirs of a Battle Brothel was also initially funded on Kickstarter, where it raised $25,469 (opens in new tab)—over 12 times as much.
That's not to suggest the motivation for putting sex in it was cynical, because I don't think it was, but there's obviously an audience out there for RPGs that don't coyly slap underwear on characters in romance scenes. Memoirs of a Battle Brothel is one of several games that earned its initial funding directly from that audience via crowdfunding, both through Kickstarter and Patreon (opens in new tab), and then moved on to more traditional means, having since signed on with publisher TinyHat to release in Steam Early Access (opens in new tab).
When Subverse (opens in new tab), which raised over $2 million on Kickstarter, released a trailer showing its turn-based combat and rudimentary spaceship shoot-em-up minigame, the reaction was surprising. Commenters were ecstatic to see a "real game" with sex in it, willing to overlook the fact that all the dialogue sounds like it was written by someone who learned to swear yesterday.
But there's a whole world of adult games out there in genres beyond the visual novels and dating sims you might expect. They're farm-life sims (opens in new tab), full-length JRPGs (opens in new tab), platformers (opens in new tab), idle games (opens in new tab), and NSFW city builders (opens in new tab). And in this case, an RPG with turn-based combat, factional politics, and multiple-outcome quests, that also just happens to have a cast of characters who have heard of dressing appropriately for the weather but weren't really listening at the time.