Level Up! | Dating Sims

Level Up! Is a biweekly blog about all types of games, from Dungeons and Dragons to Mario Party.

By Sinéad McDevitt, Digital Manager

Well, it’s Valentine’s Day. Whether you see it as a day to celebrate love — platonic or romantic — a day to be bitter about being single or a stopgap before you can buy cheap leftover candy from your local pharmacy, it’s a day we can’t avoid.

Might I suggest you try out some dating sims?

Dating sims are a subgenre of video games that’s rather self-explanatory. You play as a protagonist — often one with about as much personality as a piece of cardboard — who interacts with a group of very attractive potential suitors and tries to romance them.

The most common form for dating sims to take is a visual novel, basically a choose-your-own adventure book where you choose dialogue options to try and gain affection with certain characters. Sometimes these might be broken up with puzzles, or a game might have romance elements in addition to the main game like “Fire Emblem” or “Persona,” but not be a true dating sim.

The best way to approach a dating sim is to pick a character you like and focus on appealing to them. Most of them are designed such that stretching yourself thin and trying to romance multiple characters in one playthrough will just get you a worse ending. If you’re a hardcore gamer, this will probably mean having to go through the game multiple times to see all the different endings, but each romance route will come with different events so you won’t be bored in doing that.

Now that we’ve broken down the dating sim realm, how to decide what to play? Trust me, whatever you’re into there’s probably a dating sim for it. And I do mean anything.

Want to date monsters? “Monster Prom” is about a school for monsters that somehow combines every type of teen movie into one game. It’s also competitive, so you can play with friends and either help each other get dates for prom or try and sabotage each other. If you get all the DLC you get a wide range of endings and extra dateable characters, although even if you only pick up the base game, it’s still got a lot to love.

Or, you know, maybe you want to date pigeons. I’m not going to judge, and neither will “Hatoful Boyfriend,” the pigeon dating sim from a bygone era, according to a friend of mine who is a fan of these things.

If you think that’s all I’ve got, you’ve vastly underestimated the internet, because there is also a “Colonel Sanders” dating sim. It may be the weirdest ad for fried chicken ever, but it is certainly fun to play, and honestly other companies should follow suit. I don’t necessarily want to court Ronald McDonald, but I’m curious to see what it’s like.

In all seriousness, there are also normal dating sims that are about actual dating and have no funny gimmicks. I’ve really been enjoying “When The Night Comes,” a dating sim that also happens to feature a compelling monster mystery. Some friends of mine really like “The Arcana,” which you can play right on your phone. “Mystic Messenger” is also a popular mobile app dating sim.

Even though they started as a straight, cis-male power fantasy of getting to bang as many girls as possible, recent dating sims like “Boyfriend Dungeon” have really started to focus on telling compelling stories about relationships and sexuality.

In my opinion, we’re entering a postmodern era of dating sims, where games like “Doki Doki Literature Club” — which starts as a dating sim and goes off the rails into a psychological horror story — deconstruct the genre, while others like “Monster Prom” earnestly dive head first into the associated tropes.

The fact that dating sims tend to be visual novels, which require fewer assets and gameplay development, means that lots of people are making their own, which is why there is such a large variety of stories being told.

There really is a dating sim for everyone. Literally just scroll through itch.io or Steam to see if something interests you. Just make sure to check the reviews before you buy. Regardless of whether you’re looking for love or just need a few laughs, you’ll find something to enjoy.

Sinéad McDevitt is the Digital Manager at The Pitt News and enjoys writing about musicals, games and stories.