As many of you probably already know about me, dating sims are where my drive for playing video games is at. Since we have quite the selection of otome games trickling in ever since 2023 kicked off I wanted to turn your attention to other titles that come with a healthy dosage of satisfying us hopeless romantics. Even if it’s not the focus of any given title. Because if you’re anything like me then you will appreciate adding on to that extensive backlog of yours.
Apollo of Stray Gods: The Roleplaying Musical
2023 seems to be the year that keeps on giving for a niche hybrid type of video game when it comes to visual novel meets rhythm/musical creations. We are OFK, Stray Gods and Goodbye Volcano High all released this year, offering up a variety of interactive, cinematic experiences centred around being predominately musicals. Or at the very least musically inclined in some form or another. No such given title took that premise to heart as much as Stray Gods did, which struck me in particular. Mostly thanks to Troy Baker voicing the God of Sun and Prophesy Apollo, a fact that made it a day one purchase for me.
So, Apollo. He’s an acquired taste of a romanceable character in Stray Gods but that’s a given with just about every pursuable option within it. With the entire point of the game being the unmasking of secrets, truths and emotions through the power of theatrical performances, each key character to its mystery is holding something back until its main character, Grace, makes them see the light. In Apollo’s case he is struck with remorse and guilt over a loss that affects Grace just as much as him.
Despite partnering up to solve the mystery for entirely different reasons the two make quick work to help prop one another up across the journey. And I could not get enough of them together. It’s also touching to see Apollo’s character be a more emotional and sensitive hunk of a guy. All this is topped off with Here for the Ride reprise being up there as the very best song of its track list alongside Look Into Me. But do also appreciate Asterion the Minatour. I suggest playing the game just to hear his voice actor Rahul Kohli sing if Apollo on his own is not enough to convince you.
Astarion of Baldur’s Gate 3
To say that Baldur’s Gate 3 has taken over my life in the span of a mere week is an understatement. That’s probably not a surprise though when we consider just how much the game itself has seized the world wide web overall, and it’s still being played by PC gamers exclusively as of now with it being currently unreleased on console. In any case, now that I’ve hit over 80 hours in the game already it would be amiss of me to not comment on it in some way or another, and what better way would that be than to join in with the obsessing over its best (problematic) boy from within our very own party.
Don’t worry, Scratch is the best unproblematic boy. Astarion is a holy blessing of a companion in Baldur’s Gate 3. Pretty on the eyes, unhealthy on the heart and an absolute mess of a person who we can totally fix. While the voice acting in the game is incredibly remarkable across the board with everyone going above and beyond in bringing these beautifully complex characters to life, Neil Newbon is a whole other beast when it comes to his portrayal of the smug and sassy Elf Rogue.
When he’s not throwing us iconic lines with such ease that ends up resulting in some of the most entertaining scenes of the entire game he’s also giving us an award winning performance in expressing the layered traumatic undertones of Astarion’s character the closer you get to him. With his character driven storyline/pursuit being for both freedom and revenge, I’m supporting him all the way – regardless of how much my heroism pisses him off in the process. All this to answer the big question of have I lost sleep over Astarion? Yes. Yes, I have.
Garrek of Roots of Pacha
Like many other cosy gamers I immediately jumped on the release of Roots of Pacha way back in April of this year for one simple reason – its many similarities to the legendary Stardew Valley. I’ve had my fill of the latter so seeing something new release, especially when its setting is so refreshing or at the very least the complete opposite in design with its biggest competitors was an exciting prospect to dig into. The idea of evolving your clan through the exploring of its environment, building of character bonds as well as having been originally created as a multiplayer game first and foremost makes Roots of Pacha special enough as it is.
But what makes it extra special is its love interest I’ve put the spotlight on here. Garrek is the outcast of the clan. Despite being deemed as the Thinker with others evidently acknowledging his intelligence, Garrek’s main concern is not being appreciated by his fellow clan members. He’s shy and reserved, but giving him the space to open up and become comfortable with you illustrates the journey he goes on in feeling supported enough to become more vocal and confident – not just with you but as a key member of the growing and evolving family clan of yours. Bless him.
Cameron of Trouble Comes Twice
Trouble Comes Twice, the first release from indie visual novel developer Foxglove Games was one of my most anticipated releases for this year. As a promising dating sim that dared to do something refreshing and new by giving us twin protagonists, each with their own routes between four love interests offers quite a lot to explore with all the different dynamics as starting points to the potentially blossoming romantic relationships. But I obviously went headfirst into the otome perspective at first because a snarky red headed hunk was always going to me my first port of call.
Cameron, the jock of the romanceable lot, has a lot more going on than what meets the eye – and that’s probably a running element to the majority of our favourites here on this list now that we said that. The guy’s reputation as a flirt and bad boy precedes him, but it’s a simple matter of not actually being true in the slightest. The type of person he actually is is what makes getting to know him so rewarding, let alone managing to woo him in the process.
Craig Wheel of Volcano Princess
For just how much Volcano Princess keeps you well and truly busy with its stat raising mechanics the plethora of romanceable options on offer here makes its romance subplot tricky business compared to all the core gameplay planning and managing. While Hackett Munster was love at first sight (the daughter raising sim equivalent to Cafe Enchante’s Ignis) it’s the depths to Craig Wheel’s character is what captivated me upon my initial clearance of the game.
Craig’s character arc is noting new but in the context of the game it is the most relatable and inspiring to me. As a middle child from an infamous family made up of successful musicians Craig feels never-ending pressure to perform to the exact same heights of his parents, siblings and Academy students. He suffers from nerves, self-doubt and putting down his own worth by comparing himself to others. Being there for him to help him feel seen and appreciated was a highlight in playing the game. The married life ending with him is honestly the sweetest scenario I have had the pleasure of experiencing this year alone within video gaming.
Eugene of Cassette Beasts
Finally, Cassette Beasts’ Eugene. While Cassette Beasts is best known and well regarded as a colourful creature capturing RPG its loveable cast is another reminder of just how much the game managed to get right. Eugene is one of the few companions who the player can fight alongside and bond with – lucky for us!
Eugene makes a great first impression, being the do-gooder that he is, and it only gets better from there. As the so-called “Protector of Harbourtown” Eugene starts to put his money where his mouth is and goes above and beyond to provide for those around him. The little secret project he ends up working on and finalising when increasing the player characters’ bond with him makes their final goodbye once you clear its final boss fight all the more emotional. What a good boy.
That’s all the romanceable characters I’ve got to know and love at this point of 2023. You can find all the games mentioned in this article on Steam.