3 delightful dating sims with differing takes on romance

I love a good indie dating sim, and some are unfortunately well and truly hidden sometimes simply due to the sheer amount of offerings available, making countless amounts of passion projects go unrecognised for far too long. Because you may be thinking, where do you start?

To answer that, we will once again suggest a further three more titles that are worth spending your time or money on — or both in a couple of cases here! From the three we’ll be covering, at least one of them is bound to tickle your fancy considering how differently each of these games approach and tackle their overarching themes of love and romance! It’s a mixed bag with today’s offerings, let me tell you.

Mission: It’s Complicated

Romance in dating sims: Mission - It's Complicated

Ever felt like Fire Emblem’s support conversations were never enough to quench your thirst for shipping and pairing up fictional characters? Then look no further with Mission: It’s Complicated! The free-to-play dating sim lovingly crafted by Schell Games is centred on a superhero organisation started up by the player’s character, Professor L, as the first step to save the world from being destroyed. The only way to protect it happens to come from playing matchmaker with your five superhero recruits, as either a platonic or romantic relationship between a pair defeats the beast through the Power of Love.

Its gameplay is split into two sections: undertaking missions, and setting up and attending dates. Players have less than two weeks to max out a pair’s bond through correctly managing their energy levels by assigning them on enough missions before they are exhausted or injured, determine the most appropriate pairing to assign on each mission for the greatest chance of success, choose the correct outcomes during the encounter, and helpfully guide the selected pair through their dates.

Its characters are relatable and deep, with a few tackling LGBTQ+ issues and exploring mental health with care and consideration. The title manages to balance its humour and heartfelt messages at the same time, providing a wholesome and feel-good time. The game is especially noteworthy for how inclusive and diverse it is, making for a validating and supporting experience to any player who can relate to its characters and their history or hardships.

Furthermore, its interview segments that are unlocked by increasing a superhero’s bond with another uncovers their background, origins and further personal information that the missions and dates are unable to touch upon. And best yet, despite being a free game, Mission: It’s Complicated still offers plenty of replayability in its different interactions with different characters, making the shipping of various pairings always uncovering new details and developments about its superheroes.

Get to work and save the world by shipping through downloading on itch.io or Steam.

Dead Wishes

Romance in dating sims: Dead Wishes

We are going into the darker realm of the medium now with Dead Wishes, developed by VIOLET. Players are thrown into its nitty-gritty world as a depressed and unfortunate main character who has little to no income since the sudden passing of both their parents. With no other way to keep themselves afloat with overdue rent needing to be paid sooner than later, they enter the life of one of twelve characters — six women and six men — in order to find comfort, support and a new lease on life.

Dead Wishes features a gender-neutral protagonist, making the title a horror game aimed at every gamer, and this results in a more than easy recommendation for anyone partial to a visual novel of this genre to explore. Its main appeal is the dark premise and intriguing characters, with routes ranging from disturbing to surprisingly sweet. This ensures that each and every route is as unpredictable and tense as the last. The element of surprise with each of these varying tones and subject material is further aided by how the game locks you into a route after a brief and basic personality test during its introduction.

The game works quickly to make you feel particularly vulnerable, unnerved and uncomfortable with this approach if you answer the questions with honesty, because it could potentially force you into your worst match-up with regard to how you truly behave as a person. For example, being a more submissive person effectively feeds you to the wolves as it leads you to a certain yandere’s route — one where one wrong move or making a poor choice of words can result in death. And even then if you are lucky enough to survive, you’ll need to find a possible escape from their clutches, or accept your fate in an unhealthy relationship as your last resort.

This brief overview of just one route should make it evident how realistically and disturbingly well the game depicts dangerous and toxic relationships. And each route is a self-contained story — the game manages to pack in twelve routes overall for well over 10 hours of gameplay. Not bad for its asking price, especially since each route is chock full with an abundance of choices, every single one delivering on the intended emotional and horror aspects of the basic premise.

But best of all is how each route not only subtly links to the others, with the various characters each making brief appearances in other routes — or by being integral to another character’s plot thread. Ultimately they all hint at the game’s overarching story, which is gradually revealed as you progress.

The characters are well conceptualised and characterised, adding a never-ending layer of intrigue with each route as their true motivations are unveiled, and as their masks slip to show their true intentions. But all of these nail-biting and tense scenes are completely outshined by the title’s true value: its final route.

For the sake of not spoiling it, we’ll keep it brief. Its finale delivers on not only explaining its world and the links between its characters, but also does some in-depth exploration of existentialism and philosophy, two of the game’s major themes. It leaves a lingering message in relevance to the game’s name, and with the very best of its writing also being seen in this route, its ability to wrap up the wild ride in such a satisfying and memorable way makes Death Wishes deserve plenty of praise and attention.

You should buy the game sooner rather than later on itch.io or Steam.

Bard Harder!

Romance in dating sims: Bard Harder!

We are finishing this list off on a more light-hearted note with Bard Harder!, a short but inexpensive journey through a musical, table-top adventure — all for the sake of love! Or to be more specific, your player character, Robin, is attempting to catch the attention of their table-top expert friend and current dungeon master, Subin, who they have a crush on. Your only way to get their recognition is by saving your fellow friends during their fight with the final boss of the board game Wizards and Wyverns. Can you be the last party member standing?

As the team’s bard, you fight the only way you know how, now that you’re alone and fending for yourself: with the power of sweet, sweet music and captivating serenades! The whole premise of Bard Harder! is centred on winning the game within a game by flirting with Vulcuzar, the imposing skeleton sorcerer of a boss. A Game Over is possible if your techniques fail too often, but by keeping somewhere within its love meter at the top of the screen, you’ll determine which of the four endings you’ll see.

While an initial playthrough may only take you half an hour to complete, replaying the title for the sake of learning more about Vulcuzar is worthwhile if you want to successfully woo him. You’ll be able to snoop through his belongings or observe him and the locations he inhabits — all this provides plenty more lines of hilarious and witty dialogue to be discovered.

Alongside the playful back and forth between Robin and Vulcuzar within the game, the supporting cast often steal the spotlight by being sassy and entertaining of their own accord. The game does offer a few additional scenes and lines with these characters in the “real world” — these allow us to learn more about Robin, Subin, and their relationship outside of the game.

As a humorous, easy and mindless playthrough that offers plenty of nerdy references and a diverse cast, Bard Harder! asks a small price for an experience that consistently delivers in being wholesome and feel-good.

Find Shark and Pelican Games’ Bard Harder! on itch.io or Steam!

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Lilia Hellal
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