Billionaire Lovers is the latest in an increasingly long line of “fake-out” titles: games which start off appearing to be one thing, and which end up being something else. Doki Doki Literature Club is, of course, the most famous example of this, but there are plenty of other examples that often get recommended.
Nitroplus’ YOU and ME and HER did the fake-out thing before DDLC ever did, for example, and the two are often compared to one another. Likewise, an indie title that often gets raised in this context is Cooking Companions, a seemingly wholesome visual novel about cooking — with plenty of food puns to keep you in an unsuspecting state before its mask completely slips and all hell breaks loose.
Naturally, Billionaire Lovers invites comparisons to these titles. It’s tagged as a psychological horror, and for good reason — although compared to these other titles, it’s far more contained and nowhere near as triggering. It’s also one that you can likely get through in barely a day’s worth of playing — and suffering relatively few scares along the way.
But it’ll surprise you in unexpected ways instead, either through its very clever narrative that gradually builds up to a super-satisfying finale, or how its outlandish premise teaches us real-world lessons worth learning. Created by a solo developer and based on a single, simple idea which the rest of the game was built around, Billionaire Lovers is something new, different and unforgettable — and deserves to be appreciated.
Money, money, money
Billionaire Lovers casts you in the role of a player character for whom you can choose your preferred pronouns, effectively allowing you to play it as either an otome or boys’ love title. Our hero(ine) is down on their luck, broke and feeling at a loss with the direction their life is taking — that is, until their distant uncle invites them to live in their mansion, and sends them a hundred million dollars.
It feels like we’re turning over a new leaf with this sudden opportunity, especially when fate has four very attractive bachelors vying for our attention soon thereafter. Things seem a little too good to be true when we learn that CEO Elias (a lookalike of Mystic Messenger’s Jumin), sensible mathematics professor Kyle, cute neighbourly Justin and flirtatious resident Steven are all out to get us. And while you might assume that means they’re after you in a romantic sense, the truth is rather different.
Who can you trust?
Honestly, we should probably leave any discussion of the game at calling it a “fake-out”, since saying anything more will get well into spoiler territory. There are some more things worth discussing, but we’ll be delicate about them, because Billionaire Lovers is a game best played completely blind.
That includes any potentially triggering material; the less you know about it going in the better, so we won’t be mentioning anything story-related here, just so you don’t ruin the surprises the experience has in store for you. We’ll instead ponder why this short but sweet game — one which took me merely half a day’s worth of playing — impressed me to this extent.
It’s safe to say that you should not expect to play the game for any dating sim or romance notions – it’s not that kind of game; instead, it’s using the tropes and attractive selling points of these as your reason to play it. One out of its four routes can vaguely be viewed as being romantic, and even then, the game’s true ending concludes with the main character learning from what has transpired and taking a more realistic approach to their newfound relationship(s) by that point. Romance isn’t the end goal here.
The main character’s development is one of many reasons to play the game. The way they change from a naïve and trusting individual into someone more willing to question others and their intentions after everything that has happened really tells a cautionary tale. For such a short game, they still manage to have their own character arc and growth, and in learning the lessons of the story for themselves, you will also have something to take away from the experience.
The main character has plenty of entertaining inner monologues that often reflect our own thoughts — much like a handful of otome protagonists who go against the grain by being more opinionated and outspoken. This makes them all the more charming and fun to play as; it’s often hilarious how accurately they mirror our own reactions to the wildness of the abrupt events and madness of the story unravelling.
The game does a great job in positioning itself as a regular otome or BL game through its presentation, but gradually subverts your expectations nicely. For example, while there are plenty of CGs that appear as the story continues, there’s no option to view them in a gallery from the main menu. There’s no route selection, but instead an enforced order. And the home screen blacks out characters once you’ve experienced their routes.
The game discusses plenty of topics with real-world relevance such as economic inequality, gambling tendencies and matters of trust, and it almost always relates things back to what the player more than likely already thinks. The game’s “psychological horror” tag is accurate, with there being plenty of foreshadowing and callbacks to seemingly the most trivial of matters — but its dark underbelly will still manage to blindside you, even with all the teasing and nudges in its script and from its characters.
Alongside the core mystery that slowly and ominously unveils itself, there’s a few instances of player interactivity that help push the horror edge to the max, involving mobile phone tampering and segments that involve the in-game gacha app. Using this app, you’re encouraged to repeatedly try your luck until you win the sacred SSR item, which is used to “increase affection” with the “love interests”. Of course.
You can probably already imagine how a game about tricking and manipulating the player will go with such a system in place, but it once again plays with your expectations and will likely blindside you with its overall relevance to the plot. It’s an impressive feat, to say the least.
Billionaire Lovers has an extremely satisfying finale that ties up all its loose ends, and which has an unexpectedly upbeat and affirming message to close things out with. The English translation throughout is almost completely faultless, and the visuals are beautiful in both its CGs and character sprites.
Plus it gives us a brand new best boy to treasure and gush over until the end of time. What more could you need?
You should be playing the game already
Billionaire Lovers is a game about trust, and is an experience that challenges your very own preconceptions, giving you plenty of harsh reality checks along the way. With its very cheap asking price of just £2.09, you should have no hesitations and grabbing a copy from Steam right now. Don’t let me keep you away from experiencing it for yourself any longer!
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