The Rice Digital Friday Letters Page, April 15, 2022 – An Easter quickie

The Rice Digital Friday Letters Page

Hello everyone, and welcome to a quick Rice Digital Friday Letters Page! It’s officially a long weekend here in the UK (and doubtless some other places, too) and yet here I am sweating away at the keyboard as usual. I am off to enjoy the public holiday after this, I hasten to add — but I did at least want to make sure you all had something fun to read today. There was also a nice letter that I wanted to take the time to respond to.

I’m also pleased to report that I think I’m mostly COVID-free now — I haven’t taken a test yet today but I certainly feel better than I have done for quite some time right now. Don’t get COVID, kids, it really fuckin’ sucks.

Anyway, as the headline suggests, it’s just a quickie today with the one letter, so let’s get right into it and I can get to stuffing my face with post-illness cake and Pot Noodle and bacon and other such goodies.

Fanart by Mauve. Original source here

Subverting the tropes!

Dear Rice,

As you mentioned in reply to my last letter, there is a wealth of games of just about every genre, and while this definitely gives us a variety of choice to decide on the perfect one, it’s often difficult not to feel like certain stories and tropes are over-used.

There’s something eerie about games like Doki-Doki Literature Club and OneShot subverting tired clichés, messing around with things outside the confines of their game window, and addressing the player direcftly.

One of my favourite genres of game are visual novels, particularly dating sims, and while they make me feel all fuzzy, I love it when game creators purposely do something different.

So when scrolling Kickstarter this week, I stumbled across a game that at the time of writing has about 50 hours left, called “I Just Want to be Single!!”, whose entire shtick is to not be a dating sim. I had to back it!

Just wanted to hear your thoughts on this particular game, and others like it.


Hi Cosmic*Star, and welcome back to the Rice Digital Friday Letters Page — always lovely to have a repeat correspondent!

I love the idea of I Just Want to be Single!! — it’s a shame the campaign has already finished otherwise I would have considered backing that myself! I think there’s definitely a lot of scope in gaming to explore types of relationships outside the scope of “conventional” (for want of a better word) heterosexual romantic ones, and it’s great to see creators jumping on board with that.

I think it’s something we’re seeing more broadly in popular media, too. A few years back I would never have expected to see a manga series like Love Me For Who I Am, for example; while works that fetishised female-presenting characters who weren’t actually girls existed, it was less common to find one that actually explored the character with a certain amount of nuance. That’s not to say those works didn’t exist at all, mind — it’s just they’ve become a lot more visible in the last few years.

Honestly, the interesting thing about I Just Want to be Single!! is that it taps in to something visual novels are good at in an unconventional way, and that is their ability to make you feel close and intimate connections with the characters. You come away from a good visual novel with the feeling that you don’t want to leave its characters behind — not necessarily because you embroiled yourself in a romantic relationship with them, but because they felt like good friends.

With the days of the pandemic causing many people to be a lot more insular than they might have been in the past — particularly if you’re already prone to introversion — works that highlight the importance of close friendships rather than romance are arguably just as important. While of course a digital, pre-written character isn’t a substitute for a real-life support network, they can absolutely be a source of great comfort for people in trying times. I speak from all-too considerable experience on that note!

Anyway, moving away from that specific example and considering other “unconventional” examples of the visual novel medium being used in interesting ways, there are quite a few good examples worth exploring — and some of them have been around for quite a while, too!

Letters page: Casual Romance Club
Casual Romance Club

On the dating sim front, Casual Romance Club is an interesting one for numerous reasons. Firstly, it’s a dating sim that was designed by Japanese developers to appeal to a western audience, though without sacrificing its distinctly “Japanese” nature. But also its very concept is seemingly antithetical to your usual dating sim: your job is not necessarily to find “true love”, but to simply enjoy hanging out (and perhaps engaging in some casual, no-strings hanky-panky) with a broad cast of characters, each of whom have their own lives.

In fact, that game subverts expectations somewhat in that in order to pursue certain characters, you have to make sure that you keep their friends happy, too, so you end up developing a broader circle of virtual acquaintances than you might otherwise do if you were exclusively focusing on a single girl. You’re also free to play the field as much as you see fit, too; there’s not really a “wrong” way to play.

Elsewhere in the visual novel medium, I’m yet to play this for myself, but supposedly You And Me And Her is an absolute masterpiece of messing with the player. I’ve deliberately refrained from spoiling myself on this one because I want to play it for myself and go in blind, but with it being a Nitroplus title, you can absolutely expect weirdness along the way.

That reminds me, I need to finish off Muramasa. That is absolutely emphatically not a dating sim, but you may find the “mechanics” in that one interesting — choosing a route is neither a case of maximising someone’s affection, nor is it a case of avoiding them altogether. It’s very much in keeping with the game’s concept of “the law of balance”, and really makes you think about the way in which you interact with its characters.

Letters page: Full Metal Daemon Muramasa
Full Metal Daemon Muramasa

Also, I’ve argued this before, but be sure to check out the otome sector if you haven’t already. While the genre is stereotyped as being “for girls”, there are really some of the most fascinating stories and character dynamics in the entire visual novel medium to be found among otome titles.

They’re often especially interesting if you enjoy exploring more troubled relationships — and in many cases they tell stories in which romance is fairly incidental to the main narrative, rather than being the main focus. If you ever get a chance to play the delightful (but hard to find) Sweet Fuse: At Your Side, in which you play Keiji Inafune’s niece and are trapped in a theme park at the behest of a demonic pig, you’ll see what I mean.

Lastly, we got a review copy of Doukyuusei in this week, which I’ll be looking at shortly. I don’t know how conventional or unconventional that one is, but if you like your dating sims, that’s surely going to be worth a look, as it’s a remake of a classic from the relatively early days of the genre.

Anyway, we’ll definitely keep a close eye on “I Just Want to be Single!!” — I suspect it’s already on Lilia’s radar, as she’s fond of indie, unusual takes on visual novels and dating sims, but it certainly looks like an intriguing prospect. Be sure to let us know how you get on with any of the titles I’ve mentioned above if you choose to give them a go for yourself!

And with that, it’s holiday time. The kettle is boiling, the Pot Noodle is waiting and I’m going to sit under Sofa Duvet and enjoy some quality gaming time. Enjoy your own long weekend, everyone, and we’ll see you again next week!

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