What is your opinion on dating sims?

Hello all! I posted here a while ago about my interactive fiction project, Sekishu no Koe, but I’ve had an idea for a surreal satire anime-style dating sim for years and I thought it might be fun to make a prototype and teaser trailer for it.
Since there are so many authors here, I wanted to get a scope of what are your opinion on dating sims and/or visual novels?
If anyone here has written for one, what are some unique challenges dating sim stories face?
And to anyone who has played them, what are some story elements/features you wished more dating sims leaned into?

The likes of these that I’ve seen is that they seem to be more about simulating hook-ups rather than actual dating (do people date any more these days?) There’s no getting to know each other, there’s just a quick contrived and flirty conversation with someone you meet in a coffee shop/gym/club/office/etc., and then you’re going home with them. Where there are more protractive dialogue-based interactions, there’s little opportunity to predict the outcome of the dialogue response from signposted information provided earlier in the game. You just randomly select an option without really making an informed choice.

I can’t say I’ve had much patience with this genre, though, as I tend to prefer fantasy/mystery/horror (which, incidentally, also describes the bulk of my real-life dating experiences), so I’ve not spent long on these kinds of games. Maybe I’m doing the genre a disservice; there could be some gems out there I’ve not had the patience to find.

A bit of verisimilitude in the interactions and meaningful dialogue options that are properly signposted through previous behaviours would make games like these interesting. Instead of logic puzzles, the game rewards solving emotional puzzles.

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Visual novels can be great. I mean, it’s just text with pretty pictures and audio. It’s pretty hard to mess that up. It doesn’t even have to be a “game” because it’s a novel. If you go in expecting a game, you’ll be disappointed quickly.

I’ll admit that the majority of the genre tends be lewd games that are just about getting as many girls as possible. The sad fact is that these sell way better than the ones with deep and meaningful stories. And even those that have those deep and meaningful stories still have lewd scenes thrown in there to help boost their sales. This, coupled with the fact that VNs are actually quite easy to make means that there’s a ton of shovelware (much like there is probably at least ten times as many bad IF games as good ones for the same reason).

I really don’t agree with what @CobwebbedDragon said about the quick hookups, unless they were only playing the ones that focused on sex (which would be about right for that description). Normal dating sim VNs usually take between 10 - 60 hours, with the hookup scenes coming after she’s declared her love for you, which is generally about 4/5ths of the way through the game. The lead up time is you getting to know her and her friends, having adventures, and trying to win her favor.

Myself, I don’t really care about those kinds of games anyway; the “get the girl” ones. I enjoy VNs for their story telling, so games like Higurashi no Naku Koro ni, Fate/Stay Night, House of Fata Morgana, Steins;Gate, etc. It can be a really powerful medium when done right, just like any form of story telling. It’s unfortunate that the medium hasn’t broken out of Japan much though (other than low quality sex games), although The Letter is an amazing horror game from the Phillipines that is English voiced and everything.

For suggestions, I’d say:

  • Don’t make it lewd because we have enough of those to last ten lifetimes.

  • The art will sell your game, so try to hook up with a good artist if you’re not good yourself. It’s really rare when something like Higurashi takes off on its story alone despite its original art looking like it was drawn by a 3rd grader.

  • And you should look into Renpy as your engine. It’s cross platform (all three PC OSes and even mobile versions, I think) and has become the defacto engine for making VNs. It’s like the Inform of VNs. Not that it’s that hard to make a VN engine (I rigged my demo of one up in my engine in like a day). Renpy’s forums are also super helpful when you have questions.

Anyway, that’s enough rambling. Good luck!

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I find the idea, if not the implementation, of dating sims to be quite compelling.

House, my first published IF work, is not a dating sim, but it is about a relationship. I went into it thinking, “I want to make one PC have one believable conversation in one room with one NPC. How hard can that be?”. But as any of the IF writers who are currently laughing with me can tell you, giving even one NPC depth takes a lot of work.

I wish the dating sims I have played leaned into story and characterization. In one I played the datable NPCs had little depth, and one of my favorite moments was when an NPC asked me to retrieve an item for her. Considering what the rest of the game was like, this was likely an arbitary association, but it allowed me to wonder why the character might want the item. (Of course, ideally the writing would give more characterization than can be offered by an abbreviated fetch quest!)

Another somewhat interesting element of the sim was that initially the datable NPCs rebuffed any action that might be seen as remotely forward. It would have been vastly more interesting if some of the women simply found the PC to be undatable for the remainder of the game.

Anyway, I am intrigued by the idea of a satirical take on the genre. Please keep us posted on your progress!

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A “dating sim” as a genre title is kind of a misnomer. There are indeed dating sims where you repeat the same day over and over and try to get your stats up to get one of the many girls to like you (they also have games where a girl goes after guys, but those are less common). But the majority of visual novels don’t play like that.

Usually your object of affection is won by picking the right answer to specific choices in the story, like a CYOA game. And other games have absolutely no choices and you have no say in the matter, like a real novel (or movie, TV show, etc).

There are quite a few VNs where the characters have a lot of depth to them. A good example is the Grisaia series (the all ages version is on Steam). Half the game has no important choices and is just an enjoyable story of a guy at a school for misfits that don’t fit in to any other school (because they have rich parents, or were part of a famous national incident, etc). But once you hit the halfway mark or so, you are given an option to go down a girl’s route, and the entire story at that point is just that girl’s backstory. And things gets dark. They all have really tragic stories, including the main character. I highly recommend checking it out if anyone is curious.

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I love the concept of Visual Novels, and I understand dating sims can be formulaic to a certain extent. I think this is probably because they have learned to cater to some inherent expectations in their audiences. They range from tame to lewd of course. I don’t usually have the patience for them, but I was absolutely in love with Doki Doki Literature Club which is a meta-satire of VN tropes.

The thing about VNs is the audience usually expects a good deal of re-playability and many pride themselves in following every path to every ending and dating every character. In fact, a “skip read text” mode is a built-in feature in the major engines (Ren’py and VNMaker do it).

Therefore authors can do a lot more with hidden content and secret endings and unlockable characters. If the audience likes the work, they’ll explore every nook and cranny of the game.

Also as mentioned by @tayruh, art is required and can make or break a game. There’s no point in doing a VN without the art, and scenes can be directed like intricate puppet shows using sprite movements. Most of it is super-anime styled, or shiny DAZ-3D models that tend to populate the adult dating sims and straight up porn games. A few have adopted unique and non-anime art styles though.

There are dating sims without graphics. I’ve written a couple that are straight up AIF or lean that way. You are likely never going to get anyone to pay for a dating sim or VN without graphics, though. These tend to be the games with a ridiculous number of stats and ahem “grinding”, often strategically targeted to the (insert any fetish here) community.

There’s another hybrid halfway between stat-games and Visual Novels. Games like Monster Prom and Ftaghn! play like boardgames. Monster Prom does VN presentation, Ftaghn! does not but has very specific graphical presentation.

I can understand that many people roll their eyes at VNs and the sometimes diaphanous line between romance and porn, but many stomp right on the line expertly. Monster Prom is R-rated, bawdy and hilarious. Another hybrid that knows exactly what it is and gets people in with the sexy but turns out to be more through great writing is Max Gentlemen: Sexy Business which is a raunchy Victorian Tycoon business simulator with cheeky VN tropes and simulation/clicker gameplay.

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Thanks for all the input, guys. I’m glad to see there’s some room for reception! I like what you all mentioned about lack of depth in the relationship—it’d be interesting to explore how I can make my really silly concept into something more engaging.

Art’s not a problem for me, just scope, lol. Again, thank you all! I’ll keep this in my notes.

I tend to prefer fantasy/mystery/horror (which, incidentally, also describes the bulk of my real-life dating experiences)

:rofl:

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