The Return of the Dating Sim – The Good, the Bad and the Weird

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By Cheryl Tan

Dating sims have been making a comeback over the years, but what exactly urges people to play these ordinary simulation games about trying to get into the pants of 2D characters that aren’t even real?

Back then, one way dating sims tried to attract the crowd was by showing off voluptuous semi-naked girls – which is, of course, perfect for their target audience but doesn’t really appeal to the normal gamer. And by rewarding the player for sitting through senseless gameplay and rushed narrative with hollow sexual gratification essentially reduces the dating sim genre into what seems like mindless filth.

If My Heart Had Wings
Credit: MyAnimeList

I, for one, think that the appeal of dating sims is because of how we as humans tend to be drawn to connections, and perhaps in some form, saw that dating sims gave us a way to live out the idea of being in a relationship with another person. By choosing a character that you would choose to romance gives you a sort of drive and purpose to finish the game in order to reach a “happy ending”. Perhaps that sort of allure was what made dating sims so attractive to schooling pre-teens who are craving for that kind of human companionship.

Over the years, novelty dating sims have popped up and revitalised the scene, with new elements that defeat the stereotype of what people think makes up a conventional dating sim.

As such, let’s get into some popular dating sims and discuss why exactly they have made such a name for themselves in the gaming industry.

Hatoful Boyfriend (2011)

Ah, the ever popular pigeon dating sim.

The game is set in a post-apocalyptic world where the deadly bird flu, H5N1, has spurred human scientists into starting Operation Carneades, the development of a virus to counter the flu by annihilating birds. But instead of working as planned, the virus ends up mutating pigeons into intelligent beings who start attacking humans, throwing the world into a catastrophic war that lasts 30 years. And in this chaos, most of the human race is wiped out, causing bird kind to become the dominant race on planet Earth.

In order to prevent more bloodshed, a peace treaty between both sides was agreed on and signed, thus setting the foundation of the story for our female protagonist. As one of the humans who developed a natural resistance to H5N1, she goes to prestigious bird academy St Pigeonation as a Human Representative, in an experiment to see whether pigeons and humans can live together and form a bond. However, if you failed to make significant headway with any feathered fowl by the halfway point, it would be game over for you.

I’m pretty sure the reason why this game was so popular was because it introduced a hilarious new concept to the dating sim genre – the ability to date characters that aren’t human. And the only way you could progress was by aggressively pursuing your bird conquest and unlocking plenty of laughable new scenes that never failed to leave me in stitches with its hilarious character dialogues and punny lines, essentially making a relationship between a human and a bird seem so wrong, yet so right.

You can get Hatoful Boyfriend on Steam.

Mystic Messenger (2016)

How nostalgic. Can I just say that I was insanely obsessed with this game back when it came out? And not just because of the seven hot men (and one attractive lady) you see in this trailer above, oh no no, but for the storyline as well.

The game starts out with you downloading this mysterious app called Mystic Messenger (which, you just did off the app store) and receiving mysterious messages from a character titled ‘unknown’. This character tells you that he has picked up a phone containing this app and several important looking notes, then asks you to visit the address written in there to find the owner of the phone as he is unable to. Once you enter the apartment the address leads to, you end up joining this mysterious group chat and after clearing things up with them, they ask you to join their secret party planning association called RFA.

Credit: Mystic Messenger Wikia

The interesting thing about this is that the game basically serves as a messaging app and everything happens in real time – meaning that you receive messages 24/7, once every few hours (why I lost a hefty amount of sleep replying to the characters at 3am). This new concept essentially added a whole new level of realism to the game, making it and the characters seem so much more believable. And honestly, picking up a call to hear a velvety-sounding male voice murmuring sweet nothings to me in Korean just made me feel like a princess.

Get Mystic Messenger from the App Store | Google Play Store.

Dream Daddy (2017)

Create your “dadsona” and play as a single dad who is moving to a cul-de-sac in the city of Maple Bay along with his daughter Amanda. With the whole neighbourhood full of eligible single-ish dads in a variety of archetypes, you’ll be sure to find one that hits the spot for you.

What made this game so amazing was its representation of both single, and gay parents in a loving and wholesome relationship with their children. It also made sure that the game’s romanceable characters had individuality in both their physical and emotional attributes – a good representation of how humans are like, unique and special. Also, there’s nothing else a fujoshi like me loves more than two dudes in a stable loving relationship, amirite.

Get Dream Daddy on Steam.

Some Honourable Mentions:

The following games aren’t particularly big in terms of story or development but are mentioned because of their quirkiness and unique aspects. Also, they’re pretty fun to play as well.

Jurassic Heart

A simple flash game about romancing a dinosaur, Jurassic Heart has you meeting your classmate Taira-kun (who is a Tyrannosaurs Rex) to buy a new ukulele after he dropped and broke his own at a performance you encouraged him to give. Just remember to choose your options wisely if you don’t wish to get a bad ending!

Play Jurassic Heart here.

Gakuen Handsome (2010)

Credit: Geek.com

A parody on the pretty boy troupe and the classic Boys Love story, all the characters look like they were designed by an 8-year-old and come with impossibly long chins (spoiler alert: you actually get stabbed on one of the routes). You’re thrown into the game as an unnamed male protagonist who transfers to the elite all-boys Baramon High School where you’re continuously romanced by deformed males using ridiculous methods in hilariously dumb scenarios.

 Get Gakuen Handsome Full Version on the App StoreGoogle Play Store (In case you don’t want to play the game, check out the anime version here).

My Horse Prince (2016)

Credit: Google Play

In this game, you play as a teenage girl who goes to a ranch to meet hot guys but ends up meeting Yuuma, the talking horse with a handsome human head. And it turns out the only explanation for why you are able to see him in this form is because you’re “born in the year of the horse”. Each level has you doing different things (like feeding him carrots, making him chop leeks, making him play the guitar etc.) and can feel somewhat repetitive with the non-stop tap action. However, if you’re looking for a quirky yet wholesome game and have some time to spare, My Horse Prince is the one for you.

Get My Horse Prince on the App Store | Google Play Store.

Conclusion

Dating sims might have their weird quirks but at its core, they just want to evoke emotions from the player like any book, movie or animation, by telling a story. However, unlike other storytelling platforms, video games allow for the freedom of choice where the player gets to map out their own path, and dating sims are no exceptions – even if you do end up with a pigeon.

Thanks for reading! If you’ve tried out any of the games mentioned above, or have any games to suggest that I’ve left out, please leave a comment below!