Six Japanese Dating Sims to Fall In Love With


One of the more entertaining takes on Hatoful Boyfriend was when fantasy artist and author Ursula Vernon live-tweeted playing the game with increasingly amusing commentary.

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Just reading that was confusing and dreamlike. I think that game is a winner.

Speaking of confusing: the naming conventions in those games. Also: androgyny. I swear this picture is like a Roscharch test of perceived gender.


I’ve seen a few of these, but not played them, because they look relentlessly boring. Many of them consist of grinding stats until you’re “worthy” to score some affection.

The one interesting point that’s very unlike the West is that there’s no necessary correlation at all between the player’s gender, the protagonist’s gender, and that of the lovers. In fact “BL” games are mostly for a female audience. Go figure.

As a big fan of VNs, I’m glad that their exposure in the west is growing (and I’m happy with the work of people like Christine Love, who are busy extending the genre way outside of its typical conventions). However, I have a couple issues with the article here.

The VN genre should definitely be distinguished from the dating sim genre – while most dating sims are VNs (and most large VNs contain dating-sim-style content), there are definitely notable exceptions (Analogue: A Hate Story and Hate Plus are VNs but not dating sims; they are, along with Digital: A Love Story, probably the most popular western-created VNs). Otome is a subgenre of dating sim, and BL is a subgenre of that – while, just like the game industry in the west, dating sims in Japan and elsewhere mostly target heterosexual males (and as a result, VNs tend to have a male player character and female love interests). VNs could be so much more than dating sims, and sometimes they are; I feel like the strong association made between them is limiting, because at its core, the VN is essentially a fairly pure form of hypertext literature.

It’s fairly interesting that the two most interesting non-Japanese VNs in recent years are completely missing from this list. (Neither one is an otome game, but Christine Love’s stuff is mentioned, and exactly zero things she has developed and released can be classified as otome.) Instead, both are more typical examples of the dating sim genre, with particularly interesting circumstances differentiating them. One is Katawa Shoujo, a long-form dating sim set in a private school for people with physical disabilities, and white possibly the most sensitive and respectful thing 4chan has ever produced. (When people pointed out that ‘katawa’ is a slightly pejorative term, the creators released a public apology for accidentally adopting a pejorative term in a language they do not speak.) The other is Everlasting Summer, which combines late-soviet-era nostalgia with time loops, semi-mystical forest creatures, dimension-hopping, and somnomancy to produce a surprisingly satisfying and coherent story. (Both have porn that can be turned on or off in the settings menu.)

One more complaint – while Ren’Py is almost certainly the appropriate choice for an aspiring VN creator, it’s misleading to claim that it makes creating a VN ‘easy’. Ren’Py aspires to be the GameMaker of VNs, but a VN has a certain level of irreducible complexity – for the amount of effort it takes to build a simple yet engaging arcade-style game in GameMaker, you could produce a perhaps ten-minute purely-linear experience in Ren’Py, because you cannot take advantage of implicit rule interaction when creating a VN – you, as the creator of the game, must determine the exact result of every possible decision, in addition to enumerating every possible decision at any decision point. (On top of this, keep in mind that the creator still needs to provide all artwork. There is no archive of public domain character sprites intended for Ren’Py, or even slugs or components. So, if you can’t draw, your VN is doomed to have poor art.) Creating a VN is a good decision if you consider writing a novel and illustrating once per chapter to be too easy, and would rather write a brand new novel for every element in the protagonist’s dialogue tree.

That first one is difficult but I’d go with male, female, male. I can tell because of the pixels and their noses.

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All boys, apparently. See what I mean?

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