Dating sims, on the other hand, don’t come with the ancillary stress and heartbreak of putting yourself out there. So if you’ve been wanting to get into the genre or just want some recommendations for what to play next, here are some dating simulation games to check out this Valentine’s Day, or whenever really.
As far as criteria goes, every game on this list is safe for work (the most any of them go beyond PG is some suggestive humor) and firmly in the dating sim genre. I specify the latter because there’s a surprising amount of crossover between horror games and dating sims, and some games, like the fantastic but undoubtedly terrifying “Doki Doki Literature Club,” use dating sim and visual novel tropes to execute their scares. And we’re not trying to traumatize you.
‘Speed Dating for Ghosts’
Platforms: PC, Nintendo Switch, iOS
Yes, I know kicking off this list with a game about ghosts seems contrary to the whole “no horror games” criteria, but hear me out. In “Speed Dating for Ghosts,” you play as a lonely spirit looking for love in the afterlife, navigating branching dialogue choices to attempt to woo your ghostly suitor of choice. The concept is macabre and absurd and the game’s dialogue, written by Ben Gelinas, who previously worked on the Dragon Age and Mass Effect series, leans into this with an impeccably dark sense of humor.
One ghost still thinks she’s alive, putting you in the awkward position of breaking the bad news to her. Another ghost immediately leads with, “Want to make some money?” and asks you to ditch the event to go rob a bank together.
While “Speed Dating for Ghosts” readily embraces its own morbid brand of silliness, it also doesn’t shy away from the kind of somber reflection, existential dread and other complex emotions associated with death. As it turns out, just because you’re dead doesn’t mean your inner demons stop haunting you.
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, iOS
One thing you’ll quickly notice about the dating sim genre is that when developers commit to a joke, they commit (see also: the Colonel Sanders dating sim). That ethos can turn even the most meme-y concept into a genuinely compelling game. In “Dream Daddy,” you play a father who must balance settling into a new home with your daughter and trying to score a date with one of the hot dads in your neighborhood.
As you might expect for a game about dads dating dads, the dialogue includes plenty of dad jokes and groanworthy puns, though not at the expense of a captivating narrative. The other dads you can date are caricatures, to be sure, but they gain a surprising depth as you get to know them, learning about their struggles to navigate parenthood or connecting over both your embarrassing but well-intentioned attempts to bond with your respective kids. “Dream Daddy’s” stylish UI and gorgeous, emotive art style round out a charming gameplay experience.
Platforms: PC, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, PlayStation 4
“Monster Prom” is a cross between a dating sim and a party game, and as such is the only multiplayer title to make the list. Playing as a student at Spooky High, you have just a few weeks until prom to land a date with one of the other monsters at your school, such as a jockish werewolf, a nerdy vampire or a poltergeist who just wants to party (“You only live twice!”).
Each day, you decide how to spend your time, either by building up your stats to get your crush to notice you or triggering events and choosing dialogue options that can impact your relationship with the different characters. How successfully you manage to court your love interest determines what kind of ending you get. The story is randomized for each playthrough, stringing together a different combination of events and endings depending on your actions, so it still feels like a new experience each time.
And while “Monster Prom” is still enjoyable in single-player mode, a lot of the fun comes from the drama that unfolds while playing with friends, such as attempting to sabotage a player vying for your same love interest by badmouthing them to their crush.
Platforms: PC, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
“Arcade Spirits” is a heartwarming visual novel about the struggles of young adulthood and the emotional bonds that can grow when people with similar passions work together. It’s set in a future where the video game crash of 1983 never occurred and the arcade scene is still thriving decades later. As such, the art style is full of nods to the ’70s and ’80s and punctuated with neon flourishes.
You play as Ari, a 20-something who’s dealt with an unstable upbringing and financial hardship for most of her life. After losing her job, she finds work at a retro-themed arcade and starts to get close to her co-workers and regular patrons — whether romantically or platonically is up to the player. The dialogue options you choose determine Ari’s character traits, such as gutsy, kindly or quirky, that influence which endings are available during each playthrough, encouraging players to play multiple times and experiment with different answers.
If you’ve played any of the dating sims on our list or have suggestions for ones we should check out, let us know in the comments.
Go to Publisher: Technology
Author: Alyse Stanley