Video games are the biggest form of popular media to offer pure escapism. You want to be a rock god? There’s a game for you! You want to murder a bunch of people with no repercussions? Have a whole series of games! You want to fall in love and have a relationship? Of course there are dating games for that! Some of them are even good!
“Dating game” is actually a very broad category. Looking into it is similar to walking into the romance section of a bookstore for the first time. I had no idea this much content existed. As with anything related to matters of the human (ahem) heart, there are a number of different types and genres available, catering to various preferences.
What’s Your Preference?
For reference, romance games are divided by gender preference into bishoujo (pretty girl) games and otome (maiden) games. Bishoujo are those where you play as a man and have a harem of potential female love interests, while otome games are ones where you are a girl and have multiple male love interests. This isn’t necessarily hard and fast, but it’s a decent starting point.
There is also a difference between “dating sims” and “ren’ai (romance) games.” The latter are more often done in the style of visual novels or choose-your-own adventures, while the former have some RPG elements, personal stats, and gift-giving mechanics. No, I didn’t know it was this complicated either.
So where should you begin if you want a fun, romantic, and well-written game without breaking the bank? Here are a few romance games/dating sims you can play right now for free:
This one might be something of an acquired taste, given both its origin and its subject matter. In this bishoujo romance game, you play a boy named Hisao Nakai, who has a congenital heart defect and is being sent to attend a special school following a long hospital stay. Once he gets there, he meets various people (primarily girls) who have similar debilitations, and eventually makes friends and falls in love with one of them.
KS actually started on internet image boards, as images of girls with disabilities from the character designer of Valkyria Chronicles. The game was developed by various members of the internet community. The disabilities of the love interests, and Hisao for that matter, are handled with actual grace and sensitivity . . . by the standards of free romance games, anyway. There is graphic sexual content in this game, so it certainly isn’t for children.
This deviantart-based gamemaker has made a handful of Flash-based games, all loosely related to each other and with very similar art styles. The subject matter varies from modern day summer romances to medieval fantasy settings, and your love interests can be kings, vampires, aliens, classmates, or childhood friends.
Unfortunately, I’ve noticed a number of typos in the dialogue, so they aren’t the most polished games in the world. Still, if all you want is a game where you form a relationship with a kawaii animated boy (or girl), Pacthesis has probably made a game you’ll enjoy.
My personal favorite is Chrono Days, which involves a fairly lackadaisical representation of time travel, along with some steampunk elements, robots, and magical living dolls. You have eight possible love interests, each with a unique (if short) side-story. The game wins points for not taking itself too seriously. I’ve had a few problems with glitches, but it’s pretty amusing and worth a few hours of playtime.
You know what bugs me sometimes? There aren’t enough video game characters who spend their days the same way I do. Video game heroes are always off on some derring-do, and that’s fine. It’s all about the escapism, right? But just once, I’d like to see a video game character who spends their days doing what I do: Playing tons of video games. Well, that game exists in the form of Re:Alistair++. You play a girl named Merui, a high school student who spends most of her free time playing an MMO.
Merui is harassed by a griefer named Alistair who steals a valuable item she thinks is rightfully hers. He tells her he’ll give it back to her if she can figure out his real-world identity. Since she was playing on the school’s server, she’s able to narrow it down to three classmates (don’t question that too much). So she gets to know each one to try and figure it out. This is an otome dating sim, where you have to manage specific stats to get the good endings.
Tell Me What You’ve Played!
There are a number of visual novels and romance games that I wasn’t able to play. There are also a number of mobile games available, most notably the otome games of Voltage Inc, but I wasn’t sure if I could mention those in good conscience considering they contain microtransactions.
Have you played any free dating sims that you really enjoyed? Let me know in the comments section below!
Image Credits: boy, girl and flower via Shutterstock