If you’re looking for a diverse dating sim made by a diverse team to fill your evenings with laughter and sighs, keep your eyes peeled for ValiDate: Struggling Singles in your Area! The team at Veritable Joy Studios was kind enough to send me their demo and I have nothing but good things to share about this very queer, stylish, and heartfelt dating sim.
The demo offers the choice of three playable characters to select: Malik Paterson (he/him) the Bopeye’s manager, Inaya Saifi (she/they) the food scientist, and Isabelle Morrigan (she/her) the theater teacher. Each character is paired with a different member of the cast and the date begins. ValiDate offers an interesting blend of roleplaying and self-insertion. The narration refers to the player in the second person, but in selecting a character to assume rather than playing a generic self-insert for each route, more opportunities for nuance and surprise emerge depending on which pair of characters is chosen for the date. Going on a date with Malik as Isabelle gave me one impression of him, but playing from Malik’s perspective on a date with someone else offered a totally different view of his personality and interiority.
However, ValiDate is still a dating sim, not just a visual novel. There are still choices which emerge in conversation that allow for the player’s self-immersion. The choices I encountered in the demo were a hair obvious in telegraphing how the date would progress, but there was still humor to be found in totally bombing a date.
ValiDate’s writing team is bringing more than fluff to the table. In the demo’s three playable dates, I was reminded of the existential anxiety of questioning all my life’s choices over cheddar biscuits and overwhelmed with empathy for a fellow victim of the pains of customer service. Fear not, however, for there is plenty of dating sim fluff to dig into from flirtatious teasing, to spur of the moment kisses, to late night cuddling and pillow talk. Even more, the demo treated me to a scene where two characters tried to get romantic, failed, but laughed it off as the clumsy start to a new friendship. It’s delightful to find a dating sim that delivers titillating romance and the realism of two people who just don’t vibe well together but can still be on good terms.
One element of the game’s humor is the bevy of references to companies like Bumblr, Pink Lobster, the aforementioned Bopeye’s, Oober, and more. The writing team doesn’t use these gags as a crutch, but rather as one tool with which they can situate the game in a realistic setting the player can relate to. A big selling point for ValiDate is its diverse cast of characters and the team’s efforts to weave in realistic stories and backgrounds for the cast while fulfilling the romantic fantasy of a dating sim. As far as this demo shows, they’ve more than succeeded and I can’t wait to meet the rest of the cast later this year.
This demo even includes dates with two characters who aren’t playable. Getting sneak peaks into Yolanda and Arihi’s personalities and designs only made me more excited for the full release. I won’t spoil it here, but Yolanda’s character art features a certain quirk that I adore. Speaking of which, the character illustrations by Yu Yamamoto are dripping with charm. Isabelle’s expressive gesticulations, Malik’s seemingly impenetrable chill giving way to boyish blushes, Inaya’s alternating earnestness and self-conscious demuring — all these traits immediately convey who these people are and make the player want to know more about them. We’re even treated to multiple big splash illustrations at various points in the dates which really sell moments like the lead up to a kiss or the laughter of relief after an awkward moment.
Though I’ve only gotten a sneak peek into the love and laughter that awaits in Jercy City, ValiDate is shaping up to be a dating sim fans of the genre can’t afford to miss!
ValiDate: Struggling Singles in your Area is coming to Steam, Itch.io, Switch, PlayStation, and Xbox in August of 2022.
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