Wot I Think: Save The Date

By Nathan Grayson on May 30th, 2013 at 9:00 pm.

Maybe I’m generalizing, but I like to think most dating sims are, on some level, about dating. Save The Date, however, sticks with the warm-and-fuzzies just as long as it needs to – and not a second longer. At heart, it’s a visual novel, but on a high-speed collision course with tragedy, mortality, and hilariously terrible consequences. Each five-or-so-minute playthrough (adding up to an-hour-and-a-half or so total) barrages you with choices, the results of which aren’t exactly happily ever after. So you try again and again and again to keep the date from going horribly wrong, and things only spiral further out of control. In that respect and many others, Save The Date’s brilliant. Even astounding, in places. The writing’s quite strong, the twists hit like a remarkably stealthy 18-wheeler, and there’s far, far, far more to it than even its initial surreal streak suggests. (Warning: this review is very spoiler-heavy.)

HERE LIES YOUR INNOCENCE. TAKEN FROM US TOO SOON BY SPOILERS.

Things get meta. Really, really meta. But not in an obnoxious, “Hur-hur, see what we did there?” sort of way. It all started when I first attempted to talk Felicia out of dinner, suddenly able to warn her of the skeletal fingers worming their way around her neck. It was a clever exchange, not to mention one smartly attuned to my feelings as both the character and the person playing this game of dinner-themed Russian Roulette. But she still ended up dying again. So I reloaded and tried one more time. Then more prophetic, fourth-wall-shattering options opened up. Soon, they were everywhere. Groundhog Date, anyone?

But it went further than that. I told her I was playing a videogame, trying out various choices, doing my absolute best to save her. Save the date. Save the game. Save, reload, save, reload.

It created this odd moment of connection to the character. I was me – not Some Dude In A Videogame – addressing my plaything. It felt kind of gross. Nearly every option boiled down to, “I’m not doing this for you. I keep putting you in immense peril to see what’ll happen. To see just how much power I have over your world and your life.” And you know what? The game was pretty much right on the money – at least, up until that moment.

Then things got crazy. Aliens invaded. Sea monsters flung their tentacles every which way. And all the while, Felicia and I carried on elaborate discussions about her life, games, and the way games tell stories. Felicia herself, meanwhile, evolved over the course of multiple lives and – I suppose more importantly – deaths. Sure, she never stopped being helpless (physically, anyway; symbolically I’d argue anything but) and her voice became a bit, er, less hers near the end, but she definitely surprised me. The final scene was really just… something. Even in this spoilertastic write-up, I will not give away the ending. Then again, I don’t think I’m really capable of doing that. Trust me: you’ll understand when you get there. I hope so, anyway.

There’s a very powerful message about inevitability embedded in Save The Date. The possibilities we try desperately to ignore because otherwise we’d just walk around with nauseating boulders of dread in our guts. The ways games both offer us an escape and immerse us in the blood-spattered, death-drenched subject matter we’re trying to run from. Ultimately though – for better or worse – we’ve trained ourselves to be detached, to see oh-so-brittle porcelain systems before anything else. We want to test them. We want to break them. We don’t want to consider the consequences.

It’s about other things too, but you’ll just have to decide those for yourself.

Sure, redoing similar bits over and over eventually became sort of annoying, but Save The Date is an experience that jostled me out of my normal, gamerly state of mind. Actually, scratch that: it pulled me loose and then made me desperately want to keep clawing for the surface on my own. I’m not entirely sure what I’ll end up taking away from it in the long run, as I actually rewrote this post multiple times while re-saving, re-loading, and rethinking the game. Honestly, I think that’s the highest (and most oddly fitting) appraisal I personally can give it. And the rest? Well, that’s up to you.

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52 Comments »

  1. Noi says:

    Has anyone actually “saved” the date?

    Groundhog Date indeed. All these absurd ways to fail…

  2. faelnor says:

    (HUGE SPOILER)

    (NO, REALLY)

    Is there an ending deemed by the author to represent closure to the whole thing, besides tampering with the game files and remaining dissatisfied for the rest of eternity? I’m not demanding one, mind you, but I am just wondering (which means the game worked perfectly).

    I even went the whole way to try installing a renpy decompiler, before stumbling on some dependency issue (wrong ast version :() and thinking to myself “what the fuck are you doing?”. I left it at that, pleased yet frustrated.

    One of the greatest interactive experiences I had lately, probably the greatest since Frog Fractions.

    • Premium User Badge

      fredcadete says:

      I had an ending that did “represent closure” , without hacks.

      It was being very beautiful, then Felicia died.

      • Premium User Badge

        fredcadete says:

        Okay, now I did have an ending.

        Good enough for me. Good evening!

      • Treymoney says:

        For me it was saying goodbye.

      • bovine3dom says:

        I found an ending where she did not die.

        • hjarg says:

          Ow, how, how?
          I’m feel so dumb- and i want to let her live. Without the dinner in the sky where i fly because i’m a super-hacker

          • bovine3dom says:

            GIGANTIC SPOILER BELOW

            Say you don’t want to go on a date with her. She lives happily ever after.

  3. Noi says:

    Okay, I did the hacker thing, and while that did result in what would be regarded as a happy ending, it was hardly terribly satisfying.

    • Treymoney says:

      Yeah, that was brilliant. I wish I had taken Felicia’s advice and left well enough alone. Great game!

    • belgand says:

      In an odd way that supports the game’s pretentious premise that I otherwise disagree with I found it unsatisfying because it was a “super-happy all the time ending!!!” which isn’t what I would have chosen. Where’s the fun in her dying repeatedly due to random chance? Or having someone else’s idea of a happy ending? I wanted to hack the game into the version where I kill her.

  4. Basherbash says:

    That was a really interesting game to play. I like how the message of the game coincides with your options at the end.

  5. meatbagggggg says:

    You’ve heard of the dating sim,Save the Date. We all have, the legend, the Quicksaves. Some foolishness about it lying in the middle of City of Savescum. A city of Reloads. Beneath a blood red cloud… a bright shining monument reaching out, luring gamers to their doom. An illusion. A promise that you can change your fortunes. Begin again.

    Finding the good end, that’s not the hard part. It’s letting go.

    • Nim says:

      Wait a moment, before you go. The developers hope you have enjoyed Save the Date. Farewells can be a time of sadness, Letting go, difficult. As a player of Save the Date you know that truth more than anyone. Chris Cornell believed in making games that were wierd and interesting, that gaming was about experimentation, friendship, stories, hope, destiny and dinner. To the players that knows these joys, Save the Date holds little they don’t already have, out in the world, beyond this computer screen, that is your chance to begin again. I hope you replay in happier times, until then Save the Date and the creator will hold you in their hearts.

      (Disclaimer: I am not Chris Cornell but I would like to think that he would respond in this way)

  6. ollirg says:

    Well, I managed to have a flying castle an saved her by being a TRUE HACKER.
    Anyone else find this?

    Awesome game, but still couldn’t have a date and save her.

  7. lithander says:

    Great little gem of a game!

    The best ending I found was where she told me to “stop listening to the game’s plans for the story and start following your own!” and when I still continued playing she says “Seriously. Quit the game. Walk away. Write whatever ending you want for me in your head!”

    Any one found something better?

    • Mike says:

      Calling off the date after seeing her die a bunch, the game acknowledges that whilst you weren’t happy, you did save her from death. Nice idea.

    • Droopy The Dog says:

      I think that’s as far as the rabbit hole goes short of the I R Hackar! ending.

      Kind of a shame, since I don’t agree with the whole “whatever you imagine is just as satisfying” premise it ends on. The characters are fictional and all but they’re fiction from someone else’s thoughts. This gives them more life and makes them more interesting than your own imaginings will ever be, he makes the point that storytelling is interactive then goes on to conclude you don’t need the storyteller anymore.

      Still, t’was fun while it lasted.

      • Ragnar says:

        Why is that, though? Why is it that characters from someone else’s imagination are more interesting than characters from your own imagination? Clearly that’s not always the case, as I’m sure you’ve run across a terrible story with terrible characters at one point or another.

        Could we not create our own believable characters, put them in similar situations, and be similarly surprised as to how they react and what happens to them? Is it just a matter of practice creating fictional stories, or lack there of?

      • lhl says:

        Here’s a patch of an improved version of the script.rpy I made – at least one that I’m happy enough with. Since I wrote it, its sort of in the spirit of the author’s intent, but it’s also a bit of a rebuke because like others have mentioned, the reason we (the audience) like stories is precisely because a storyteller (not us) creates and shares with us. That’s more the point of storytelling than imagining your own ending (which at best is a different activity, but usually is just laziness on the author’s part)

        With that in mind, sharing this may make the experience less dissastisfying than writing your own… or not.


        --- script.rpy 2013-08-05 16:47:50.000000000 -0700
        +++ script.rpy 2013-08-05 16:45:52.000000000 -0700
        @@ -60,10 +60,10 @@
        $ fooddesc = "none"
        $ currentLocation = "hilltop"
        jump hilltop_convince
        - "Actually, I thought we could have an awesome dinner in my floating sky castle because I am a hacker!" if I_AM_A_HACKER:
        - f "Oh. That sounds nice!"
        - "The two of you have a delicious dinner in your magical floating sky castle!"
        - "Afterward you fly her home, because you can fly, because you are a hacker and super awesome!"
        + "Why don't you head over to my place? I'll make dinner and we can watch some Netflix or something." if I_AM_A_HACKER:
        + f "Hmm, that doesn't sound half bad. I'll bring some wine but you better have the ice cream."
        + "The two of you have a great time, and finish a second bottle of wine snuggling on the couch."
        + "Felicia falls asleep in your arms and shortly after, you doze off as well."
        jump hackerGoodEnding
        "Actually, I don't think I want to meet up tonight after all.":
        jump noDinner
        @@ -105,10 +105,7 @@
        "{size=+10}~The End~{/size}nnYour date has ended in disaster."
        return
        label hackerGoodEnding:
        - "She grabs the mail on the way in and discovers that she has won like six different lotteries and is now independently wealthy."
        - "She also now owns a small island paradise in the Caribbean, full of endangered wildlife and stuff."
        - "She is super happy! She moves there the next month, and has a happy, long, and fulfilling life taking care of exotic animals and playing with Bengal tigers."
        - "She lives happily ever after, and you do too sometimes, when you visit, which you do by flying, which you can do because you're an awesome hacker."
        - "Everyone involved lives happily ever after and nothing bad happens to them ever, and sometimes you think, 'Man, what a great life I have - good thing I'm a hacker!'"
        - "{size=+10}~The End~{/size}nnYou are an awesome hacker!"
        + "The next morning you hand her a lottery ticket with a sly grin. You have a pretty good feeling about it."
        + "You roll out of bed momentarily disoriented. A gentle tropical breeze wafts the smell of fresh-brewed coffee, and you smile as you see Felicia looking out the window. Another morning in paradise."
        + "{size=+10}~The End~{/size}nSometimes it occurs to you that the author was a bit dickish about the hacker ending, but it was nothing that unrpyc couldn't fix."
        return

        Also, here’s a gist if you just want to drop the updated script.rpy in the game folder: https://gist.github.com/lhl/6160835

  8. Samolety says:

    This is such an interesting game on so many levels. I have a very active imagination, and I’m always imagining other endings to stories, but it never feels real. It’s weird, but even when the game tells me that whatever ending I want is valid, it doesn’t seem valid. If the end of a story is the story telling you to make up the ending, can you disagree with that? I did, there has to be another way.

    Turns out the author was crazy enough to add that other way. I tried the hacker option, and it finally drove Felicia’s point home. I could choose to have the game tell me I won, or I could choose my own ending. I like my own ending better. The game convinced me that pressing ‘quit’ and imagining the rest is the “true” ending. Crazy, huh?

    Very interesting…

  9. johnbeeler says:

    Isn’t it obvious? (Spoiler: You save the date by not going on the date.)

    • greenbananas says:

      You could open the “game” folder of the game’s root and follow the instructions in the .txt file and save her with some panache. And get the feeling you went against everything the author implied.

      Or you could do what Felicia said, and edit the I_AM_A_HACKER.rpy and make up your own ending.

      • johnbeeler says:

        Wow, that was oddly unfulfilling.

      • Ragnar says:

        Or you could do what Felicia said and not edit anything, but simply stop playing while she’s still alive and make up your own ending.

  10. FataMorganaPseudonym says:

    That’s a hell of a lot of letters just to say “The only way to win is not to play.”

    [EDIT] Just to be clear, by the way, I’m referring to the game itself, not the article. [/EDIT]

    • Ragnar says:

      It encourages you to play, it just calls into question playing a game until you get a “Congratulations, you win!” screen. The game’s optimum win condition is to play, enjoy as much of the game as you like, and then quit and let it live on in your head.

  11. sdfv says:

    Complete spoilers:

    The “real”( most satisfying) ending is where you reload over and over, trying everything, eventually getting her to tell you about writing your own story in your head. Tell her goodbye, start again, then, say you don’t want to meet up tonight after all – the game will say something different this time.

    • roryok says:

      Yeah, that’s what I took away from it. If I’m honest I found that last goodbye kind of emotional

      The whole thing reminded me not a little of Donnie Darko – the whole doomed relationship thing.

    • Ragnar says:

      I don’t think that’s the “real” ending at all. It’s just an ending in the game where she doesn’t die.

      I believe the “real” ending the game wants you to get to is to take her on a date, whichever one you want to, then stop playing while she’s still alive, become your own storyteller, and create your own ending.

  12. notonfire says:

    Until it gets all postmodern, Save the Date is like a highly distilled form of the “I rather think there’s more to do” idea that made Embric of Wolfhammer’s Castle so brilliant. I’d elaborate, but I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t played Embric yet.

  13. mb says:

    Just another game in the line of pseudo-intellectual indie bullshit. Has a nice place along with The Stanley Parable. These games aren’t saying anything players of games have never thought to themselves before. A meta narrative always just seems like a cop out because they hold an innate sense of “mystery” to them. Not to mention the games in which they are employed are typically dull devices dedicated only to the creator’s thoughts.

    • roryok says:

      I bet you didn’t actually play it

      • mb says:

        Because I hold an opinion counter? No I played it to the fullest, including doing the “hacker” bit.

    • P7uen says:

      Well I’m a player of games and I have thought to myself about shooting men with guns, flying spaceships, playing sports, combining random items in my house in order to do interesting things.

      Still doesn’t stop me from enjoying games based on those things. Lighten up.

    • Ragnar says:

      When did it become so popular to trash games we didn’t like, and in such a way as to also put down those that did like them? We have “pseudo-intellectual indie bullshit” on one end, and “Call of Dudebro” on the other. Why not be helpful and just say what, specifically, you didn’t like about it instead?

      Why did you not like this game? Because it’s ultimately about the author’s message? Because that message is something you had already thought of? Because it didn’t give you a satisfying ending that you were happy with?

      Personally, I found the dates ending in disaster, and the writing, very amusing. Even if the game held no deeper meaning or higher message, I’d happily play through it just to see all the ways in which disaster humorously strikes.

  14. Dizzard says:

    *Spoilers*

    I don’t really understand why I can’t get her to leave before the aliens show up. I would keep saving her until she died of old age if given the choice.

    It’s not very satisfying.

    I think it’s because I don’t really believe in “fate” or “destiny”. Everything just “happens” and if given the chance and the benefit of hindsight you would be able to solve any problem. (or at least any problem as simple as saving somebody from death) That’s why I don’t agree with this game.

    If it were real, the world wouldn’t doggedly try to kill her. She’d just at most be unlucky once or twice, you’d save her once or twice and then move on with your lives.

    • Ratherly says:

      *Spoilers*

      Well, yes. The game does actually tackle that. It admits that the stuff that happens is highly improbable/impossible. It admits that this isn’t “the real world”- this is some guys story. But what does that mean? In what sense do these characters exist? Are they just words on a screen or something more once we’ve read them? And if it is a sub-reality can we change it?

      Similarly to the guy complaining about the “mystery of meta narrative”, the game more or less does the opposite. It lays its devices bare, and you are literally told what to do and what your choices are.

      Because I’m not going to make another post, I’d like to add: I really liked it. My opinions are colored by the parts that I’ve seen or indeed not seen and its difficult to talk to someone else who hasn’t had the same experience, which makes neither more or less valid.

    • Ragnar says:

      You can actually get her to leave before the aliens attack. She still dies.

      The game is like a rogue-like. Embarking on a date has one of two possible final outcomes: 1) death; 2) you stop playing before death occurs.

  15. ChuckChuckRazool says:

    Playing (playing?) this to completion seriously led me through all five of the classic stages of grief, experienced as a gamer: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance.

    At first I approached it with the same sort of dialogue tree panache I’ve taken in the few other visual novel-type games I’ve played, with standard goals of consuming the content, hearing and resolving the story, and moving on.

    But after the first few (hilarious) dates the game rapidly turns on you, leading to the realization the game seems to be playing you, instead of the other, Obviously More Correct way around. I wasn’t used to this happening in a game, and fought it at first. Then I got annoyed. Then I tried even harder to find the big secret. Then I felt sad that this wasn’t at all what I was expecting. Then I figured it out, and I was done. I was able to get closure.

    Whether or not I truly *enjoyed* it is pretty nebulous, but that seems to be the point. I likely won’t be playing it again anytime soon, but I’ll certainly never forget it. What a very special experience.

  16. Premium User Badge

    Talon says:

    It’s an excellent experience, and the logical leaps to progress are well thought out (I didn’t experience any ‘thrashing’, at least, which is a staple of bad IF games).

    I think the problem I have with the overall message is that it feels like a breach of trust in the developer-player relationship. I don’t think the ‘you can’t choose your ending of a novel/movie’ argument holds up in that those are explicitly noted as media to be consumed, whereas a game requires interaction (and generally a challenge to be overcome). This experience feels more akin to a book or movie that goes ‘AND IT WAS ALL A DREAM’ at the end, in the sense that it obliterates the value of the experience.

    It doesn’t quite go that far (there is a victory state in not going on the date after unlocking all the other content, as above have noted) but I feel like the trope is a subversion that I think only holds up a few times before it’s old; it’s simply impossible not to feel like the developer is doing this at the expense of the player. Not that subverting expectations is always bad — I think a good example is the Tenpenny Tower quest in Fallout 3, where the player can do something with the best of intentions and use diplomacy instead of violence to get the ghouls and humans to live together… and then see the rather negative consequences, later on (presumably after they no longer have a save before the decision point). This, however, feels like the developer saying ‘oh why do you even play games you should just make things up in your head when you don’t feel like they’re going the way you want’.

    Like, that’s just not the point, right? We play narrative and IF games to be told a story; we overcome challenges and we want win, and to be told, ‘well, the best you can do is never achieve this goal that is the entire construct of the game’ feels a lot like going through most of Star Wars (Episode IV) and then being told, ‘sorry, Luke doesn’t actually have the Force, the Death Star is going to blow everything up and if you don’t like it, you can create a different ending in your head.’

    And no, it’s not that all media has to have happy endings – Vonnegut’s Shape of Stories shows plenty of excellent literature that does not end happily. Empire Strikes Back ends significantly down from where it starts, and it’s still an excellent standalone. I just think that there has to be more payoff in doing that then simply saying ‘and then they all die’ or ‘and then you fail, the end’.

    • Ragnar says:

      I have a different interpretation of the game. Not going on the date doesn’t end in death, but it’s not a victory state either. There is no victory state within the game at all. You can hack one in, but it’s intentionally unsatisfying.

      But just because there isn’t a win condition, does that make the game not worth playing, or the experience of playing the game any less enjoyable? Think of it as a rogue-like. You know there’s no victory condition to a rogue-like, it’s going to end in death sooner or later, but you still play it anyway just to see how far you get before death inevitable comes.

  17. redd says:

    Yet another helpless video game girl to rescue! Why can’t we advance the medium beyond these stone-age stereotypes, which always treat women as mere objects to be rescued!

    • Don Reba says:

      Best comment.

      Well.. one of the best. There are other genuinely good ones up there.

  18. dcalogue says:

    I liked the game, but there was something that was a big let down. When I entered the game folder I was really thinking of changing the game as I wanted to write my own ending, so the I am the Haxor ending, while funny at first, became almost a joke on me after some thinking.
    I tried to decompile the game files a couple of times, but failed miserably. I mean what is the point of a game that tells you to make your own ending if it doesn’t let you actually do it? For me it’s not enough to imagine an alternative ending, I want to actually write it and play it. It has been some time since the last time I tampered some game files, but this game really motivated me to do it, isn’t that one of the reasons why people mod the games? To add or change the game universe more to their liking?
    I ended up writing to the author of the game asking him for the source files, and I’m willing to learn to use the game engine to write my own ending, because that’s what will make me feel that I “ended” the game. Think of it more like a meta game, like if a book left an intentional blank page at the end so you can write your own ending, which is different to an open ending, since here the game itself is asking a proactive and creative action from you to be complete.

  19. belgand says:

    The biggest problem with this game is that I really, really want to date this woman. Or at least be friends with her. She’s fun and geeky and interesting with a great sense of humor. I can even ignore that she 1)liked Harry Potter 2)immediately thinks of Harry Potter when I mention being a wizard and not, y’know, something classier and more high fantasy, like such as would be appropriate for painting on the side of a van 3)is young enough that she mentions liking the books as a young child when they started coming out while I was in high school and didn’t become especially popular until college.

    I also really want to eat those fish tacos.

  20. belgand says:

    I think the biggest problem is that it once brings up the idea that you honestly don’t care, you just want to see all of the content, but it then quickly loses that thread in favor of talking about “winning” and “the good ending” and such. Clearly they realize that some players (e.g. myself) are mainly just interested in the fun, clever writing and trying to see all of the possibilities and couldn’t really care if she lives or dies in the end. The writer just gets too wrapped up in his own storyline to care. He’s too intent on making a point, and, as the references that start cropping up show, not a terribly original idea at that.

    When you finally get close to it even then he’s too fixated. It’s always about “story” and not “content”. Once I restarted the game a single time I have to admit that story, or at least his version of it, isn’t my concern. It’s not about making the best story or seeing a happy ending or even “winning”, just reading what the author wrote. As much of it as I can. Saying “well, just make it up on your own” is a lazy cop-out that ignores my fundamental goal. By that logic I ought to just not play the game (or perhaps any game) at all and just come up with my own clever dialogue. But by playing the game I’ve tacitly stated that no, it would be nice to see what other people think of as well.

  21. Jakkar says:

    I feel like I won by coming to the point of realising I had already quit games when I was unwilling to accept the options available, retaining save files in the unfinished limbo prior to a forced decision. Badly written RPGs often push me this way.

    Sometimes I just can’t let an NPC die.

    … this one, I can’t let her die. Yet I’m a sticklery for ‘authenticity’, as well as closure. I’m stuck. I won’t sleep well tonight.