Look, it's all well and good wanting to get scared on Halloween or whatever. But some of us live the horror life every day of the year. We seek out spooks even in the heat of summer, and know there's no better mid-winter warmer than a good ghost story. So what are we to do to make this occasion still feel special?
I know common wisdom considers Halloween to be "Goth Christmas", but in my experience goths bloody love Christmas as much as the next person. They are, however, far more likely to be agnostic on the subject of Valentine's Day. Yes, I have spent far too long thinking about this, but I'm determined to stand by my conclusions, thereby dubbing this holiday "Goth Valentine's". Which leads me neatly into the purpose of this feature: games that let you date the monster.
I'll be honest that 2022 hasn't been a stellar year for most game genres I'm into, but horror-themed dating sims are a notable exception. I've played four brand-new ones this year alone and, while I did consider branching this list out into more historical examples, I thought: why not focus on what a good run we've had recently? This is less a list of recommendations than a round-up of the year in monsterfucking, and as such, there are some games on here I personally liked less than others. What I've put together for you are some raw thoughts, many of them outtakes from reviews I've written throughout the year, and I've tried to avoid repeating myself on the subject of games I've talked about before.
The goal, dear reader, is to help you find the monstrous abomination who's right for you. So dig out your best first-date ensemble that won't show the bloodstains for this round-up of the year's most monstrous romance games.
Hooked On You: A Dead By Daylight Dating Simulator
Hooked On You is a tie-in to the phenomenally successful multiplayer survival game Dead By Daylight. It's a far more corporate-mandated example of a dating sim than most of what I've encountered recently, and as such, has taken so many cues from recent successful indie games that I swear I saw the teleprompter looming into shot, ready to line up the next carefully planned innuendo (and hold for laughter!).
I'm quite partial to Dead By Daylight, and I really wanted to like Hooked On You. I was so excited I planned to review it! But when I played it, I quickly realised that wanting to smooch the monster is inherently subversive, and that's not something that's particularly well-served by a marketing tie-in.
It's not that Hooked On You had no good points at all. But by far the best moments were undoubtedly the scenes where Trickster showed up to put a well-manicured fist through the fourth wall, mocking the limitations not just of the genre but of the very game you were playing. Here was an acknowledgement of the complex web of IP interests that is DBD, even as they dictated the very lines of dialogue that were leaving Trickster's mouth. Yes, you could still see the strings, but at least it was good for a laugh.
I'll be honest: I think hardcore Dead By Daylight fans looking for a dating sim relevant to their interests will get a kick out of this one, but I'm dubious as to its wider appeal. Despite the central premise being that of dating undead serial killers, it's all quite a safe experience, really. That's why I placed it first in this list: I wanted to contrast it with the indie titles that I think did the same thing much better. In particular, I feel like Hooked On You took a lot of cues from the Monster Prom games, so that's where we're headed next.
Monster Prom 3: Monster Roadtrip
The minds behind Monster Prom certainly aren't afraid of branching out and trying new things. This year's entry into the series — Monster Prom 3: Monster Roadtrip — isn't even a dating sim at all any more, really. It's a survival game with dating elements, and plans for the future of the franchise show a similar desire to play with new genres, while keeping the characters and comedy as the points of continuity. The success of the Kickstarter campaign for the sequels suggests that it was a good move to trust the original game's audience to embrace such changes to the formula.
I've already touched on the idea of dating the monster as an inherent act of subversion, and I think it's no coincidence that a lot of monster dating sims are also very LGBTQ+ inclusive. It's in games like the Monster Prom series that this concept really gets to spread its wings: not with a passive nod towards inclusivity, but by using the medium of monster dating sims as a way to tell LGBTQ+ stories.
At the start, Monster Prom quite straightforwardly stated that any monster could date any monster without concern for the gender presentation of either party. But later DLCs and sequels have taken the opportunity to tell trans and aspec stories that might traditionally fall outside the remit of a dating sim, pulling the focus away from romance if that's what it takes to give a character their due. And they do it without the frustrating reliance on monsterhood as a metaphor for minority status, something I see in too many stories trying to play it safe. For example, it's been made increasingly clear over time that Zoe is both a trans woman and an eldritch god adjusting to life among mortals. Those situations often find parallels in each other, but both are given individual weight and significance in her story.
As someone who's been with the Monster Prom series since the very beginning, I consider Monster Roadtrip to be the best one so far. The writing's tighter, meaning that another player's turn doesn't drag on the way it sometimes could in the previous games. There's more variety in what you can do and see and engage with on a turn-by-turn basis thanks to the roadtrip format.
But the series' best feature remains its willingness to regularly look sideways at its own premise, resulting in something far more in-depth than a simple put-gifts-in, get-love-out dating sim equation. It's a story about horny monsters that's increasingly concerned with the importance of friendship and self-acceptance as well; and if you happen to see a beautiful buff demon wearing very little clothing at the end, well, that's just a delightful bonus.
Sucker For Love: First Date
I reviewed Sucker For Love when it came out back in January, but what I didn't go into in much depth at the time was the fact that its protagonist ("D") is just as outstanding a character as the game's "three" "dateable" "girls". Sucker For Love is both a fully-functioning monster dating sim and a knife-sharp parody of the genre that descends into survival horror in its final act. So, while it's very rare for a game like this to force you to play as a male character, you'd better believe that said male character will be a brutal deconstruction of his harem-building anime boy predecessors.
"D" absolutely refuses to be constrained by conventional thinking. He doesn't want to date women; he wants to date the eldritch abomination that once visited him in a dream. "D" is in no way, shape, or form smart enough for the enormity of the task he takes upon himself. But that single initial might as well stand for Dunning-Kruger because so help us all, "D" is not about to let a complete lack of situational awareness stand in his way. Most shockingly of all: "D" is isn't after sex from the betentacled babes he summons. "D" just wants smooches, and it's clear he regards this as the true ultimate lustful act.
It's not that "D" is a jerk. It's that he's an idiot. And so are you, for letting that curvaceous Cthulhu lady on the key art drag you into playing this game. She's got face tentacles, for fuck's sake! What did any of us think was going to happen?
And yet, dear reader, even as I type this, an officially licensed plushie of dear, sweet, sickly-green Ln'eta is on its way to a new home on my collectables shelf. Because by the end of Sucker For Love, I adored her. I walked headfirst into a monster dating sim which directly tells you it's a parody of its own concept that will try to kill your character and end the world, and I walked out with a waifu. My expectations were subverted so many times in a four-hour game that you could use them as a corkscrew.
Romancelvania is an upcoming '90s-inspired sidescroller with dating sim elements, and regular readers may recall that I recently reviewed its demo from October's Steam Next Fest. The final release will feature 12 suitors vying to win the affection of a lovelorn Dracula via a reality TV-style dating show. And what a line-up Drac has to choose from.
It's an obvious point, but one I really want to make: any game that lets you date the monster needs to ensure that its monsters are hot. What makes Romancelvania stand out — even in comparison to an established and wide-reaching series like Monster Prom — is the sheer willingness to try and include a romantic option to suit any and all tastes. And I mean any.
The makers of Monster Prom have made an effort to include more body type diversity in their more recent games, particularly among their female characters: action towards self-improvement that I feel should be applauded. They've branched out into more unusual, less humanoid designs for their side-characters, too.
But Romancelvania will be galloping out of the gate with - among a few slightly more conventionally attractive choices - one love interest who is a severed gorgon head atop a marble statue; another who's a Cthulhu-in-a-dress but nevertheless far less humanised than lovely Ln'eta; and one who's made entirely of pumpkins. Seriously. Her decolletage alone can trigger a serious case of body horror heebie-jeebies. And yet I'd bet my bottom dollar that that overripe orange bosom is exactly what someone out there has been searching for in vain up until now.
Since I have the honour to get in the last word on RPS's spooky season coverage this year, here are my concluding remarks:
Happy Halloween, monsterfuckers!