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.