What Happened to Dating Simulator Games?

Dating simulators used to have a large pool of games for players to enjoy and had more popularity in the past compared to now. Big titles like Doki Doki Literature Club (if that really counts as a dating simulator), Dream Daddy, Mystic Messenger, and the comedic experience of I Love You, Colonel Sanders! used to show up recommended a lot whether in playthroughs or in play stores. However, dating simulators have since then fallen off the grid. 

Obey Me! – One Master to Rule Them All made a bit of a comeback with the release of its animation which also released a second season this year. Twisted Wonderland was released in the U.S. and Canada earlier this year and had a lot of traction that seemed to trickle away just as quickly. The only other dating simulator I still regularly see advertised to me, outside of the plentiful Western dating game libraries, is The Arcana and even then, I don’t see too much about it. 

Source: Mia Roseheart

I have a few reasons to think why these dating simulators seemed to die off so quickly. The first is the oversaturation of the genre in a short period of time. It’s difficult to want to keep playing dating simulators when characters have similar personalities or mechanics that make it unenjoyable to play multiple games of that kind. It’s not exactly the most fun to romance the same kind of person again and again, personally. 

This is apparent with games that streamline the whole dating process into one large game played altogether rather than episodically. There’s only so much players can explore and understand about the characters in this kind of game and so many choices that can be made to progress the story. I Love You, Colonel Sanders! does this; although the game is enjoyable and comedic, it’s over pretty quickly, and there isn’t really a need or desire to play through it again. 

I feel that needing differentiation in dating simulators is made even clearer by how Obey Me! and Twisted Wonderland gained traction; they weren’t mainly about the romancing of characters (with Twisted Wonderland being more a rhythm game than an actual dating game). Instead, they utilized battles and rhythm games in order to entice more players with a different playing style, a reason I think keeps a lot of the players still in their fandom. 

Image Source: Aniplex

However, both of these games’ main stories point to the next reason recent dating simulators have decreased in popularity: there’s no actual romancing. Both of the main storylines of these games are more featured in character development. This is a feature that takes up most of the current storyline and has yet to actually reach any kind of relationship development. Although I made a point about how there can only be so much character development in a streamlined dating simulator, so too is there so much development put in place in episodic simulators that make reaching the romance a very long journey. 

Now, Obey Me! does have some exceptions, especially through events and outside character interactions that keep the romance alive. With this, it’s possible to feel like players are romancing a character. In the main line stories, however, the players connect to the characters more through a friendship kind of way rather than a relationship kind of way, which defeats the purpose of a dating simulator. 

Image Source: NTT Solmare Corp

Now, if I move away from these larger titles, dating simulators become oversaturated. Games like MeChat – Love Secrets or Episode – Choose Your Story, which are Western dating simulators, have a collection of stories to play rather than a single storyline. It plays more like a TV drama, honestly. It also lacks an ability to make choices, specific actions closed off by a paywall leading players down a single route.

I think the other factor in all of this is the amount of time I, and likely other players, have to dedicate to playing these games. A prime example of this would be Mystic Messenger, a bit of an outlier honestly but exactly pinpointing this issue. Mystic Messenger has real-life timing to open character interaction and move the story forward. Several chatrooms are opened throughout the day, and if players miss one before the next one opens up, it would be locked away behind in-game currency to reopen. Not only does this limit what players experienced, but it also limits how successful players are in completing certain routes. A lot of time and dedication is needed from the players to successfully get through a character’s route. 

Image Source: Mystic Messenger Fandom Wiki

Dating simulators that run similar to this or even episodically tend to favor a more rigorous play style. This includes needing to log in every day, complete certain tasks every day, level up characters, or whatever else is needed in the power scaling of the game. It’s a lot harder to casually go through the game and actually make progress in the story without being gated away because players are unable to cross certain thresholds put in between episodes. 

The whole Shall We Date? franchise falls under this umbrella of rigorous gameplay despite having a rather well done balance of character depth while also romancing characters. Chapters to progress the storyline are locked behind attribute strengths that need to be powered up and successfully ending battles.

Dating simulators have faded away to oblivion with only up-to-date fans noticing them. It’s been a long while since I’ve heard of a dating game that reached outside of its normal demographic or pulled in people outside of the targeted audience. It’s hard to say if a dating simulator ever will again reach that point because of how specific the genre targets its audience unless it has some other genre’s experience with it as was the case with Doki Doki Literature Club

I’d love to see what kind of dating simulator rises to the top of social media next time, if it even does, and what will call a new flood of people to the genre. You. can share your thoughts in thee comments below or in our Boss Rush Discord.

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