“Love is sharing your popcorn.” – Charles Schultz
ValiDate is a visual novel and dating sim in one! Players can take on the role of a choice of characters and experience a range of chance encounters and impromptu dates!
Developer: Veritable Joy Studios
Released: September 2022
Platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux, Xbox, Switch
Available on: Steam, Microsoft, eShop
This game is being reviewed as part of the Indie Game Collective (IGC) showcase.
Content warning: ‘This game contains mentions and references to drugs, alcohol, sexual assault, cheating, abuse and other harsh themes. Viewer discretion is advised.‘
The gameplay is typical of a visual novel, with the occasional choice that will advance the story in a particular way. There are not a lot of choices in ValiDate but enough to provide a variety of endings. To begin with, players can play as one of two people, going on dates will unlock more playable characters. The date is chosen on a mobile phone screen but it is not a dating app as the player will usually meet their date through a friend or by a chance encounter such as both reaching for the last bag of flour in a supermarket.
Each date plays out as a mini-story or chapter in the visual novel, with several dates telling a larger narrative about the player character. A content warning will be shown after selecting a date but may have been more useful before the decision is made. It is possible, however, to skip to either the good or bad ending of each date.
The game’s narrative focuses on the character and their various dates. There is an overarching character narrative that plays out through the course of multiple dates and is very satisfying as a reader/player. Overall, the narration is well written and is mostly the inner monologue of the character being played. This provides lots of sight into their thoughts and emotions regarding different situations and NPCs. The stories are delivered via narration but also face-to-face interactions, digital communications and phone calls. ValiDate is pretty text-heavy but that is to be expected of a visual novel! There are lots of references to various social media platforms and while some were somewhat creatively renamed (Oober, Instaglam, Headbook) most simply had their first letter replaced with a b (Bitter, Biscord, Batreon, Bik-Bok) which felt both cheesy and a little lazy.
The 13 different characters are varied and well-written with distinct interests and personalities. They have flaws and make mistakes just like real people and we see some highly questionable acts and conversations. For example, when Inaya and her date exhibit ableism by making fun of a senior citizen for struggling to carry something in a supermarket. Though this does not garner affection for the characters, it does make them more believable and at times, more relatable.
ValiDate features some beautiful characters hand-drawn in a fun, cartoon style. The designs are varied and suit each character’s personality, and the overall aesthetic of these 2D models is soft yet vibrant and very pleasing. Some side characters seem to be drawn with less detail which stands out somewhat and there are instances where the characters’ appearance doesn’t match the description in the text. The backgrounds are somewhat lacklustre and appear to be digitally stylised stock images that add very little to the sense of atmosphere or environment. A highlight amongst the visuals are the comic book and pop-art style artworks that appear as short cutscenes from time to time.
The eclectic soundtrack is made up of a fantastic mix of background music ranging from lof-fi to dance music to jolly ukelele tracks. The songs usually fit the scene well and help give the player a sense of the setting and its atmosphere.
Overall, ValiDate is a great example of a visual novel, providing a twist with a dating sim overlap. The characters are believable and diverse and their often gritty stories are engaging and well written. Progressing the narrative is a satisfying and intriguing experience that is brought to life with some eclectic music and fantastic character art. If that’s not enough there is also a fishing mini-game! ValiDate was a lot of fun to play and I definitely recommend this to fans of romantic interactive fiction.
If you enjoyed this game, why not check out some of these other visual novel reviews:
Twice Reborn – A Vampiric Visual Novel with Difficult Choices – Blake: The Visual Novel – A Futuristic Thriller! – Pumpkin Eater: A Disturbing Tale of Death and Decay!