Video games have made pretty steady progress into the cultural mainstream. Even people who aren’t gamers themselves can at least see the entertainment potential of a Mario title with its breezy fun, or the sweeping adventure of a Final Fantasy.
A genre many people have a harder time wrapping their heads around, though, is the dating simulator. Sure, driving games like Gran Turismo let us tune and race cars so expensive we can’t even talk the dealer into giving us a test drive in real life. And while Japan does have a royal family with princesses, the country’s lack of fire-breathing dragons means our chances of having to pick up sword and shield to go rescue them are slim, at best. But a game about going on dates? Couldn’t we just, like, ask someone out in real life?
Apparently some developers feel the same way, and have decided to spice up their dating sims with scenarios that take full advantage of video games’ unique style of escapism.
Behind every successful dating sim lies at least one well-crafted character for the player to fall in love with. Love Plus, considered by many to be the gold standard of the category, has a sheltered rich girl, loner library assistant, schoolmate who’s a year ahead of the main character and watches out for him, and a cute, feminine type. With a girl to meet just about anyone’s preferences, Love Plus has became a best-seller. But Aliciasoft’s similarly-titled Paca Plus has something even Love Plus doesn’t in its character roster.
Paca Plus is the story of high school student Kazuma (controlled by the player) and his girlfriend Yukari. One day, while they’re out on a date, Kazuma dozes off for a moment. When he wakes up and looks to where Yukari was sitting, this is what he sees:
Yup, it seems that while Kazuma was taking a little nap, his girlfriend was transformed into an alpaca. Not one to let this get her down, Yukari doggedly (alpaca-edly?) continues to go about her daily life, which includes practicing the violin
riding the train
and participating in gym class.
One Internet commentator reacted to the game’s premise with, “An alpaca isn’t a dull, ordinary animal like a dog or cat, so I think the game shows a lot of promise.”
He might have a point. After all, Yukari used to be human, so maybe it’s really not that weird.
Except no, it is exactly that weird.
Observers of games with borderline bestiality may be reminded of 2011’s Hatoful Boyfriend. Hatoful Boyfriend is what they call an otome game in Japan, meaning that it’s a dating sim for girls, where the main character is romanced by a group of dreamy guys. “Hatoful” sounds a little bit like the Japanese pronunciation of “heartful.” So why not just call it Heartful Boyfriend? We’ll get to that in a minute.
The main character of the game is a high school girl attending the prestigious Saint Pigeonation Academy. All of the potential boyfriends she meets have gallant sounding names like Ryota Kawara and Sakuya Shirogane. As for whether their looks are quite as impressive, here’s half-French, half-Japanese Sakuya:
and kind-hearted Ryota, who passes on joining any clubs at school to work part-time to help his family make ends meet:
Yes, all of the students at Saint Pigeonation Academy are pigeons (hato in Japanese). And not even shapeshifters or mutants or anything like that. Seriously, straight-up pigeons. Perhaps the most baffling member of the cast is Kosan, not because his great ambition in life is to find some really good pudding. It’s because he’s somehow the captain of the track and field team, in a school where literally every student can fly.
Of course, not all girls go for guys with the slender build of a bird. Is there a dating sim that offers them a male lead with a little more meat on his bones?
Yes, there is. It’s called Jurassic Heart, and here we see its love interest, Taira.
Originally developed in English, the recently released game also has a Japanese language version. Jurassic Heart follows its main character as she goes shopping with the somewhat bashful Taira, who is looking to replace his broken ukulele.
Internet reactions to the game have ranged from the predictable (Hilarious” and “I don’t even know where to begin”) to the heartfelt (“Taira is just way too cool!”).
Honestly, this game frightens us. It could be that the tyrannosaurus is an inherently scary killing machine, but it could also be that once we see the start of this love story that crosses the gap between species (not to mention eras of history), we won’t be able to put it down until we see how it ends.