A common debate you’ll find in the visual novel community is what qualifies as a dating sim. For example, there are some who argue that stat-building is critical to have in a dating sim. Others believe that every game with dating is a dating sim. Today, I want to discuss dating sims and what qualifies as one in my eyes.
Down to the Basics: What’s a Dating Sim?
Dating sims, also known as dating simulators, are dialog-heavy with a focus on time management. Time management can mean anything in regards to dating sims. It could mean spending time with a certain someone or trying to level up a certain stat. The goal of the game is to be in a relationship with your chosen character, so you have to be careful when choosing choices and how you spend your time. Spending your time unwisely could lock you out of the romance route or ending.
Is Stat-Building Required?
As I mentioned earlier, there are fans of the genre who believe dating sims require an element of stat building. Otherwise, it’s a visual novel and not a dating sim. Wikipedia defines a difference between the two.
While the two genres often share a common visual presentation, dating sims are considered to be more statistically based, whereas visual novels focus on telling a branching story.Wikipedia
However, CLANNAD is considered a dating sim despite it lacking a stat-building mechanic. Dream Daddy: A Dad Dating Simulator doesn’t have stats either, despite having “dating sim” in its title. After all, the entire point of both these games and many others are to win someone’s heart. In place of the stat-building is the time management aspect. You have to spend enough time with your love interest in order to get on their route. From there, you need to make the correct choices in order to get their good ending.
In my opinion, games don’t need stats in order to qualify as a dating sim. Yes, despite what Wikipedia tells me, I firmly believe stat-building isn’t needed.
Then What Is Required for a Game to Be Considered a Dating Sim?
Now, what is a dating simulator? Can it be any regular romance game? Is Code: Realize a dating simulator? Well, in order to answer that question, we need to remember that dating sims are simulation games.
If you’ve played simulation games, you will know that there’s a focus on gameplay. There’s something for the player to do outside of reading text and making choices.
This gameplay could take many forms. For example, there could be minigames like there are in Dream Daddy, or there could be something else like time management, which is what the Wikipedia definition mentions.
With time management, the player will have to complete a certain tasks within a period of time in order to carry on with the game.
So, let’s form a fake scenario. You want to become closer to a girl named Hanako. The game will create a set of tasks for you to do in order to get closer to her. That could be making sure you get good grades on a test, talking to her friends in order to learn more about Hanako, and earning enough money to buy something she will like. After being given these tasks, you have to choose what you do over a course of a few weeks. This can be considered the gameplay, as you go through each day planning out what you’re going to do until the next story event.
A perfect example of a dating simulator is Roseverte’s dUpLicity ~Beyond the Lies~. In the screenshot below, you will see that the player has a list of options to choose from. They can have the main character learn gossip which can help with research, study in order to impress someone, talk to either Youji or Kouichi, or sleep for the day. Clearly, you need to get close to the guys, so talking to them is important. However, you can’t just talk to them. It isn’t enough and you’ll get a bad ending. So, you have to do a mixture of everything while also keeping in mind your character has to rest. If she doesn’t, you will spend a day or more sick, losing out on precious time.
So, let’s get back to my earlier question. Is Code: Realize a dating sim? Unfortunately, no, it isn’t, and that’s because it doesn’t have any gameplay. If it had gameplay, then I might be able to consider it one.
I wasn’t made aware of this debate until I was contacted by a peer about it. It wasn’t something I ever really thought about until now. I considered most otome games that I played dating sims because, well, there was a focus on romance. However, as I did my research and consulted with my editor on this and learned her opinion on the matter, my thoughts shifted.
However, I think it’s important to note that just because Code: Realize can’t be considered a dating sim doesn’t mean it’s a bad game! Their exclusion from the dating sim genre doesn’t devalue it or other romance visual novels whatsoever. It’s a good thing that dating sims and romance games are separated into their own categories because that way, these games will be able to shine on even more.