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AlexChurchill has been asked by a few people for DatingSim recommendations.  So here you go.  Note: this page refers slightly wider than just strictly dating games.  But they are all "Renai games" - i.e. games primarily or strongly concerned with romantic love.  The games mentioned here are all English-language only, for fairly obvious reasons

Also, unfortunately, it does need to be pointed out that most of the games mentioned contain some form of sex scene or other.  We're still waiting for pretty much *any* Renai games to be translated to English which are without H scenes (see mention of Hirameki on the main DatingSim page).  So, unfortunately, if you want to get the sweet romantic anime storylines, you have to put up with one or more sex scenes.  (It's not like sex scenes are rare in popular Western media like movies or novels; but they're far from universal either! So it's so irritating that no company will translate anything non-H... :(  )

AlexChurchill's Top 4


The 4 games I most recommend are called SeasonOfTheSakura?, Casual Romance Club, Kana ~Little Sister~, and Mizuiro.  More on each of them follows, with a small section at the end on other games.

SeasonOfTheSakura?


Style: VisualNovel. Girls: 8.  Graphics: 6/10, Story: 7/10, Romance: 9/10

One of AlexChurchill's all-time favourites.  It's a sweet, romantic and absorbing game, set in contemporary Japan without any fantasy or sci-fi.  You guide the main character through his first year at high school, meeting a variety of girls at school, getting to know and love them, and hopefully getting one of them to fall in love with him.  Because it takes place over the course of a year, the writers are able to skip straight past a lot of the drudgery of school life, and show us the most evocative and romantic bits :)

It's broadly a VisualNovel, because there's no real branches to the plot, although each girl does have her own story and cute romantic scenes with her.  Being an older game, there are no voices or sound effects, and the music is just MIDIs.  Honesty and a futile attempt at unbiasedness requires me to point out that even the graphics are looking dated by modern standards, because they're all in just 256 colours.  But they set the scene for the romantic moments, which is their purpose, and the characters are as sweet and involving as ever.  A lot of the characters are strongly based on the main female characters from MagicKnightsRayearth?, NeonGenesisEvangelion and KaitouSaintTail?AlexChurchill owns it (legally) on CD for any Win32 system, and could lend it to people.

There is a little bit of sex - it's not a game for kids - but the focus is hugely on the characters and romantic everyday situations.  Anyone playing this for the H scenes would be disappointed.  But if you play it for the sweet romantic comedy like I did, you'll find a classic :)

Casual Romance Club


Style: True dating.  Girls: 12.  Graphics: 8/10, Story: 7/10, Romance: 9.5/10

This is another excellent game, challenging and entertaining.  Each day for a month you go along to the after-school Casual Romance Club, held in a cafe, to chat to the girls - mainly from you school, but not all - and see if any of them are interested in a casual romance or more.  Each day you choose up to three girls; make one or two choices in conversation with each girl; and can either then leave it at that, or leave the club with her to carry on chatting outside, or ask her for a date at the weekend.  The private chats are usually just "get to know you" times, but the choices you make in conversation will often have huge effect on what that girl thinks of you, and whether she'll agree to go out with you if you ask.  Each girl has her own story and personality, of course, and the huge appeal from this game comes from the sheer fun of getting to know these 12 different girls, and trying to say and do the right things to get one of them to be your girlfriend at the end of the Club's month-long existence.  (Hence the 7/10 story rating: there's almost no overarching plot, but it's for the stories of each individual girl put together.)

Will only run on Win2000 or WinXP, because it's a Japanese-manufactured game, although the English translation is excellent.  Has the neat feature that you can switch on simultaneous display of the Japanese text as well as the English.  Some of the dialogue is voiced, including all the weekend dates and evening introspective moments, but mostly not the chats in the cafe which make up the bulk of the game.


Kana ~Imouto~


Style: VisualNovel.  Graphics: 7/10, Story: 10/10, Romance: 6/10

This is a completely plot-driven game.  It's a VisualNovel pure and simple, but with a magnificent involving story.  It's not a light and fluffy ride, though.  The main theme is that Kana, your little sister of the title, is deathly ill.  Most of the game takes place in flashback to your childhood growing up together with Kana and the boys and girls at school, and some of the people at the hospital Kana's been at ever since she was little.  A very evocative and heart-wrenching story, given extra power by the knowledge that your actions will decide which of the six endings comes to pass.

This is another game AlexChurchill owns on CD, recommends, and could lend to people.  I should say I wasn't keen at all on the art style at first, but others have said they markedly prefer this art to more conventional style.


Mizuiro (Water Blue)


Style: VisualNovel.  Girls: 5 in original Japanese game, only 1 girl's scenario translated.  Graphics: 8/10, Story: 9/10, Romance: 9/10

I can't really provide a complete impression of this game because I've only played one girl's scenario, because that's all that's been translated to English by the fan-translators at www.ayashii.com.  But that one scenario is wonderful.  It's uplifting, romantic, at times silly, at times heart-aching.  Those who're looking for lots of interaction will be disappointed - it's the standard VisualNovel "make a few choices over the course of the whole plot" deal.  You play this for the story (or cute girl/s) or not at all, although "the story" includes both the absorbing plot and the wonderful tranquil storytelling style.

There's a freely downloadable prologue called "Mizuiro ~Chocolate~", which is itself sweet and worth watching, at http://www.ayashii.com/mizuiro/trans.html .  One thing this game should be noted for is providing an "all ages mode" by contrast with "18+ mode", basically allowing you to switch off the (single, obligatory, unnecessary) sex scene. 

Other Games


Okay, beyond those four, some other noteworthy bishoujo games:

True Love


Style: Life sim.  Girls: ?10?  Graphics: 5/10, Story: 3/10, Romance: 8/10
Another "slice of life" type HighSchoolRomance game like SeasonOfTheSakura?. But the game style is very different: rather than showing you twelve-ish "episodes" over the course of a year, this game gives you a few choices each day for three months.  Your character has a set of "ratings" at sports, art, study, fashion sense, tiredness, and each day you choose two or three actions which will increase or decrease these elements.  There are a number of girls you meet, mostly at school, but some other places too.  Some of them are straightforward "I'll only go out with you if you have high enough sports / study / art / appearance" ratings (plus of course saying the right things in conversation with them); others require more subtle approaches.  The main character you play is an irritating terminally dodgy bloke, but somehow seems to avoid completely putting off all the girls despite this :) But there are a number of sweet romantic scenes, although quite a number of ecchi bits too.

This game is widely regarded as one of the classic English-language DatingSims?, and the gameplay style is apparently the closest that an English-language game comes to the classic Japanese DatingSims? like TokimekiMemorial.  It's been out of print for about 6 years, though, and is nigh-impossible to buy (despite what the [Underdogs page] says), even second-hand.  I shall make no comment about how I played it.

Snow Drop and Tokimeki Check-In


Snow Drop: Style: Adventure / wander-about.  Girls: 5.  Graphics: 9/10, Story: 7/10, Romance: 4/10
Tokimeki Check-In: Style: Dating / wander-about.  Girls: 10.  Graphics: 9/10, Story: 5/10, Romance: 7/10
I lump these together because they share a number of characteristics.  On the good side, both games are sweet and well-polished stories, with full voicing for every female character, and a smooth and very usable interface (something rather lacking in some other games).  The gameplay for both is quite similar too, and contains what I'd consider the major bad point to each game.  The play consists of making a series of choices about where to go or what to do, from a selection of known locations.  And each of these options will move you towards the true plot (SD) or getting together with one of the girls (TCI)... but you are given no clue which option will do what.  For example, in TCI at one point you get the choice between going to the mountains or the lake.  It turns out that one of these helps you towards Mai and the other towards Kyoka.  But on a different occasion, the exact same pair of choices is in fact a choice between Kumi and Natsuki.  And there's not a hope of knowing which except by playing through repeatedly and taking notes.  Gggrrr.

However.  If you can reconcile yourself to playing a game where you have to take notes on which choices do what, and use many playthrus or lots of save-and-reload to get anywhere: both games are rather sweet.  Snow Drop has one main plot which you have to work out the right actions to take for the first half of the game to get to the true story, but it does tell that evocative mysterious story well.  Tokimeki Check-In has no overarching story, just a lot of pretty girls to get to know, but they are mostly well-developed characters with strengths and weaknesses, hopes and fears, and often surprisingly romantic storylines.

It should be noted too, though, that both games are smothered with fanservice and have a number of sex scenes.  You'd need a tolerance of fanservice equivalent to that required to watch PoPoTan to be able to get to the romance in these games... a quality which AlexChurchill seems to have been dubiously blessed with, having managed to not even notice most of the fanservice in IMyMeStrawberryEggs for months until other people pointed it out to him.

Brave Soul


Style: Fantasy CRPG with dating elements.  Girls: 4, plus at least 1 secret character.  Graphics: 6/10, Story: 7/10, Romance: 7/10
I mention this here because it's very different to most English-language Renai games available.  It's a fantasy RPG with Renai elements.  I found it most reminiscent of FinalFantasyTactics, except that the combats aren't tactical but SecretOfMana?-style.  The dating elements start off minimal, but come to dominate the later game (the manual tells you it has 8 endings).  The missions are fantastically varied: lots of dungeon exploration, but also a variety of town-based missions, some like "Find some high-quality food for the chef of a new restaurant" or "Find this person.  How?  You'll have to ask around in bars" (and follow the trail of clues).  Decent replayability - a reasonable number of secrets, despite the dungeons not having the CRPG standard of treasure chests scattered around semi-hidden locations.  And at least 3 options are only unlocked upon completing the game once... and I know from what people have said online that there's yet more I've not seen :)

And it has the elements that loads of us wished were in ChronoTrigger or FinalFantasy: the actions you take with certain characters on your party really does affect what those characters think of you (and vice versa: the more a girl loves you, the more useful she'll be in adventures).  The girls have fairly well-developed characters with motives and foibles, although you have to advance each girl's story to find out much about them.  Advance it too far, though, and you get the obligatory sex scene.  Your choice.  It may be that you have to go "all the way" with a girl to get her ending.

The graphics are curiously retro - they look just like a 2D sprite-based RPG like FinalFantasy 6.  The normal in-game graphics are a little lacking in variety, and it does feel odd for a 2003 PC game to have SNES RPG graphics.  But the graphic style doesn't detract from the characters, story or gameplay which a number of those are known for.  Naturally, when the characters actually talk, you get a window showing their current expression - you don't have to rely on the 16px of face their sprite has :)  Most of the game is fully voiced as well, including at last a voice for the main male character.

The cutscenes are excellent, though, which is helped by the fact that the characters are by the same designer as those of ScrappedPrincess. (Which is how come he isn't guilty of blatantly stealing 2 or 3 of them :) )

The combat like I said is SecretOfMana?-style realtime.  You control swordsman-sama, and the other characters auto-fight and auto-cast spells or use healing potions - you can specify broad strategies for them.  You move around by clicking the map... in combination with holding down Ctrl for "auto-fight" and Tab for "speed up gameplay by 6x", this makes dungeon exploring quite effortless (except for the occasional ones which are either maze-style, or contain monsters tough enough to kill you on auto-fight so you have to actually do the combat yourself).

AlexChurchill highly recommends the game, anyway.  Will probably move it to my "top 4" list above once I've got more than 2 endings.

So this game is in English?  And for...  PlayStation?  PC? --K
Hmm, good point.  All the games I've mentioned on this page are in English and on PC. :) --AC

That would be [this] Brave Soul, I take it? - MoonShadow
Yep, that's the one.  Official page [here], which is fractionally more work safe.  You do have to take the liberally-sprinkled labels of "hentai" with a large pinch of salt... my first playthru of Brave Soul took 15-20 hours, during which there was one sex scene more than 2/3 of the way through.  The translators think that sex is all that sells these games, so they hype up to ridiculous proportions whatever amounts any game may contain, no matter how tiny.  --AlexChurchill''


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