Sucker for Love: Date to Die For Review – Not All Hearts are Sacrificial

9.3/10

Somehow, despite everything, Sucker for Love: Date to Die For is monumentally above its predecessor and is elevated far beyond its premise. What should be a schlock romance/horror/comedy game that struggles to mean anything instead becomes shockingly poignant and effective at those three genres and more. This game's story, bolstered by great art, fantastic voice acting, and surprising writing, should not be as good as it is. But, believe it or not, it is worth your time.

I went in with low expectations for Sucker to Love: Date to Die For. You see, I used this review as an excuse to finally give the first — Sucker for Love: First Date — a chance. And, while I can’t say I hated it, I thought it was shallow and vapid, to say the least. The humor and references to the mythos I knew made me smirk sometimes, the three romance paths were compelling, and I appreciated the near-innocence of it (you just try to smooch the Eldritch abominations; things never go further than flirting.

But, despite those mild highs, the first game in the series was a shallow parody of visual novels and of horror tropes, with little in the way of gameplay, that undercut any romantic or horror elements with a thick layer of ironic humor. The game felt like it was constantly saying “isn’t it funny that we made this game?” Especially being fairly unfamiliar with visual novels, I felt like I didn’t get the joke… but also that the joke wasn’t that funny.

sucker for love date to die for review first game
This screenshot sums up most of the first game by itself.

I don’t want to disparage the first game: I enjoyed First Date. It’s characters were charming, its voice acting was great, and what few mechanical bits were there intrigued me. But, despite those, I had to take a deep breathe in order to prepare for more of the same immature “isn’t it funny that we made this game?” feel before launching Sucker for Love: Date to Die For.

Sucker for Love: Date to Die For is not more of the same. It is so much more than that.

And… I’m still reeling a bit from the shock of that. I did not expect to give the horror-romance-comedy visual novel about Eldritch gods who want to mate with humans a 9 out of 10. I just didn’t. I’m not a visual novel kinda person, and I usually prefer my romance, horror, and comedy played straight. Maybe allow the odd Cabin in the Woods to cross two of those genres, as a treat. In short, I didn’t expect Date to Die For to work for me, at all.

But, wow, it did. And I am still surprised. Everything about this game can be described as such: a surprise.

Let’s start at the beginning, shall we? Date to Die For begins in a libraryin the fictional town of Sacramen-Cho, where you are woken up by the librarian who, sweetly, checks on you. And then, the first big surprise (to me, at least — I went in blind to the advertising) occured: I’m no longer playing as a pathetic, nameless, hornball dude who is obsessed with the Eldritch and wants to smooch them (and yes, the hornball nature of his character does conflict with the chaste nature of these games, good catch). No, instead, I’m playing as Stardust, a woman of color, in search of her parents, with seemingly no knowledge of the occult whatsoever.

Not for the first time, I uttered aloud: “Huh.” Each time I did so, it would be more enthusiastic, but we’re starting off strong: a queer protagonist, then? I knew only that the main Eldritch creature this time would be a woman, so I supposed so.

sucker for love date to die for review main character
Stardust — erm, “Rhok’zan’s sweet gof’n hupadgh” — is one of the best protagonists I’ve played in a while

But, sure she is thirsty for the Eldritch horror the second she meets it, right? That was the joke of the first one; the way in which it parodied romance clichés and visual novels. So, yeah, this intro is strong. We meet an obviously romance-able side character (a Mean-Girls-esque blonde named Nanni), and then Stardust ends up having to flee from her (through “Missing Person Lane”) and escape to her grandmother’s house.

A second “Huh” escapes my mouth. We aren’t stuck in a single room anymore. We have a whole house. And, more than that, we have a deeper exploration of it. Now, in each room, we stand in the center and can turn 360°, and from there can interact with objects or go through doors. When we do, we approach the door, and then have to pull the handle and slide it open. It’s not complex, but it sure adds a lot: do you know how much horror mileage you can get out of pulling open door handles like that? Or of only being able to enter a room you can see 1/4 of? A lot. Certainly enough for the 5-or-so hours this game will take.

sucker for love date to die for review book

In fact, that brings me to one of the things that actually works: the horror. And listen, I’m an absolute horror goblin. I will play anything you put in front of me if you call it scary, and it will rarely make me jump. I’ll love it regardless of if the horror is scary, I just like the feeling. That said: somehow, Sucker for Love: Date to Die For is actually scary. The horror works. It isn’t the scariest game I’ve played, far from it, but I jumped more than once and consistently dreaded opening those doors or waiting for the time required for certain sequences. I play Outlast without flinching, and the eldritch goat mommy dating VN is the one that gets me, who would’ve thought?

Of course, players can also prevent this by turning on a setting to warn you about the jumpscares, so those who are shock-averse can also enjoy what else this game has to offer without issue. But, as a horror fan, it’s nice that the horror-themed dating sim is actually, ya know, a bit scary. That was a surprise.

My third “Huh” came as I summoned the Eldritch Goddess, the Black Goat of the Woods, the one who goes by Rhok’zan (pronounced Roxanne, and no, they don’t call attention to that). I already knew what to expect: I’d seen the promo art of this character, I’d played the first game, and I’m talking to a flirty fertility goddess who seems immediately smitten with my character’s stalwart morality. Time for smooches, right?

sucker for love date to die for review rhokzan
The SMOOCH bar is still there, but it is a bit slower-going and more meaningful this time

“Huh,” I say again as my character proudly asserts — to the glistening, thirsty, Hades-esque character model in front of me — that she thought “partner” meant, like, friend, and that she wasn’t really into her in that way.

Wait, what? The player character in the romance visual novel isn’t immediately attracted to the lust goddess? Essentially, the main character in this game whose predecessor was about being thirsty for Eldritch Gods was… well… Asexual? And that‘s a bold choice in this kind of game. And the right one. And so, It was right about then that I thought, “Oh, damn. This is gonna be great, isn’t it?”

This is a problem for me because (prepare for some “Inside Baseball”), as a very legitimate games journalist who takes themselves very seriously, I didn’t want to give this game too high of marks. I have a reputation to upkeep. I just gave a DLC for a zombie game an 8.3 and a clunky retro reboot an 8.5. But this? This is a silly, comedic dating game with a goofy premise. it’s a joke, right? Like, I can like it, but it’s not made to be adored, right? It’s made to generate some great memes and funny fan art, get a 7 out of 10 at the most, and be forgotten about. If I give this a high grade, then I might as well start giving games points for having just the right amount of water. I say all this so that you know I was still trying to resist, this game’s allure. But, like Rhok’zan, it’s just too alluring.

Now is a good time to mention the voice acting, by the way, and how it is absolutely incredible. The performances are just the right mix of earnestness with a dash of tongue-in-cheek fun, the delivery is on point, the writing is phenomenal (more on that later), and the sound editing for the dialog is great. Every character is has expertly delivered voice lines that tend to grow on you the longer they are around, and all the lines are delivered with just enough pulp and sincerity to sell the characters.

But, back to our adverture. Rhok’zan is as stunned as we are that we aren’t falling all over ourselves for her. Rest assured, this is a romance: we will fall for her. But it isn’t a romance in the way most VN’s (in fact, most media) is a romance. This one isn’t about lust, at all, but love. And a slow burn at that. Like it says on the tin (and, oh boy, that title carried more meaning than you think). And so this sequel rectifies that tonal error from the first: now, it makes perfect sense for our main hero to want smooches. Stardust is just fumbling through, trying to save Rhok’zan, who she slowly grows to care deeply for, and slowly learns to gently care for her.

sucker for love date to die for review in the mood
Perfection

And, let’s get to the writing: I didn’t expect to care about the characters here. I wasn’t ready. The first game didn’t have this: it was all light-hearted and self-parodying and just a goofy romp with some hot monster. My fourth “huh” came as I realized that I felt an actual emotion — one that deepened as I played — while Rhok’zan was telling me her history. It wasn’t just a little romantic spark, either; it was genuine heartbreak for her circumstances.

My fifth “huh” came a few minutes later, when Nanni — the woman I met earlier, who I ran from — was shot. She was a cultist, you see, and Stardust had managed to capture her and tie her up. She was blasted through the wall by a shotgun blast, fired by her (presumably ex) boyfriend, Buck, the game’s immortal, petty antagonist.

That got dark fast, I know. Caught me by surprise, too.

It wasn’t over, though: I could save her. I didn’t realize I could on the first playthrough, highlighting the game’s fantastic-but-simple checkpoint system that makes it easy to replay sections for alternate paths. But on that second playthrough, I saved her. I cast a fancy ritual and healed her, to my own disadvantage, and to Rhok’zan’s frustration.

I don’t want to spoil what happens next, but it’s worthwhile to see what the game is doing here: because — amongst everything else — the game also borrows from Undertale‘s playbook: all of your character’s deaths, and all the times they replay the game (with each chapter being slightly different in both premise and focus), are canon. They aren’t video game resets; they are Stardust doing it again.

And this adds so much that it’s hard to state. It gave me the same feeling that replaying Undertale segments to get the pacifist ending did (I would never do the genocide ending). Because my character learned and grew each time. Her relationship with Rhok’zan developed, as did Rhok’zan’s hope and joy. Her love for the world progressed, as did the surprisingly tight plot and character arcs. And the themes developed: themes of compassion and goodness, expressed in a surprisingly effective and earnest way.

sucker for love date to die for review empathy

This game is supposed to be about trying to smooch the older goat monster, but it’s somehow a lot more than that. And, by doing so, it makes that romantic part just hit all the more. The characters learn and grow from each other, and fall for each other. And not just in a sexual, lustful way that you’d expect — remember, the main character seems to be some shade of asexual — but in a genuine, human way. There is romantic love between Stardust and Rhok’zan, but also a more platonic love between Stardust and the cultists she fights to rescue, and a familial love hinted at throughout by Rhok’zan’s many references to her family.

This shouldn’t be as good as it is. Not only that, but it should know it. Date to Die For should be making fun of itself, of its absurd premise, like the first game! But, instead, it plays that part staight — oh, sure, there is plenty of humor (and it mostly lands) — but none of it undermines the core experience. It takes this premise — this thing that even the developers themselves couldn’t take seriously a few years ago with First Date — and it takes it seriously.

When I realized that, and I don’t know at what point that was, I am sure I “huh’d” a final time.

I completed this game. 100%. I don’t generally do that for reviews, I rarely need to. It helps that the game is short, and that there aren’t that many branching paths, but… I didn’t need to see the subpar endings and check to make sure that doing rituals out of order didn’t yield more game. I didn’t need to listen without skipping to every piece of dialogue. I could’ve been done with this game a lot faster, if it wasn’t for the fact that I didn’t want it to end.

sucker for love date to die for review mission select
There aren’t tons of branching paths, but they are fun to explore nontheless

What can I say? I loved it. My soft, sensitive heart was not expecting this game to even go near it, much less puncture it. And I laughed. And I was scared a few times. And there was even a bit of real challenge at the end there.

And, about that ending. What an ending… Everything set up is paid off. Everything presented is made warmer, and all the themes and ideas and feelings come home to roost. For a game where the cold, cosmic nothingness of space is a core motif, the ending — the one after the credits, which you should stick around for — was warm and personal. Even the callbacks to the first game, brief and packed in at the end, are effective, making me almost forget how shallow it was.

I’m not an officianado of visual novels. In fact, I’ve even written before about my distaste for the genre before, when I said that Goodbye, Volcano High might prove that I could enjoy visual novels. And, when Goodbye, Volcano High came and went and left almost no impression on me, I thought that was it for the genre for me. Turns out, though, I was wrong. Of all games, it is Sucker For Love: Date to Die For that won me over.

the sucker for love date to die for review review end
When you get it, you’ll get it.

Now, before my cynicism breaks through and I feel compelled to save face by pretending I wasn’t moved by this game (and yes, I’m still in shock about that), let me wrap up this saccharine review: somehow, despite everything, Sucker for Love: Date to Die For is a must-play game, especially for anyone with as sappy a heart as I. In fact, that little phrase neatly summarizes a lot of the game, and is the reason you should play it: “Somehow, despite everything…”

After you do so, you’ll see what I mean.

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Graves
Graves

Graves is an avid writer, web designer, and gamer, with more ideas than he could hope to achieve in a lifetime. But, armed with a mug of coffee and an overactive imagination, he'll try. When he isn't working on a creative project, he is painting miniatures, reading cheesy sci-fi novels, or making music.

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