This past week I’ve been watching a twisted reality show called The Ultimatum: Marry or Move On. Couples break up, date someone else, and then decide if they want to marry their original partner, the person they just met, or just walk away entirely. I’m not proud of it, but I fell for The Ultimatum‘s toxic spell and watched way too many episodes into the early morning hours. The show shocks and hooks me, solely because its depiction of love is so jaded, saddening, and enshrouded in a callous chamber of dating in a digital age.
As I was in the depths of reality TV darkness, I had the chance to try the latest ValiDate demo on PC. After playing through all of its routes, I can tell you this visual novel is shaping up to be a beacon that breaks through monotonous apathy and showcases strikingly real relationships with a cast of queer, black, and brown characters that historically do not get their stories told in video games.
ValiDate is an upcoming relationship-focused visual novel that follows the stories of about a dozen young adults in the fictional Jercy City, who are dating around and figuring out their baggage. It utilizes a format of casual dating sim that calls back to recent titles like Monster Prom or Boyfriend Dungeon. One of ValiDate‘s shining features is that all of its scenes are beautifully tangible. I’ve either been on a similar date, or my friends have and then raved about it afterward. When streaming services hit us with a constant volley of exploitative, cruel reality TV shows that manufacture drama for memes and binge clicks, it’s encouraging to see a piece of media like ValiDate. It makes earnest space for love, mistakes, and meaningful bonds forged on the journey for connection.
You select your character and make choices for them as you progress through each distinct route. There was an amusing ValiDate demo a couple of years back that introduced the cast and selection-focused gameplay, and it’s nice to see ValiDate‘s vision become even clearer as it approaches launch. The ambiance-setting tunes, lifelike dialogue, crisp character models, and expressive backdrops all radiate a well-deserved confidence. This new Streamer’s Demo gives a sneak peek at three routes: Malik’s mixtape revenge arc, Inaya and their edible misadventures, and Isabelle’s unsure date at Pink Lobster.
Isabelle’s route stands out because she’s such a lucid, buzzing character, and the writing is patient. It slows down and gives you front row tickets to see her indecisively bounce potential outcomes back and forth in her mind like the final round of a brain cell ping pong tournament.
When you arrive on your date with Malik, a flood of uncertain thoughts flows between the small talk, which makes for convincing conversation right off the bat. Throughout the date Isabelle learns a lot about herself: her innate hesitation, the unspoken suffocation of a full family house, and the fact that she is an unapologetic theater nerd. Even though the two have a spark, Isabelle clashes with Malik’s cool (and corny) boyish charm, and the internal dialogue during those moments of discord is written well.
While ordering seafood, Isabelle makes a bad joke and is offended that the zoned-out Malik didn’t notice. After she waves her hand in front of his face to grab his attention, he smirks and says, “Oh, shit. Sorry, I was too lost in your eyes. You are so beautiful, queen.” Isabelle understandably makes the most repulsed expression before ignoring his cringe comment and staying polite to salvage their night. I love this moment because that’s what dating is: finding out what excites you, what repels you, and what you don’t care about because the other person is just so special.
From this moment, Isabelle is confused and channeling a soul-screaming angst: she doesn’t know what she wants. Her ever-changing objective makes this route all about uncertainty and the push and pull of personalities. And it shows ValiDate’s crystal clear understanding of its characters and the inconvenient and awkward romantic situations that help them grow.
Relationships aren’t always easy, and the latest ValiDate demo exhibits this with all three character routes. It can be shaky or fleeting, and it’s nice to see that honestly represented. The cast of characters also proves that it isn’t hard to tell marginalized stories, you just have to genuinely want to. ValiDate releases in August on Switch, Steam, Itch.io, and Xbox. For the time being, you can get lost in the free demo here.