It's pretty amazing to look at how video game medium has evolved, not just in terms of graphics and technology, but in regards to the types of games that are out there. Basically, there's a video game analogue to any interest that people have. One of the major areas in which this has grown is with the genre of dating sim games.
There's something deeply simple, but addictive, to the concept of finding a virtual love interest for a character. It's an experience that's inherently human and as time has gone on, dating sims have only become more creative and adventurous. The concept has even slowly invaded other genres and become increasingly normalized. Accordingly, Here Are 20 Dating Sims We Can’t Stop Playing (Don’t Tell Our Girlfriends).
20 Hatoful Boyfriend
Hatoful Boyfriend is kind of the epitome of how ridiculous dating sims have become. This is a game where you date pigeons and are a human that attends an all-bird school. Clearly meant to be somewhat satirical in nature, Hatoful Boyfriend still plays into conventions and becomes a satisfying experience. It even inexplicably turns into a dark murder mystery and continues to be unpredictable with every development.
19 Dream Daddy: A Dad Dating Simulator
It's weird to think that without the advent of social media and rampant memes, some bizarre games might not be nearly as possible. Dream Daddy: A Dad Dating Simulator almost seems like it became popular as a joke or out of collective curiosity. A game where you set out to date the perfect "daddy" shouldn't be this successful or this much fun, but the game knows what it's doing and makes it work.
18 Fire Emblem Fates
The Fire Emblem games have strangely shifted from one of Nintendo's more niche franchises that didn't fare well out of Japan, to one of their heaviest hitters (injecting the characters into Smash Bros certainly didn't hurt either). The Fire Emblem games are strategy and tactical titles, but the Fire Emblem Fates games and Awakening decide to heavily embrace the dating sim genre. It's fundamental to the titles and it makes for an interesting mix with the typically more action-oriented gameplay.
17 Sweet Fuse: At Your Side
Sony's PlayStation Portable handheld device had a number of hidden gems that few people actually got to enjoy. Sweet Fuse: At Your Side takes an especially creative approach to dating sims, largely in regards to who the game's main character is. You control Saki Inafune, the niece of video game developer, Keiji Inafune. Sweet Fuse is a dating sim, but it also ropes in a great mystery full of suspense where Keiji is held hostage and he needs to be rescued, lest a theme park explodes.
16 Harvest Moon
Harvest Moon has become one of the most popular series out there. It's spanned many platforms across generations and inspired a myriad of other titles in the process. Admittedly, Harvest Moon is not solely a dating sim— it’s a farming sim— but the romance aspect is a major component of the game and helped define the series. Harvest Moon subtly brought the dating sim genre to audiences without them realizing it.
15 Emily Is Away
Emily is Away is a game that hearkens back to the simple times of the 1990s and incessant online instant messaging. The game has you engage with a romantic prospect, Emily, via an instant messenger and as the title progresses you learn more about Emily's lot. In the end, Emily is Away may qualify more as a visual novel or odd experiment since the final result cannot be changed and dating sims are all about variety and choices. That being said, due to the game's subject matter and the mindset that it puts you in, it seems like it should be allowed.
14 Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love
Sega's Sakura Taisen series struggled to find a home outside of Japan, but has now grown into a popular series in North America. The series of games are typically tactical titles about protecting the Earth, but to keep things fresh, each game in the series tends to throw a new genre into the mix. The fifth title in the series, Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love delivers a unique bend on typical dating sims and also uses it to celebrate the cast of the series.
13 Feel The Magic: XY/XX
Sega decided to take an interesting approach to the dating sim genre with their Feel the Magic and Rub Rabbits DS games. These titles structure the concept of a dating sim around a compilation of mini-games that revolve around romance. It's also just super weird that your elite suave squad in the game are known as "rub rabbits."
12 Neon Genesis Evangelion: Shinji Ikari Raising Project
Neon Genesis Evangelion is one of the best, strangest, and most depressing anime series of all time and now with the series on Netflix, all sorts of new audiences can experience it. Due to the emotional depths and existential crises that Evangelion reaches, a dating sim isn't the first idea for a game that comes to mind. In spite of that, both Shinjo Ikari Raising Project and Girlfriend of Steel 2nd take that approach as they explore Shinji's life during the bizarre alternate reality that exists during the show's final episodes.
11 Eiyuu Senki: The World Conquest
Eiyuu Senki: The World Conquest is yet another video game that combines the sensibilities of a turn-based tactical war title with a dating sim. This clash of styles works, but what's even more interesting about The World Conquest is that it pairs real-life history with sexualized sensationalism. The World Conquest sets the stage for all-out combat, but it curiously takes all of the most important and ferocious world leaders and turns them into beautiful maidens who are after your heart.
10 Mitsumete Knight
The 1990s might have introduced much more simplistic takes on the dating sim genre than more modern titles, but they helped put these kind of titles on the map. Mitsumete Knight shares a lot in common with Tokimeki Memorial, but it mixes things up by replacing the modern high school setting with a medieval backdrop that also works in complex politics and magical fantasy elements. The results were a very unusual dating sim vehicle from the '90s.
9 Doki Doki Literature Club!
Doki Doki Literature Club! is fairly brilliant for how much it defies expectations and plays with misdirection. The game begins like almost every dating sim or visual novel does. A number of girls are trying to give their after school literature club legitimacy, but as the game goes on it slowly becomes more of an unnerving psychological horror game. Each girl is hiding major secrets and as everything comes to light, the game goes in some very surprising directions.
HuniePop is a deeply simple premise, but one that works surprisingly well. Available in both a censored and uncensored version, the game looks at the same type of romantic conquest that most of these games do. However, HuniePop combines a dating sim with a tile-matching puzzle game. These tile-matching exercises are how dates play out and it's a great way to get creative with the genre.
Clannad is your standard dating sim they deals with a beleaguered protagonist and five prospective love interests. Clannad follows familiar beats, but it's due to its well developed characters that the series has found such success. Clannad has been spun off into various other styles of games and it's even been blessed with an anime series adaptation. If you're a Clannad fan there are plenty of ways for you to get your fix.
6 ACE Academy
Slice of life games can be incredibly difficult to do right. Their entire point is to stay casual and resemble everyday life, but at the same time the game needs to be engaging. It's a tricky balance to find. When it comes to the title, ACE Academy, it's arguably more of a slice of life title than an outright dating sim. However, dating is integral to the game. It's also one of the better examples of how to do a slice of life game right and the humor in the game actually lands.
5 Lucy -The Eternity She Wished For-
Lucy –The Eternity She Wished For- takes a very basic pivot from the standard dating sim formula, but creates a massively emotional and impactful story in the process. Rather than the protagonist's romantic suitor being human, she's instead an android. This opens a slew of moral dilemmas about free will, identity, and the nature of love that go to some very deep places. Rather than the android aspect making this game less human, it actually makes it a more empathetic experience.
4 Tokimeki Memorial: Forever With You
A popular dating sim series by Konami, Tokimeki Memorial: Forever With You is a remake of the first game in the series. Forever With You is notable for how it introduces the "bomb" element to the game, wherein girls that you've ignored will begin to gossip and lower your rating with other girls. This forces you to keep these girls appeased and it becomes quite complex. The game also allows the protagonist to confess his love at the end of the game instead of waiting for a suitor to come to you.
3 If My Heart Had Wings
Aiming high and having fantastical goals is often prevalent in dating sim titles. The games feature a lot of dreamers who would rather focus on fantasy than their pedestrian lives. If My Heart Had Wings is a depressing, sobering experience that centers around emotional and physical loss. The characters in the game are vulnerable and weak, but their goal to soar the skies is beautiful.
2 Everlasting Summer
Everlasting Summer comes courtesy of a Russian developer and that minor difference majorly informs this dating sim. The game embraces Russian history and uses it to its advantage as it tells the story of a 25 year-old man who finds himself magically transported from modern Russia to a summer camp back in the Soviet Union. It's a staggering experience, but one that speaks to how a simple change in location can make such a difference.
A strange Nintendo DS title, LovePlus hasn't been released out if Japan, but it has s notorious reputation. LovePlus features a typical high school narrative and focuses more on immersion than originality. This may just seem like your standard dating sim, but LovePlus gained international attention in 2009 when a man in Japan for real married his virtual partner from the game. Clearly it must be addicting.
These are all of the strangest and most addictive variations on dating sims that we've come across, but there are even more out there. Now's your chance to sound off over your favorites in the comments below!
Sources: MyAnimeList.net, Ranker.com, IGN.com