ValiDate: Struggling Singles In Your Area, is a fun, down-to-earth, and inclusive dating sim game from Veritable Joy Studios with plenty to entertain you. You can play as four characters of different ethnicities, gender identities, and body types. Moreover, each character has multiple routes, which have multiple endings determined by your choices.
Set in the fictional Jercy City, ValiDate begins by having you choose a character to play as: Malik, Isabelle, Inaya, or Ehmari. You’re then thrust into things as you learn what they are about, what makes them tick, and how they can choose to navigate dates. As a visual novel game, you’ll be doing a lot of reading, but the characters are so compelling that you won’t mind.
For instance, Inaya is a fat queer Pakistani and food vlogger with body image and self-esteem issues. Yet, her route doesn’t fall into any of the pitfalls associated with fat people, such as dieting or an “inspirational” weight loss story. Instead, her route is more about learning to socialize and make connections despite her personal struggles.
As you play through each route, it becomes increasingly apparent that this game is less about finding romance than finding the companionship that works for you. There are multiple endings, ranging from forming new friendships to bad casual sex. These aren’t necessarily right or wrong, but rather based on self-sabotaging or self-improvement.
Both the choices and the endings are reflective of how complicated the characters are. They aren’t perfect in the slightest because they have issues and unlikable traits. However, it is the messiness of the characters that make them relatable. With Inaya, she displays symptoms of undiagnosed anxiety that seem to stem from being online too much and her familial expectations. She is never shamed for her issues, but she also doesn’t get to unload them on others without consequences.
When you play as one character, you also get glimpses of the other characters in the game’s cast, such as gamer girl Ashlie Kohlum or divorcee Ehmari. This allows you to see a character’s backstory from different perspectives, which adds depth to the narrative and overall gameplay. It also builds anticipation for the next installments of the game, since ValiDate only features one volume so far and intends to have thirteen playable characters in all.
One other character that was pleasant to interact with was Yolanda, a beautiful Black woman who is a poet and also a bit of a people pleaser. The people-pleasing aspect results in a nervous yet eager makeout that causes Inaya and Yolanda to really consider what they want from each other.
Besides the character’s backstories and the narrative, there are other aspects of the game that make it pleasant to play. As mentioned earlier, the characters are pretty diverse and this is highlighted through their designs, which have colorful and homely aesthetics that flatter each character’s personality. The settings for each date route are enjoyable, ranging from a poetry slam to a fashion magazine office. A particularly welcome feature is the ability to skip directly to a good or bad ending, which saves you time if you are replaying a route. Accessibility options are a welcome sight as well, with content warnings and the ability to increase the font size among those featured.
Another navigation issue involves seeing conversation or narrative text that you miss. If you select on the cell phone symbol, you can see the story beats you missed by clicking what looks like a chat message symbol. However, when you return to the game itself, you may find that the story has progressed without you. Although the game does have the option to “rewind” the text that you read, it doesn’t go back very far.
A workaround for the navigation issues mentioned is simply manually saving the game during specific parts of the story. This way, you simply load up your save and then maybe skip to certain choices to get where you want to be in a route. It is worth noting that there are multiple save slots available for doing so.
ValiDate: Struggling Singles in Your Area is an entertaining dating sim about finding companionship and approval from others and maybe working on yourself at the same time. Even during its early development stages, it garnered a lot of attention for its diverse cast and realistic narrative and scenarios. It makes me laugh and sympathize with the characters and reflect on myself as well. Veritable Joy Studios has made a one-of-a-kind dating sim with plenty to love.
ValiDate: Struggling Singles in Your Area
Flawed, enjoyable, and inclusive cast of characters
Visually striking graphics
Multiple endings that change based on choices
Accessibility settings available for those who need them