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Sucker for Love: Date to Die For PC Review

Where First Date was a collection of short comedy/horror/romance visual novels that eventually morphed into a hermetic meta-narrative combining the stories of three chthonic, celestial, and other-wordly deities (cute fetish-bait anime waifus), Date to Die For is instead told via several zoomed-in chapters of what is an impossibly-long singular linear tale. Presented in an incredible anime fashion by the way, complete with ‘next time on’ sections and wonderful narration jokes. Which, whilst it does allow for some fantastic storytelling around the dizzying concept of infinity (a personal favourite of mine), also sadly means that this time around we’re acting as the monogamous mortal partner of a solitary Goddess. Of course she does still happen to cater to a cross of particular sexual niches being that she is both the personification (or diluted deification?) of a goat, and a curvaceous mother. Or, as we professionals like to categorise her – GOAT mummy. So that’s something. Fortunately our protagonist this time around is an asexual lady by the name of Stardust, whose very nature counteracts the obviously uncontrollable desires anybody else would be possessed by when face-to-face with our thicc furry Queen and embodiment of fertility and lust, Rhok’zan. (Holy hell what a perfect name.) The main character from the first game wouldn’t have lasted a single glance without turning into a bumbling mess of horny.

Rhok'zan

We start out with a trip to our hometown that has started to slip into disarray. Missing persons posters litter the walls and the forest that surrounds the area seems to emanate a creeping sense of dread. It’s traversing through a clearly troublesome darkened alleyway that we run into Nanni, a ‘trendy girl’ who quickly turns on us once she realises we’re an outsider. It’s already too late – we have been consumed by the gloom. Nanni’s eyes glow unnaturally and the photos of the lost and hopeless shift to show the face of our hero, which only fuels her desperate need to escape. [This is when you realise the writing is still great. The tension is heavy and the cartoony design is surprisingly used quite effectively.] Pushing herself to the absolute limit she manages to make it ‘home’ to her childhood abode that her missing family only recently still inhabited. It is here that we learn about the cult, their sacrifices, and the book of rituals used to power their wicked aspirations. The tome also guides the reader to call forth the entity this maniacal faction exalt – manifesting them into a form more easily comprehended by simple human minds. Believing this creature to be the cause of the mayhem, we follow the spell that will rip them from their throne and trap them in a body that can be ‘dealt with’. If you haven’t guessed it yet, this is how we meet Rhok’zan, All-Mother of the Black Woods. Can you say ‘meet cute’?!!

Turns out she wants to be banished. (Woken up, actually, as it turns out our reality is little more than one of her dreams, as is the strength of a divine one.) She’s a total sweetheart whose devotees have turned against, twisting her good-hearted gifts into something malevolent and warping her goals of abundance and growth into a sea of writhing roots that develop not from love but through feeding on offerings of those deemed unworthy. Where they would once worship her, they now aim to trap her in the weakened shell we’ve already unknowingly forced upon her. This is no dream, but a cruel nightmare full of torture and pain. We are the only one that can help. As mentioned, Stardust is unique in that she’s not driven insane by Rhok’zan’s presence. The explanation seems to point solely to the fact that she’s an ace. See, our horned idol tends to passively greatly increase the passion of anybody nearby by act of being so mighty and sexy but, ostensibly, lack of sexual attraction leaves us unaffected. I guess we’re taking the phrases ‘lust for power’ and ‘love of the fight’, etc, a tad too literally but we’re already suspending our disbelief for a chance to be coddled by the cloven mega milk mommy so, sure, I guess, why not.

Exploration

We team up to set her free. As a side-effect this will also rid the world of these loony cultists… by way of blinking the universe out of existence until she falls asleep again and recreates the whole thing from scratch – simple! This is where we start to ‘play’. There’s much more moving around required than the previous entry as we’re often found sneaking around the house we grew up in, now turned base of zealot operations, in order to complete sets of rituals. But the in-between slices of dialog is still where the core of the game takes place. First we need to make a meal from meat and milk found in the kitchen on the lower flow but it’s patrolled by baddies. Next we must ascend by metamorphosing into something that can better withstand the toll these dark magicks inflict. This means finding a quiet room of the building so that there’s no disturbing the delicate process as you wait inside the chrysalis, though the lack of body horror here is a shame when FIrst Date did it so well. Each time we head back to mother and are rewarded with a little more story progression. Rinse and repeat. Each chapter consists of about 4-5 different rituals each with a new twist to overcome and that’s that. Wait, but how is that possible? Shouldn’t the timeline just loop onwards forever? And that’s where things get interesting.

Though I’m sad to see the main thing that made the original what it is get replaced: dating a selection of cutified elder Gods, it’s fair to say that A Date to Die For holds its own with a much more thoughtful and absorbing fiction. How is it possible to advance when your enemy knows all your moves before you make them? How can we save the relationship if being together is an invitation for the awful antagonist to hurt you both? Though wrapped in mechanics that have the player following simple tasks to enact grim rites, slowly sliding open doors to make sure there is no one waiting to ambush you, or running like hell through the place as you’re hunted by cult members and things far, far worse, it’s clear that these are merely distractions. Fun, yes, and sometimes perfectly stressful, but diversions nonetheless. Party tricks that encourage the player to more easily slide into the role than a pure visual-novel would allow. The back-and-forth between the characters, their development, and unfolding layers of mystery are what we’re really here to see. There’s obviously no action-packed combat sections that demand swift timing and a steady hand. There’s not even really any puzzles to solve. We act as involved spectators, here to be entertained by the narrative and (once again) incredible voice acting. And entertaining it is.

Ritual Book

Still, I find it challenging to navigate how I feel about this one as a whole. I’m already way-over my preferred review length yet I’m not sure I’ve properly conveyed my thoughts. I know for sure that I prefer the over the top parody and much more volatile swing betwixt horrifying and humorous that First Date presented, but I also know that the story in this sequel is far more intriguing to follow. Perhaps it’s a matter of expectations. I wasn’t ready for a trip through the infinite. I was prepared to be making googly eyes at a bunch of unfathomable hotties beyond apprehension, which is almost non-existent here. I loved the concept of the final ritual at the end of the game that has the player react to specific triggers by following the guidelines in the book as if fighting off a team of cryptids or SCP abominations but it sort of fell flat with much of the timer being run out standing in specific rooms watching the door. I also expected more secrets and a deeper level to uncover like what the heck is behind that one locked door with glowing pink light, or what is up with the butterfly caught in the spider web that looks so interactable? But they turned out to not really mean anything, it seems. The decisions at the end I thought may be reflected back throughout the chapters in a sort of Undertale fashion but that, too, proved to be just wishful thinking.

The story is told and then it ends, but it makes you feel like there should be more, leaving not a craving for another entry but slight disappointment that your curiosity isn’t fully satiated. I think it may be because of how much is skipped over – the player never really gets to feel the scope of the timeline. Every failure risks the torment of our love interest for untold amounts of time and aeons before we get to try again. But for us it’s as quick as clicking ‘Try Again’. Even with the flowers that symbolise where you’ve died in the house and how those are later used in an attempt to show the gravity of the situation, it feels too easy to blast through as a player. This may be where the writing drops the ball a bit but I have no doubt that it would take masterful work to prompt such existentialism. Though I’m giddy at the thought of a third part, I believe the lack of novelty being a sequel and the strange absence of much romantic development that we get to actually partake in leaves it in a worse spot overall, even with a much more focused and enthralling tale to tell.

7 out of 10