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Thursday, January 20, 2022

[Review] Cosmic Horror Courtship Goes Awry in Eldritch Terror Dating Sim ‘Sucker For Love: First Date’

I’d imagine the world of dating has become more terrifying than ever before thanks to the events of the past two years. All that time cut off from the wider physical world contorts the social experience into a kind of lucky dip where you’re less likely to find a diamond, and far far more likely to come away with a maggoty bag of food waste. 

You could totally understand people resorting to more extreme measures to get a little smooch or two, but I wonder how many would do what the protagonist of Akabaka’s Sucker For Love: First Date does? He decides to summon a cosmic entity that could destroy him with little more than a cursory glance in his direction, but he’s into that. What’s the end of reality itself when true love could be just a few dark rituals away?

This visual novel dating sim sets out to put the ‘cute’ in Cthulhu (don’t question it, it’s in there) by having our obsessed hunky boy literally risk it all to get a little tentacle action. The result is an endearing mixture of romantic farce and grisly cosmic horror.

Having seen a vision of a cosmic entity, the protagonist attempts to hunt down a copy of the Necronomicon in order to find the correct rituals to summon it. Unfortunately, he’s been conned by internet sellers a few too many times, and when he receives a bright pink ‘Necronomicon’ after forking out an obscene amount of money for it, he’s initially very downhearted. Upon closer inspection, the book turns out to have some merit, containing a variety of rituals, one of which he tries out. The result of that is he summons a shapely eldritch terror known as Ln’ eta. She promises to go on a ‘date’ with him, but if the date goes bad, both his sanity and our reality will be shattered.

This is the first of three ‘dates’ the player can go on (Estir and Nyan being the other potential beastly beaus), and the crux of all of them is to perform certain rituals found within ancient tomes exactly as instructed or royally mess up with disastrous consequences. The first date eases the player into the flow of things, whilst furthering the romantic story being told of one man and his eldritch love interest. The rituals usually involve doing some things in the current locale, so for instance, you might need to keep out all light, so you draw the curtains and flick off the lights. Next, you may have to wear certain items or gather the correct offering. Once you’ve ticked off all the criteria, you ‘chant’ the relevant phrase by holding down the left mouse button and drag the cursor across the text in the book.

Happily, Sucker For Love doesn’t hold you by the hand when it comes to performing these rituals, with little guidance given beyond the words written in the tomes. The key is to pay attention to exactly what they say and ensure you don’t have a memory lapse that ends up with your mind becoming scrambled eggs. There’s not really a major challenge in these rituals, but they do enough to keep players on their toes, whilst occasionally throwing in the odd timed instance where several incantations must be performed in quick succession to escape certain doom.

What these rituals do best of all is flavor the dates with something genuinely fresh. Sure, there’s other visual novels with twee anime aesthetics that take a dark turn, but the juxtaposition between goofy dating sim farce and the unfathomable terrors of trying to get close to world-ending creatures in Sucker For Love is such an exquisitely absurd thing that puts its own unique stamp on the visual novel genre, which is quite the feat considering the wealth of them out there. This is mainly down to the fact it knows what it’s doing with this frothy doom concoction.

Not only is Sucker For Love unafraid to get freaky and weird with its horror element, it knows exactly how to pepper that with comedy that focuses on the absurdity of dating eldritch beings with no thought for the wider impact the act causes. The idea that the protagonist is so destructively horny for squid-faced sexytime would be funny enough, but the reality is he only wants to kiss them, and that’s frankly hilarious given the massive gulf that exists between risk and reward. 

Amplifying the usual dating sim awkward obstacles like saying something stupid or making a bad choice on a date by adding body horror and doomsday scenarios is another reason Sucker For Love’s dark humor is something of a winner the majority of the time (yes, there’s the odd fumbled joke or reference).

It’s not a particularly lengthy experience, but Sucker For Love probably doesn’t need all that much more to it. As it is, it’s a punchy, fun, and occassionally grim, dating sim that prefers to steer clear of the darker, dirtier lanes of cosmic horror and the raunchier, saucier side of dating sims, but mixes up just enough of both to make for an enjoyable treat for horror fans with a sense of humor.

Sucker For Love: First Date review code for PC provided by the publisher.

Sucker For Love: First Date is out now for PC on Steam.


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