Lovecraft's work is something that games have infamously got wrong, be it something egregious like getting the stories themselves wrong or something small like not quite nailing the tone. The great thing about existential horror is if you make it just absurd enough, anything can work. Sucker For Love: First Date works way better than it has any right to.
To put it simply, Sucker for Love: First Date is a satirical take on the visual novel genre with a Lovecraftian spin. It doesn't feel right calling it a parody of the genre - it has a little too much heart for that. I think homage is possibly the best word here. It opens with a sickly sweet main menu and color scheme that is quickly corrupted by the story.
You play a lovesick young male obsessed with the eldritch gods who just so happens to get his hands on a very powerful book - a survival guide for dating Ln'eta, our main character. The core gameplay loop is made up of preparing the area and commanding powerful rituals to make her happy, in order for her to give you one big smooch. In case it wasn't obvious, Sucker for Love: First Date is an incredibly weird game and I love that.
I could see its jarring tone switches and sometimes rather strange writing putting many players off, but I found it incredibly charming. It is one of those games that may leave you scratching your head, but you aren't surprised to be thinking about days after finishing. This is only made more interesting as the game continues to open up, letting you pledge yourself to competing gods. Taking from an old trope, you can attempt to romance the two of them at the same time but the consequences of lying to a god are pretty brutal.
Oddly enough, Sucker for Love: First Date actually feels like a bit of an accessible entry into some of the key themes of Lovecraft. Despite their cutesiness, the central gods don't really care about life, seeing it as more an abstract continuity. They exert their will, worshipping the atrophy of life - not in a cruel vindictive way, more so an acceptance of the way their life is. No matter how much you devote yourself to them, your existence rarely deems you worthy of more than a passing thought. For humans, not caring is perhaps the scariest thing a god can do.
Luckily, your eldritch senpai notices you, just as planned. Doing so requires irreparably morphing your body, shifting reality and destroying the very world. Apparently, to our main character, it's all worth it for a smooch. Instead of blending the horror and romance, the writing is much more fond of rapidly shifting between the two - something that works to varying degrees.
This occasionally leads to some pretty odd pacing. With only a handful of rituals to complete each act, the game can feel a little shallower than the waters Ln'eta looks comfortable in. This is to say that the characters could benefit from a bigger setting and more complex rituals. Generally, you have to don some outfit, set the mood, and hover over the right words to advance onto the next step. Perhaps a little more freedom than the cramp confines of the main character's apartment could have really tied this package up.
The pacing isn't the only issue I ran into with Sucker for Love. There are a litany of small technical issues, with items not equipping, menus going missing, and acts playing out of order. This being said, the game looks like it is still being worked on, so I have some faith it can make a turnaround, and the robust load system allows you to pick up from almost any place in the relatively short stories.
Ultimately, I would just like Sucker for Love to make it to the second or third date. It really nails its tone and writing, being just as horrific as it is charming, but the small scope of the game leaves me wanting so much more.
Visually, it's interesting and manages to make its art style cutesy enough to feel like a real visual novel, yet spooky enough to please my inner horror fan. The same can be said for the music. It plays into more generic visual novel styles just so it can stab you in the heart at the right moment. In a sense, the game's aesthetic is like Ln'eta herself - cute and charming with the ability to bring out something horrific when it wants to.
Sucker For Love: First Date — Verdict
Sucker For Love: First Date is a creative and interesting experiment that I would love to see more of. Its funny writing and sheer charm may be let down somewhat by its technical flaws and strange pacing, but the experience is well worth venturing into the unknown.
TechRaptor reviewed Sucker for Love: First Date on PC with a code provided by the publisher.
Disclaimer: Our reviews editor, Samuel Guglielmo, works with the publisher of Sucker For Love: First Date. He was not involved with this review.
- Charming writing
- Great idea
- Fun setting and style
- A few too many bugs
- Short length leaves pacing a little off