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Dating sims (or dating simulations) are a video game subgenre of simulation games, usually Japanese, with romantic elements. They are also sometimes put under the category of neoromance. The most common objective of dating sims is to date, usually choosing from among several characters, and to achieve a romantic relationship.
The term 'dating sim' is also often used incorrectly in English as a generic term for romance-driven games (ren'ai games), a subject matter which is stereotypically associated with the visual novel genre. This can lead to confusion, as visual novels are considered a subgenre of adventure games and are not technically included in the dating sim genre. While the two genres often share a common visual presentation, dating sims are sometimes considered to be more statistically based than the "choose your own adventure" style of visual novels.
The technical definition of a dating simulation game, known as a romantic simulation game (恋愛シミュレーションゲーム ren'ai shimyurēshon gēmu?) in Japan, can involve several technical elements such as a time limit, several statistics such as looks and charm which can be boosted through exercise, or an "attraction meter" which can increase or decrease depending on one's decisions.
In a typical dating sim, the player controls a male avatar surrounded by female characters. The gameplay involves conversing with a selection of girls, attempting to increase their internal "love meter" through correct choices of dialogue. The game lasts for a fixed period of game time, such as one month or three years. When the game ends, the player either loses the game if he failed to properly win over any of the girls, or "finishes" one of the girls, often by having sex with her, marrying her (as in Magical Date), and/or achieving eternal love. This gives the games more replay value, since the player can focus on a different girl each time, trying to get a different ending.
Dating sims such as Tokimeki Memorial often revolve almost entirely around relationship-building, usually featuring complex character interactions and branching dialogue trees, and often presenting the player's possible responses word-for-word as the player character would say them. Dating sims such as Tokimeki Memorial, and some relationship-based role-playing games such as Shin Megami Tensei: Persona, often give choices that have a different number of associated "mood points" which influence a player character's relationship and future conversations with a non-player character. These games often feature a day-night cycle with a time scheduling system that provides context and relevance to character interactions, allowing players to choose when and if to interact with certain characters, which in turn influences their responses during later conversations.
While bishōjo games make up the bulk of dating sims, other types of games exist. Games where the player character is female and potential objects of affection are male are known as GxB or otome games. Homosexual relationships are also possible, as there are games with no specific gender lines ("all pairings"). There are also GL games, which focus on female/female relationships, and BL Games, which focus on male/male pairings.
There are many variations on this theme: high-school romances are the most common, but a dating sim may also take place in a fantasy setting and involve such challenges as defending one's girl from monsters.
One game series that often includes dating, with the goal of marriage, is the farming sim series Harvest Moon. The subplot of dating is more focused towards choosing one of several girls or guys (dependent on the player character's gender) and offering them presents or joining them on events in the game. Another example is the RPG video games Persona 3 and Persona 4, in these games the main character can fuse stronger Personas (monsters summoned in an alternative world/universe) depending on his relation to the other characters in the game, both romantic and friendly relations appear. The Star Ocean series of RPGs also feature dating sim elements in a similar manner.
Some Japanese dating sims may allow the player to have romantic or sexual relationships with characters in their teens. The degree of sexual content varies, but may often include intercourse. Sexually explicit dating sims may fall into the category of H Game or Eroge. Eroge only gets released to PC because large Japanese game companies do not want to release games with sexual content on their game consoles. Because of this, Eroge companies make a censored all-ages (15+) version of the PC version for various consoles. The censored version contains far more endings and new added scenes due to the absence of sexual scenes.
- Girl's Garden (1984)
- Tenshitachi no gogo (1985)
- Dōkyūsei series (1992 onwards)
- Tokimeki Memorial series (1994 onwards)
- True Love (1995)
- Magical Date (1996)
- Sakura Wars (1996 onwards)
- Thousand Arms (1998)
- SimGirls (2002 onwards)
- Summer Session (2008)
- Love Plus (2009)
- Hatoful Boyfriend (2012 onwards)
- My Candy Love (2011 onwards)
- Boyfriend Maker (2012)