Save the Date! (Paper Dino Software)
“Save the Date!” is a dating simulator by Chris Cornell, published at 2013. To understand my expectations of the game we should understand two gaming concepts. The genre of dating simulators and the concept of visual novels.
Dating simulators are games, that are defined, mostly, by their common objective – getting the girl, the guy, or the pug of your dreams to be romantically attracted to you. They use mostly similar gameplay mechanics and most of them use the point-based system to evaluate how much is your partner-to-be attracted to you. If we simplify the concept it looks like this: at the start of the game you don’t have a girl (guy/pug), and the game will most likely end in two different situations, either your partner will not be attracted to you and leave uninterested (which will most likely result in a game over), or you will, one way or another “get the girl (guy/pug)”, in most cases, by having a high enough “score”.
Visual novels are games with a very simple gameplay structure. It consists of reading several passages of text, which can be dialogs, monologs or general text, after which you encounter a choice. It can be a choice of action or a choice of words. In any case, a choice needs to be made to advance the plot. Visual novels usually have minimal graphics, because the focus is on the text, which is the structure of any visual novel.
When I started a new game in “Save the Date!”, I understood, that it will be, most likely, a visual novel/dating simulator. Because of the intro text and the choice that was given to me. I expected to read into the story and try and get the girl… Imagine my surprise, when one minute into the game the girl just dies on me, because she is allergic to peanuts. So, I try again. I choose the same restaurant and when I get to the choice that was my last in previous attempt, there’s a new option. To tell the girl, whose name is Felicia, by the way, that the dish she wants to order has peanuts in it. And immediately I am exposed to two shocking truths about this game. Firstly, the game length will not be as long, as I expected it to be. And secondly, but most importantly, I retain knowledge between my plays. If I find out something I can just load a previous save, and, having this knowledge, solve the problem. And now we’re trying to get this date a good ending by finding out something, then loading a previous save point and using it to our advantage. However, to my surprise, Felicia dies again. And again, again and again. She just keeps dying, no matter what I do. She either gets killed by ninjas, or has a car crashed into her, or a plane crashed into her house if I insist we do not go anywhere. Slightly panicking the player tries to find the right solution. The happy end. Because all the ends we’ve seen so far have been grim. And the solution, the only good end is… Not date the girl at all. If you say Felicia that you don’t want to date, she will get sad, of course, and find herself a new guy, have kids with him and what not… But she will be alive. And that’s when the game got me thinking for the first time. Not about the game and not about the endings. But about personal freedoms and setting goals for oneself.
After I’ve stopped to ponder the meaning of the game, I decided, that, even though I invested some time to find all the ends of the story possible, including the only one, which was without Felicia dying in the end, before I assess the game I need to know every ending. So, I started digging in the game files. And the game just keep surprising me. Inside some folder, I find these files. After reading the instruction, I decided, that I have what it takes to be a cool hacker and followed it.
After I have followed the instructions, I ran the game again, expecting to see change (maybe highlighting the choices that will lead me to the good ending). And what I found was and extra option in the first choice. When choosing a place to eat, I now had the option to dine at the castle in sky (because I’m a cool hacker, obviously). That choice ends with a happy end, where she owns and island and you can fly.
To sum up, we have ourselves a very unusual game here, that craves to say something. By posing an unreal, almost unsolvable problem and watches you struggle to change something. I think, what author wanted to say to us lies in two ends, where Felicia does not die. One is to question and doubt things you have labeled as “good” and “bad”. The end where Felicia lives because you chose not to date her, is, by the dating simulator standards a “bad end”. A game over. You didn’t get the girl. But when you think about it – it’s as good as it gets. Another message is when you are faced with an unsolvable question, make your own way. If you don’t like a story – change it to your liking in your head. You are the master. Not the book, not the film, not the game, but you. It’s your experience. It’s your feelings. Which makes it your story, no matter what.
Artem Lisin, 420350