Valentine’s Day is fast approaching, and we all know how annoying it can be to doomscroll past a seemingly infinite number of photos of people boo’d up, accompanied by eye-roll-inducing song lyric captions meant to encapsulate their love. So why not protect your peace by playing a visual novel where you doom humanity all for the sake of sucking face with Cthulhu?
Sucker for Love: First Date, developed by Akabaka, is an anime-inspired monster girl romance visual novel that released on Steam and Itch.io on January 20. Although its gameplay doesn’t reinvent the wheel for visual novel romance stories, it more than lives up to its Steam synopsis of putting the “love in Lovecraftian horror.”
The story follows D, a host club worker who’s been haunted by dreams where he encounters an eldritch being. Obsessed by his dream, he orders a copy of the Necronomicon online in the hopes of summoning one such entity, but instead of receiving a flesh-bound book, he instead finds on his doorstep a pink book with shiny gold pages and strange engravings on its cover.
Despite the clear mix-up, D reads an incantation from the book and finds it does possess some strange magick after all. The act summons an imposing and shapely Cthulhu-like monster girl named Ln’eta whose sole purpose is to bring about the end of the world. Instead of being horrified by his actions, D is overjoyed and reveals that his lifelong wish is to lock lips, or tentacles, with a monster girl. While Ln’eta still fully intends to usher in Armageddon, she begrudgingly agrees to grant D’s wish, but only if he reads more curses from her book.
What ensues is a three-chapter story with multiple endings where you choose to either bring about the end of the world in your pursuit of romancing one of three eldritch beings, or succumb to post-Necronomicon clarity and cancel the apocalypse.
While this visual novel has your general assortment of point-and-click gameplay, its standout mechanic involves dragging your mouse across the strange forbidden language of the eldritch beings and performing several incantations. These incantations can either fill up the three hearts in your smooch meter, horrifically disfiguring D and slowly bring about the end of the world in the process, or provide the necessary steps to stop Ln’eta’s plans. But beware, your monstrous girlfriends aren’t above killing you if you try to thwart their plans. If you drag your mouse too fast while, say, trying to perform the “break up spell,” you will be greeted by a pissed off would-be girlfriend, leading to a brutal bad end. It’s here where jump scares and genuinely terrifying imagery come into play.
Although Sucker for Love utilizes jump scares more sparingly than the hit romance visual novel game Doki Doki Literature Club, they are just as effective at stirring up dread. At one point during my play, the pages of the pink Necronomicon flipped violently on their own like a flip book animation, revealing a ghoulish face and roughly drawn hands reaching out at me, warning me of my impending doom. Jump scares aside, it wouldn’t be a Lovecraftian romance game without an equal balance of pleasure and pain, and Sucker for Love actually has genuinely hilarious moments sprinkled intermittently throughout its story.
The fully voiced monster girls carry the game’s humor with some of the wittiest dialogue I could hope for in a game where you try to court monster girls. Particularly delightful is a running joke that only monster girls can pronounce Worcestershire sauce. There’s also some great self-referential humor as the girls call out D being terminally down bad for them and poke fun at the game’s premise in the process, all while not flirting too dangerously close with breaking the immersion.
One of my few gripes with Sucker For Love is that the game’s art style can make it difficult to follow the conditions for incantations. At one point, I was asked to turn off all of the lights in the room before reading a curse. I ended up failing the curse and having an alert in the book tell me there’s still light on inside the room. I assumed I’d run into a bug because light was clearly shining through the curtain I’d closed, but I discovered that overhead lights were still on. The game’s painterly art style led me to believe the overhead lights were never on because the room didn’t appear to be lit in the slightest.
Additionally, the game’s dialogue sequencing can be inconsistent at times. There was one moment when I went out of my way to explore D’s house and discovered that his face was slowly transmorphing as a side effect from his incantations. When I took him to the bathroom mirror, he reacted in horror at what his face had become. However, when one of the girlfriends revealed that same piece of information to him after the fact through dialogue, D acted as if I’d never checked his reflection in the mirror in the first place. Having information I discovered early on in the game be ignored because I wasn’t supposed to arrive at that revelation yet in the game’s script was frustrating, especially since visual novels are at their best when they reward exploration and have its dialogue reflect that.
While Sucker For Love doesn’t entirely re-imagine what immersive visual novels can be, its packaging as a ridiculous Lovecraftian romance game makes for a fun romp that warrants a couple replays just to see how far from God’s loving light D is willing to stray for a couple of eldritch kisses.