let's talk about ValiDate: Struggling Singles in you Area (2022)
I am not sure how to feel about this game.
Like many others, I followed this game for years when the development started. To have a game that strives to be different from its peers and go for real stories about black and brown people is admirable. I do hope from the release, more devs will take note and try to make something that’s out of the norm which is the white-centric sphere of the video game communities.
I will address something about myself — I am not black, I am a brown Puerto Rican. I will not hesitate to be honest in this review but I do understand my place and certain aspects do not need to have my opinion, that’s for other reviewers who know and understand more to talk about. If so, I may make some mistakes and I am sorry if I do, and I’m open to omitting certain parts of this review if need be.
Let me start with the technical side of the game — this game…does not function well. Even from opening the feels…unpolished. The transitions feel rough, clicking through text boxes feels sluggish and leaves the whole experience becoming a boring click-through, especially when you replay routes for different endings.
Certain times, you can tell sprites weren’t properly cut, text goes fast but other times go flow. Speaking of the speed of the text, don’t go 100% if you can avoid it. The faster the text goes, the laggier it becomes and it looks disgusting to witness honestly.
Again, the transitions feel rough, and once you start playing the game itself, it’s just too much. Too much of the story doesn’t need these transitions, they take you out of the experience and just make the pacing slow.
Speaking of pacing, I do get the point of this game is you go back and explore the routes to get different routes, but I was honestly surprised to see this game has no auto skip, different checkpoints in important dialogue trees, or anything that would make the experience easier for the player. This feature should honestly be the first thing placed in a visual novel, and it’s baffling to me that no one on the programming team thought to implement this once the game was released. You do have the option to skip to which end you need, but it just unlocks it for you, not giving you the option to get the context of what leads to these endings.
You can forgive many of the faults, but things involving the core gameplay cannot. If you are a lover of visual novels, you might want to avoid this game just for that reason alone.
Bugs-wise, one of the major bugs I have encouraged has reduced the enjoyment of this game by quite a lot. It was during Yolanda’s route in Inaya’s story. I kept trying to take half of the gummie near the end to get the good route, but the game kept thinking I took the whole gummie and kept giving the bad route. We had to give up at that point and just skip ahead to the good ending. I do hope the devs in some way fix this, not from me pointing it out but from someone else. This can be considered hard locking someone from the game, I’m just grateful for the ending skips are there to let me continue.
Now, onto the writing and art direction.
This is the big marking push this game relishes in, each character is written by a different person to tell their own story through these characters. Each character has their own set of real-life problems, problems that are in the focus that deter them from dating their dates, and just settle to be friends for now, and see what happens in the future.
Now, I must ask you, is having different writers for each character a good thing?
No, it’s not.
At best, when Validate does explore these characters’ problems and their trauma in an honest, authentic way, it’s fantastic. Even the most dislikable character, Malik, his story is plagued with failures. His family for the most part wants nothing to do with him, and his mistakes and their mistakes keep haunting him, past, present, and potential future, if he doesn’t right his wrongs, and he doesn’t know how to. It’s hard to not relate to that.
But at average, and at worst, this game is loaded with writing only chronically online people would love. And it’s about 80% of the game; the moment this game was released, it became dated.
It is heartbreaking to find this game to be filled with memes, personalities you would only find on Twitter, and sentences you feel like you would find on their said Twitter. This game character’s age range is 22 — 28, but you can TELL this is written by people in their early to mid-20s that have been on the internet since the glory days of Tumblr.
At times, I rolled my eyes when something like this occurred, other times I had to take a moment and just sit there and try to get through the route as best as I could. So far, I haven’t touched Isabelle’s routes. It pissed me off. If I wanted to see someone like her, I’d just follow fandom moms on Twitter and I’d get the same experience.
This game unfortunately appeals to the lowest common denominator. It’s just like Borderlands all over again, trying to flood your character moments with memes that are no longer funny, and tweets that should’ve stayed on 2019 twitter where it belongs. As I said before, it dates your game and alienates future audiences that would love to have a game like this to play.
To make a game, especially a dating sim, it needs to be grounded, it needs to be appealing to most, not just one group. Even games taken in modern settings can do this, you can get away with jokes but..this is just honestly embarrassing.
And with the different writers, the writing can feel disjointed at times. Sometimes each writer has a different idea of the characters’ personalities. It’s like there was no real communication between the writers during the development of the game.
Honestly, so far the characters that were saved from this were Emhari and Yolanda. Yolanda feels like a livable, real-life person in this world. The few times you get to see her in the other routes, she’s charming, she treats people with kindness and understands their problems, and tries to be there for them (Which, there’s a negative side to this, the routes she is in, she ends up feeling like the therapist date? While it’s good to have sequences of vulnerability, I wish Yolanda wasn’t used to being the vehicle for this).
Emhari’s routes are honestly a breath of fresh air compared to the others. It’s simple — you are a single parent sharing custody with your ex-wife, who tries to act petty with you at every turn. You have to navigate this situation, her new relationship, and try to find companionship elsewhere, while being a trans woman/trans fem. . It’s not trying to be funny, it’s not trying to be “how many Twitter jokes can we fit in this,” kids act like kids and like kids things and it’s not ironic or means spirited, and you get to see Emhari interact with her kids. This is the type of story I was hoping for most of the game, it’s a shame most of it isn’t.
Back to praise, the art of the game is gorgeous, no ifs or buts about it. The artist is honestly the heart of this game. I don’t think it would be that eye-catching without her. Though, when it’s the kissing scenes, it seems like different characters are drawn. Not a problem, just something I noticed.
Let’s rapid-fire some more points before we end this — the music sometimes is too loud and it’s distracting. It feels disjointed too, like babies’ first time doing music production. I got sick of it at some point. I just had to turn it off. And then you can tell how quiet this game is, with no sound effects to try to fill the silence.
Ultimately, I hesitate to recommend this game anyway. Writing is annoying, and embarrassing, with only one or two characters that have an authentic three-dimensional route it markets itself as. There are too many problems on the technical side, it’s just too hard to ignore. But, I do implore you to support the devs in any capacity. No matter how I feel about this game, the devs set out to make something different, and new, and for people who are in groups, who the gaming industry typically ignores. It’s admirable, and I will always sing praises to them for it. First games are always rough, and sometimes you can never get them right, but they deserve the support for trying something new and hopefully getting it right next time, once more of the episodes are released. In my interactions with this game, I will continue to support them as much as I can.