Like many video game genres, dating simulators have seen many incarnations over the decades. Be it focusing on time management, mixing in puzzle elements, or making all the characters pigeons, though, there’s one thing nearly all of them have in common: a largely younger cast. In a move to show that dating doesn’t magically stop after you retire, Later Daters allows players to experience what pursuing romance–or lust–is like in an elderly community.
The game’s structure is a pleasant mix of traditional design and refreshing tweaks. On the one hand, it’s primarily text-based and plays out in typical visual novel fashion. On the more unconventional side, players can select their appearance, gender, romantic history, and even a pet from a few presets that help to personalize the experience (though options are quite limited). As far as features go, save states can be created at any time, and a handy rewind button ensures misclicks won’t prevent you from enjoying the story. The sole omission is an autoplay toggle; hopefully this is something that can be patched in down the line.
After building your character, Later Daters thrusts them into their first day at Ye OLDE, an inclusive retirement community that’s welcoming to all. Dialogue choices open up fairly quickly and present numerous routes to wander down in pursuit of different story beats and romantic interests. There are eight potential seniors to romance, each with distinct personalities and secrets to uncover.
The clear highlight here is Bloom Digital Media’s strong writing and careful pacing. Though I’m nowhere near 80 years old myself, my character was still incredibly relatable at an emotional level. Choosing whether or not to open up about my late wife was genuinely difficult, as was deciding if I should report my neighbor’s worrying phone calls or respect her privacy. Many of these decisions lead to unique story scenarios and opportunities to get to know the colorful cast better.
Though the overall tone is lighthearted and ripe with entertaining melodrama (my pet robot escaping and running throughout the building was particularly entertaining), the story doesn’t shy away from the realities of old age. Residents have foot braces, bad lungs from years of smoking, and side effects of alzheimer’s disease that all come up in conversation and, in some instances, affect how different interactions play out. Some of the most impactful story beats don’t come from shocking twists, but from subtle reveals that peel back another layer of a character’s story.
On the production value side of things, the world of Later Daters is brought to life fairly well. Character portraits are expressive and pleasant, there’s a different background for every location, and the intermittent use of sound effects is quite well done (e.g. the creak of a door when you walk out of your apartment or the sound of boxes opening as you unpack your room). That last bit makes the game’s complete lack of background music that much more puzzling, though. I found myself listening to instrumental playlists to fill the awkward silence in most scenes. It’s a strange omission that mars an otherwise tight audio/visual package.
Later Daters gives players a warm, welcoming world to live in, but the stay is a short one. Today’s launch only includes the first three chapters, each of which take around 45 minutes to complete; the other three are slated to release later this year. Since it takes a more story-based approach to dating progression, this means that none of the routes can be completed until the last three chapters ship. What’s worse is that there’s no natural ending to the first half; it just sort of cuts off on a high note at the end of chapter three. All of this amounts to what feels like a cliffhanger at the end of a novel, with the author promising to publish a follow-up months down the line.
Dating sims that follow the visual novel format can often feel intimidating because of their length and complex stories. Those that fall in this camp should find Later Daters much more approachable; it’s short, engaging, and easy to follow. Players used to longer dating sims should find a good bit of replayability in starting over and discovering new routes and scenarios. Having to wait months for the story to be resolved is a real bummer, but what’s here inspires faith that the final three chapters will more than stick the landing.