Sucker for Love: Date to Die For Review – Romance Isn’t Dead, It’s Weird As Hell

Y’ever see a super Lovecraftian, Cthulhu-esque monster and think, “I wanna date that?”

If you recognise that intro, thank you kindly. From developer Akabaka, Sucker for Love: Date to Die For is the second major entry in this visual novel, puzzler, Eldritch dating sim series and it is downright fantastic. There are some slight missteps, but the sheer reverence for the era it evokes means there’s far too much charm to let those drag it down. Let’s get into it.

This is how you open a review.

The core conceit is immediately intriguing. We play as Stardust, a resident of the fictional town of Sacramen-Cho: a fun fusion of a backwater American town with the Japanese pastoral ideal. Stardust is on a homecoming trip to investigate a string of disappearances. The one thread connecting all of these mysterious vanishings? The bright pink glow of the residents’ gaze, dubbed the Sacramen-Cho Stare… and also a cult called The THOUSAND. 

That pink stare is just the first of a number of inspired visual choices in Date to Die For. Much like its predecessor Sucker for Love: First Date, the art style takes cues from classic 90s anime a la Golden Boy and Urusei Yatsura. There’s a light, easy-on-the-eyes feel to the characters, perfectly juxtaposed with a mix of bright and moody colour palettes on top of detailed backgrounds. Date to Die For constantly drew me in with its looks. Not to mention everyone is cute as hell (and a different kind of sexy). Nanni’s a classic gyaru with a mean streak; Stardust herself is adorable; Rhok’zan is probably why you’re here. There’s no end to the fun twists on classic design tropes anime fans know and love.

Her horns are up here.

However, these friendly-looking designs are cunningly used to lure the player into a false sense of security. For all its abundant charm, Date to Die For is still a horror game. Between cultists in skull masks, weirdly green steak, and the Firstbornes whose look I will not spoil, there’s enough light nightmare fuel for an infinite reality or two.

Outside of a deluge of unique-looking friends and foes, there’s constant visual variety through the different Eldritch rituals we’re tasked with performing, which make up most of the gameplay. A mix of collecting unnerving reagents, reciting unpronounceable incantations, and avoiding unspeakable horrors kept me incredibly engaged. With the trial-and-error nature of some of these rituals, I came to intimately learn the layout of Stardust’s childhood home. It was great fun to go from stumbling across cultists to deftly dodging them with slow, purposeful exploration. This navigation is a notable step up from First Date: where the first game makes great use of just a single room, Date to Die For has an entire house to play with.

Somehow more complicated to navigate than a romantic relationship with an Eldritch entity.

That said, there are issues here and there. While I generally enjoyed the need to fail and relearn with some rituals—it’s thematically resonant with Stardust’s journey, which helps—one or two puzzles are a bit too obtuse. At one point in Chapter 2, we have to run a short gamut in a specific room of the house while avoiding Billie, a member of The THOUSAND who’s a bit too handy with a bat. While initially playing, this was damn near impossible. I tried sneaking around more and doing the ritual in parts, I tried brute forcing and rushing the incantation, I even tried just waiting for her to leave. Every time, I died with little idea as to what I did wrong. Upon fully restarting, there were… no issues. Billie’s pathing suddenly just worked in my favour, and I got the ritual done first try. It’s not the most egregious thing in the world, but even on my restarted playthrough there were a few tasks which had very nebulous failstates. I don’t mind figuring things out, but throwing myself against an unknowable wall is more frustrating than anything else.

Returning to the rituals proper for a second, it is here I feel that Akabaka truly flexes his writing chops. The characters are ceaselessly charming, but the Eldritch lexicon is what sells it all. From task descriptions to accompanying flavour text, the rituals in Date to Die For expertly tread the line between the story’s intimate sense of place and its grander cosmic scope. You may be summoning a smoking hot divine beast, but that requires Stardust to really up her feng shui game. The little marriages of tiny details and big plot are truly grin-inducing.

You’re gonna love what the plant mister is for.

This is to say nothing of the final gauntlet Stardust must conquer which, as in First Date before it, warrants special mention. Without spoiling, the act of recognising cues to then frantically flip through the ritual book and find the right course of action is so simple on paper yet so exhilarating in practice. Akabaka elevates his previous clever use of the visual novel format, and for that I give special kudos.

There are no dialogue choices as one might expect in a visual novel, but with writing this tight and performances this hilarious, who cares? There are absolutely decisions to be made, but those must be found through different courses of action. In terms of character interaction, it’s just great to sit back and listen to the brilliant voice cast bring the entire chthonic crew to life. Even longer lines stay pithy, and the performances never falter. Each actor truly embodies the unique quirks of their character, and it is such a joy to listen to. I only wish Stardust herself was voiced. I understand the charm of making her a silent protagonist, but some of her dialogue made me laugh out loud. I can only imagine how much more fun it might be if she were given a voice.

Toying with the unspeakable in style.

However, Stardust’s would-be voice likely would’ve only made me more attached to her, so it’s probably a good thing it didn’t happen given my final experience—Date to Die For’s epilogue flat out does not work. There are two routes to explore here, and one works fine! The other, however, is far more desirable to me personally and crashes every time when clicking on the very last door in the game. I tried it four different times, with a fifth after a later patch during the review period. Unfortunately, the game still crashes at the exact same spot. To be frank, this sucks… yet, still works hilariously well in Sucker for Love: Date to Die For’s favour.

The fact I’m actually torn up over this is testament to how good the story is. Even with the ridiculous central idea that never takes itself too seriously, there’s still a heartfelt tale being told here. Themes of devotion, mortality (or lack thereof), found family, honour, and of course love pervade. Throughout its four chapters and multiple endings, the sheer joy here never stops being apparent. At one point for reasons I will not spoil, Stardust reunites two characters. Their response? A harmonised “Thank you very much.” It’s such a simple thing, yet, like so much of the rest of this title, it left me beaming. At every turn, I can feel the fun Akabaka had making Sucker for Love: Date to Die For. At every turn, I feel the exact same.

Sarim played Sucker for Love: Date to Die For on PC with a review code.

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