ValiDate: Struggling Singles in your Area is a game that's not concerned with heteronormativity or alienating audiences with its nearly entire cast of beautiful Black and Brown characters.
It's my game of the year because it looks and plays like the games that I want; creative work that's unapologetically representative of its developers and audience. This is the kind of title that keeps me fervently invested in indie game developers.
ValiDate is a visual novel that stars 13 people in their 20s navigating life, love, and themselves. In volume one, you play as Malik, Inaya, Isabelle, and Emhari. As the player, you help them navigate this scary thing that's called life.
This is the kind of title that keeps me fervently invested in indie game developers
Each character has a chapter dedicated to a love interest where the narrative can lead to a good, bad, and secret route. Those paths are contingent upon your choices but that's easier said than done.
In one scenario, as Malik, you're pursuing the teacher Isabelle and have a restaurant date. The two of them know he's never been there before and he's unsure about what to order.
You're given the choice to show off and say you'll buy everything – he doesn't have much money. Another option has him be honest and lean on Isabelle's expertise to help him order food.
When you choose the bigshot option, she calls him out on the unnecessary stunt attempt. Isabelle rightfully storms off leaving our young suitor to reflect on his poor choices.
Now, if you decide to be honest and go with the better choice, they both end up having a good time. The whole point with that interaction is that you just need to be honest with someone.
Have you ruined dates after saying one thing you normally wouldn't? I have and I'm likely to repeat that in 2023 despite my best efforts. The game understands that this just happens.
The game continually does a good job of sneaking in these 'aha' moments.
ValiDate constantly wants you to think about your choices and the route endings you reach. The characters are learning from their dates and are getting a better sense of themselves.
Its sharp writing made me think more about various subjects than any other game I played all year.
It's tough to pull off relevant writing that's equally hilarious. To do this, Veritable Joy just cleverly and consistently uses its command of cultural competency.
The narrative does not just star queer people of color, everything from their dialogue, speech, and attitudes feel like real people. These folks make references to their families, intra-community jokes, and topics you wouldn't get unless you have similar identities.
This is the kind of work you could only see from a team of Black and Brown creatives.
Yes, I'm a cishet guy but I would be remiss to not acknowledge how the game speaks about queerness.
In one chapter Malik is getting to know personal trainer Alonzo and they're hanging out in his car. It's obvious that both of these young Black men are attracted to each other and it's cute.
The subject of whether Malik is attracted to men comes up and he retreats to the "I don't know" phrase. He is still understanding his bisexuality.
Alonzo matter of factly tells him, why is he confused. "You like who you like," he retorts. The personal trainer eventually exits as he's not going to wait for Malik to figure himself out.
He's well within his right to take time on himself but those are his hurdles to get over.
The route ends with Malik at home reflecting on things, which he does often. The point here is that queer or not, leading someone on when you aren't sure of yourself is an insult, good date or not. He's well within his right to take time on himself but those are his hurdles to get over.
There are more examples but this kind of storytelling is refreshing because games can address serious subjects when given the room.
It's also pretty funny to play ValiDate as media continues to struggle with its narrow showcase of interracial dating. Because the game constantly reminds you that in reality, people of color, including queer folks, have non-white partners.
The dating simulator's art direction is nothing short of impressive. The environments are bright and the scenes are very colorful. As a big proponent of music, I'm also very impressed with its selection of music.
To summarize, ValiDate was my game of the year because it's the opposite of watered-down media. It's just folks of color trying to live their lives which can and does get messy especially when people are unserious.
It proves anyone and everyone can be the main character. Good writing can be very queer, colorful, and land when people have full creative freedom.
Playing ValiDate feels like I'm watching an episode of HBO's Southside or Rap Sh!t. It's clever, refreshing, and did I mention it's queer and colorful?