This month is Romance Month! All of our articles in April deal with romance or relationships (or both!) in games. We are still accepting submissions for guest articles for a few days yet, so feel free to send drafts and/or pitches to Bill Coberly at firstname.lastname@example.org!
In theory, I am the perfect candidate for Everlove: Rose. I have always enjoyed romantic movies and trashy (what my cousin calls “granny-porn”) novels; I can’t deny that I was titillated by the prospect of a romance game, particularly because I don’t really have the patience for the long term RPGs of the world that provide romantic arcs. I had seen my husband play through Mass Effect and Dragon Age, and I couldn’t help but find the love options, dialogue, and encounters shallow at best. Perhaps, I thought, a game could dive more deeply into these areas and the result could be, if not a high artistic experience, at least more carnally satisfying.
If that desire is possible to fulfill, Everlove is not the game to do it. While there are many critiques one could make of this game, I will center around one that I think is pretty important: the developers forgot what would make it fun.
Never has the Mary Sue trope been so perfectly encapsulated in a game, but I am not sure that the developers can be blamed on this score. Almost all romance media aimed at women has a generic, slightly willful heroine you are expected to replace with yourself. Half the fun is this suspension of disbelief, and the way that men throw themselves at you like wild animals in a Cabela’s hunting game. (Is it really hunting if they are so willing to be caught?) Clearly, this is part of the fantasy element that runs through all such media aimed at women—beautiful men dying to commit to you.
The story is bland. Modern-day Rose is seeing a life-regression therapist who wants to help her understand some dreams she has been having about a beast. Of course, the only way help Rose is to go back in time to one particular life and try to get laid by four equally gorgeous men. I warned you. Now, don’t let me fool you, it is a tried and true method to set salacious sex in the past. Fine. I get it—corsets and knights and jousts seem to be the only way we can suspend disbelief enough to believe in all-consuming love. But why limit yourself to one time period, particularly when you have gone to the trouble of introducing past-life regression therapy? Instead of some strange and vestigial mumbo jumbo about a beast (a story as boring as it was unfleshed out), I couldn’t help but wonder why we didn’t follow Rose and these men through several lives of conflicting loves. The story should have been honest about being a turbulent romance, and romance should have been more centrally the catalyst of the regression therapy. It would have been great to see the love interests evolve over multiple lives, to watch as the king’s main healer in the medieval era changes to a medic in the first World War, to a hotshot plastic surgeon in New York. Such a progression (or one like it with more interesting specifics), would have made the time travel (which is usually a narrative crutch) more forgivable because it would have been fun.
The weakness of the conceit might be forgivable if the moment-to-moment gameplay was enjoyable, but the Silicon Sisters made a number of key mistakes. First, and perhaps most unforgivably, it forced me to focus on one man very early on in the game, and yet still makes me go through the exact same interactions later on, even if I picked someone else! Such a flat choice so early on, coupled with the exact same encounters with the romance paths shaved off, proves that the developers don’t know what makes television shows like The Bachelor, The Bachelorette, and even America’s Next Top Model and Chopped so enjoyable. The point isn’t to clear the road quickly, the point is to enjoy and to draw out the selection process. No one would watch the The Bachelorette pick her love after four episodes and then have her first year of marriage for the next 18.
With that in mind, let’s meet the love interests of Everlove:
- Prince Warrick is a cute, tow-headed lad who loves to make bold pronouncements and to thwart his parents. He is a real (Prince Charming.)
- If brooding men are more your style, look no further than the brother-cuckolding yet lawful good Lord Blaxton. Don’t let his incredibly horrible actions while in charge of the realm fool you, his feelings are very tender.
- Thorodan is going places. A healer who had a very close relationship with your deceased father, Thorodan is serious about removing both curses and your clothes.
- Finally, there is the rogue, Garrett. He likes his women spicy and sex in the forest. ‘nough said.
Instead of a single fork in the road, I propose that three would have fixed many of the problems I had with the game. As the primary plot in the fantasy world revolves around Rose’s support or distrust of the Rebels, it would make sense if the first fork would cause you to move towards the rebellion or towards the law. I completely agree with the creators that you probably can’t be both a supporter of the rebellion and of the King’s Man’s harsh justice. Also, each man enjoys different personality traits and banter, so it would seem that the stoic Blaxton would like respectful talk, while Garrett (the rebel leader) enjoys a girl with a willful streak and a robust sense of humor; the Prince is a wild romantic and with very fragile feelings, and I still don’t understand what makes the Potion Master tick (another problem with romancing him). The second fork would bring it down to two men, and the final fork would allow you to finally select the man you want. This mechanic would make playing through all the scenarios worth your while because those men might still be in the mix.
Now, perhaps this system of multiple forks might lead to more sex with multiple men, but I fail to see how this is a bad thing. Rose is a hip, modern girl, and she should definitely try the waters to make sure she has made a good choice. Also, the single sex scene is very, uhm, anticlimactic story-wise.
This leads me to another large problem with the game: if you play through the game multiple times to try different romantic partners, you realize that the puzzles and narrative interactions are exactly the same. You will always find Thorodan’s potion and a letter about the prince’s true paternity, and your aunt will always need the same potion to cure her hangover. I was overjoyed when I found the “skip puzzle” button. On later playthroughts, I also started randomly hitting dialog options during the scenes with the other men (which happen no matter who you are actually courting), because I knew it wouldn’t affect my main relationship.
My final critique is that you couldn’t court your best friend Fendral. She has the most beautiful “come hither” eyes. In many ways, Fendral is the best fit for Rose—she is funny, willful, rebellious, and truly cares about Rose as a person. Also, one of the scenes you have with your Aunt lets you know that your Aunt is a lesbian and that her partner is very important to her. Such an interaction would make a lesbian relationship seem more possible and positive, and would have been an excellent time for a 5th track to appear. I also would have enjoyed being able to romance Fendral while romancing any of the other men; that would have been a bold storytelling choice, and would have helped to deliciously complicate the romance plot (which is always a necessary part of making the genre titillating) .
In all, I feel that the failure to properly engage with the act of choosing as well as the simple copy-paste of interactions and puzzles was depressing. This is particularly true because playing through multiple times should be half the fun of this sort of game. Unfortunateley, Everlove won’t be replacing the tried-and-true romance novel formula or The Bachelorette any time soon.