If one should need any more definite proof that games do not need fancy graphics, multiplayer components or breakneck action to actually tug at your heartstrings, well Speed Dating for Ghosts will definitely do the trick. A short visual novel experience that is perfect for both newcomers and veterans of the genre alike.
In Speed Dating for Ghosts, the player is… well, a ghost on a speed date. A pretty clear case of getting what one pays for, I guess. Developed by Ben Gelinas and released while he was still busy writing Remedy’s Control, his intentions were developing a short positive experience that focused on themes of death and regret.
At the start of each playthrough, Flo explains the rules: pick a room and there’s a short time to chat with the chosen ghost, then a bell rings and the next date begins. After two rounds of talking with three different characters, the player gets to choose which one to go on a date with. Of course, depending on the replies given and the chemistry, the partner may agree on the date or could also refuse.
Even though SDFG may sound like a visual novel with romance choices, at its heart it is not. Behind every ghost lies a personal story, sometimes funny other times sad or even dark. The writing does not shy away from touching upon sickness and death, doing so in such a personal and direct way that ends up being pretty touching. The dates also end up going pretty varied places, then again ghosts don’t really go to the restaurant. The player may end up in crazy places like holding up a bank or playing a football match.
Since everyone in the narrative is not also dead, but lonely too, it really is heartwarming to meet such a cast of different souls, all looking to be heard. Some will not give up their story pretty easily, needing more time to unbutton, others will gladly share everything as soon as they’re asked. Finishing a date successfully unlocks the gravestone of the related character, along with their bio. A small reward to check out before going in for another round.
While the writing doesn’t manage to always stay engaging, it is most of the time very charming and the game never wears out its welcome. Actually, I was pretty sad when it ended, taking me something like 90 minutes to see everything. The art style is simple but works wonders in immersing the player in the rather peculiar world of afterlife dating.
Most of the time, the screen is empty, only the chosen partner and a couple of details, like a candle or a glass of water (ghosts don’t drink coffee or wine).
Most ghost characters are designed to be a mix between scary and cute, which works wonders and the drawings perfectly define their personality and make them memorable. The sound design also perfectly conveys conveying each ghost personality, with Spooky Peter appropriately sounding like a creaking wooden floor from an old house or Vera, the smoker, sounding purposefully smoky and frail. The soundtrack is – in keeping with the rest of the game – minimal electronica which works as a background, never intruding into the player’s attention.
Speed Dating for Ghosts is a little gem. A perfect mix of discussions on mortality and love with wit and humour.
The art design works wonders in immersing the game in a different reality and the sparse details also leave everything up to the player’s imagination. The different replies offer some branching choices, but it is not about finding the good ending, rather about uncovering the stories and maybe choking up a little. Its only letdown is really the short length which prevents the player from engaging in longer stories or dates with the various ghosts, but then again, that was the creator’s original intention.
Highly recommended for anyone who’s looking for something deep but, also, lighthearted and delightfully charming.