[dropcap size=big]C[/dropcap]hances are, if you’re even a bit into visual novels then you saw the Panzermadels “tank dating simulator” on Kickstarter. As outrageous as the title sounds, actually looking through the pitch reveals something slightly more sensible. The gals you’re dating aren’t actually tanks (at least in so much as they’re not made of metal and all that) – they just take on the “personality” of said famed tanks. With that realization, it’s slightly less of a ridiculous premise, although I’m sure many never even got past the whole bit of DATING TANKS!
This isn’t the first visual novel to focus on humanized renditions of things which people really shouldn’t romance. Do you remember the visual novel Animal Lover which was Kickstarted in February? As the name so obviously implies, the object of your affection is a cast of animals. Well, again, sort of. The cast of hunks were actually cursed into the bodies of animals in different time periods and have finally been brought back into proper studly (and thankfully, human) form. After all that time they may just have gained some animalistic habits, though. Again, an odd premise, but with a socially acceptable cast at the end of the day.
But what is it that really got developers playing with visual novel and dating sim romances? I can’t pretend to know the entire history of visual novels, and in fact am really awful at being knowledgeable about it for any Japanese, Korean, etc, exclusive titles! But, chances are that people creating these crowdfunding projects are in much the same boat as me. So, what visual novel influences would be known to the general genre fandom in the United States? It’s pretty obvious, actually. Hatoful Boyfriend! First released in 2011, it has received a huge resurgence since landing on Steam.
For those of you who haven’t played it, you actually do date birds. Although you can take a look at their human versions, every image you see throughout the rest of every playthrough is that of various birds. And yes, even in the confines of the game you’re positioned as a human teenager. As far as wackiness is concerned, Hatoful Boyfriend takes the whole darn cake. Despite the hilarious/creepy subject matter, the game also manages to provide intriguing storylines. The final unlockable ending is one that deserves viewing and in general makes it obvious that this game is so much more than a funny concept.
To an extent, it makes me wonder if what Panzermadels and games like it have gotten from titles like Hatoful Boyfriend (assuming that’s even an inspiration at all, as some anime series also do the anthropomorphic thing). Are they inspired purely by the humor factor? The immediate reaction? Or is there something more to these games that will make players truly adore the storyline and characters? It’s easy enough to hook someone in with a silly concept but harder to truly make good on providing a worthwhile experience.
My hope is that all the upcoming visual novels and dating sims with outlandish premises are actually making the effort to do something wonderful, rather than just draw attention. The visual novel audience is ready to see their expectations subverted! Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to create my otome arthropod-based dating sim.