Novelty or “quirky” dating sims have developed a following in the west over the years. They range from amusing diversions to heartfelt experiences that sometimes have inspiring writing, and often employ typical anime archetypes.
There are dating games for everybody these days. Pigeons, daddies, alpacas, and even Colonel Sanders can be your love interest in virtual romantic escapes. There truly is a special someone for everyone… Even those who don’t have a pulse.
There is a budding sub-genre of dating sim that mixes dungeon-crawling mechanics into the formula. Undead Darlings ~no cure for love~ is a western developer’s take on the niche phenomenon within the “quirky” dating-sim/dungeon-crawler sub genre; and it comes with the sensibilities and snark that has defined western indie games.
Undead Darlings ~no cure for love~
Developer: Mr. Tired Media
Publisher: Sekai Games
Platforms: Windows PC, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4 (Reviewed)
Release Date: September 28, 2020
Reginald Happenstance is your average run of the mill, milquetoast schnook. Like every millennial of his time, he’s been brought up on a diet of movies, video games, and pop-culture. When the zombie uprising happens, he discovers his gift: to carry stuff for his harem of zombified anime girls.
The tone and writing style of Undead Darlings comes off like a high-effort Adult Swim parody. Dialogue is sharply witty, and characters act true to their designated archetype. There are sly jabs at the dating-sim and zombie apocalypse genres throughout, winking at the player every so often.
The instances of fourth-wall breaking are scant, and the writers do their best to earn many of the gags and punch-lines by putting in the work to set things up. The humor won’t make you laugh out loud, but there are a few moments that might goad a light chuckle.
While there are a few pop-cultural references, it is never anything too aggressively in-your-face. Most of the comedy is derived from the characters and how they behave. Jordan is a standout; she is a fiery red-head, who used to host a movie podcast and is deeply insecure about her small breast-size.
Jordan is the source of so much of the best jokes, since her character seems like she is made up of most of what the writer’s know best. Other characters like Pearl or Kairi are less interesting, since the former is written to be a childhood friend and the latter is supposed to be a snooty brainiac.
The problem with characters like Pearl and Kairi is that it feels like the writers had very little to work with, and the result is less of a grounded or fun character and more of a stock anime girl from a generic dating-sim. Pearl is especially boring since she has no defining characteristics other than her utility in battle.
Summer is the sporty chick who’s dedication to working out is taken to extremes. Her excitable jock-like persona gives lots of opportunity for meat-head jokes, and her character’s physical prowess is reflected in her combat options. She focuses primarily on physical attacks, and has little in terms of magical offense.
Since Reggie is the one tasked with carrying all the luggage, a party of three of the six possible zombie girls will be doing all the fighting. Exploring the dungeons is done in the first-person, and combat is both random encounters or an onscreen icon that represents a specific enemy.
The grid-like dungeons are festooned with what can be best described as failed Dr. Weird experiments from Aqua Teen Hunger Force. The enemies in Undead Darlings do not match the anime style established early on, and appear to be drawn by a totally different artist.
The enemy designs, absurd and incongruent as they may be, are actually the funniest aspect of the game. Many are a subtle play on words, some are clever mixes of pop-culture and unusual euphemisms, and others are references to memes- but are reimagined in the context of a comedy zombie scenario.
The only disappointing aspect of the enemies and bosses is having to physically fight them, since the combat is extremely basic turn-based combat, and that they have unusually high HP pools. Even when you know their weaknesses, battles can be dragged out because weakness does not always mean bigger damage values.
The trick to giving a better beat-down is to understand how the combat multiplier system works. Every time an enemy’s weakness is exploited, a combo multiplier goes up. The multiplier can be used in conjunction with any action to increase the effectiveness of the respective action. Failing to consistently exploit enemy weaknesses will reset the multiplier back to zero.
Saving up the multiplier during a battle is crucial to making encounters short, and becomes the main strategy for most of the entire experience outside of Chrono Trigger-style multi-character attacks. There is no changing strategy, other than the expanding list of moves the girls acquire over the course of the adventure, and weaknesses are learned after defeating an enemy once.
What is present works, but is never expanded upon. The game ends up becoming more easy over time, since vendor trash becomes components to increase item carrying capacity, allowing for more restoratives to be carried. Not that they are essential, since all HP and MP gets restored after any optional dungeon skit.
The real strategy of Undead Darlings is to keep in mind where these skits are activated for later, to prevent having to leave the dungeon and reset the fixed encounters. There is rarely any thought beyond this, since all weapons are randomly dropped and it is always best to keep all party members’ levels as close as possible.
Dungeon layouts are very maze-like and confusingly constructed to disorient the player. All corridors look the same, and there is little in terms of bespoke landmarks. The first person view is almost pointless, since navigation is so much easier when playing by the map overlay.
Maps will typically have locked passages that require Reggie to seek out a key or switch. This is as complex as Undead Darlings gets when it comes to engaging with the derelict settings. Constantly scouring the labyrinth will always mark points of interest on the mini map, so making progress is rarely a challenge.
When not plumbing the depths of the local mall, Reggie and the zombie girls will be able to engage in light dating-sim scenarios. Just because it is the end of the world, it doesn’t mean a guy won’t be able to score with a dead broad, right?
Choices in Undead Darlings ~no cure for love~ matter. Dialogue decisions may lock Reggie out of other options much later down the road. In a game that has six possible love interests and about nine endings, expect many unique play-throughs.
One of the main draws to the dating is potentially getting into some spicy situations. Even though these girls are all undead, it becomes a factor you soon forget since it barely involved. The artist who rendered each of the ladies could have played up their mortal injuries more obviously, and could have gotten more bold with the gore.
This is a T-rated game, and the lack of commitment to the more gruesome aspects of zombies is disappointing. Anyone who is excited by the prospect of undead girls may be disappointed by how human-like the dating options are. They are supposed to be rare half-zombies, but their depictions only makes them like they are just really pale.
Those who might be grateful that the undead aspects are played down will still be disappointed by how chaste the scenarios get. There is so little in terms of sexiness; not even a tiny bit of bra or panty gets revealed. The best Undead Darlings ~no cure for love~ offers is text descriptions of what Reggie sees.
The anime art style used is also on the generic and on the flat side. There is not a lot of stylistic flair or much expression, and the artist went with the most bog-standard modern anime aesthetic possible. Backgrounds are flat and amateurishly rendered as well; looking more lifeless than the undead girls.
The music on the other hand, totally rocks. The moody dungeon theme is appropriately atmospheric, and the various battle arrangements sound like something from a Dario Argento film. The limitation of resources during battles are felt less because of the rousing and exciting soundtrack accompanying the action.
The voice actresses do an excellent job at sounding like vanilla English anime voice dubs. They do what they can with the material given. Disappointingly not all dialogue is voiced, and some of the funnier writing is text only.
Undead Darlings ~no cure for love~ is not the pretty, zombified sweetheart one would hope for. She is a plain Jane, who wears sloppily applied Hot-Topic make-up and masquerades as a zombie. Spending a lot of time with her yields boring conversation, unfunny jokes, and tired movie references.
Extended time with Undead Darlings ~no cure for love~ will make you space out. Despite how much time you give her, and try your hardest to play by her rules, she just won’t put out. She may act flirty and tease you a bit, but she’s more like a frigid Mother Teresa and less like the fun-loving Crypt Keeper.
Undead Darlings ~no cure for love~ was reviewed on Nintendo Switch using a review code provided by Sekai Games. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.