Tale as old as time
I was 12 when I was a bridesmaid for my grandma’s third wedding.
After being widowed twice, she wasn’t sure about marrying again, and as a recent widower himself it’s not like my new grandpa was necessarily on the market, but when cupid’s arrow hits, what can you do? Their love blossomed over email while she was on an English-teaching mission in Thailand and he, like any good neighbor, stayed home and collected her mail for her. They went from emailing each other once every two weeks to multiple times a day, culminating in her oft-quoted proposal: “have ring, send money.” Grandpa did as asked, and shortly after arriving home from Bangkok, they were married.
For 10 years they were each other’s closest companions. They ate breakfast together every morning, playing card games until lunch time and played computer solitaire side well into the evening. They traveled the world and enjoyed all that life could offer them in their shared retirement. They each brought to the marriage their adult children and plethora of grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and we all adopted our new grandparent just as much as they adopted us. It was a friendly love, a quiet love, a secure love. Their companionate love was perhaps the best example of true love that I ever saw.
When my grandpa passed away after 10 years of marriage, my grandma, now an octogenarian, decided couldn’t bury another husband and has remained unmarried to this day. When she, too, passes, she will be buried with my biological grandpa on her left and my adopted grandpa on her right, with his first wife on his other side. The four of them will rest together until kingdom come.
Typing this up, I realize what a deviation this kind of love is from what is often celebrated, but to me it’s one of the purest forms of love I can think of. And after growing up with an example of finding love after the loss of a spouse to old-age killers like a heart attack and cancer, I’ve long wondered why we don’t see stories like this in popular media. Pretty much every romantic scenario under the sun has been done in film, literature, and video games — why not a story about new love in old bones?
I was therefore extremely excited when I heard about the dating-sim Later Daters, which focuses on the ups and downs of old age and new love.
Developed and published by Bloom Digital Media, Later Daters is a dating-sim visual novel available on Steam and Nintendo Switch. Although there are only three chapters available currently, Later Daters promises to add more content in the near future and has priced the game accordingly. With eight possible love interests and a seriously cute side-kick, Later Daters features a lot of charm for a little price tag.
Players take on the role of an 80-something widower new to a retirement community called Ye OLDE, where a colorful cast of characters are (mostly) single and (definitely) ready to mingle. After some light character customization (three possible skins, three possible backstories, and three possible pets), players can move into their new apartment and live out their sunset years amongst their peers. As Ye OLDE’s selling points are inclusivity (and a greenhouse), the population is wildly diverse in background yet similar in open-mindedness, which is, you know, great for a dating sim.
After unpacking your things and getting your new apartment set up, you’re all set for… the rest of your life. *sigh* it’s going to take some getting used to, living in this cramped building. After living your entire adult life with your spouse in a house inherited from your grandparents, it’s hard to downsize, but after that nasty fall from the vertigo communal life is just what the doctor ordered. Luckily the neighbors are an interesting bunch — take Mariana, who plays a mean pickleball game despite the boot on her leg. And then there’s Blair, the grifter grandpa who will probably steal the shirt off your back (if you don’t give it to him). And who could forget Jax Argo, the legendary rockstar-turned-retiree with a voice of gold? I guess what I’m getting at here is the good news is you have a lot of time to get to know your cool neighbors; the bad news is the walls are *pretty* thin, so you really get to know your neighbors.
The writing in Later Daters is quite solid; as previously mentioned, there are currently three chapters available, with each chapter taking place over the course of a day in the life of Ye OLDE folks. The first day suffers slightly from plot device-itis, but next couple of days more than make up for it — in a pretty big way. For example, married couple Haroun and Salema. Husband Haroun is slowly succumbing to his dementia, often forgetting key parts of his current situation, like where he lives and how old his children are. Salema tries to keep everything under control, but with a nosy neighbor like Esther even the smallest slip up can mean unwanted attention. Her struggles with spousal care are given the spotlight during a group therapy session, where she confesses her fears of dying first and her husband not remembering that she’s passed, his remaining days destined to roam the halls looking for the love of his life.
Like… fuck, that’s real.
Then there are other aspects to the writing Later Daters that fall a little short. When handling non-verbal text, such as an action, the text is written out in brackets in such a way that is reminiscent of how ninth grade schoolgirls write fanfiction. There might be an entire card dedicated to just an action and it reads… oddly. At one point, Haroun walks into the wrong room and, due to his condition, is startled, thinking it’s his room and that the player is there to rob him. Instead of narrating what’s happening, the text reads [Strides into apartment, sees you and jumps, startled]. I think the reason why it sticks out as much as it does it because the rest of the writing is clearly though-out and so much love went into it, so to see what feels like text role play doesn’t feel cohesive.
An integral part of Later Daters is how LGBTQ+ friendly the characters and the writing is. While any game that features real and positive portrayals of this marginalized group is incredibly important, my initial thoughts were that having so many characters discuss their sexual orientation and/or gender at once and almost immediately in a game that, in title, is supposed to focus primarily on the elderly felt like scope creep. Don’t get me wrong, dating sims in nature tend to be LGBTQ+ friendly anyway, especially if you can choose your character’s gender, but I was a little startled by how much information these people divulged to a complete stranger like me so quickly.
Keeping in mind that each chapter is one day, by day three we learn that one character is transgender, one character is (likely) gay, one character is in an open relationship, and one character is bi/pan — and that’s just what I discovered on my first playthrough as a man formerly married to a non-binary person who openly discussed the exasperation felt when explaining what proper pronouns were. There’s even a character with HIV, which, if you only talk to him on the third day, you should really have no business knowing so it feels weird when you suddenly blurt it out unprovoked.
By no stretch of any imagination am I criticizing the existence of these characters and their diverse nature; in fact, it should be applauded, because you can really tell how much work went into this labor of love. But it did feel a little forced, especially when you take into account almost every character is POC and they were allowed to be so subtly — naturally — in a way that felt real. Mariana says like two words tops in Spanish so I understand she’s Latinx, Salema and Haroun have non-English names yet they never divulge their ethnicity, and we can plainly see Albert is Black, but they don’t go off on what it means to be a person from their ethnic background. Above all, in a genre with a literal dearth of elderly characters, I was really hoping for the most emphasis to be placed on age, and with some characters I felt it, but it didn’t take the front seat like I had expected.
If there was one character who I felt was able to most naturally represent both age and LGBTQ+ in Later Daters, it’s Crystal, who was assigned male at birth but decided to live her best life as her true self in Ye OLDE. The narrative I’d commonly heard prior was of youthful transgender people who are able to start their new lives without decades of baggage; what happens, then, to the elderly who decide to transition? Crystal came to Ye OLDE with nothing but a suitcase and a smile, but those twinkly blue eyes betrayed the pain of losing her family’s support after making her decision.
You see, Crystal — formerly Bruno — had long known she was supposed to be a woman; luckily, her wife was very supportive and was going to help her come out to her children and family, but she passed away from cancer before this could happen. Crystal decided to go the road alone, breaking the news as best she could. Her daughter was understanding, but her son couldn’t bear it, harassing Crystal with calls and threats, making her feel unsafe. In group therapy, Crystal worried that her son wouldn’t honor her wishes to use her chosen name on her tombstone, forever being labeled as the name and gender she’d finally shrugged off. It was an eye-opening experience to see where these two backgrounds intersect, a veritable teaching lesson for those of us who will never have to deal with this.
If it sounds like I’ve been harsh, I don’t mean to be — I try my hardest to go in absolutely blind with certain games as to lessen expectations, but with a name like Later Daters, I really wanted more focus on the age aspect, and it was only on the third day in that phenomenal group therapy session did I really feel it was given its due. But there are so many other things going for this game outside of the strong diversity and stellar writing that I haven’t even mentioned. The art style is incredibly different from most dating sims; initially I was annoyed with what felt like “board game box art” character styles, but after an hour or two I see the strength in the choice. Where most dating sims sexualize characters, Later Daters prioritized realism in a stylistic manner. Octogenarians aren’t necessarily looking for passionate love — rather, companionate love takes precedence. By removing the overt sexiness from the art style, this type of love was reinforced, and I applaud the dev team for this choice.
Additionally, we seriously need to talk about the music. The theme song is catchy as hell and is going to live rent free in your brain for the rest of your life, and honestly? I’m okay with that. But where the soundtrack really shines is Jax Argo’s song “Superlove,” which, due to that plot device-itis working up again, you magically stumble upon him singing beautifully in the rec room. I admittedly went to YouTube, hoping the devs would have put the song on their channel, but alas, it’s only meant to stay in my head for all eternity.
I think my favorite thing about Later Daters is that it appears you don’t have to romantically date any of the characters; by the end of chapter three, it’s clear that you don’t have to make any choices that lead to a romantic relationship. In fact, when one character asks you if you’d like to go on a group date with two other residents, you can respond that you’d like that, but as friends. I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen aromantic representation in a dating sim, and that’s an excellent additions to the genre strengthened by the fact that elderly love tends to be companionate love. Why look for romance when having a friend by your side is just as good in some cases? YES TO THIS!
If there is one true disappointment I have, it’s that Later Daters currently only has three chapters available, which isn’t a bad thing except that it feels like it’s being marketed as a full game. I’m not sure if I will be gifted the remaining chapters later on, and I’m assuming there will only be enough chapters to fill out a week, but the brevity of the title’s current state could have been explained better. Even a TBD of when the next chapters come out would be much appreciated. Until then, I’ll be humming “Superlove.”
With a colorful cast, incredibly high replay value, and diversity for miles, Later Daters is a surprisingly deep dating sim that unfolds over time. I personally feel it could do with a bit of better marketing in terms of communicating that this is, in fact, a partially finished game; additionally, with LGBTQ+ representation featured more prominently than most games that offer such narratives, the trailer and descriptions could stand to present just how much this aspect of diversity takes the driver’s seat (and they’d certainly benefit from it as it’s a selling point). Nevertheless, Later Daters is a total catch that serves as an important reminder that love knows no age. If you enjoy dating sims or games off the beaten path and want to torture yourself with a tantalizing cliffhanger, look no further than Later Daters.
Final Verdict: 4/5
Available on: Switch, PC (reviewed); Publisher: Bloom Digital Media; Developer: Bloom Digital Media; Players: 1; Released: April 16, 2020; MSRP: $7.99
Editor’s note: This review is based on a copy of Later Daters given to HeyPoorPlayer by the publisher.