Dates & Wires | Game Review

Dates & Wires is a satirical blend of grungy cyberpunk and romantic comedy. It pokes fun at how completely un-romantic the setting is through a series of dates with “Stradania’s Most Eligible Vaguely Handsome Self-Absorbed Guys You Happened to Spot in the Club”. It’s definitely not your typical romanticised story of bishounen love interests, but that’s exactly why it’s so interesting. Coming from the world of the webcomic ‘Drugs & Wires’, the characters in this game each have unique and intriguing backstories with complex, flawed personalities that perfectly set the stage for a wild night of (attempted) debauchery.

Game Info
Dates & Wires
Producers: Mary, Io Black
Music: NINGEN
Platform: Windows, macOS, Linux
Available: here!

Disclaimer: We were generously provided with a copy of Dates & Wires for the purpose of reviewing the game. Thank you Mary and Io Black!

Ratings

Notable features

  • Extensive worldbuilding and lore that allows for lots of nuance, even in a short game
  • Creative and unique character design
  • Plenty of player choices that impact the story
  • Jack the Bartender

Could be improved

  • I would have liked more romantic interactions and outcomes. Sometimes the good outcomes for dates weren’t particularly romantic, but the game does take place over one night so it’s difficult to fall in love in that short a timeframe

“The year is 1995, and you’re newly single, ready to mingle… and fresh off the plane in Stradania, the dysfunctional micronation whose chief exports are pig iron, human misery, and radioactive souvenir mugs.”

– Dates & Wires (Official Site)

Premise: Fresh out of a break up, MC has embarked on an adventure to Stradania to drown her sorrows in booze and (hopefully) men. You arrive at a nightclub called the ‘Icebox’, apparently a cyborg-friendly ‘hotspot’, where you hope to meet someone to take back to your hotel.

A lot of popular otome games tend to be highly romanticised and mixed with comedy, drama, or tragedy. Dates & Wires, however, isn’t romanticised in the slightest, in fact, I’d say it’s the opposite. It makes no attempt to hide the grungy vibes and the humour is ironic and self-deprecating (without insulting the otome genre itself). While this isn’t what I’d typically expect from an otome game, I enjoyed the fresh experience. Plus, the juxtaposition of futuristic sci-fi elements with retro technology was interesting, and I found myself wanting to know more about this strange and intriguing setting.

MC: You can set a custom name in Dates & Wires but there is also the default name, ‘Ashley’, if you don’t want to choose a name yourself. MC in Dates & Wires is ungendered and doesn’t have a set appearance, so you can be whoever you want to be. Personality-wise, I found this MC to be very relatable. They have a great sense of humour and they’re not the typical selfless and pure otome protagonist. They’re chill, they’re pretty much up for anything, and they don’t hide the fact that they really just want to get laid.

Story & Gameplay

Story structure: Dates & Wires was made with Ren’Py – a visual novel production software – so its story structure is similar to other Ren’Py visual novels. Dates & Wires follows one main story line with multiple dialogue and narrative choices, each affecting the outcome of the dates and the souvenirs you collect. Interestingly, it’s not just the choices you make during the date that affects their outcome, but also the order in which you go on the dates, as you get a different experience later in the night depending on who you approached earlier.

The story of Dates & Wires takes place over one bizarre, eventful night where you get the opportunity to go on a date with each of the available love interests. Depending on your choices, you’ll receive a different outcome for the date, some good, some not so good, and others providing sneak peeks at the backstories of the other characters. I loved seeing how the order in which I chose the dates affected the outcomes, as the experiences with one character will impact how MC reacts later in the night. Despite being a relatively short game (around 2-3 hours playtime), Dates & Wires packs a lot of different experiences into a single night, making it enjoyable to replay multiple times.

On the other hand, as the game is labelled as an ‘otome game’, I would have liked more romantic content. The dates were definitely entertaining, and good outcomes hinted at a budding interest between the characters, but there weren’t too many moments that made my heart race. Dates & Wires isn’t a typical romance story with beautiful bishounen and ‘doki doki’ scenes, but the exploration of complicated characters in a grungy setting has its own appeal, somehow feeling more realistic and relatable despite the cyberpunk and sci-fi themes.

That being said, as the story takes place over one night, it would be difficult to fit a full love story in the game’s time frame. Plus, the finale with Jack was much more reminiscent of a traditional otome game, and I greatly appreciated the alternate images they used for him (especially the smoulder). Playing through the different dates gives you a glimpse into the setting and lore while also providing the chance to go on weird and wonderful(?) dates with some fascinating characters. The last date with Jack was like the cherry on top, finishing the game on a note of more traditional romanticism, while still maintaining the game’s overall tone and themes.

Characters

Following the aesthetic of the setting, the cast of Dates & Wires incorporate the game’s gritty vibe with varying levels of cyberpunk. I liked that they looked so distinctive from each other and, with unique personalities to match, Dates & Wires gives players a variety of love interests to choose from.

When you arrive at the club, you’re given a mini-introduction of each potential love interest before choosing who to approach. These introductions are brief, and part of the appeal of these characters is that they’re much more complicated than they seem, so it’s worth withholding judgement until after you’ve dated them (or, at least, tried to).

Below is a brief summary of each love interest, ranging from the reserved, dog-loving hacker to the playful, ‘shitty-VR’ connoisseur…

Name: Dan
Description: “Half man, half existential crisis; subsists on a steady diet of Rimbaud, imported cigarettes, and unmarked pills.”

Dan’s was one of the routes (or dates) I enjoyed the most. I’m not sure if I got the ‘good’ outcome, but I liked getting to know him and there was a really sweet, vulnerable moment that particularly peaked my interest. Plus, he has that classic tsundere blush, which is an instant win for me.

Maybe I’m just a sucker for a lost cause, but if you’re also an otome game fan who likes traumatised love interests, then Dan will appeal to you too.

Name: Shitparade
Description: “The leading authority on terrible VR trips, forever on the lookout for somebody to inflict them on.”

Shitparade was another one of my favourites, for several reasons. 1) He has pink hair, which is always a good start. 2) His date was probably the most fun thanks to his mischievous nature and expertise in awful VR trips. 3) Shitparade is the first love interest I’ve come across in an otome game who uses a wheelchair, so hell yeah.

If you enjoy playful, exciting love interests, then Shitparade will be right up your alley. He’s similar to otome characters who fall under the ‘genki’ trope, and his date is just all around a good time.

Name: NoKOOl
Description: “Stradania’s techwear king. Once spent a month’s salary on a package of “tactical socks,” a fact he still brags about.”

I managed to get two different outcomes for NoKOOl but neither of them ended well… He’s a cyborg who’s obsessed with whatever’s trendy, which is, of course, whatever he decides is trendy.

While the outcomes I achieved weren’t particularly successful, I am intrigued by his character. When he was talking about his latest project he seemed genuinely excited, which made me wonder if he might be more sensitive than he initially appeared. If you like colourful fashionistas and access to VIP lounges, then you’ll like NoKOOl.

Name: Fixer
Description: “The kind of person whose opinions have opinions. Don’t get him started on data tapes – you’ll be there all night.”

I tried several times to get Fixer’s good outcome but I couldn’t seem to make it past the initial ‘interrogation’. I’m not sure if I made the wrong dialogue choices or if I need to approach him in a different order, but I’m going to keep trying because I hate losing and I WILL make this man take me on a date.

If you like love interests who make you work for it, then you’ll enjoy Fixer. He’s mysterious, maybe a little shady, and absolutely a challenge.

Name: Sandman
Description: “Mysterious hacker of few words and even fewer discernible emotions. Smells vaguely of anti-flea shampoo.”

Sandman was the first person I tried to date in Dates & Wires and while it was cute, I would have liked more romantic interactions with him. Although, this could have been due to the outcome I received, rather than an overall lack of screen time.

Sandman is a man of few words with an aura of mystery, a seriously impressive poker face, and glasses, so it was only natural he caught my eye first. If you like shy, genius love interests who like dogs, you’ll like Sandman.

Name: Jack
Description: “Your friendly neighborhood bartender, always ready with a word of encouragement and a novelty cocktail. Oddly unfazed by his club’s creepy decor.”

Jack the hot bartender was absolutely my favourite. I highly recommend hanging out with him at the end of the night after all the other dates are done. For a classic, romantic date, Jack is your best bet.

Jack’s date was a beautiful finale to a bizarre and eventful night. I won’t say anymore as I don’t want to spoil the surprise and, besides, MC says it best…

Note: Descriptions in italics are from the Dates & Wires official Itch.io page, which you can check out here.

Final Thoughts

I had a great time in Stradania. While it’s not the most romantic otome game I’ve ever played, I enjoyed getting to know some truly interesting characters. The mix of gritty, dark tones and the bright and colourful cyberpunk elements is an aesthetic that I personally love, and it fits Dates & Wires’ ironic style of humour. The fact that the game takes place over one night does limit the amount of development in the relationship between MC and the other characters, but for a single, wild night, you do get a lot of content.

Dates & Wires is an entertaining introduction to the world and characters of the Drugs & Wires webcomic. It features characters who are realistically flawed (some more tragic than others), with the mysterious bartender providing a steamy finale. Players are given lots of opportunities to make choices, which makes it fun to replay for different outcomes. Despite being a short game, it feels very deep, and I’d love to explore the world and cast of Dates & Wires further.

You’ll like Dates & Wires if you like: grungy cyberpunk vibes, satirical/ironic humour, ankle tattoos, cyborgs, unconventional love interests, flawed MCs.

Game Info
Dates & Wires
Producers: Mary, Io Black
Music: NINGEN
Platform: Windows, macOS, Linux
Available: here!

Thanks again to Mary & Io Black for providing a copy of Dates & Wires for this review!

Bonus Content

Image belongs to Drugs & Wires

Dates & Wires takes place in the same setting as the webcomic Drugs & Wires. If, like me, you played the game and are interested to learn more about the characters and their stories, you can check out the webcomic here. If you’re curious about how the game ties in with the Drugs & Wires, the developers posted an article explaining exactly this, which you can read here.

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