The dating sim genre has let gamers immerse themselves in the romantic lives of pigeons, hot dads, and even Colonel Sanders.
Now, we can add senior citizens to that list, thanks to Later Daters, a new visual novel from Toronto and Peterborough-based developer Bloom that hit Steam and the Switch last month.
Boasting a gently retro art style and a theme song that verges on Too Many Cooks-level catchiness, Later Daters casts the player as the newest resident of a retirement home populated with a variety of eligible silver foxes.
The decision to focus on seniors came after Bloom completed a mystery-focused teen dating sim called LongStory, which also included queer themes.
“We wanted to make a game where we related more on an emotional level to the characters – and decided to go in the complete opposite direction from teens to seniors,” says Bloom production manager Chris Fitzgerald.
“As developers, we’re interested in stories about what happen when you fall in love later in life. I think there’s a lot more poignant stories that can come from that.”
Along with being able to romance characters of different genders, Later Daters lets you customize your presentation, your pronouns, and the identity of your former spouse. (You can also have a pet robot – which is unrelated, but worth mentioning.)
“There are fluid characters and some who have set sexualities, but for almost all the characters, you can pursue them regardless of what your customizations are,” Fitzgerald says, adding that if you choose to play with a more masculine or feminine presentation, you’ll see subtle differences in the story.
The option to play as a nonbinary senior has been particularly exciting for a number of players, Fitzgerald adds. “Just having that option in-game – it makes them so happy just to be able to make that choice,” she says. “Even if it’s not their identity, they can explore different perspectives (through the character).”
To flesh out the characters and story, the team did a number of first-person interviews and researched the dating experiences of the over-70 set, particularly queer seniors. “Older queer folks just have these stories that I think we don’t really hear that often, and are just really fascinating,” Fitzgerald says.
The game’s characters deal with transitioning later in life, unsupportive adult kids, and the lasting impact of the HIV crisis, among other issues. A guiding concept for the team was “queer time” – the idea that a lot of LGBTQ adults’ lives don’t follow traditional milemarkers of adulthood like marriage, kids and homeownership. “They’ve lived these lives that are kind of off the beaten path,” Fitzgerald says.
While Later Daters has its share of adorably whimsical set pieces and (grand-) dad jokes, there’s also an element of loss that’s omnipresent in the game: Most of the characters are widowed, and at one point, everyone convenes for a moving grief group therapy session. (Lest that sound like too much of a downer: There are also a fair number of jokes about the residents’ ongoing retirement home death pool.)
“The idea of grief and loss makes the idea of love and belonging feel more urgent in a way, so it wasn’t something we wanted to shy away from, and it makes the rest of the story even better,” Fitzgerald says. “I know there are some streamers (playing Later Daters) who have a lot of fun during their streams, but they’ve gotten emotional at certain parts.”
While their previous game was released for mobile platforms, Fitzgerald says Later Daters is finding early success on the Switch amid an increased appreciation of North American-made dating sims like Dream Daddy. “I think visual novels do really well on the Switch,” she says. “It’s almost like an e-reader, like a story you follow along.”
The visual novel style has also proven to work well with a new, if not entirely surprising, new audience: Seniors. When Bloom took the game to PAX East and West, their booth wound up attracting plenty of older folks, many of whom had tagged along with kids or grandkids to the convention.
“It’s low-level in terms of learning how to play, just clicking through the story and making choices – they seemed to like it,” Fitzgerald says. “I think they maybe weren’t sure games like this existed.”
Part 1 of Later Daters is out now, with a free minigame DLC and a second chapter coming later this year.