By now, you’ve probably seen plenty of ads for those games that offer you the chance to choose-your-own-romance. So, I took it upon myself to try half a dozen of these free mobile games with in app purchases so you wouldn’t have to and suss out what is really being bought and sold here.
Is it the chance for anyone to walk through a mystery/romance novel or the chance to “build a boyfriend” and go on simulated dates? Or, is it just a cut scene soap opera trap where all the good options cost a few dollars? Is it a cis female only targeted market? Is the writing any good?
What I found is: it depends on the game, which is confusing as on their faces and by their names they can be hard to tell apart.
For example, in just a few minutes in an app store you can easily find: Choices, Chapters, Episodes, Moments, Journeys, and Storyscapes. Whew. Honestly, I had a hard time remembering which was which, but there were notable differences potential gamers should know.
Why so many choose-your-own-romance games out there?
Well, the Choose Your Own Adventure book series begun in 1979 and printed until 1995 was an immensely popular and interactive form of storytelling and emerged around the same time as the first RPG, Dungeons and Dragons, and the birth of home console gaming systems that sold over one million units. So this desire to play first person through a story is a strong one for our era and goes hand in hand with gaming.
Today, that upwards trajectory of choose your own story continues across genres and platforms, but the growth is particularly notable in mobile markets and in romance and dating simulation. There are so many options – including a popular Japanese game about pigeon dating.
Which brings us to our three games to hone in on: Choices, Moments, and Journeys, which I have unofficially renamed below for your convenience in distinguishing them.
It’s important to note first that each of these games are perfect for someone. Second, this is also an evaluation made completely free of any compensation, endorsement, connecting to or other benefit from any of these games, their makers, or the companies associated.
Journeys features largely women-focused, romance driven stories.
You read a summary, not unlike a Hallmark or Lifetime movie, and then choose your journey. You even use tickets to play that look like old fashioned movie tickets. When I selected the journey/movie Don’t Forget About Me, Journeys immediately gave me three looks to choose from.
That’s it. There is no avatar building. These are all thin cis women. One of them is a woman of color, so at least there is that.
I call these “Live a TV Movie”. No shade intended. We’ve all seen one. If you’ve ever wanted to play through one and choose your own ending: this is your chance.
Moments had the most realistic character art, beautiful backgrounds, and very steamy art at that.
Creating your character, however, still came with very limited choices. The music seems to be very atmospheric and includes some songs with lyrics.
The more stories in Moments you read, by using gems and stars, the more stories become available. They also welcome feedback and have an autoplay feature. From the get go, the options given are usually to either pay in gems for the interesting outfit, retort, question, or plot move, or continue the story without it for free.
While most of these numerous stories are romance and sex centered, there are also erotica niches- from single dad to fantasy – and even specific fetishes, such as the title Stepbrother Dearest. I call this app, “Choose Your Own Smut”.
And I mean that in the best possible way.
Choices. Choices has the most choices and the best writing.
First off, the choices include genre. You don’t even have to play a romance. There are stories that are solely fantasy, young adult, action adventure, and even horror.
Most of the options, however, are romance crossed over with something else, like action, mystery, or sci-fi.
You can also choose gender, many shades of skin and other elements of appearance, and orientation in most of the games.
Like the other games, you make choices in the game that affect not only the end but the next options. In these stories, though, you have the opportunity to replay a chapter if you want to change your mind.
In-game choices include what to wear, what to say, etc. While, it is possible to play through the whole game without spending money, you won’t do it. This is so well designed to sell stuff by not bombarding you at first with unfair options like “go on a date in your pajamas for free or this bomb outfit for $5”.
As the story continues, the price increases only when the choice means more. Therefore, expect to spend what you would on a book in a bookstore to get the experience you want.
That being said, I’m an avid reader, and I felt the several Choices games I played- including Perfect Match pictured below- were at least as good as several books I’ve read recently. There are subplots, foreshadowing, decent dialog, character development of supporting characters, and surprises. I was especially pleased with how few times someone said, “whatever.”
The only thing is, it is a lot like reading a book. Not only is it divided in chapters like levels, the characters and scenes are largely stationary. Their expressions change, and the 2d background, and while there are sound effects and music, you’ll be reading the dialog and descriptions.
This game is really aptly named, so I’ll leave it as it is. Choices also happens to be my number one choice after playing half a dozen doppelgangers, but there’s definitely something out there for everyone. Even pigeons, apparently.
Birch is a mobile and tabletop/board game addict who also spends too much time listening to true crime stories. Writing on any subject is a passion, but geek is a treat. Birch now has three cats to fight for the keyboard and two dogs to fight for the snacks, which is still more fun than practicing law was.
You're welcome to share observations about this article in the comments.