Eternights, from indie developers Studio Sai, is a promising dating sim with a twist. No, you won’t be going to an all-bird school like in Hatoful Boyfriend, nor will you be dating the finger-lickin’ daddy in I Love You, Colonel Sanders!
Instead, Eternights brings fast-paced action and RPG elements to the dating landscape. That alone would be a pretty interesting addition to an otherwise casual genre, but add an apocalypse, mutated classmates, and superpowers, and you’ve got yourself one of the most original dating sims on paper.
But how do these ingredients mesh when put into practice?
The Story of a Really Fun Anime
Eternights centers on the player character – whom you get to name – and his struggle to find love in his hormonal teenage years. His loveable best pal Chani is a self-proclaimed ladies’ man who floods the MC with dating apps with the promise of infinite swipes (think Tinder) – eventually.
Outside of their failures to find companions, facilities containing a new anti-aging drug called Eternights go awry, infecting several people with the substance and causing them to mutate into some genuinely horrific creatures.
Think that’s bad enough? Meanwhile, the main character is being pursued by a superpowered bounty hunter because of his connection to a god-like being named Lux. Lux and a secondary god are at odds with one another, and you are granted magical abilities to help Lux stay in power, therein saving the human race.
There are a lot of brutal moments as well. You watch a fellow survivor get beaten to a quite-literal pulp. Your arm is removed as blood pours from your bicep. And under the feigned charisma from Chani, the characters are trying to cope with the emotional stress caused by the horrors of what they witness. It has all of the elements of a really good anime.
Oh yeah, and there’s dating. You and Chani will stumble upon female survivors during your attempt to reclaim The Stone for Lux. You will presumably be able to take these girls on dates in the full game, but we only met one in the preview. High school pop idol Yuna falls into the same tropes as every version of this fictionalized student. “I’m so popular. No one understands me. It’s hard to make real friends. I want a normie boyfriend.”
Yuna is fine. She’s not annoying, and she fits the “best girl” mold relatively well. Her major issue is that she feels like a character I’ve seen reused hundreds of times, which makes me a bit wary of the other love interests and what overused tropes they’ll bring to the table.
Luckily, Yuna is a healer, so she’ll likely be in my party full-time when the game releases, as the combat is no joke.
Eternights Combat Is Quite Addictive, Dating TBD
Eternights feels like it lacks the polish required to make it a truly extraordinary game. It’s weird to have a talking “webcam” version of each character on screen at the same time as their actual person. Mouths move live Pac-Man when they talk. Cutscenes end abruptly. Sometimes they’re animated, sometimes, they’re CG, and sometimes they’re gameplay. And while dating sims aren’t always known for their quality, Eternights can sometimes feel like a step up from a fan-made Ren’Py game.
That said, the combat feels so good. I found myself wanting to spend more time killing waves of enemies rather than trying to get to know Yuna. You can perform a perfect dodge to enter a flurry rush state similar to Tears of the Kingdom. There’s a button you can press to deal extra damage at the end of a combo, and the elemental burst sequence is a watered-down limit break from Final Fantasy.
There were moments when I felt the combat was too easy, like locking a boss into an infinite stun lock loop while trying to break its shield. But as I progressed, my health bar didn’t stay as full, and I’d have to manage to summon my companion while dealing with hordes of grotesque monsters.
While combat is great, I can’t say the same for dating, as I’m not sure what that’s really like. The preview really leaned into combat and laid the groundwork for the story. You do pick up one potential love interest, but you only get a glimpse of what relationship building is like at the very end.
There are several dialogue options throughout the story that will add points to different social stats: Courage, Expression, Confidence, Acceptance, etc. We assume having enough points in a specific category will unlock different dialogue options down the line. And you can earn affinity with each character by selecting the proper dialogue choices when speaking with them one-on-one.
For Yuna, we told her we saw her in her bra – which she liked(?) – and then told her we were cool, which she also liked. This not only raised our relationship with her but also upgraded her skills, which means players may have to forgo their own romantic desires to ensure they have the best buffs for their party.
I wish the preview had shown more of what dating was like amid an apocalypse. Instead, we barely scratched the surface by the time it was over. That said, the combat was delightful. If Eternights was just its combat and story, I’d already recommend it to anime fans, as it scratches a certain itch that RPGs sometimes lock behind skill barriers.
Of course, there’s always the possibility that Eternights devolves into some harem-esque male power fantasy that anime and dating sims often do. But for what the preview was, it was a pretty unique and enjoyable experience.