We’ve covered a lot of ground on our trek through synthetic love stories. But the one place we haven’t gone to is dark, or at least playful dark.
We may have crossed the NC-17 line of dating sims, what with Seduce Me and The Royal Trap, but we’ve hardly stepped into the realm of gothic/ dark fantasy. The idea usually conjures images akin to Underworld but gothic doesn’t always mean graphic or violent. Rather, it speaks to a flavor of drama laden with regret, the supernatural, and romance in the midst of a darkened world. No one has a better handle on this kind of wish-fulfilment like dear old Nummyz, whose early title, Moonlight Dating Sim, helped sucker me into the genre in the first place.
Is this a fancy one? No. Is it a fun, trippy experience? Oh yes.
Sit down for this, boys and girls, we’re gonna get freaky
Gotta love it when there’s a button for the plot right there for me. Makes life nice and easy and allows us to play catch-up.
Way back, Nummyz did a sequel to her very first game: My Cup of Tea. Cup of Tea II featured a mystical wood called Twilight Forest, where Canon Love Interest Fantom could be unlocked. His creator, an enchanted body of water called The Pond, grew jealous after the protagonist took Fantom away and infected the world with its fumes. The chemicals turned several people into mindless slaves, but it awakened hidden vampire blood in others.
Our main character is Jenna Moonlight (the goth chick from the first game). Since she’s also a Wiccan, she becomes a Vampiric: half vampire, half witch. It’s assumed Jenna will help Aegis, a group of unaffected human hunters who wish to fight The Pond’s newest creation: Fantom Jr, the Blood Prince. But what if Jenna decides she wants to pursue her vampiric instincts, and join the prince in his crusade?
Like I said in my second review, Nummyz can be crazy when it comes to plot.
Just follow me, it gets easier from here
This game opens with scientist and best-buddy, Mobley, tells Jenna to find Logan. Logan’s an Aegis Hunter, a group of humans who haven’t been infected and fight back the monsters. I question their use since I didn’t have any troubles, but budget restrictions can forgive a lot. Whatever you decide to do, you’re whisked away to a wooded hub world where you can visit one of seven locations. Five on the sign posts will take you to romance candidates, the tree lets you hunt cute animals for money, and the rock takes you to Jenna’s room. The room is little more than a place to sleep or play dress-up, so you likely won’t bother with it.
Speaking of romance, the work of getting your virtual mate to fall for you is deceptively simple. You earn experience with each one by talking to them (or, more specifically, them talking to you) and by giving them one of the gifts in the shop. Thankfully, if you talk to them enough, it isn’t hard to figure out which one will strike their fancy. And this game also features something I wish every other game had: a sleep button on each and every dating candidate screen. Makes life so much more convenient.
You also have plenty of time to talk to your beau and win them over. This means you have oops-proof room to wiggle, but also no sense of urgency. You can run around and make every single person in this game fall head over heels for you if you want and it won’t hurt a thing. But, if you wanna end the game, you gotta pick one candidate and get to either the date or the kiss. This requires 300 EXP for some, 200 for others, and a “secret gift.” Your date won’t complain if you rebuy your previous gift, thankfully, so feel free to spam it.
As I said before, the game is open-ended in terms of what Jenna decides to do. You can romance one of the good guys/girls, kill the new Blood Prince and his brother, or bite your old friends and join the enemy in his new world. In this game, you really are the master of your own destiny, which very few professional games can claim.
Jenna Moonlight still features Nummyz’s almost trademark free-form art, where everyone is loopy and colorful while sporting some extremely questionable anatomy. Character models feel like someone dumped the anime virus on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, as it’s both badass gothic and extremely cute at the same time. However, you’ll also notice as you play that the backgrounds are a stark contrast. That’s because dear Nummyz, in her early days, did what most freebie games did: art on top of real pictures.
This kind of scrapbook look is mildly distracting but fits Nummyz style as a whole: Weird, cute, and oddly appealing.
Mobley is your friend, a friend who gets sick easily and has a weak constitution. As such, he stays inside most of the time and works as your lab specialist. He conducts non-specific experiments that supposedly help you, though we never actually see any results. He’s sweet and pragmatic, and other characters swear he’s easily startled.
Mobley’s dialogue suggests he’s the caring, worry-wart of the group that you’re supposed to feel protective of. With his health concerns and absolute loyalty to you, it’s easy to take Mobley under your protective wing and fantasize about being his guardian.
On the opposite end of the spectrum comes one of the Aegis Hunters who isn’t shy and very much not easily frightened. Logan is your trainer, should you decide to take the “death to blood people” route. He’s crass and rough around the edges, not the friendliest at all, but super protective once he does care about you.
Logan is your Super Aggressive type, for the girls who like the more traditional romance options. He’s our “jerk with a heart of gold” who will do anything to protect you, which is right up my ally. However, Logan wasn’t my favorite, because there’s only so rough a man can be before I give him the boot.
This is a weird one, even for Kathleen. Annej, if the strange name didn’t give it away, is Jenna’s shadow, literally. The two were separated when the pond started fuming all over the place, and now she’s a little vampire who seems terrified of everything. She wants to remain by your side and keep you safe, or at least for you to keep her from hurting people.
Once again, the lesbian option is treated as some pure, innocent thing. But, there are two other male options here that are treated like innocent romances as opposed to sexual ones, so it’s more forgivable this time. That being said, were I into girls, I’d find Annej mildly disappointing. Her personality isn’t very strong, and her stalker-ish tendencies are anything but cute.
Now here we have my favorite option, providing a reason to not go on a killing spree with your enemies just yet. Stas is the brother of the Blood Prince, but the forgotten son of The Pond. He’s gentle-hearted and not willing to kill, despite his instincts telling him to, and The Pond has no time for such weakness. However, this gentle soul trapped in a violent body is willing to devote himself to Jenna if she shows him enough love and care, meaning lots of talking and some expensive black roses from the shop.
All joking aside, Stas is adorable and a very unique option in his own right. If you’re into crossing lines in your dating sim, but find Fantom Jr. too off-putting, I recommend giving Stas a try.
The Blood Prince
Our final option is the main baddy himself, The Blood Prince: Fantom Jr. The Pond created Fantom a second time to be her harbinger of the new world, and all he needs is a princess. It’s implied Annej was supposed to be her, but Jenna can intercept and capture his heart should she choose. With a kiss, you’ll seal the pact as a The Blood Princess, and the new world shall be ushered in.
I am fascinated with the option to throw aside the good guys and join the enemy, an option no other Dating Sim has given me. This idea was so strange and rebellious to me back in the day that it was the very first one I tried. It’s a very well-written dialogue branch that’s just as twisted and romantic as you’d expect it to be, and tons of fun.
Moonlight Dating Sim is once again a very bare-bones game, with a lot of strange hoops it expects you to jump through. It’s rocky in execution, but so appealing in concept that its cheap nature becomes part of the charm. If you want dark that doesn’t get gross or graphic, Jenna is your girl.
Next time: Moonlight Dating Sim II
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