As I’ve begun to learn my preferences and have learned to recognize signs of what I’d rather avoid, it has become more difficult to find dating sims that fit my criteria. I feel like I’ve come close to exhausting the Switch’s selection of games that excite me, though a few still linger on my wishlist, so therefore I must plumb the depths of Steam to try and find my next fix.
Oh. Oh, no.
Digging through Steam’s selection of games tagged “dating sim” is like reaching your hands into a bucket of used syringes in an attempt to find a tube of chapstick. A lot of what you touch may feel similar at first, but investigating further comes with the risk of contracting a strange disease.
Frustrated, I found myself browsing the libraries of developers I’d already covered. Hanako Games has Magical Diary: Wolf Hall, an alternate universe, gender swap version follow-up to Magical Diary: Horse Hall, which I rather liked. Soon, my love. Soon. I found more that piqued my interest in Winter Wolves’ catalogue, the developers of Nicole. I considered my choices before deciding on Amber’s Magic Shop. It has a lukewarm “mostly positive” review rating on Steam, but sounded pretty near the bullseye, so I thought I’d give it a go.
So, sit back while I tell you a tale of romance pulled from this dating sim. I’m going in blind and whatever happens, happens. Don’t be scared, these are written for people who are either intimately familiar with the genre or completely disinterested. If you’re somewhere in between and are considering playing the game, the first heading is spoiler free. Anything after that; here be spoilers.
THE COLOUR OF ONE’S SKIN
Following the exploits of the titular Amber, Amber’s Magic Shop is a standard dating sim that replaces stat building with crafting. It advertises itself as a dark fantasy game, and I have some dark fantasies, if you know what I mean.
It also helps that it’s an otome that has you playing as a dark elf. If you’re really ridiculously observant, you may notice in a couple of my Elder Scrolls reviews that I tend to pick that race as my avatar.
Dark elves in this world apparently carry demon blood and run the risk of changing into a demon if they use too much magic. Or something. That’s pretty cool, but you know what’s cooler? Dating demons.
The game advertises five romance options: three men, one woman, and two polyamorous ones. The polyamorous options sound like something different, but I first have to meet these people.
There’s Daniel, who is such a stuck-up jerk I’m not even letting near my pants; Lair, a noble elf who seems nice enough; Ruby, who is totally a vampire and I am red hot for her; Lynn, another elf who sounds like she’s unwillingly betrothed to Lair; Bernard, a hunky adventurer; and Cosa and her brother Anders (do they come as a pair? *bites knuckle*), two mysterious adventurers on the run from the law, maybe.
THE LIGHT AND DARK
The relationship system in Amber’s Magic Shop is quite interesting. Rather than simply scoring points with your target conquest, you gain light and dark points depending on how you respond to situations. The game’s blurb says that this doesn’t mean wrong or right, apparently there are no wrong choices, but it will affect the ending you get, with some being worse than others. I figure the best way to approach this is to simply give the answers that best suit me and see where I end up.
The game has you spend much of your time crafting and studying, and as the days pass, events start cropping up. I’m introduced to all the romantic options, but immediately two of them stand out; which would be Ruby, my dark mistress, and the siblings.
Anyway, I don’t have a choice with who I pursue off the hop, I’m going to be introduced to everyone’s problems, whether I like it or not. Which, I feel, is how it should be in a dating sim. What’s the fun in getting to know only a few people before deciding who to lock thighs with?
ARE YOU PURPLE ALL OVER?
So, I get saved from sexual assault by a vampire. I meet the other people in passing, then I get saved from sexual assault by a dock worker. You’d think I’d learn to stop taking shortcuts through the slums. Then I get saved from a wolf by Cosa. This game is really targeting my damsel in distress complex.
I’m kind of given a more intimate tour of all the romantic options, and I have to say, I’m still torn between my dark mistress and the siblings. Not just because one’s a vampire and the other is a bargain two-pack, but because, well, they’re legitimately lovely people. Ruby is playfully dangerous while still demonstrating morals, whereas the siblings are just fun, kind, mysterious people.
As time ticks by and the days until my apprenticeship exam grow fewer, I’m given more opportunities to get to know the characters. Eventually I’m given more impactful choices, the game warns. I tell a racist war hero to go screw himself, depriving Bernard of a mentor. I refuse to make a deal with a demon (though, it was tempting), keeping Daniel on the right path. I warn the clan of vampires that the Adventurer Guild is coming to attack them, keeping Ruby from getting hurt. I also learn that Cosa and Anders are actually Cosmina and Reed, princess and prince of the land. Nice. Then I help Cosmina not get eaten by a tree.
I was getting a little worried as the romance ramped up and the days of my apprenticeship ticked down. This was already running long for a dating sim…
THEY GROW UP SO FAST
My fears were put to rest quickly. I aced the exam and suddenly things kicked ahead two years. I was now the owner of my very own alchemy store, and a whole bunch more mechanics were layered on. Likewise, the game gave me the option to turn off various romantic options, which, of course, I’m not going to do. Love is love.
Gradually, old faces began showing up at the shop again. Ruby made her return and we quickly heisted the adventurer’s guild for their money. The things we do for love. Cosmina, despite her regal duties, takes time to escape the castle and see me. Also, there’s a blight going on that everyone blames me and my demon blood for. I decide to try and cure it, giving me a new goal to build my alchemy skills towards.
The downside of getting to know everyone reveals itself: rather than eventually settling on a target and embarking to win them over, you’re gradually asked to stop seeing one of the characters. The first one is a no brainer, it has to be Daniel, since he still hasn’t decided to show any redeeming qualities, but this is going to get more and more difficult. Worse yet, after you choose who you’re dumping, you’re shown a short scene of the break-up. Eesh.
Time goes by and eventually Ruby stops by my shop alone. She complains that her hunger has been getting worse, that there’s nothing better than a human meal, but she doesn’t like to kill for her food. Huummm? Then she asks me to come up with a cure for vampirism. Oh. Come on, Ruby, you’re not broken. Let’s not fix you. I feel so selfish for saying this, but maybe it’s just the vampire in her that I’m attracted to.
A bit later, Cosmina and Reed show up at the shop, once again hiding from the castle guards. I let them steal themselves inside and then find them satisfying their carnal desires in my bed. In my bed!? Have some manners! Anyway, they quickly explain that they’re not actually brother and sister. Phew. But they are still technically related. Oh. They then invite me into bed with them, which I’m not actually given the option of refusing. Not that I would.
I cut Bernard loose, but then Lynn comes at me with something else to consider. She’s decided to go ahead and marry Lair, but there’s a complication: she’s also in love with me. Geez, aren’t I popular? I tell her to go and talk to him about it. I can’t say I’m not interested.
Lair is next, and then it’s time to cut Lynn loose. It’s getting harder and harder, especially with the two choices that are left.
THE FINAL TWO
Are you at the edge of your seat? The vampire or the regal duo. Which will it be? This probably isn’t as riveting for you as it is for me, so I’ll just get to the point.
I ended up with Reed and Cosmina. Together, we searched for the ingredients to a panacea to cure the king of his unspecified illness. Succeeding in doing so, I asked for the hand of both the prince and princess in marriage. I marry Reed publicly and he marries cosmina privately, so we have our tight little triangle. I become a princess and a world renowned alchemist. Then, of course, we get frisky together.
So, why not Ruby? It all comes down to a ball gag. You read that right. I bought her one for her birthday, because I’m so thoughtful. When we next met, I suggested a night at the inn and she brought it along… to use on herself so she wouldn’t bite me. What’s the fun of dating a vampire if you don’t get bitten every once and awhile? So, you can chalk this up to plain old selfishness. The truth has more than just vampirism to it, though. But maybe we can discuss that when you’re older.
After all the romance was wrapped up, I cured the blight and lived happily ever after with wealth, power, and consistent access to threesomes.
SO, UM, ABOUT THAT
Well, I haven’t felt this satisfied by a dating sim in… ever. The graceful mix of well-rounded characters, forbidden passions, and dangerous situations kept me captivated. Which is a good thing, because the whole crafting system drags on for too long. It looks like, through updates, they’ve tried to streamline it a bit, and you can turn it off and just play in visual novel mode, so there’s options if you don’t want to put up with constant crafting.
So, about my final choice; I too am surprised I didn’t go with the vampire, but she didn’t want to be a vampire anymore and who was I to force her? I’m not going to force someone to do something they don’t want just because it attracts me. That’s gross.
But a prince and a princess, that’s a pretty great score, right? Those are some prime cuts of mortals, right there. Honestly, though, I doubt the whole polyamory thing would work for me in reality. I’m too loyal, so I’d never be the one to initiate the relationship, and I’d be constantly worried about hurting someone’s feelings. I’m also prone to feelings of inadequacy, so I’d probably be the one with the hurt feelings. I believe, with enough openness and communication, such a relationship can work, but it’s just not something I can see working for me. At least not long term.
So, I don’t see a relationship with Cosmina and Reed being one that lasts. Perhaps, if I wasn’t so selfish, I would’ve found more meaningful love with Ruby, but we’re playing a game about fantasies, not trying to find myself a stable relationship. I have one of those already. I don’t, however, have the option to crawl into bed with a prince and princess. That’s an opportunity thankfully provided by video games.
This article is based of a PC version of the game purchased from Steam. It was paid for by the author.