“When you’re with someone who completes you – there’s no better feeling in the world.”

I’m going to kick off a review of a dating sim with a pronouncement: I am not much of a romantic.

I think flowers are a waste of money, I think marriage is a bankrupt institution, and I have never seen a romantic comedy willingly. Someone once tried to convince me that The Princess Bride is a romantic comedy and I told them to never call me again, because I love The Princess Bride and I won’t stand for slander in my house. And yet – I really enjoy a good dating sim, and I am pleased they’re becoming a legitimate genre here in the States. Not just because I like playing them, but because their success is a sign of an ever-diversifying customer base for video games in general.

Recently there’s been a growing interest stateside in the visual novel. One can even argue that Telltale’s recent success with its gameplay-light narrative-heavy franchise games is an extension of the visual novel formula. But the stepchild of the family, the dating sim, is experiencing its own growing audience – primarily young women hoping to sweet-talk anime boys (and sometimes pigeons, as in the delightful Hatoful Boyfriend).

Starfighter: Eclipse stands a bit apart from its more innocently romantic brethren in that it isn’t quite as interested in “romance”, per se. There’s plenty of hand-holding and blushing, sure, but it has more interest in depicting frankly sexual tension than the fluffier romances in most English-language dating sims. It’s an M-rated adaptation of a relatively ribald webcomic of the same name, a sexually-charged space opera concerned mostly with the dynamics of a relationship between a spaceship pilot and a navigator. The game is loosely tied to the comic but is entirely playable with no prior knowledge of any of the events there. Starfighter is tinged with romance at times but it’s geared much more towards being decidedly pornographic – there isn’t much of that sort of thing in the actual main route of the game but its endings are explicit sexual encounters between the male main character and one of several other men on your ship’s crew.

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There’s a snazzy little anime-style animated opening, with a song that’s a bit like a cheesy Depeche Mode-lite. Not even really good Depeche Mode either – more Exciter than Violator. It’s not bad, but I wasn’t feeling it. Having said that, the situational music actually used in the game is pretty cool 80’s throwback synth: a little Mass Effect, a little Blade Runner. My character of choice to romance (Deimos, the tiny pouty Russian sexpot with the swoopy bangs and the crappy attitude) even has a theme of his own when you run into him at one point, and it sounds like a Kavinsky b-side. Sadly, the dreamboat with the eyepatch, Praxis, remains un-romanceable, like a beautiful stoic truffle behind the cold glass of a display case. I wrote my phone number on a piece of paper and stuck it to my monitor but I’m not sure if that worked.

For a game that’s centered around dialogue, nothing in this game’s script is particularly revelatory, and a lot of it in the more explicit cutscenes is a little awkward. I’m going to be real with you – I’m a female in my late 20’s and I’ve read a fair share of fanfiction and this can read a lot like some of the more middling examples. Believe it or not there’s some incredible writing to be found out there in the wilder parts of the internet when it comes to believable sex scenes, but Starfighter isn’t always it. It’s perfectly fine for what it accomplishes, but don’t expect A Midsummer Night’s Dream or anything.

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In a pleasant change of pace for dating sims, dialogue choices actually make sense. I know this seems like an obvious thing but many dating sims tend to give you zero clues as to where a branch might lead – usually it’s just dumb luck or a walkthrough that gets you on the path you want to be on. In this game you can get an easy sense of what’s going to endear a character to you or what’s going to get you airlocked.

The story itself is standard sci-fi fare – there’s a derelict alien ship, some interpersonal drama, some subterfuge – but it retained my interest well enough with a tinge of space horror I appreciated. It’s short, maybe 45 minutes to an hour, and the ending is fairly abrupt on every route. It can feel unfinished if you give it one go-round, as the “real ending” only unlocks after you’ve completed all of the others.

The art is polished and great-looking, and identical to the quality of the artist’s work on the original comic. The cast are all classically bishonen-manga pretty and easily distinguishable from one another, both in looks and in personality. It has a striking visual language in its ghostly, low-contrast palette, and the minimalism of its color choices (black, gray, white, glowing pale greens, and very little else) make for an engaging aesthetic.

The setting and thematic elements of this game, and the comic it’s based on, are relatively unique amongst dating sims and entertainment geared towards women in general. The slick sci-fi vibe is done well, the ship designs are neat, and the greater world is interesting enough to make me curious for more of it, as opposed to just being a backdrop for romance. I’ve frequently maintained that the comic’s strong visual presentation and effort at bits of world-building would make for an entertaining movie adaptation even without all the sexual content.

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I played through this a few times to get different endings, and like many games of this ilk, only playing it once gets you a very small slice of the bigger experience. There are tons of unlockable CG images and a lot of branching dialogue to be found upon replay. Thankfully, the Date Nighto browser platform allows for up to 8 user saves, plus 2 autosave slots, which is a great thing for these sorts of experiences where you might want to make backups at different branches to try out the various paths.

Normally on a PC game the player would have functionally infinite saves, but the “system”, so to speak, is a relatively new delivery platform for visual novels that is entirely browser-based with zero installation or local saves. My experience with it was quick-loading and very stable – this is the first game I’ve played of theirs and I never encountered any hiccups, lag, or bugs of any kind. Smooth as one of those weirdly silky spacesuits everyone wears in this thing that artfully showcases every crease of their lithe musculature, if you’re into that sort of thing. It also has crossplay wherein you can play on your mobile or on any PC with no installation or having to do anything but log into your Date Nighto account.

The $20 price tag seems high, but Starfighter: Eclipse is a well-produced, great-looking dating sim on a delivery system I think is exciting and promising. However, unless you were already mostly sold at “cool-looking sexy sci-fi dating sim”, I can’t say anything here would convince you. It’s certainly for a niche audience, but I think that’s part of its charm: if you’re someone interested in a great-looking visual novel with a lot of unapologetically homoerotic content and a surprising degree of replayability, you should absolutely support this sort of endeavor. Date Nighto has done a great job with this property and fans of the comic should love it as a faithful adaptation that is exceptionally true to the tone and look of the source material.

About The Author

Contributing Editor

Erin was born in a sci-fi convention hotel room, cradled in a bed made of gold box D&D games, and swaddled in a blanket sewn from pages of the Silmarillion. Her first writing gig was in 3rd grade when she was paid one whole dollar to make a cutting satirical pamphlet about the lack of pop-tarts in the cafeteria. It won a Peabody.

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  • Thanks. Thanks too for mentioning the Date Nighto platform. Articles on this website rarely get into the practical elements of the games. They are written as if this isn’t the only article you are going to read about this game, or as if you (the reader) are going to run off and do more research. Little to no context.

    I just hate to read pieces with no comments. It took me years to figure out that visual-novels can be like choose-your-own-adventure books, or maybe they always are? I think it’s not a fitting label. Hyper-novel at the very least would be suggestive of a branching underlying structure (stateless or no?)

    See if you can’t research what a visual novel is, you are not going to research a visual novel that you just read about. But just because you are not going to play/read? the game/book? doesn’t mean it isn’t worthwhile to read an article about it.

  • neolavender

    This is truly golden. Great review!