Raptor Boyfriend understands where previous dating sims and choose your own adventure games have gone wrong, but that can’t stop it making some missteps of its own. In the game, you play as Stella, a new girl in town who immediately stumbles onto three potential love interests, and must decide which one to pursue. As the name of the game suggests though, these love interests aren’t exactly typical.
One of them is a velociraptor named Robert. He’s a totally rad jock, skateboarding everywhere and wearing his hat backwards, all cool and everything. Clearly being a velociraptor isn’t enough to stand out. Of course, in Ladle – the town where the game is set – it isn’t. The other two love interests are a Bigfoot named Taylor, and a fae named Day, the latter of which is a queer romance option. There are a few other characters that help explain why being a literal velociraptor isn’t an interesting enough hook, like Ingrid the ghost, but you spend most of your time choosing between the central three.
You might have picked up by now that Stella, Robert, and Taylor being trapped in a messy and mystical love triangle is a nod to Twilight – the characters are named after Twilight protagonist Bella Swan and the male leads in the movies, Robert Pattinson and Taylor Lautner. Day? I don’t know, I guess she’s the Dakota Fanning, or the Anna Kendrick, or the third actress I don’t want to waste time looking up on IMDb.
The developers confirmed this inspiration in an interview with me a few months back, but had I not known it going in, I probably wouldn’t have picked up on the Twilight inspiration. The names are obvious once you know them, plus there’s the love triangle and obvious softening of Taylor Lautner’s werewolf into a Bigfoot, but neither the story nor the tone of Raptor Boyfriend feel like Twilight at all. It’s a lot closer to Daria, MTV’s Awkward, or The Edge of Seventeen, except unlike those three leading ladies, Stella isn’t particularly cynical. She’s whatever you make of her, but sometimes that can get in the way of things.
One of the most annoying things about choice based games is when they lie to you about your options. It feels like when a magician asks you to pick what hand the coin is in, then it turns out it’s in neither, it’s in your pocket, you big, stupid, non-magical idiot. Mass Effect Andromeda is notorious for this, where a choice might be labelled as ‘no, I don’t think so’, but choosing it makes Ryder slap their companion’s face while screaming “No, you big, stupid, non-Biotic idiot!”
Raptor Boyfriend does away with this, instead having your choices be to guide Stella. For example, when you first meet Robert, you’re the victim of a prank that hasn’t really worked out. He tries to save you from embarrassment in front of everyone, while also trying to save face himself. You get to choose your responses, but it’s all about the wider intentions – you don’t choose what you say so much as your general reaction to the situation, and how much you’ll play along.
This still doesn’t guarantee that what you click is what you get, however. On her first day of school, one of the options is for Stella to be ‘sexy’. Since she’s such a dork though, what happens is that Stella tries to be sexy and ends up being even more awkward than if she had simply been herself. These choices, where you shape Stella’s direction rather than her exact responses, make her a much more endearing character – you’re never irritated that the game poorly explains its own responses, but with Stella not always cool enough to follow through on her own ideas, she can still surprise you.
In many dating sims, there’s the constant worry that you’re going to say the ‘wrong’ thing, either by a poorly explained dialogue option or through the game’s reliance on specific responses, a hidden approval system, and secret lock-ins. Raptor Boyfriend does away with all of this – you can’t miss out on the one you want, and in fact even if you decide from the first meeting it’s Stella and Day forever, you’ll still need to go through the motions with Robert and Taylor because the game wants to make sure you leave your options open. You get to choose who to spend your limited time with, often having to make a straight choice between the three, but in the game’s attempts to avoid the frustrations of other dating sims, it introduces new ones.
There are never any stakes in Raptor Boyfriend, and while I get that it deliberately downplays them for a less stressful experience, that sapped some of the flair and passion out of conversations. Also, while its exploration of anxiety was interesting and somewhat complex, the fact that playing the game is such a breeze seemed to go against that. Again, it’s deliberate, and I understand why, but I would have had more connection to these characters if they weren’t so insulated by their visual novel mould.