We’re not sure we’ve played a game – or experienced any other media, in fact – that had us questioning whether we’re a good lover or not. Apparently we’re a ‘B’-rank husband. Tetris was never this judgmental.
Love Kuesuto is one of those games that trusses up some simple gameplay with pretensions. You are a man on your deathbed, having lived a full life. You’ve had five wives (something that raises an eyebrow with the nurses), and you’ve reached a stately age. You have hours to live, and that’s fine. You’re comfortable.
It’s not the moment you would expect the goddess Aphrodite to appear. Apparently, in this near-future version of our world, relationships are dysfunctional, birth rates are down and divorces are up. True love has become a fable. This pains Aphrodite, so she plucks you from your convalescence to be the ambassador for humanity. You have to prove whether true love is possible in this new age. Oh, and your answers determine whether you go to heaven or hell. No pressure.
We were hooked at this point. Give or take some typos, Love Kuesuto creates a compelling stage for the game. The art is quirky and moody in a way that reminded us of the fabulous NORCO. The writing is sly and better than your average game, and it’s not often that we get to play a geriatric on their deathbed. Love Kuesuto was intriguing. We expected big things.
Aphrodite has a plan. It’s to present you with a number of situations from – we are almost certain, but we’re not entirely sure – your character’s past. You get a chance to relive them and make the decisions differently this time. These decisions span the extremes of the character’s life: there is one from the moments when you breast-fed from your mother, while there are several from when you were in a care home.
There’s a structure to how these are presented. In all honesty, we couldn’t tell you what every step means – we’re still somewhat in the dark. First, you hop into a maze of nodes. Step on a node and you’re told how many ‘points’ it offers you. Are points a good or bad thing? We think good, but we are still not entirely sure. Then you get to pick one, two, three or four stars for that question. What these stars do, we don’t fully comprehend either. Our guess is that they’re akin to captaining Erling Haaland on fantasy football: they give you multipliers to points, depending on how well you answered them. Honestly, the tutorial should help here, but it’s frustratingly opaque. Which will be a keyword for this review.
Then you’re given the relationship question. You might have encountered a few of them before, as they’re so universal. How do you restart a conversation after an argument? Your wife doesn’t want a present for her birthday, so do you get her one for her anyway? Other questions are more specific and require some empathy, with a dash of emotional intelligence. You have been flirting with someone in the care home, but a new, younger man moves in and she seems taken with him. Do you fight him, give up, or dial up the flirting?
The multiple-choices make this easier, and your answer is given a score. That gets added to your total, and you move on from node to node, saving on occasion and wondering what the seven hells is going on. Eventually every node on the map is done, and you can move between four different mazes. Once all four maps are done, you can face Aphrodite’s judgment. She slaps a rank on you, then delivers a long-winded diatribe about love that we won’t spoil.
It’s all a fancy wrapper on something very, very simple. It’s a game of ‘what would you do?’, a kind of relationship simulator that doubles up as a personality test. You could have been sat on a couch with a relationship counsellor, as they ask you calibrating questions, and you would have gotten much the same experience.
Scratch that. It wouldn’t be much the same. Because a relationship counsellor wouldn’t be quite so abstract and unsatisfying. Love Kuesuto may have very simple underpinnings, but it won’t let you enjoy them. It keeps everything a mystery, and robs your answers of any kind of satisfaction.
Let’s cover the questions first. By choosing moments from the man’s past, rather than ‘romance’s’ past, it becomes a narrow interpretation of love. These are all male and heteronormative, which might feel excluding, particularly if you’re not male or heterosexual. That rigidity is surprising, considering Aphrodite is our host and the protagonist can be whoever they want. Would it have been so bad to hop, Quantum Leap-style, into lots of people and lots of different kinds of love?
Then there are the answers. Love Kuesuto is so abstract, concealing and opaque that you don’t get any meaningful response to your answer. You might unlock concept art and generate a wink from the devil or angel on your shoulder. You also get points, but those points seem completely detached from your answer. It reminds us of the show Whose Line is it Anyway?, and how points are seemingly given willy-nilly with no notion of merit. Is max points good? Did I do well, Aphrodite?
If points are given dependent on the quality of the answers, then we have questions. We admitted to a partner that we had slept with someone else, rather than conceal it, and we got virtually zero points. We helped an ex with her rent once we moved out, and the devil winked at us, intimating that we had picked the naughty option. It’s all so jumbled up and incoherent that picking the right choice was a guessing game.
We know why Love Kuesuto has done what it’s done. A lot of the questions are so subjective that assigning ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answers feels inappropriate. What topic do you raise as an icebreaker? They all seem valid, so Love Kuesuto just chucks a random number value at you. But it erodes the motivation for playing the game. It’s also a mixed-message: you’re getting a rank at the end of the game, so surely there is a form of analysis being done?
Then there’s the judgement, which raised some eyebrows. It’s when we got that B for being an adequate lover, and we started questioning our life choices. But nothing gets broken down. You’re not given a chart that shows how your personality skews. It’s just that B rank, with little to no commentary. We got more nuance out of a Facebook ‘which Game of Thrones character are you?’ quiz.
We got defensive, because Aphrodite subsequently reveals a few things about her values and the philosophy behind how she scores her questions. What she says isn’t necessarily controversial, but it is only one viewpoint on how women work, how women differ from men, and how relationships should be. We realised that we had been scored against this particular metric, and had an inward sigh. We understand that any relationship or personality test is going to abide by its own philosophies and values, but we didn’t think it would be this rigid.
Which leaves Love Kuesuto in something of a quandary. It’s a personality test that doesn’t tell you what your answers mean. It’s a relationship simulator that has very specific, normative ideas about what a relationship should be. And it’s about as transparent and random as a Magic 8-Ball in terms of how it works everything out.
We expected big things from Love Kuesuto because the presentation and setup were so intriguing. What we didn’t want was a personality test lacking in personality, and answers that Mystic Meg would have called vague. Love Kuesuto is a curio, then, but not a particularly satisfying one.