Play a double-bill of Wales Interactive’s Ten Dates and this, Motesolo: No Girlfriend Since Birth, and there’s a very good chance that you will be put off modern dating for the remainder of your life. But if we had to choose between their different styles of dating, we prefer the Ten Dates way: speed-dating with randoms is horrible, but at least it’s only ten minutes of horrible. Going on a blind date in Motesolo: No Girlfriend Since Birth, locked into the most awkward of conversations for an entire afternoon, is a new level of nope.
It no doubt feels worse in Motesolo: No Girlfriend Since Birth because of who we were forced to play. Kimo Kang is a 30-something computer programmer and ‘No Girlfriend Since Birth’ applies to him. Apparently this is a ‘thing’ in Korea, that a growing number of young people have devoted themselves to college, work and then military service, only to find themselves alone with no romantic experience and the wrong side of 30.
In Five Dates and Ten Dates, also FMV dating sims, you played characters who were largely cyphers – reasonably blank entities that you could imprint your choice of personality on through dialogue choices. And these main characters were, as a baseline, reasonably charismatic and likeable. It was your choices that skewed them in the uncharismatic directions, if you chose badly enough.
But in Motesolo: No Girlfriend Since Birth, Kimo Kang is definitely not a cypher. Depending on your sympathies for him, he’s somewhere on the sliding scale between naive nerd and raging incel. This is not a character that is easy to empathise with, nor is he someone that you can change particularly. No dialogue choice is going to stop him being who he is. And that’s a design choice that sends shockwaves through the rest of the game.
Kimo has been set up on a blind date by a best mate with someone called Yumi, a young lady who’s between jobs. So, he arrives early at the modern café where they’re meeting, where the first choice lets you decide whether or not to steal some flowers from a nearby table (spoiler: definitely don’t). Then he greets her at the front.
If you were under any illusions that you could ‘fix’ Kimo, they’re shattered with the first nonsense that tumbles out of his mouth. Most of the time, you have no control over him: he makes an abstract reference, insults her, sings at her or flagrantly lies. Woah. Okay: you’re going to have to run some defence, slowly working back into her good graces through the dialogue options you’re given. Surely, there’s a way back?
But the dialogue choices are also in character. More often than not, you’re picking the least douchey option from a stinking sack of douche. And things play out absolutely as you’d expect. Yumi is gobsmacked, her eyebrows raise and she doesn’t know what to say. It felt like we were trapped in the body of the most awkward person on earth, a passenger with no control over the ship as they headed for an iceberg.
It makes sense in the context of Kimo’s character. We don’t doubt that. But it’s entirely unsatisfying, as it can feel like you’re constantly failing, sometimes faster and harder than other times. Even on the ‘good’ playthroughs, when you don’t make such a hideous mess of things, there’s still a sense that you’re barely concealing Kimo’s real personality.
We have no doubt that Motesolo: No Girlfriend Since Birth has a similar opinion of Kimo than we do. They wink and nudge at him, while his friends take the piss from afar via text messages. Kimo’s even a fan of a self-help guru, accessible from his phone when Yumi pops to the toilet. That guru is hilarious, actually, a cheeky undermining of the Russell Brands and Andrew Tates who think they can turn anyone into an alpha male, whatever the hell that means.
We suspect that the makers of Motesolo: No Girlfriend Since Birth want to have a dig at a lot of the modern dating scene. But the core problem that it faces is that it’s fine as a joke, maybe even a five minute sketch, but playing it for a couple of hours is excruciating. We hate using the word ‘cringe’ but it applies so well here. We played Motesolo: No Girlfriend Since Birth with a permanent wince on our face, waiting from behind our pad for Kimo to say something horrid.
It’s a shame because so much of the craft here is really, really good. It’s filmed beautifully, with incidental shots of the surrounding cafe as the two characters look everywhere but at each other. Only consistent screen-tear brings it down. While the soundtrack is a little too eager to play a goofy signature whenever Kimo does something Kimo-like, it’s chilled in a way that the conversation never is. We have no quibbles with the acting either, and they make the best of a duff situation.
Even better are the additional features, which make this a complete package. Each scene can be reversed, making it easy to go ‘nu-uh’ and return to a previous choice. Scenes can be chosen from an easy to use menu, while you’re constantly unlocking behind the scenes featurettes, audition tapes and the like. This is a passion project, where every last piece of material that went into making it is included.
There’s a good chance that we’re feeling some culture shock. Kimo is intentionally a social misfit, awkward to say the least. A Korean audience might find him adorable, or perhaps he’s an archetype that’s common on those shores. But to our eyes and ears he was borderline unbearable. To then be put in control of him, but not really in control, picking the least terrible option in the hope that someone might like him, was hard work.
Perhaps the fault was on us: we kept trying to mold him into something he wasn’t. There’s a good chance we were playing it wrong, trying to wring a good ending out of Motesolo: No Girlfriend Since Birth when that wasn’t really the point. The best you can do is get a begrudging ‘you’ll do’ out of Yumi. Perhaps there’s fun to be had with that mindset.
Our problem with Motesolo: No Girlfriend Since Birth is that we have already played the more satisfying – but still similar – Five Dates and Ten Dates. We felt like we had a say on those encounters, and they were with people we actually wanted to spend time with. We’d much rather go on Fifteen Dates than another one with Kimo. Sorry, buddy, it’s pretty glaring why you’ve had no girlfriends since birth.