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Romancelvania Review

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Boyfriend Dungeon prepped me for Romancelvania. I might have been skeptical of Romancelvania’s combination of dating sim and Metroidvania without it. But Boyfriend Dungeon showed that the dating sim can form a two-backed beast with different genres. It meant that, when I sat down to play, I was less worried than excited about Romancelvania’s blend of Metroidvania and dating sim. I was kind of looking forward to it. 

Romancelvania is the story of Drac, who has handled a break-up particularly poorly and decided to mope around his mansion for the past hundred years. He’s left his kingdom unattended for long enough that the Grim Reaper has got antsy, and done what all self-respecting friends would do: put on a reality dating game-show, a kind of Love (Dead) Island, with Drac at the heart of it, in the hope that it would get Drac’s – and the kingdom’s – blood flowing again. 

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You’ll love the pumpkins in Romancelvania

The game show is the dating sim side. It formed Romancelvania’s structure, as I was pushed to first find my suitors in the sprawling grounds of Drac’s mansion, completing smaller tasks for them, before eventually dating them. Then it was over to the Big Brother-style chair to evict the one I connected with least, gaining their gameplay perks and working towards a new set of suitors, stacking on top of the ones I already had. And so the cycle of wooing, dating and ditching would continue, until the lucky candidate was chosen. 

As with most relationships, my time with the dating sim stuff was rocky. There’s certainly a lot to like. For a start, there’s a non-binary, sex-positive approach to partners that’s refreshing. Dom or sub, hetero or homosexual, animated objects or the undead: there’s something here for pretty much any kink you can imagine. You can even play Drac as cis male or trans female. And the characters are great fun, a wild cast of sexualised Hammer Horror monsters, which may reveal a sexual soft spot that you didn’t know you had. 

They’re written and acted well too. There was the odd moment where I cringed at poor jokes or an overreach into modern references, but I saw it as something that comes with the territory. This is a reality show set in Transylvania after all, and there’s going to be the odd dissonance. But mostly the characters are varied, the dialogue’s sharp, and the voice-acting in particular is top notch. Clearly, the voice actors were on board with the shmoozing.

But it’s when the dating sim stuff gets folded into a game structure that I felt like things didn’t quite work. I found the continuous loop of finding partners and then dating them to be overdone, and gave a leaden ‘been here before’ feel. There are suitors who turn up towards the end of Romancelvania’s eight or nine hours, who I just didn’t get to know intimately. I was left guessing whether or not they’d be good fun, and got it wrong. They were more superficial than the partners I’d ditched before, and I immediately regretted my decision. 

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Drac and Grim team up in Romancelvania

The characters you pick offer up some substantial buffs, but I got into the knotty choice between picking someone that I liked, or someone who has plentiful gameplay benefits. I hated Brocifer with a passion – a jock-like demon who’s constantly got his digitised waggle-stick out – but I knew he had some of the best buffs, so kept him around. Hey, it’s not because I like you, Brocifer. 

It leaves the dating sim stuff a little uneven. Deliciously executed, but structurally unsound in concept, it’s at least fascinating to participate in. It was the carrot that kept me stumbling onward, because the ‘-vania’ did its damnedest to hit us with the stick. In fact, we’d go so far to say that we wanted to sharpen that stick and plunge it into the Metroidvania’s heart.

The Metroidvania bits take place almost entirely in the grounds of Drac’s mansion. These sections are not integrated particularly well into the game show narrative, so they feel like the spaces inbetween. You need to find a character for the show, which involves traveling from place to place; and in an attempt to ensure that’s not boring, The Deep End Games throws some ghosts, statues, werewolves and skeletons at you. 

Navigating the mansion feels less than satisfying. There’s no map, for starters, so it’s possible to get lost through vague objectives (a pause menu vaguely wafts you in the direction of where you should go), or a confusion around where each place is. There’s no overarching structure to the mansion, so it’s easy for the corridors, attics and gardens to devolve into a mental mush. A lack of teleport portals and save rooms means it’s all more onerous than it should be. 

But it’s the combat that made me moan and groan. The weapons I gained were almost uniformly awful, finding new ways to suck with each unlock. A sword is splashy, giving zero sense of impact and barely any damage to boot. A spear performs a half-hearted dash with each swipe, causing me to pounce onto the end of enemies swords. A hammer takes so long to wind up that I had forgotten that I’d pressed the button in the first place. Only a Belmont-like whip makes up for things, but it comes so late that the damage is done. 

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Romancelvania’s Goyles

There are special moves, gained from potential partners, but they’re so easy to accidentally trigger that I found myself firing them into walls and paintings, well before I reached a room with an enemy in it. Their cooldowns are so insufferably long, so I didn’t get them useable again in time. I ended up sticking to the main weapons and voting off the suitors who gave me the most unwanted (and accidentally triggered) specials. 

But mostly the combat is just so leaden and impactless that I couldn’t wait for the visual novel stuff to come back. The enemies don’t react to any hits, and the weapons acted like feather dusters, caressing opponents’ faces rather than doing much in the way of damage. With some tightening up, including some flow between attacks and visual feedback when we hit something, Romancelvania might have started to shape up. But as it stands, it’s anemic. 

Staging a rendezvous between a Metroidvania and a dating sim was always going to be a tricky task. Would they come together in a meaningful way? There was every chance that one might outshine the other. 

In the end, all our fears have been realised. Romancelvania’s dating sim half is frivolous fun, but its other half, the Metroidvania, drunkenly crashes the party. It ungracefully stumbles about, throwing up on the couch. We certainly know which of the two halves we’d choose to evict, come voting time. 

SUMMARY

Pros:
  • Uneven but polished art
  • Characters and writing are top notch
  • Voice actors give it some welly
Cons:
  • Combat is so unsatisfying
  • Structure gets repetitive
  • Mansion is a pain to navigate
Info:
  • Massive thanks for the free copy of the game go to - 2124 Publishing
  • Formats - Xbox Series X|S (review), Xbox One, PS4, PS5, PC
  • Release date and price - 7 March 2023 | £20.99
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<b>Pros:</b> <ul> <li>Uneven but polished art</li> <li>Characters and writing are top notch</li> <li>Voice actors give it some welly</li> </ul> <b>Cons:</b> <ul> <li>Combat is so unsatisfying</li> <li>Structure gets repetitive</li> <li>Mansion is a pain to navigate</li> </ul> <b>Info:</b> <ul> <li>Massive thanks for the free copy of the game go to - 2124 Publishing</li> <li>Formats - Xbox Series X|S (review), Xbox One, PS4, PS5, PC <li>Release date and price - 7 March 2023 | £20.99</li> </ul>Romancelvania Review
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