It breaks my heart that visual novels (and dating sims, which fall under the visual novel umbrella) aren’t more popular in English-speaking countries. Despite their overwhelming popularity in Japan, their popularity in the rest of the world just never seemed to really catch on. It’s considered a very niche genre–a niche genre which I, for one, am a huge fan of. If it wasn’t enough that it was being published by the Game Grumps, Dream Daddy immediately caught my attention because it’s a dating sim. In fact, not only is it a dating sim, but it’s an indie dating sim that was being made in America. Just last year a similar dating sim–Asagao Academy–was released and it ended up being excellent. Between that and the Game Grumps logo being attached to it, I felt pretty excited about it when I first heard about Dream Daddy (when it was announced on Father’s Day, no less). My excitement was met, unfortunately, with disappointment.
Dream Daddy: A Dad Dating Simulator, for those unaware, is exactly what it calls itself: A dating sim full of dads. You play as a single dad who happens to live in a neighborhood full of single dads, now you must romance the single dads. As far as a dating sim goes, it’s pretty standard–you’re presented with choices, make decisions based on what you hope to achieve (a good ending or bad ending with the dad of your choice). Dream Daddy also features a few mini-games sprinkled throughout which helps give the game a bit of a unique flair, gameplay wise–including a character customizer at the beginning that lets you design your protagonist (one of my favorite parts of the game to be completely honest).
As a lighthearted comedy game, Dream Daddy succeeds. This is a game that’s very aware of what it is and how much people love dad humor (read: mostly a beautiful onslaught of puns) and embraces it to the fullest. Even when you start the game and select the quality of the graphics your options are dad, daddy, and daddiest–if that’s not enough to already get you in the mood for a silly dad-humor game and tell you exactly what kind of a game this is (humor-wise, at least), nothing will. Dream Daddy is relentless in its dedication to getting the player to laugh with its lovable dad humor–much like a real dad could be. If you’re in the market for a game that’ll crack some hearty laughs out of you, look no further than Dream Daddy.
Aside from its comedy, perhaps Dream Daddy’s next biggest asset is its style and aesthetic. This does include the art and music used throughout the game, yes, but I’m referring more specifically to its commitment to being itself: A game about dads. There are dad tips on the loading screens, a social media site in-game called Dadbook, and let’s not forget the aforementioned graphic settings of dad, daddy, and daddiest. Dream Daddy commits itself to its identity further than most other visual novels or dating sims would ever dream to go–which makes for a very upbeat game overall.
With the comedy and style being Dream Daddy’s biggest selling points, the characters are certainly next. Being a game about love, these characters were definitely designed to be lovable–a feat in which they definitely succeeded. Not a single character in the main cast is blatantly dislikable–as a matter of fact, I quite like the entire main cast. This includes, if not means especially, your daughter Amanda–your absolute biggest supporter in the game. In a dating sim, having likable–if not lovable–characters is a must. As you’ll soon read, Dream Daddy wasn’t able to deliver a number of other dating sim musts so it’s good to see that they got this one at least.
As a dating sim, Dream Daddy misses the mark entirely. Once you go on a third date with a dad you two get intimate. You throw a graduation party for Amanda (this happens in every ending) and then have a heartfelt moment with your new boyfriend (or friend, if you get a bad ending). Then the game ends. That’s it. This would’ve been the perfect spot to add the full route of the dad you chose–a 1-3 hour story focusing on them and your relationship with them. Perhaps on the struggle of being a single dad, how they became a single dad in the first place, their kids, their exes, other issues in their lives that the full game only scratches the surface of. So many questions and conflicts are left unresolved in Dream Daddy that this could’ve been the ideal time to address them and make a good story arc out of it, yet the game didn’t.
The whole game was the equivalent to the prologue or first chapter in any other dating sim: It was your time to get to know the characters, maybe get an inkling of their problems and what their route may be about, and ultimately choose who you want to date. The substance of any other dating sim starts once you and your new romantic interest start actually dating–something that happens at the literal end of Dream Daddy, mere seconds before the credits roll. When I got to my first ending I genuinely thought I’d simply completed the first chapter or a prologue–not finished the whole game. In any other dating sim, your becoming a couple with the character of your desire is generally where the game truly starts–not where it ends, as it does in Dream Daddy.
The overall tone in Dream Daddy is one of being incomplete. Even ignoring how the character routes themselves feel unfinished (nay, practically non-existent)–the heart and soul of a dating sim–there’s still a sizable list of other core qualities of not just dating sims, but games in general that Dream Daddy simply lacks. Despite allegedly having “branching paths with different endings” the endings are are virtually identical and the branching paths actually aren’t horribly different from each other. With the endings all being literally the same thing but with a different dad, it feels incredibly lazy–like they just copy/pasted a good ending and a bad ending and then just put a new dad on each. I’m willing to look past a visual novel or dating sim having few significant choices for the player to make if the writing calls for it, but the writing of Dream Daddy is no where near that level and had many unrealized opportunities to create a branching path, yet didn’t.
When I think about Dream Daddy and its lack of choice, I specifically think of Amanda and how all of your events with her are inevitable–she’ll always vent to you about her friends, she’ll always get accepted to the school she wants, and you’ll always throw her a graduation party–the 3 major events in her arc. But what if you had been a bad dad to her? What if the game gave you options that were less favorable to Amanda, like ignoring her outright? I know it sounds like something only a jerk would do, but for the sake of branching paths and a truly bad ending, I wish the option were at least present–because it would be an option in general, something this game seriously lacks (and a sin for dating sims). Alas, Dream Daddy in all its gushing positivity is too polite of a game to offer a truly bad ending–even its bad endings aren’t actually all that bad. In trying to be so positive, it’s prevented itself from being negative–a dangerous gamble for a dating sim that didn’t work out in Dream Daddy’s favor.
Secondly, the sound design is noticeably inconsistent. It’s glaringly obvious whose voices were recorded in the same studio or even in the same room with the same mic because the sound quality in Hugo and Damien’s voices (Hugo moreso) sound noticeably worse than the others. Ideally, in editing the sound quality, a better consistency between them and the rest of the cast should’ve been reached–again, at the very least with Hugo, who’s a few octaves louder than the rest of the game in general and has a strong echo. Damien on the other hand is significantly quieter–practically inaudible at times–than the rest of the cast.
The inconsistent sound design is more nitpicky than these other critiques, I admit, but it seems like something that should’ve been such an easy thing to fix that I don’t understand why the devs would release the game with such a small yet obvious problem like that still in there. Perhaps it’s simply not as easy of a fix as I thought (even though they could’ve recast them and made it easier on themselves if that is the case), but to me this reads as yet another cut corner that didn’t have to be cut made in the name of releasing a product (a product with Ray Narvaez Jr.’s name on it, no less) rather than releasing a high quality product.
Finally, there’s still a fair amount of bugs to be found–though only one of them is major. Most of the bugs I encountered were in the dialogue (I’d choose one thing, and even though it would happen, it would give me the dialogue for the other), but it’s also worth mentioning that the fast forward button didn’t always work and, most importantly, the autosaves were atrocious. Not only would they happen sporadically (sometimes within seconds of each other, sometimes at the end of a major event) but they’d also go into different save slots each time–therefore overlapping my own saves. Since you can’t choose what save slot you want to save your own file to, saves are made absolutely pointless. There doesn’t seem to be a setting where you can either turn off the autosaves or at least have them save in the same save file. This made the game nightmarish–I couldn’t go on the 2 dates with each dad, save the game, and then go on the third date with each dad across the board (which would’ve been more than ideal for saving time). Instead, I had to restart the game each time I wanted to date a new dad and go through the same dialogue over and over (something I got sick of really quickly, as I’m sure you can imagine, because as I said before–there’s too much total inevitability in this game).
If this really was a prologue or first chapter for a dating sim, this would’ve been an excellent prologue signalling a spectacular game: Ample time and means to figure out which dad you like best and ends at just the right moment with just enough conflicts exposed yet unresolved to really let the story take flight. Unfortunately though, in ending so abruptly and without closure, it only makes the game feel incomplete. Like exactly what it should’ve been: A prologue for an excellent dating sim.
There’s so much potential in Dream Daddy–it’s a genuinely funny dating sim with a positive message, lovable characters, and even allows for protagonist customization. But alas, no amount of charming dads, mini games, or character customizers could’ve saved Dream Daddy. Its fatal flaw is that it simply doesn’t feel finished. It’s the equivalent of reading a novel and suddenly stopping after a third of the way through and calling it done. If it had only been longer–even if only 1-3 hours–and had more fleshed out character arcs, Dream Daddy could’ve been excellent. If you’re looking for a comedy game that’ll give you a good laugh, Dream Daddy is perfect for you. If you were hoping for a good dating sim with substance, however, you should pass on Dream Daddy.