The phrase "monster dating sim" kinda just washes over me at this point like "roguelike'' or "live service game," but Pararomantic (opens in new tab), first spotted by Alpha Beta Gamer (opens in new tab), is something special. This game's first person exploration and chunky retro visuals got me in the door but its development origins are quite surprising: Pararomantic is a class project by a group of game design students at the University of Lapland in Finland.
Pararomantic sees you trapped in a mysterious inn, avoiding a supernatural storm, and you have the chance to get to know, and perhaps para-romance the establishment's strange residents. Think a more quirky and less horrifying take on The Thing or The Hateful Eight and you're 75% of the way there.
While the free demo on Itch.io doesn't give you a ton of time to get to know its cast, the designs are fun and creative. One is a "biblically accurate angel" (floating orb ringed with eyes, unknowable form, that jazz) who's got an "uwu shy" thing going on. My favorite is a skeleton or skeletons hiding in a trench coat who seem to be some kind of gestalt Marxist philosopher.
The real stars are the inn itself and the demo's first person exploration. It's a simultaneously unnerving and very cozy environment, with the sound of rain and crashing thunder coming in from outside. I love the little touches too, like the clutter on the tables or the shelves of multicolored bottles behind the bar. It reminds me of great RPG inns like the ones from Dragon Quest or the Elder Scrolls.
By far the most intriguing thing for me was a discovery in the bathroom. One of the stalls opens up to reveal a passageway underground. Pushing on leads to a stilted and surreal conversation with a cutesy onion creature followed by an assuredly deliberate hard crash to desktop. I'm a sucker for Undertale/Pony Island-style interface gags like this, and I'm curious to see what secrets await underground in a more full version of the game.
This student project has a lot to love, and the 15 minute or so demo is well-worth your time. The students comprising developer Vabajaba haven't said much about their future plans, but I hope they find time to flesh out Pararomantic into a more full experience some day soon.