I don’t play many FMV games. In my experience, they tend to be glorified movies that last a few hours and barely feel like games. Ten Dates, a follow-up to Five Dates, actually manages as an exception. It keeps you involved by providing many narrative permutations based on your choices. It likely won’t be for everyone, and several of the potential objects of affection are simply far less interesting than others. But the systems and editing are really something and, when the game is good, it’s damn good.
While Five Dates focused on video dates during quarantine, Ten Dates actually has characters go on literal dates. Ryan and Misha are best mates at a speed-dating event. Unbeknownst to Ryan, Misha has signed him up to participate, so the two each meet five potential romantic partners. You can choose to see things from either character’s perspective. Ryan can date four women and one man; Misha can date four men and one woman. This is interesting, as it covers a wide gamut that makes it more likely that there’s a little something for a lot of players, regardless of their gender or sexual orientation.
Both the writing and acting can be hit or miss, but I’d definitely say Ten Dates is more about the hits. Ryan and Misha’s actors are both wonderful. Their performances are immensely natural and often very believable. The game is obviously stitched together from lots of tiny scenes that are intercut based on your choices, and the editing is one of the most impressive things here. I truly didn’t expect it to work this well, but it makes for an immersive experience that flows cleanly, despite just how many little scenes and cuts were necessary.
Pick your poison
As you’d likely expect, the “gameplay” here boils down to selecting between two or three choices during the dates themselves. You have an impressive pick of options. On your first run with each character, you have to go through all five of the first dates. But then you get a choice between two people for second dates, and just a single person for a third date. Therefore, if you want to successfully capture all ten hearts, you’ll need to do a fair amount of runs. The dates are bookended by conversations between Ryan and Misha where they discuss their dates. It all works quite well.
After your initial run for each campaign, though, Ten Dates is designed around accommodating the player. You can choose to pursue just one of the options and press the tab key to skip any scenes you’ve already witnessed. Oddly, this doesn’t always work, but I think that’s just down to how similar some of the lead-ins to various alternate responses are. Each dateable character has their own relationship page showing how many of their scenes you’ve watched, as well as whether you’ve selected certain options during dates with them.
When you start a new game, you can choose what Ryan and Misha’s career focus is, what their hobbies are, their star sign, as well as their profile picture on social media. These can lead to different scenes themselves, which I thought was interesting. If you choose technology as an interest, Ryan and Misha will respond differently to mentions of tech if their date happens to broach the subject. The amount of effort expended here is stellar. Between the second and third dates, you can choose to like your choice’s pictures on social media, which can also result in scenes that wouldn’t have popped up otherwise. But seeing everything is a pretty tall order.
Not quite equal
While the general structure is plenty fun, Ten Dates is lopsided. Ryan has a much stronger campaign. His dates are generally better written and more interesting than Misha’s. That isn’t to say they’re all amazing. The game uses a fair amount of stock tropes for its cast, from the goth vegan who sells handmade clothes online, to the sporty girl, to your (seemingly) typical lad, giant dweeb, and even monumental douchebag. But most of the actors do their best with the material outside of some outliers.
Ryan’s actor simply has much more chemistry with his dates than Misha’s does. For the most part, all of his dates are quality endeavors, save for maybe Brandy due to how monotone her actor is, plus she has some very corny material to work with that isn’t helped by the game’s subpar reality TV-level score. When Brandy’s actor softly mumbles her way through some very serious content that’s punctuated by some laughably cheesy music, there isn’t much hope for the material. Despite this, Brandy still holds up better than most of Misha’s dates.
I blame this on how thinly-written and flat-out boring a couple of these are. There’s one guy who seems more like a wish-fulfillment character for coders who have trouble communicating. He makes a habit of taking Misha to places where he can flex how rich and beloved he is, which had me rolling my eyes. I simply couldn’t imagine Misha dating that guy. Then there’s another who’s so boring and generic that it’s a wonder he made it in the game (I can’t actually remember his name off the top of my head, which I think says plenty). There’s nothing wrong with his actor’s performance, but there’s absolutely little that’s memorable about the character. They stand in stark contrast to Ryan’s dates.
Havin’ a laugh
On the other hand, Misha’s campaign has what is probably the best route in the game, which belongs to a lad with a heart of gold. Their banter is highly enjoyable, witty, and downright funny. When the eventual melodrama pops up, the actor does an incredible job of making it emotional and effective in equal measure. Other highlights include the aforementioned goth girl and the sporty footballer. Ryan even has some chemistry with his same-sex date, Derek. Unfortunately, Misha doesn’t have much chemistry with hers, even if the route itself isn’t boring.
But then there’s one in the game who, compared to the “heart-of-gold date,” is the dating experience at its worst. He’s as completely unlikeable as he is rude. His first two dates are mostly composed of him acting like a piece of garbage while Misha sits and stares with horror in her eyes at just how much of a lowlife he is. I did his capture route for the sake of completion, but it seemed horribly unnatural for Misha to end up dating him (sorry, girl). The guy openly checks out another woman while they’re on a date. If Misha says anything, he gets up and leaves like the little snowflake he is.
To be fair, it’s pretty clear that Misha wouldn’t go for that kind of guy. Naturally, he has the hardest route to get through, as he’ll either shut down or walk away the second Misha says something he doesn’t like. What an asshole. But that’s a fun feature, at least. You can completely botch a date with a poor response. During one speed date, asking a character about his cringey motorcycle helmet leads to him ignoring Misha and texting for the rest of the segment.
Even when the writing or characters doesn’t cut it, I still had a great time with Ten Dates. It does a very good job of actually giving the player some agency and it’s fun to see what different outcomes you’ll get, even if the character you’re involved with isn’t all that interesting. Considering it took me about seven hours to complete all 10 routes, this is a fairly hefty, satisfying FMV game that does a great job of living up to its premise. Except for the fact that there’s no option for Misha to push the rude dude into traffic.