I’m a writer, text editor, and indie narrative game developer. One of my primary professions involves the creation of English language visual novels and their cousin, the dating sim. I’m also a voice actor and director who does a lot of work on visual novels. I also just play them for fun because I enjoy them.
Basically, visual novels and dating sims are an immensely huge part of my life and paycheck.
I’ve also worked in advertisement-adjacent graphic design and copywriting.
And I played approximately 80 minutes of I Love You, Colonel Sanders! A Finger Lickin’ Good Dating Simulator so you don’t have to.
It’s Raw Game Functionality is Just…Bad
There’s a certain way you play dating sims, visual novels, and narrative games. Lots of times that involves save-scumming. That’s just an implied mechanic. It’s your failsafe when you make a choice whose consequences you don’t like. That’s how that works. It’s just…a thing. We all do it. It’s expected.
So it’s a little weird that this game doesn’t let you save. At all. Which can be a bold gameplay choice but just makes this game incredibly tedious. If you make one of the dozen or so choices that just goes straight to game over, you get dropped at the beginning of the chapter and have to space mash back to where you were.
You have to space mash because there’s no “skip-text” feature. You can’t control text speed. There’s no auto-forward. There’s no log or text history. These are very common, nay, essential features to playability for most visual novels and dating sims. There’s a reason they’re built into dedicated visual novel engines. Not having them is a tangible deficit that directly affects the gameplay ease and enjoyability. That’s a problem for functionality and accessibility of your product which is just general bad design for anything.
It’s also the first thing that gives the impression that these people have never actually…played…a dating sim.
There’s a Lack of Understanding of What They’re Trying to Satire
On one of the game overs you get from what seems like a pretty reasonable choice for progressing the romance (with the approach to choices being another minor annoyance) you get hit with a “whoa this isn’t that kind of game.” Well then what kind of game is it? Because I don’t totally know if they know.
I didn’t expect it to be a complex, groundbreaking game. It’s an extended advertisement. I hold no illusions that it’s intended as anything other than satire, but it doesn’t even do that well.
Good parody and comedic genre subversion come from a place of earnest appreciation for the source material. You have to know how something works and why it is the way it is to make fun of it in a genuine way. This game just…doesn’t have that. They just printed out the first page of the Wikipedia article for dating sims, ran it through the paper shredder, got a bunch of unpaid interns to paste it back together, and called it their design document. By sheer virtue of the fact that they don’t have endings with Thicc Gurl and Rejected JoJo Character they reveal a total disregard for what dating sim players react positively to. They can’t even pander right.
It’s Not All that Entertaining
I’m remiss to lead with it because humor can be so subjective, but I didn’t really find the game particularly funny. I was able to conjure a rueful chuckle or two, but most of the game was a slog through clunky, lackluster storytelling occasionally punctuated by rather unappetizing illustrations of Kentucky Fried coronary disease. It was boring. The characters lacked any charm. The game overs were frustrating, especially when paired with the tedium of the lack of save. There was no major appreciable change to the narrative based on your choices. It just wasn’t…fun.
The joke started and ended with “lol, what if you dated Colonel Sanders?” Everything else is a mish-mash of commercialized weirdness, poorly executed internet absurdism, and memetic hyper-relevance that’s all going to age just as poorly as those sexist ads from the 50’s.
You Are Not Immune to Propaganda
I think what I find more frustrating than anything is that all the parts and pieces are there to make something genuinely kind of fun. Bishonen Colonel Sanders? Shit, that’s moderately funny. That’s worthy of an ironic fanart competition on DeviantArt. And the company Psyop has made some amazing commercials and campaigns. Those animated Oregon travel commercials? I LOVE those. They’re incredible. And you see that same approach to art in this game. It’s very stylized and kooky and LOOKS great.
That’s what makes it all the more of a bummer that this is what we’re left with. The product itself is shoddy, and I’m not even sure it’s effective as an advertisement. Yeah, they’ve succeeded with their flash-in-the pan virality, but y’all remember that KFC romance novel from 2017? No. No you don’t.
Because who is this advertisement for? What’s the demographic? Who’s buying KFC? The Japanese market is dramatically different than the American one, but it’s an English game of a Japanese-originating genre. Is that the hook? There wasn’t a WAY easier way to draw those parallels? You couldn’t just make a fake anime opening? You had to open up Unity and unleash this bullshit onto the public at large? Was the level of effort worth it Psyop? Was it?
Why Do You Care So Much?
On its own, I Love You Colonel Sanders! is…fine. It’s whatever. Bad ad campaigns happen. Here’s the thing, though. This game is just another part of a bigger conversation about ironic visual novels and their relationship with games journalism.
If you Google “dating sim” right now because you’re curious about the genre, it’s likely the top results are this damnable game. The irony that I myself am writing about it is not lost on me.
Branded games aren’t new. There’s this Fed Ex package sorting browser game that I totally lost two hours playing. Ultimately, though, most of them generally don’t damage the genre of game they are. Chester Cheetah: Too Cool to Fool didn’t irrevocably ruin platformers forever. When a dating sim gets made as a joke, though, the joke is the genre.
“Hah a DATING GAME how droll, not like you’d ever unironically play a game about ROMANCE.” Yes! Yes I would! And do! And I make games that feature romance as an element of a bigger story and I take what I do very seriously even when writing something light and comedic. I care about interactive fiction in all its forms but especially as a method of creative expression for those who’ve felt pushed out of other areas by systemic exclusion.
The English language visual novel development and player community is heavily populated by a number of intersecting communities that have historically faced a lot of obstacles to breaking out as serious artists and content creators. Widely publicized, shitty versions of a person’s preferred artform just make that harder to overcome.
Leaning on an entire medium as the tent-pole of an inauthentic joke falls disingenuous on the ears of those who consume and purvey that medium. I feel like I’m being made fun of on a visceral level by a fucking fried chicken chain, and that leaves a horrible taste in my mouth.