This game isn't your real dad - but that's kinda the whole point.
If you are looking for a nuanced, wholesome, and emotionally impactful visual novel experience, you might not expect to find it in a game called Dream Daddy: A Dad Dating Simulator - but wow, this game surprised me.
A lot of the discourse surrounding this game before it was released made it sound like a bit of a joke. People talked about it on Twitter like it was the next Hatoful Boyfriend - a gimmicky dating sim that managed to find a niche that hadn’t been explored yet. And I guess, in some ways, that’s true. But it’s also one of the best dating sims I’ve ever played - and I’ve played more than I’d like to admit.
The writing in Dream Daddy is absolutely exceptional. The dialogue feels genuine, and frequently made me laugh out loud, while also making me feel emotionally connected to the various characters. The humorous and sincere exchanges between the player-character and his daughter, Amanda, were wonderful, and worked together to establish their nuanced relationship. All of the conversations the player-character has with the different dads - whether trying to date them or not - felt unique and built narratives that I sincerely cared about.
Despite being a dating simulator, Dream Daddy does an awesome job of making all relationships feel equally important - not just romantic ones. Although you do select a partner as you reach the game’s conclusion, you also establish rewarding platonic relationships with other dads that you have spent time with. And, at the end of the story, the most important relationship still feels like the familial one between you and Amanda.
Amanda is brilliant. She is smart, sassy, and makes you laugh, while also trying to navigate the minefield of senior high school by passing her subjects, maintaining her friendships, dating boys, and preparing for college. She has this beautiful relationship with her dad that never veers into creepy territory - they tell jokes together, have rituals they share, and sometimes talk about their feelings in an awkward way that perfectly captures experiences I’ve had with my own dad. I related to her wholeheartedly, and playing the role of the father in those exchanges was eye-opening.
Dream Daddy navigates the balance between these wholesome moments and dad jokes perfectly (what about the dad-butts? - Ed). There are hilarious mini-games - like bragging about your daughter with another dad in an RPG-style battle sequence - that fit perfectly alongside more endearing scenes. In my first playthrough, my dadsona, Jaffle, dated Damien, and learning about the aspects of his personality that he felt he had to hide from other people was a wonderfully emotional narrative arc.
I intended to reload Jaffle’s game and play the other dad storylines to their conclusions, but in the end, I couldn’t. I realised that Jaffle needed to stay with Damien, and that if I was going to experience those other resolutions, I would need to make other characters instead. I was invested.
But there was also more to it. The overall experience your player-character has in Dream Daddy doesn’t just rely on the dad you choose to have a third date with - it also relies on who else you dated, in what order, and how those dates went. The storylines with the different dads are entangled, so that experiences you have with each of them are returned to regardless of whether you end up having romantic or platonic relationships with them. This makes your player-character’s navigation of the various choices they are offered feel unique and valuable, rather than a series of checkboxes used to reach a sex scene. In fact, there really isn’t a focus on sex in this game at all. It’s like the game is trying to tell you that there are more important things to worry about.
The fact that the game’s resolution is altered by the myriad combinations of choices the player might make means it’s hard to know if all of possible endings are as rewarding as the ones I happened to stumble across. I’ve heard whispers on the internet that some relationships feel less positive or more superficial than others, so maybe I was simply lucky with the choices I made.
But there are also plenty of discussions online about all of the good that Dream Daddy has done. In particular, many players have been celebrating the game’s explicit acceptance of diversity. When creating a character, the game allows you to play as a cis or trans dad, without any fanfare. You’re able to play with a daughter who is genetically yours, or who you adopted, and it doesn’t change how warm and wonderful your relationship is. There are many characters - dateable and not - with diverse backgrounds and nuanced storylines, and their diversity brightens the narrative, no matter which path you take.
Dream Daddy: A Dad Dating Simulator is so much more than it seems at first glance. I am incredibly impressed by the final product, and I’m glad the team delayed release by a few days to look after their mental health and get some much-needed sleep, as the value they placed on self-care is reflected in the quality of the game they released in the end. If you are interested in a wholesome experience that celebrates friendships, familial bonds, and romantic relationships in equal measure, look no further.