C14 Datingis the newest title from English game developer, Winter Wolves, the folks behind the English otome games, Always Remember Me, The Flowershop series, and Nicole.
I am a huge fan of Winter Wolves, so when they released C14 Dating back in March, I was ready with money in hand! However, I was finishing up my final semester of grad school, so I wasn’t able to play the game until just recently… But this game was definitely worth the wait! I’ve played almost all of Winter Wolves’s previous dating sim/visual novels and I can say with some certainty that C14 Dating is one of the best the developer has to offer.
Before I get into the premise, can we get a slow clap going for whoever came up with the title for this game. For those of you who don’t know, C14 Dating (radiocarbon dating) is a method used to determine the age of objects containing organic materials (wiki). The process is typically used by archaeologists, anthropologists, and geologists. It’s a a dating sim about archaeology… it’s a pun… *laughs nervously*…sorry… *ahem*
So, now that that’s out of the way, in C14 Dating you play as Melissa Flores, a 3rd year American Anthropology student, who has just been given the opportunity of a lifetime! During her summer break, she is given the opportunity to participate in an 8-week archaeological field study in Belgium! Follow Melissa as she gets down and dirty, while excavating at the Calen Cave, over 5000 miles away from home. Will you choose to dig up some history or will you choose to uncover a little romance?
During the game players take control of Melissa Flores by deciding how she spends her time during her stay in Belgium. The game takes place over a period of eight weeks, during which the player will encounter activities common to other Winter Wolves visual novels: stats-raising, mini games, and story mode segments. Each of which are equally vital to completing the game.
So anyone who has ever played a Winter Wolves game knows just how much they love incorporating stats-raising into their visual novel titles. At the start of each week the player is given the option to select which activities Melissa participates in on each day of the corresponding week. Each activity corresponds to a specific stat and each potential love interest has their own specific stat, so tailor your activities to love interest you wish to pursue. After the first week the player can choose additional archaeology related activities by choosing to work in either the Cave or in the Lab. Each location corresponds to each of the different love interests.
In addition to the stats-raising are the mini games, which can be accessed by choosing either the Lab or the Cave as an Activity. I was really good at the Cave mini games, but the further I progressed in the game, the harder they got. And I don’t mean normal mini game hard, I mean ridiculously hard! On the other hand, the Lab mini game maintained the same difficulty level throughout.
Thankfully the developers felt pity on us players by giving us the option to TURN OFF the mini games feature without effecting the overall gameplay! The only effect turning off the mini games has on the game is that players won’t be able to complete their journal, nor will they be able to receive the additional stats boosts associated with each activity. However, it is possible to max out stats without completing any of the mini games.
Finally, like most visual novels, the player decides the course of the story based on the types of choices they make during the game. In addition to raising affection points, choices will also trigger story progressing scenes between Melissa and the other characters in the game. C14 Dating features four GxB love interests and an additional GxG love interest. Each love interest comes with two endings (Friendship Ending and Romantic Ending), there are also two endings in which Melissa doesn’t end up with any of the potential love interests (Alone Ending and Group Friendship Ending).
This guy is yet another Jerk-face McGee, he is by far the hardest love interest to pursue, but I like a challenge! He is quiet and likes to keep to himself, despite the fact that he and Melissa are squaremates in the cave. For the first half of the game, Kyler is extremely distant and aloof, he avoids socializing with the others, especially Melissa. I found that just about every attempt I made to get close to him either blew up in my face or he just ignored me. But when you do manage to break through Kyler’s defenses, you realize he’s a socially awkward, blushing mess! Prior to the game, Kyler was originally enrolled in the teaching program at the request of his parents, who wanted him to become an interpreter. Like many first years he took part in the field school as an elective and he became enamored with Calen Cave and archaeology so he changed his major to archaeology. Since then, he has been volunteering at the cave every summer and he hopes to work for Augustin when he graduates. He has a hereditary condition and as a result he was born deaf, so he wears a cochlear implant.
After a few minor hiccups in the beginning, I really enjoyed Kyler’s route. I knew the minute I decided to play his route first that I was in for a bumpy ride, and Kyler did not disappoint. If you thought experiencing rejection in real life was tough, imagine being coldly rebuffed by a 2D fictional character, not just once or twice, but every five minutes… it’s not fun. But, Kyler isn’t a complete jerk, he just has a hard time opening up to other people, so I found his awkward attempts at socializing cute. But, if you want to get him to open up, I suggest getting him talking about archaeology or the cave.
In the Friendship Ending, Melissa and Kyler watch a movie on their last night together and they remain friends long after Melissa returns home. In the Romantic Ending Kyler and Melissa confess their feelings for one another and spend their last night together star gazing. Both endings come with a mini epilogue (I loved the epilogue for the romantic ending) after the credits. In the romantic epilogue, Kyler is now working at an archaeological dig in Germany. During the winter break he takes a break from work to visit Melissa in the States.
At first glance, Deandre seems like your typical overly friendly flirty type, you know the type… tall and blonde, with a charming smile and an upbeat personality. But, surprisingly, Deandre is a very approachable guy, of all the students at the field school, Deandre is the first student to actively reach out to Melissa. Unlike the other students he can relate to how Melissa is feeling as the lone American student at the field school, since he has some study abroad experience. Prior to the game, he did a study abroad in New Zealand to improve his rugby skills, but he was forced to return home after his student visa expired. Since he is in his final semester of school, he is planning on returning to New Zealand once he graduates. In addition to his studies Deandre is a professional rugby player, but instead of being a jerk about it, he’s really modest. I really enjoyed this route, there was a lot more to Deandre as a character than I originally anticipated. I usually hate characters like Deandre, their overly friendly personalities are just really off putting… But, with Deandre it was different, he’s a fun character with a genuinely fun route that wasn’t bogged down by any complicated drama or angst. I guess the romance aspect of the route went over so well because Melissa and Deandre have such similar personalities. Their friendship and eventual relationship just made sense, this is exactly how a summer romance should be!
In the Friendship Ending, Melissa and Deandre grill out on their last night, and Melissa returns to California. The epilogue picks up four months later, with Melissa and Deandre finalizing their plans for their New Zealand trip. In the Romance Ending, Melissa and Deandre share a drink together while confessing their feelings for one another. They decide to give the long distance relationship a shot, and share what is hinted to be a steamy night together?! The next day, not wanting to separate from Melissa, Deandre convinces her to stay another week at his expense.
Shoji is a total nerd, but a super sweet guy. He is very shy and soft spoken, that is until you get him talking about video games! This is his first year at the caves, so he’s not very familiar with the excavation procedures. He and Deandre were the easiest to please, as their choices are more straightforward (unlike Kyler *sigh*). When I first saw Shoji, I immediately noticed that he was different from the other otoge love interests I’d encountered over the years! He is far from the other more traditionally designed love interests in the game, who are all tall and thin. In fact, Shoji is a little pudgy and significantly shorter than the other guys (though he is taller than Melissa). And, I for one appreciated a male character that didn’t conform to traditional standards of beauty (though I did find him to be cute in his own way). On the other side of that, Shoji fits into just about every nerdy guy trope! Not only is he a gamer, but his crippling anxiety makes for some rather short conversations, and don’t even think about romance! But, when he does muster up the courage to talk, he is sensitive to other people’s space (which is probably why he and Kyler get along so well), never forcing himself on others. In fact, he’s much more confident during online/indirect communication methods as seen in Week 2, when he and Melissa have a lengthy nighttime online chat. Because he is awkward around others he tends to rely on game references when dealing with people one on one (and boy were there a lot of game references). In addition to his mad gamer skills, Shoji is an accomplished artist, a skill he demonstrates throughout the course of the story. On a more personal note, Shoji kind of reminded me a little of my high school prom date, since both were a little on the shy side and were a bit awkward when it came to romance. Because of that, I could definitely relate to Melissa in this route, some of the methods she used to get Shoji to open up to her were some of the same things I used myself. So, I can attest to the realism of this particular route.
In the Friendship Ending, Melissa and Shoji spend their last night together gaming the night away! The epilogue picks up four months later, with Melissa and Shoji finalizing their plans for their upcoming gaming convention in Germany. In the Romance Ending, On her last night in Belgium, Melissa and Shoji play video games together and my word, Shoji first confesses through a video game (so cute), before mustering up the courage to give one of the cutest, most awkward confessions I have ever seen! In the epilogue, Shoji comes to America to visit Melissa and boy did the distance make him grow more bold!!
Hendrik is Augustin’s nephew and a professional geologist. He also has a habit of making geology puns which I found both cheesy and hilarious! During the field study, he serves as one of the instructors/mentors alongside his friend and colleague Rosemarie, and senior instructors, Sherri and Augustin. He is an easy going guy, who’s always willing to lend a helping hand to students in need. Hendrik generally gets along with everyone at the field study, save Kyler. I thought Deandre and Kyler were bad, but Kyler’s dislike of Hendrik was on a completely different level! I felt bad for Hendrik, every time he attempts to get close to Kyler, homeboy gives him the ol’ silent treatment (poor baby). Shaky relations with Kyler aside, Hendrik was an absolute dream, with his awkward blushes and his silly geology puns… I absolutely adored Hendrik! I actually went out of my way to save this route for last and I am so glad that I did, this is hands down my favorite character in the game. I expected Hendrik to be the typical mature love interest, but he was anything but! The fact that he is technically Melissa’s teacher did come up, but the game dealt with it pretty realistically. Most of the time I forgot that Hendrik was an adult with a career, he was just so relatable. He wasn’t some overconfident guy, in fact he was just as awkward as the younger guys when it came to the romance aspect of the game, maybe more so… well, except for Shoji, no one is more awkward than Shoji. It was so cute the way Augustin and Rosemarie kept teasing him throughout the game. Due to an accident in the past, Hendrik lost his arm and now wears a prosthesis on the lower half of his right arm (but, that doesn’t slow him down one bit *wink*).
In the Friendship Ending, Melissa and Hendrik visit Namur together and spend the day exploring the shops. In the epilogue, Melissa is now Sherri’s assistant and will be returning too Belgium to assist new students at Calen Cave. She, Hendrik, and Rosemarie still keep in touch and the pair promise to take Melissa to other archaeological sites when she returns. In the Romance Ending, Melissa and Hendrik have dinner at a swanky resturaunt…and hot damn, Hendrik cleans up nice! Hendrik wins the cutest date award in this game, both he and Melissa are so adorable!! But, because Hendrik is her instructor, he and Melissa decide to put their feelings on hold until the end of the camp. On her last night in Belgium, Melissa and Hendrik confess their feelings and agree to pursue a relationship. But, that’s not all… Hendrik reveals the meaning behind his title as the ace geologist! In the epilogue, Hendrik comes to America, so that he and Melissa can prepare for their road trip, with an added romantic hotel stay!
Joan is one of the Liege students participating in the field study. She is learning English, but her language skills aren’t 100% yet, so she relies on Chantal to help translate. Joan is a music major who hopes to become a music instructor in the future. Like most of the other characters, she’s just doing the field study as an elective, so she’s not especially interested in archaeology. While Joan is a potential love interest, not only is it the shortest route in the game, but her route reads more like a friendship route than an actual romance. On top of that, both Joan and Chantal play an important role in the overall development of the route. So while I liked Joan as a character, the whole thing fell kind of flat for me. However, I will admit that this route had some interesting aspects that didn’t really come into play during the other game routes. There is a huge language barrier between Joan and Melissa, since both only know a little of the other’s native language. In the non Joan routes this doesn’t cause much of a problem as most of the guys are pretty fluent in English, so Melissa rarely uses French. In order to work around the situation, Joan and Melissa rely heavily on online translation tools, which if you’ve ever used Google Translate to translate anything, you can imagine how well that goes. But, I like that they manage to understand each other in spite of the barriers. But, what I really liked about this route was the fact that Melissa actually got to leave the camp over the weekend and spent time with Chantal and Joan. She even got to explore a bit of Belgium, which was something I wish had been included in the other routes. Overall, I really liked this route, my only complaint is that it was almost too short… I wanted to spend more one on one time with Joan, without Chantal.
In the Friendship Ending, Chantal and Joan surprise Melissa with a Sleepover/Nail painting Party! During the party, Chantal paints Melissa’s nails and the trio spend a fun night together. In the epilogue, Chantal and Joan visit Melissa in the US! The Romance Ending, starts off the same as the Friendship Ending, except Joan stays with Melissa and Chantal prepares the food. During the “party” Chantal and Joan promise to visit Melissa in California, afterwards Melissa and Joan share a sweet moment together. For the record, Joan had one of the cutest epilogues! In the epilogue, Chantal decides to give Joan and Melissa some alone time in the States, by delaying her arrival by a few weeks later than Joan. With the extra alone time, Melissa and Joan plan a romantic road trip for two!
I want to applaud Winter Wolves, this is the first otome game (English or otherwise) that incorporated such a diverse cast of characters. The protagonist, Melissa has diabetes, which was written really well in this story! I was so impressed with the amount of details about her condition that were included in the story.Her diabetes isn’t just a passing idea that was thrown in for kicks and giggles, we actually experience the highs and the lows of the condition along with Melissa. We see how she lives with her condition and how that same condition doesn’t stop her from living life to the fullest. However, how deeply we delve into her condition varies from route to route, but as a whole I feel like we learn a lot about diabetes.
Then there are the love interests, not all of the love interests in C14 Dating conform to traditional otome standards (ie. tall, thin, sporty). I loved that the writers decided to include characters like Kyler and Hendrik, in prominent roles in the game. Individuals with disabilities are rarely featured in otome games, and when they are they are usually relegated to background characters or extras. So it was great to see disabilities portrayed in such a positive light, hopefully more game developers take some notes. However, I have one teeny tiny complaint… I don’t think the writers spent enough time explaining anything about the disabilities shown in the game. The worst example of this is in Kyler’s route, his condition is only mentioned in passing and his cochlear implant isn’t even discussed at all aside from noting when he turns it off and on. In Hendrik’s route, we at least get an explanation as to how Hendrik lost his arm, but it was kind of crammed in at the last minute as if it was an after thought.
But, I do want to praise them for is their inclusion of non-heterosexual relationships. Not only was there a female love interest, but Winter Wolves decided to take it to the next level by including an asexual character. First, let me say that I have never seen an asexual character in a game, let alone an otome game, so I found the inclusion of an ace character to be extremely progressive. However, I have the same complaint that I had about the disabilities… it just seemed kind of tacked on. I really wanted to learn more about what the character’s asexuality meant for their relationship with Melissa, I wanted a serious heart to heart discussion about their relationship moving forward. Instead what I got was a watered down confession and an “I accept you for you” speech….Okay, that’s great, but what are the characters’s expectations from the relationship? What are they going to do moving forward? Can we get more information about the character’s asexuality and what it means to them? For all of it’s progressive elements, C14 Dating had a lot of missed opportunities to expose gamers to some unique plotlines.
Overall, I appreciated C14 Dating for all the progressive topics and characters included in the game. But, would have liked to see the writers flesh out some of the ideas in more detail. The art was gorgeous and the interface really reminded me of a scrapbook, from the colorful patterned tape to the font that was used. On top of that, the sprites and the backgrounds were to die for! The backgrounds were lush and vibrant and each sprite had multiple poses. The music was light and fun, and did a great job of carrying the emotions of the characters from scene to scene. The story was cute and there wasn’t any drama or overly complicated situations. I especially liked that the main focus of the game wasn’t romance, but friendship. It really added a much more satisfying element to the game, since the player isn’t specifically out to find love! Now, I will admit that some of the archaeology stuff went over my head (I only took one Biological Anthropology course in Undergrad and I was a Psych major…), but I appreciate the details, especially with the mini game features. So, despite it’s shortcomings, C14 Dating was a fun game and I definitely recommend this game!!