Loveless on Lockdown is a short romance indie visual novel developed by ilyilaice, Marionette, onboroo, and HUMAN PYRAMIDS for the game jam Nanoreno 2021. In the game you play as Mara, a freelance researcher who like many of us is working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic. She is absolutely NOT looking for love, but somehow despite her best efforts it finds her just the same. If you thought dating was hard before imagine dating in the middle of a pandemic…
Over video conference, Mara and her family celebrate the 2nd birthday of her nephew. Even though she cries over missing the magical moments of Mikel growing up due to COVID-19 restrictions in the Philippines, Mara’s Kuya only teases her for being almost 30 and still single.
Her family doesn’t know what they’re talking about! Who needs romance when Mara gets all the happiness she needs from watering pixelated plants, ranting to her online friends, and inhaling ice cream by the carton?
Love and all the melodrama it entails? Overrated! She wants none of it!
– Loveless on Lockdown Official Synopsis
You’d think we’d all be burned out on COVID-19 (especially a year into the pandemic), but Loveless on Lockdown offers a refreshing look at the pandemic from the perspective of a single woman. As if dating wasn’t hard enough before, now we have to throw in social distancing, face masks, and Zoom chats into the mix, and as someone going through the pandemic solo, let me tell you, this is one of the more relatable dating sims I’ve played in a LONG TIME.
Mara is a pushing 30 and the isolation of the pandemic has made it kind of hard to find a partner. Not that it bothers Mara much, since she’s busy living it up playing her fave management sim, Bobba Tea Brewer Bros. and chatting with her online BFF—who has time for romance? Well, love doesn’t stop just because there’s a global pandemic and chance encounters with two strangers could be the start of a brand new romance. Loveless on Lockdown has two love interests: A frontline worker who mans the fruit stall at the local grocery store and a fellow tenant Mara sometimes bumps into on the elevator. Not gonna lie, both options are super cute, it’s hard to pick a favorite.
Mara is a delight and as someone who is 30, I can definitely relate to dealing with family expectations about finding a partner—and with the pandemic, it’s honestly not the easiest to meet new people let alone find romance. Rather than dwelling on the lack of prospective partners, she gives in to the endless cycle of work and hobbies to pass the time. She isn’t looking for love, it just kind of sneaks up on her and given everything going on in the world she’s definitely open to whatever life throws her way! Also, that sweatshirt and shorts outfit is my go to pandemic look and Mara rocks it!
Because the game is set during the height of the pandemic, social distancing protocols are in place, so the romancing is a bit different in Loveless on Lockdown is a bit different than it is in most romance visual novels. Instead of holding hands and cuddling, Mara and her chosen LI spend time chatting online via MatteApp (it’s Line) and using video chats. And, when they do meet up it’s still within social distancing protocols. In the Grocery Clerk’s route they go on walks around the neighborhood a safe 2 meters apart while wearing masks. They talk about their day and do one of those compatibility questionnaire to get to know each other better. In the Apartment Tenant’s route they leave notes and gifts outside each other’s doors. There’s even talks about vaccination plans before they Mara and her chosen lover even visit each other’s homes.
The game even addresses some of the issues people face because of the pandemic, like how hard it is not being able to see friends and family in person. During a family conference call, Mara breaks down because she feels like she’s missing out on so much by not being able to visit her family—a sentiment I think we can all relate to. And in one of the routes, one of the love interests meets with a therapist regularly to deal with their feelings of loneliness and isolation during the pandemic. There’s even a scene that briefly addresses the bigotry and prejudice some people have towards folks from China (the person is swiftly called out on her BS in a moment of awesome). The devs go the extra mile to show the highs and lows of post COVID life and I really appreciate this level of detail, it makes for a much more organic experience.
Honestly, I wasn’t sure how much I’d enjoy a game where the characters can’t really touch or kiss or any of the other things you’d expect from a romance game, but even without all that Loveless on Lockdown still manages to deliver on the cute luv luv vibes. The premise of Loveless on Lockdown isn’t just a gimmick to capitalize on the ongoing pandemic, you can really tell a lot of care went into making this game and as someone trying to date in the age of COVID it’s nice to see a romance game that attempts to emulate our new normal.
Nanoreno, is an annual one-month game jam that is held from March to early April where developers are challenged to create a visual novel in the allotted time frame. The game jam is open to newbie devs and veterans alike and every year I am blown away by the submissions—this year there were 89 submissions ranging from romance to parody to everything else in between.
There’s a lot to get through, so throughout the month of April I will be covering as many of the submissions as I can, while giving special attention to indie otome and the romance VN titles.