I initially came across Find Love or Die Trying, from the hands of first-time developer Auden Cho-Wong, idly clicking on the Steam front page menus seeing if I might stumble into some curio. The title and art-style called to me, and so with a Friday night without any commitments, I decided to give it a shot. Five hours later, I found myself in front of scrolling credits at 3 AM, having refused every natural rest point the game threw at me because I was just so curious about how the plot might turn out.
The dinner-table pitch for the game is quite simple, though not enough to tell you if the game might be up your alley. The story is sold to you as a crazy new dating reality show where failing to find a partner will see you end up dead. “Most men would kill to trade places with you,” says the host of the show as she tries to sell you on the fantasy of having the freedom to choose from and socialise with five beautiful young women much as the Steam description does.
Initial impressions were extremely disappointing, with host-and-producer Kat being so crass and nonchalant about the whole ordeal, including your own death. Hand-behind-it-all, Damian, brings some even more choice vocabulary and imagery to the point that 10 minutes in I was already regretting my choice to give this game an opportunity and thinking I had been suckered into playing someone’s bad, trashy, and completely average sexual fantasy disguised as something more unique. Thankfully these fears were off the mark, as the whole repulsive first scene is meant to put you on edge about this reality-show tirade, and the characters’ disregard for good taste is completely deliberate.
As I worked my way through greeting the main cast for the first time, I found my curiosity won over by Scarlett. During a brief sequence in the library, you can find her hiding a book behind a magazine and making an attempt to play the ditzy bombshell type for the cameras. However, after making a seemingly honest connection and having her offer to show you the book she’s actually reading, her clumsiness gets the better of her and she drops both it and the magazine only to reveal a third magazine underneath and running away in shame.
This simple spin on a common trope got a good laugh out of me and garnered enough goodwill to keep me playing —at least long enough to get me speaking with Scarlett again and understand why she would pull such a ridiculous trick. This experience can describe the charm of Find Love or Die Trying in microcosm. Though it’s not revolutionary, and it won’t blow anyone’s minds, it never plays out quite like you’d expect, or goes for the low-hanging fruits, knowing just what kind of new spin to use in order to get a good laugh or a concerned gasp out of you.
While I would not like to spoil a fairly tight and well-paced 5-hour experience by revealing all of its secrets in a few paragraphs, be aware that everything is not quite as it appears. References to the current state of the world and nightmares hinting at the past behind your requisite visual-novel-main-character amnesia have more substance to them than you might initially think, and most things that seem odd about your housemates do so for a reason. Most.
The writing really is where Find Love or Die Trying shines. Being such a DIY project, most of the music comes from incompetech’s venerable and bountiful royalty free library. And though the in-game sprites look really good, a couple (and I do mean a couple) of the CGs look a little off-model. Even though the main illustration that you’ll see everywhere from the title-screen to its little promotion on steam and social media looks quite good, you can easily see it bears designs that would still be altered a tad as the rest of the game continued development.
Technically, there is not much to discuss on the gameplay side as it is a pretty by-the-books VN with minimal choice. But I do have to commend with extreme emphasis Find Love or Die Trying’s robust accessibility features. From text-to-speech for the visually impaired, to colour fixing for the colourblind —of which I suppose I am one, but I never feel a need to use those options— to the most important to me: A fine tuning bar to set the exact speed of the auto scroll for the text. GOD, believe me that it is completely out of my endless mercy that I will not subject you to a whole paragraph of me throwing praises upon it, dear reader. But this is the only visual novel where I have been able to set my ideal auto speed, and never felt a need to press a button to make things go faster for the entirety of the experience.
Find Love or Die Trying is everything you would want out of a debutant in any art-form. Strong on the fundamentals, very literate on the tropes of its medium, plays to its strengths, doesn’t neglect its weaknesses, and though this game doesn’t make a particularly consequential statement there is enough there to let you know that Cho-Wong is a thoughtful person who writes from a human perspective. It’s easy to digest popcorn entertainment, with more than a couple surprises thrown in and it left enough of a good impression on me to want to write something on it and let more people know about it as a way to give something back for those five hours of fun.
"The Tru-omance Show"
Find Love or Die Trying isn't an earth-shattering genre changer, but its fun writing and inversion of common tropes make it a breezy read.