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Image via Nerial

The Most Exciting Romance Games From Next Fest 2024

Here is our list of the most exciting romance games from Next Fest 2024

Now that Next Fest is over, everyone’s Steam wishlists are packed with upcoming titles. From the post-apocalyptic open world of Once Human to the neon-soaked rhythm action of Disco Samurai, the hardest thing can be keeping track of all the great demos you played over the last week.

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This is especially true with genres like romance games, visual novels, and dating sims, which tend to slip through the cracks in the face of Steam’s heavy hitters. That’s why we’ve created our list of the most exciting romance games to come out of Next Fest 2024. From cozy farming sims to slice-of-life visual novels, hopefully, there’s something for everyone in Next Fest’s newest crop of romance games.

Fields of Mistria

Release Date: August 5, 2024
Developer: NPC Studios 

Fields of Mistria was the most wishlisted game in the romance category during Next Fest, and the demo makes it pretty obvious why. Taking obvious influence from Stardew Valley but combining it with a pitch-perfect retro anime style, Fields of Mistria has a seriously winning formula on its hands. 

The picturesque town of Mistria has hit hard times, and the (extremely attractive) siblings in charge of revitalizing the town hit on the perfect solution: hire an adventurer to bring the nearby farm back to life and the rest of Mistria with it. Lured in by the promise of a free plot of land, you play as a new addition to the town, tasked with farming, fishing, mining, and otherwise solving the local’s various problems, all with the goal of bringing life back to the once thriving fantasy land.

With a throwback JRPG pixel art style featuring some wonderfully detailed animations and beautiful character portraits pulled straight out of Sailor Moon, Fields of Mistria has plenty to set itself apart from Stardew Valley. Plus, if the demo is anything to go by, Fields of Mistria has a strong focus on the charming, extremely datable cast of characters that populate the town. Every major aspect of gameplay is tied to a beautifully illustrated and charming written NPC, from the rugged farmer Hayden to the sultry sorceress Juniper. There’s a huge range of romanceable NPCs available, even the options are limited to the young and the beautiful. (LET ME DATE THE BUFF OLDER FISHERWOMAN YOU COWARDS!)

The Crush House

Release Date: August 9, 2024
Developer: Nerial

Romance isn’t always about finding the one. Sometimes, it’s about giving the people what they want. In The Crush House, you take on the role of a producer for 1999’s hottest reality TV show. It’s your job to follow the “talent” around all day, making sure that you capture their most private, intimate, and salacious moments. 

Published by Devolver Digital, it’s no surprise that The Crush House has an off-kilter style and a wicked sense of humor. The central satire of late ‘90s reality TV is wonderfully biting, and the demo shows off a whole host of unique mechanics. As you film the cast going about their day, you’re also at the command of the show’s various demographics. Drama queens want to see the cast get into fights, while film students just want to see some exciting shot compositions. The demo only features a small sample of potential cast members, but they’re all pretty delightful. (Or delightfully hateable.) 

Developer Nerial is clearly building up to something more serious than the bright pastels and cel-shaded art style of this “thirst-person shooter” would suggest, but we won’t have to wait too long before we get to experience the full version of this delightful look at the more cynical side of love.

I Just Want to be Single!!

Developer: Tsundere Studio
Release Date: Q4, 2024

You know, the harem is so well ingrained in anime, visual novels, and dating sims that it’s easy to forget that the idea of being at the center of one is actually kind of… existentially terrifying. In reality, it would feel like being a chew toy being pulled in a dozen different directions. That’s the core of “anti-dating sim” I Just Want to be Single. You play as the newest transfer student at Love-Love All Girls High School. Desperate to finally make some real friends, you find yourself the object of affection of a rogues gallery of cute and kooky girls.

The cast is made up of all the classic harem anime tropes: the class rep, the athlete, the delinquent… the robot. All of them are wonderfully distinct, and it seems like the biggest challenge is going to be not falling in love as you help the game’s hapless, aromantic protagonist navigate their new life as a hot commodity.

With an art style that uses manga-style panels and a whole host of dynamic visual effects, this is one of the most visually exciting and unique visual novels to come out of Next Fest 2024. Plus, how many other dating sims feature a “danger level” as a central mechanic?

Saeko: Giantess Dating Sim

Release Date: 2024 

At first glance, Saeko: Giantess Dating might seem like a game that is geared toward a very specific fetish. Let’s be totally clear up front: it definitely is. However, that’s not nearly all that it has going for it. Developer SAFE HAVN uses the setup and format to tell a genuinely chilling horror story unlike anything else. 

You play as Rin, who unexpectedly shrunk down and is brought home by beautiful university student Saeko. You are tasked with becoming the supervisor of the other “little people” living in Saeko’s desk drawer. The tone is creepy and oppressive from the beginning and only gets worse from there.

Dating sims have been used for horror before, but the combination of Saeko’s pixel art style and breakcore soundtrack creates a visceral horror experience that’s entirely its own. It explores the line between lust and fear that kink is so often concerned with, the lack of bodily autonomy that gender-non-conforming folks experience, and the sheer terror of being at the mercy of someone far larger and stronger than you. 

Saeko: Giantess Dating sim is definitely not for everyone. It features some highly disturbing imagery and ideas. But if you’re a fan of the genre, this is a horror that you owe it to yourself to experience.

Afterlove EP

Developer: Pikselnesia
Release Date: Q3 2024

Afterlove EP is a game about loss. More importantly, it’s a game about what comes after. This is something that is clearly close to developer Pikselnesia’s heart after the studio founder and game creator, Mohammad Fahmi, tragically passed away in 2022 at the age of 32. 

The game follows Rama, a young musician reeling from the death of his girlfriend Cinta. Struggling to move on, he finally finds the motivation to reconnect with his former bandmates and start living again despite his grief. All of which is complicated by the looming presence of a make-or-break gig in just 28 days and Cinta’s voice in his head.

With a gameplay loop similar to games like Night in the Woods, you take Rama through his day-to-day life: going to therapy, practicing with his bandmates, and listening to a new friend’s amateurish poetry. With a beautiful art style and a fantastic soundtrack, Afterlove EP sits somewhere between a visual novel, dating sim, rhythm game, and therapy session. Make sure you bring some tissues.

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Ellie Sharpe
Ellie is the romance and fanfic writer at GameSkinny. She has a Masters degree in Writing from the University of Warwick - UK. An accomplished writer in every genre, her first love was always gaming. While she's incredibly passionate about dating sims, visual novels, and all things romance, she also enjoys From Software's games, RPGs like Dragon Age, Planescape Torment, and Baldurs Gate, and everything in between.