Sometimes the elevator pitch for a game is all you need to know you want to give it a try. The first time I saw Thirsty Suitors – a game about a young South Asian woman dealing with her exes and her fraught relationship with her parents in the form of RPG battles – I knew I wanted to see more. So when it was announced that the game would have a demo available to try on Steam, I made sure to take a break from my other gaming endeavors to see exactly what Thirsty Suitors is bringing to the table. It’s a quick little demo that gives you just a taste of what the full game brings: you create your Thirstsona, do a touch of skating, walk around the overworld and talk to some folks, and have your first battle. Along with all of that comes plenty of table-setting in the form of the main character Jala interacting with the narrator as well as a few other characters, as well as a teaser at the end of the Seven Evil Ex -style menagerie that Jala will have to deal with during her adventure.
The basic premise of the game is as follows. You play as Jala as she returns to her hometown after three years, fresh off of a terrible breakup. The events that led to her leaving are clearly established as cataclysmic – broken hearts, angry parents, an estranged sister, the works. During the opening of the game you join Jala as she rides the bus to her hometown and takes a personality quiz in a magazine. This quiz allows you to establish some details about Jala and make the character your own in a way, although she still has a defined personality as well as spoken voice lines. No bland silent protagonist nonsense here, thank goodness! There’s also no bland silent narrator as the bespectacled woman interjects and interacts with Jala constantly during your time with the demo, providing not just exposition and tutorial but plenty of biting wit as well.
During the personality quiz you get a bit of a feel for the game’s skating controls. You can move around freely in open areas and pressing space bar allows you to jump up onto a rail and grind it. While grinding you can jump again to do a little flip, and you can also angle the board presumably to set up tricks – I didn’t experiment thoroughly with this mechanic as the keyboard controls did not feel great for this lifelong console gamer. I’ll definitely be grabbing the Switch version of Thirsty Suitors when the full game comes out. At any rate, you can also do some cool movements like jumping off of your board to run along surfaces or holding the board against rails above you to sort of zip-line over gaps. I feel like it will be easier to appreciate the skating mechanics in the full game, where it has been shown that Jala can go to a proper skate park and move more freely around rather than having to follow a set path.
The quiz itself asks you a number of questions about how you navigate relationships and interpersonal conflict. Your answers not only give some insight into Jala as a person as well as earning some great quips from the narrator, but they also determine your Thirstsona, your starting build for the game. There are three Thirstsonas in the demo: the heartbreaker, the star, and the bohemian. Each represents a different way of navigating relationships but they also represent your character’s battle statistics. The heartbreaker leans harder into offense with higher attack power, the star has more willpower to use special skills, and the bohemian has higher health to endure more attacks from your foe during battle. It is also explained that your Thirstsona will influence certain narrative outcomes in the game, so your build not only affects you mechanically but will at least somewhat impact the story.
The other major gameplay element you get to experience in the demo is combat. When Jala arrives in her hometown she is confronted by Sergio, her third grade boyfriend who has still been crushing on her ever since their childhood connection. Sergio figures that this is the first time he’s seen Jala in three years so hey, why not put the moves on her now? Emotional combat ensues, with energy punches and heart lasers giving reality to the verbal barbs being traded as the two characters face off. The Sergio battle is largely tutorial, with the narrator giving you instructions on how to navigate combat. But it gives a nice taste of what you can likely expect from the full game.
Combat in Thirsty Suitors is turn based and utilizes timed button inputs for attack and defense (although these can be disabled or simplified in the options for accessibility purposes). Both Jala and her opponent have a health bar, so your goal is to deplete theirs while keeping yours above zero. Jala also has willpower which is required to use her more powerful skills, and can be recovered by making a basic attack against the enemy. Between turns, the characters can talk to one another and there may even be dialogue options to select from, deciding your approach to Jala’s relationship with Sergio. Is she flirty and playful, or does she draw firm boundaries? From a tactical perspective, in combat you’re trying to identify opportunities to inflict harmful statuses on your opponent and then exploit those statuses with skills that grant bonus damage. For example, by playfully taunting Sergio to make him thirsty, he’ll take extra damage from Thirsty-elemental attacks and may occasionally damage himself instead of you.
Now if you’re looking for an RPG that’s going to be groundbreaking in terms of the mechanical choices, Thirsty Suitors probably isn’t going to blow your mind. From the timed mechanics to the status-based combat strategies to the decisions that change your story and your build, the game is implementing lots of tools that other RPGs have used over the years, both in the indie scene and the mainstream. Where the originality of Thirsty Suitors really shines through is the style and the wit. Plenty of RPGs try to be funny or to have a unique look, but few pull off what this game has going on. The character designs are unique and evocative, with each character having distinct fashion that conveys something about who they are. The animations are deliciously over the top – characters will toss their jackets in the air and do flips before making an attack just to land in a position where the jacket falls back onto their body in glorious displays of stylish action. And the banter – whether you prefer Jala to be flirty or snarky, there’s plenty of wit to be found in the barbs she trades with both her exes as well as the persistent voice in her head.
I’m excited to see more of Thirsty Suitors when the full game releases. Jala’s story is a familiar one but the ability to work through her difficult circumstances while making choices about the final outcome is a great premise. The battles may not be groundbreaking but they execute on a high level, and everything about the game’s visual style and writing knocks it out of the park. There’s currently no firm release date for the game, and honestly that is probably the most disappointing part of the demo for me.