Love & Sex: Second Base was the best adult game I played this year
Surprisingly deep and engrossing dating sims in Naughty List News #61
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Love & Sex: Second Base tells the story of Mike, who joins a big company as a lowly code monkey. His high school sweetheart cheated on him and he’s hoping to get a fresh start in a new city. But almost immediately, two girls agree to be his roommates, and hijinks ensue. It’s now up to you to find love and even marriage in this sprawling dating sim with over 20 dateable characters.
I initially bounced off the game because I felt there were too many things to keep track of. But once I gave it another shot, I found a deeply engrossing and well-written dating sim that kept me busy for over 45 hours in the three weeks I played it.
Here’s why it’s my Adult Game of the Year.
Each girl in the game has at least two bars in the game: a love bar and a kink bar. When you have just met a girl, these bars are likely to be empty and your options are limited. You can talk to them and, if you pick the right topics, increase their affection for you. You can also give them a compliment, or you can try kissing them. But only when the love bar has advanced far enough will she respond positively to an attempted kiss. And the same goes for smacking her ass, but for the kink bar.
What's great about these mechanics is that the game uses them to show how each girl has her own personality. Bree loves to be tickled, while Sasha will resent you for it. Kylie loves it whenever you make time to talk to her, but Ayesha will eat you raw if you bring up the wrong topic.
You have your own stats as well. You can't interact with the world when your Energy is depleted, and you must keep your Hunger and Hygiene bars filled as well. There's also a Fun stat, but that seems to only be used to trigger a "masturbating out of boredom" event when it's depleted.
Balancing your own stats versus what you want to do is what makes the game so much fun. You can’t just work all day and then immediately go on a date, you need to eat and take a shower first!
Time & space
Time works on a 24-hour clock in the game. Interacting with a girl does not take any time, but actions like eating dinner, taking a shower, or working out, do. You need to sleep at a reasonable time, but you can choose to be a night owl or an early bird.
Each girl follows their own schedule in the world. I highly recommend turning off the randomness for the girls' schedules. This makes it so much easier to find them that I have to wonder why this isn’t the default setting.
Buildings in the game also operate on a schedule that makes sort of sense when compared to the real world. The office isn't available until 8 AM, the university and the mall close at 6 PM, the pub doesn't open until 8 PM.
Moving between locations does not take any time (with some exceptions like the beach and water park), which is great because you'll be doing it a lot. There's no in-game map, but you can see who is in a location before you enter it, so you'll often find yourself clicking through lots of screens just to find the person you want to talk to.
I do understand that this is a bit of a compromise. It would be great to have an in-game map and be able to find everyone instantly but that would also remove some of the spontaneity in the game. For example, I'm on my way back to the house to take a shower, but Hanna grabs me on the street. I realize that I haven't picked a date for tonight yet, so I decide to go with her. This feels like a very natural interaction and one that you wouldn't get if you were fast traveling on a map screen.
The writing in this game is some of the best I've ever seen in a dating sim. There are a crazy amount of storylines in the game, from breaking up someone's wedding to saving someone from the mob to becoming the CEO of the company you work for through a series of unfortunate events. The game boasts about having 1.5 million words in its story so far and I'm inclined to believe them.
Each storyline feels fleshed out and is, most importantly, really hot. The game allows you to pick which storylines you want to play, but I definitely found myself going back and playing the ones I missed. Not only does every girl have a distinct personality, but they each also use the mechanics in a different way.
Take Palla, for example. When you meet her for the first time in the clothes shop, she demands you pay for her new dress and then goes into the changing room. You can refuse to do so and walk out of the store, but that will make her respect you less. What she wants you to do is follow her into the changing room and show her you won't be bossed around. With your penis, of course.
But getting her to the point where she will actually go on a date with you is really difficult because it takes a looooong time for her to trust you. This is an example of ludonarrative harmony: both the narrative and the mechanics are telling you that Palla is a bratty sub and needs to be treated accordingly.
I understand that it’s a dating sim, and not everything is supposed to be realistic, but what is kind of icky to me is how flexible everyone’s sexuality and preferences are. There’s a girl in the game who has an ex-girlfriend, but you can completely turn her around to loving the D unconditionally. Similarly, you can turn your boss from a sneering dominatrix to a sniveling submissive.
I think it’s important to acknowledge that while the game is fiction, these types of stories can give the wrong impression about how sexuality works in the real world. It almost feels like the characters are given no agency in their stories: they are doomed to love the player, no matter what ends up happening to them.
And while there is a great variety of ethnicities and body types represented in the game, there are no women from an Asian background. There are no transgender women either, although you can turn one of the girls from a tomboy into a more girly type, which is a whole different can of worms.
What the game does not do very well is use the medium of visual novels to its advantage. If you've played at least one visual novel before, you know that it's never so much about the art but how it complements the text on the screen.
But what the game does much too often is to completely hide the sprites, even when a character is explicitly shown to be talking.
There are also some wild inconsistencies between the art. It’s obvious that Andrealphus used multiple contractors for the art throughout the project, but sometimes the girls in the sex scenes don’t even look like their sprite counterparts.
I think the art complements the writing nicely but I wish more attention was paid to how it’s used in the game.
Get to the sex, already!
You might be thinking to yourself: Boy howdy, that’s a lot of words, and we haven’t even gotten to the sex yet!
Unfortunately, this is an accurate representation of the amount of grinding in the game. At the normal difficulty, interactions like talking and complimenting the girls will only give you 1 point on the love bar, while you often need 5 or more to advance to the next part of their story. So I do these interactions until I run out, advance time, and try to find the girls again. But then I lose track of whose story I was supposed to be advancing and I end up moving everyone’s story just a little bit.
The advantage of this approach is that every sex scene feels absolutely earned. I’ve often said that dating sims are more about the hunt than the kill and this Love & Sex: Second Base is the epitome of that mindset.
What I’m trying to say is that the sex is so hot because you had to put in the work.
Grinding to victory
Coming back to Palla’s story really highlights to me how much grinding there is in this game. After the incident in the changing room, you can discuss it with her in the coffee shop. But she’ll only be there between 12 PM and 1 PM on weekdays. Miss that window and you won’t be able to advance her story at all. But when you do catch her and talk things through, that only sets her affection to 10, which isn’t enough to start dating her.
Then you have to meet her in the nightclub, give her a drink at the pub (a different location entirely), work out with her, etc. It takes many, many events like this before she’s finally willing to date you because each event only unlocks a tiny portion of the love bar.
How the game tries to resolve this is just to throw an ever-increasing amount of dateable characters at you, so that there’s always something for you to do. But you end up with a lot of unsatisfying play sessions where you didn’t move the needle at all.
I should come clean and tell you that I’m a cheating cheater when I play Love & Sex: Second Base. Very early on I realized that I didn’t have the patience to balance my funds and my character’s energy, so I gave myself a large sum of money with a save editor. But that quickly devolved into advancing everyone’s love and kink bars as much as possible whenever it became unlocked.
Even if you’re not a cheating cheater like me, I highly recommend playing with a walkthrough for all the characters and events. The game has a tendency to lock you out of event paths when you don’t meet the requirements without warning.
For example, if Shiori’s and Audrey’s stats aren’t just right when you trigger a particular event, you get locked out of a possible Office Harem entirely.
Love & Sex: Second Base is still in development, yet it’s already one of the best dating sims ever made. My gripes with the game are really just that: things that could have been handled just a little bit better.
If you’re in the market for a sexy game that sinks its claws into you, I can highly recommend this one.
Writing Wrap-Up 📖
WinterWolves reviews a year in which they released four new games. Let’s hope they don’t overwork themselves in the next one!
The I Can’t Believe It’s (NOT) Christmas Hentai Bundle is up now on Itch.io. Get 12 lewd games for one low price!
Master-Servant Sex with the Beauty from the Orient is out now on MangaGamer. Become a sex slave for a starving demon mistress who was locked in an artifact.
Simulation RPG Karryn’s Prison is out now on Steam. When I asked last week if I was missing any good games from 2021, this was the one suggested the most.
Ana Valens summarizes a tough year for online sex work for the Daily Dot. She points to pandemic newcomers not receiving the support they need and a turning tide against online sex work.
Cheeky chuckle 🤭
Artist spotlight 💡
I wish you all a Happy New Year! 🥂