While the presentation sizzles like a chicken wing fresh from the fryer, the content is a creamy, cold mash with no gravy.

A confession: I am a huge fan of dating games. The classic stuff, the codifiers of the genre, your Tokimeki Memorials and Love Pluses. There’s just something so compelling about a game where the entire point is getting to know fictional characters, learn their hopes and dreams, and maybe — just maybe — fall in love.

In recent years we’ve seen the takes on fictional schmoozing get wilder and more esoteric, with one of the landmarks being 2011’s Hatoful Boyfriend. Rather than date a series of imaginary hunks or two-dimensional divas, you were allowed to pick from a roster of… pigeons. Despite the wacky premise and hilarious bird jokes, each lovey-dovey dove came with a fully fleshed out backstory. and if you got every boy’s heart fluttering, you’d be treated to a secret ending that gave you a surprisingly meaty plot.

Which brings us to today’s piping hot offering: I Love You, Colonel Sanders! A Finger Lickin’ Good Dating Sim. KFC’s officially-licensed game released on September 24 to a wave of positive acclaim from the Steam community. Even our Japanese-language reviewer Meg gave it a go, despite the game’s lack of languages besides English.

▼ Meg praised the game’s playability, graphics and Colonel trivia

Meg’s review only covered the initial parts of the game but described a vibrant cast of anime trope characters, the potential for a boss battle in later chapters, and of course, the chance to win the heart of the culinary school’s resident dreamboat, Colonel Sanders.

▼ It turns out that the Colonel cuts a rather dashing anime figure.

And so, as a fan of dating games and fried chicken, I decided it was time to get the oil fryer of my heart revved up and ready. For the low, low price of ‘free’ I set I Love You, Colonel Sanders! (ILYCS! for short) to download and was greeted with a stunning, mouth-watering flurry of visuals. The game comes with a beautifully rendered animated opening featuring an outrageous anime cast, a rampaging spork monster, and a truckload of fried chicken.

All great love stories have a protagonist, and our quest for the Colonel starts with choosing a name. Names can make a strong romantic impression; I’d need to make our heroine as complementary to the Colonel’s brand as possible.

▼ The protagonist is a blank slate, so feel free to call him Ketchuppino if you prefer.

We awake to the dulcet squawks of our cock’s crow alarm and tumble out of bed to start our new semester at University of Cooking School. As we arrive we’re greeted by our clumsy and hyperactive best friend Miriam, who looks like she tumbled right out of a Studio Trigger anime:

Our rival, Aeshleigh, who prioritizes style over substance in all of her meals:

And Aeshleigh’s best friend, Van Van, a muscle-bound punk who bears a striking resemblance to the cast of a certain anime.

Oh, and of course, the Colonel. Colonel Sanders.

The side characters are mostly superfluous, even your adorable canine professor: this game has one goal, and that goal is winning the heart of a highly fictionalized bishonen version of Colonel Sanders. I admit to being a little disappointed that I couldn’t even attempt to seduce the haughty school rival with chicken drumstick thigh-highs, or Jotaro Kujo’s long-lost nephew.

While lacking in romance options, ILYCS! does offer some varied play styles. The traditional social-based choices are a given, but players can also challenge rapid-fire quiz sections with on-screen timers, investigate the Colonel’s house to learn more about him, and even fight a spork monster in a short turn-based battle sequence.

Unfortunately only a few of these events have any bearing on the endings, and the timed quiz is especially unsatisfying: no matter how accurate your knowledge of the Colonel’s catchphrases or the brand’s staples, you’ll become distracted by his devilishly handsome anime face and be forced to lose.

It’s also quite hard to actually… lose. Taking the wrong route often just results in the game allowing you to re-do your choice, except for the first choice in the game. Bad ending routes are one of my favorite parts of dating games, so this felt like a missed opportunity.

There are glimmers of fun here and there: you can directly influence who Miriam dates, force your bullies to change their ways, and feed your dog professor your ungraded homework, but the dialogue often feels like it’s trying so hard to ape typical Japanese archetypes that it forgets to add a punchline.

Fittingly for a free game made to peddle chicken, something I did appreciate about ILYCS! was its delectable artistic take on the KFC menu. Your protagonist stuffs a buttermilk biscuit in their mouth instead of toast, and the Colonel’s romantic interest is piqued with a steaming bowl of mash potatoes and gravy. Naturally KFC’s newest real-world dish, the Mac and Cheese Bowl, serves as the ultimate dish served at the end of the story.

▼ Colonel Sanders brings you chicken and biscuits in bed like a true gentleman

The work by the game studio Psyop is top quality. The animation feels authentic and crisp, scenes come with original BGM, and occasionally cute chibi versions of the cast will flash past the screen riding fast food items. But ironically, while the game tries to stress a tongue-in-cheek appreciation for working hard and cooking food with gratitude and love, the game doesn’t succeed either as a genuine date game or a parody. It feels like an extended commercial, presumably because it is one.

To be honest, while I appreciate the inherent comedy of romancing wacky animals or boys who make YouTube videos, the joke of joke-dating-sims feels like it has worn a little thin on the bone. And really, what does a fast food chain know about romance anyway?

Images: SoraNews24
Related: I Love You, Colonel Sanders!: A Finger Lickin’ Good Dating Simulator on Steam
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[ Read in Japanese ]