In Thirsty Suitors, protagonist Jala has had a bad break-up and moved back to the hometown she left under the shadow of darkness, and back to the people she left high and dry. Realising her allies are few and far between, Jala sets about making amends with her family, while her previous exes show their faces to stir things up — and kick her butt.
Jala is a really interesting protagonist; through battles with her exes and as conversations unveil her past, you learn she really is very problematic with the way she treats people. Where protagonists are often holier than thou, can do no wrong and are seeking truth and justice, Jala feels very much like a real person who has made mistakes and wants to right her wrongs. Her motives are simple. This makes for an attachment to Jala which feels much more authentic and has you really rooting for her.
Thirsty Suitors as a whole feels very real and raw. Jala clearly has her own issues and hang-ups, and this doesn’t end with her. Her exes, family, and friends are all fully fleshed out and feel like completely separate characters rather than clones of each other. They have different backgrounds, stories, and desires, and it’s really interesting to see these unravel as the game progresses. Diversity in the game is really well done. It doesn’t feel forced or unnecessary. It’s really refreshing to see such a varied cast of characters, all well designed and likeable in their own way.
As a bisexual woman of mixed ethnicity, Jala doesn’t conform to what society expects of her. She has no interest in getting married, having children, or going to college, facts which her family cannot comprehend. Whether you can fully relate to Jala or not, it feels like there’s something within her that most can sympathise with.
The plot of Thirsty Suitors does feel a bit flat in places. There are two main arcs introduced early on; Jala’s sister’s upcoming wedding and a cult of skaters which has taken over an abandoned amusement park, which the mayor wants to sell off. Neither seem to have much to do with the other, and there’s not a lot of crossover of either, meaning at any time it does feel like the other is redundant. Each serves its purpose; the wedding gives Jala opportunity to interact with her family and ultimately seek reconciliation with her older sister, and the skater cult provides motivation for Jala to investigate on behalf of her ex-girlfriend.
While the wedding plot does reach to the end of the game and has a resolution, the skater cult arc seems to just peter out and end. There’s no grand battle, and we were left with a feeling of confusion; it was all very anticlimactic relative to the amount of time dedicated to that part of the plot up until that point.
The game’s turn-based combat in is really cool. Jala can taunt her enemies to inflict various statuses on them; shocked, thirsty, and heartbroken to name a few. These statuses mean enemies are more susceptible to attacks of those types and more damage can be inflicted. There are brief quick-time events to complete when attacking or defending, success dictating how strong the attack or defence is. Jala can also summon characters to deliver a big attack, which does at times feel somewhat broken due to the high damage they can inflict. This is especially true later on in the game when you can summon more characters, and there isn’t a limit to the number you can summon per battle. Jala has WP; will-power, which is the currency for attacking, and can replenish this by attacking or using items to refill along with HP.
There’s also a lot of minigames dotted throughout, from skating in the amusement park and downtown to pull in high combo scores, to cooking with your parents to win their affection. We particularly loved cooking for the chance to interact with Jala’s mum and dad, as they’re some of the best characters in the whole game. Skating is fun enough, but does feel a little clunky with controls and instruction that felt like it didn’t really explain how to score combos. There are also a couple of instances of a dance minigame, which is fine, but feels like it was added in as an afterthought and is quite repetitive.
Visually striking, Thirsty Suitors stands out in every way. Characters are bright, vivid, and varied. Even Jala’s never-ending source of suitors sent by her grandmother are decked out in lairy outfits which leave an impression. The skating cult Jala has to take down also packs a visual punch. Environments have you searching every corner to see what’s there, and the amusement park turned skate park is a particularly interesting scene. The stylistic art style is so visually appealing; it’s different, but familiar, and never gets boring to look at. Meanwhile, the soundtrack doesn’t intrude on the rest of the game, and rather lets it shine as a whole, providing a great background to the rest of the story.
While on the outside Thirsty Suitors seems like a tongue-in-cheek game about reconnecting with your past, it reveals so much more beneath the surface. That’s not to say it isn’t humorous, but it’s also doing much more besides. It’s a commentary on societal expectations, living as a second-generation immigrant in a different culture, finding yourself, and accepting others. It’s a deep experience packaged in such a light-hearted box, and never feels overbearing. The story of Jala, her family, and friends, each with their own lived experiences, feels so important and relevant to today’s society, and it’s a joy to play through.