Friday, July 19, 2024

Lovingly Evil emulates the anxiety and ticking clock of conventions

Back in the day when in-person conventions were allowed, I would enter the floor with a sense of purpose. I was there to work, of course, gathering connections, networking with likeminded people, and attending panels. With limited time and so many moving parts on a given day, conventions would become draining, and with all of the personal interactions in between, it becomes clear that these events are a juggling act. Yes, we were all there for some form of career advancement, but we wanted to see people. These events were a mix of business and pleasure.

People are seeking connections, but sometimes they may seek connections.

Convention culture is often intertwined with hookup culture—in fandom conventions, perhaps it’s due to a carpe diem mentality added with long-distance queer longing. This is the core of Lovingly Evil, a visual novel dating sim from Lizard Hazard Games that takes place in a conference for evil villains called VCON. You as the protagonist have the total freedom to go wherever you want on the floor, whether you want to attend seminars on how to become an evil genius, or just flirt with cuties. But you only have so much time. How do you make your experience all the worthwhile?

Players can make use of a comprehensive and inclusive character creator for making their conference attendee. There’s a variety of quirky options to choose from—your character can have three eyes, one eye, blue skin, green skin, horns, tentacles, and so on. You can even choose to have a snake, a raven, or a flaming skull, amongst other options, as a pet. Choose between he/him, she/her, they/them, or “Isn’t it obvious?” as pronouns, and set your character’s age to any reasonable or absurd number.

The conference center map acts as a navigational hub; just click around to go to whatever location. While there is a set schedule for the conference seminars, the story and structure of Lovingly Evil are fairly non-linear. Just like in a real conference or convention, attendees can go wherever they please. You’ll spend the first of four days exploring, clicking around while not exactly sure how to utilize your time. But once you start talking to some of your fellow villains at VCON, you might have an idea on how to spend that time in the subsequent days. 

There are five central romanceable characters, all of different “bad guy” archetypes. Despite the entire premise of villainy and general do-no-good, these characters are actually a fun bunch. I first met Nova, an android built as the wife and servant of a mad scientist. There’s Felix VonGloomheart, an old-fashioned vampire florist. You’ll run into Imperia Maissard, a snooty noble who complains about her stepdaughter. There’s even an evil clone of yourself, though calling a clone of a villain “evil” seems really redundant. Finally, literally Satan is there. He runs the concession stand.

Chances are that you’ll be drawn to more than one of these characters. But you’ll have to make a choice on who you want to invest your time with through fleeting moments in the course of four days.

There is a tendency for scumminess and deplorable behavior at real-life conventions, but despite being centered around villainy, Lovingly Evil is a completely wholesome experience. You can give your character as dark a backstory as you want (my character’s most nefarious deed is murdering their rich husband), but pretty much every character in this game is extremely nice. Even Satan. Especially Satan.

You’ll learn about each character’s backstories—you’ll learn about Nova’s frustration with her servitude, Felix’s methodology of using flower bouquets to express one’s love (or total hatred), and uncover the mystery of just who was behind the creation of your own clone. Dialogue options will have a star to indicate an incoming important choice, or they will have a clock icon to warn that this dialogue branch will take up a chunk of time in your schedule. Eventually, you’ll run out of time in the day, go to the nightclub and meet up with a character, and come back to the con the following day.

The writing has wit and a hint of fun irony—nothing new or unique that will make this type of humor stand out from that of other modern dating simulators, but enough to garner some chuckles. The script is full of wordplay (the evil version of Instagram is called “Sinstagram”) and pop culture and meme references (you can try to get Nova to play “Despacito,” for example), which is cutesy, but instantly dates the game. Regardless, any player should find at least one or more of the characters charming enough to disregard the seminars and unravel the increasingly flirtatious dialogue paths.

Admittedly though, my first playthrough was quite unsatisfying—though I suspect that this was by design.

Perhaps it was just my style of playing games, but I tried to get a taste of everything Lovingly Evil had to offer, even playing through five different mediocre and seemingly never-ending minigames. As a result, I spread myself out too thin. I tried to spend a decent amount of time with all five characters in the first couple of days until I decided that I wanted to spend my time with Nova and my clone—I even went back and forth on how far I wanted to try things with Satan. But despite some playful and overtly flirtatious moments with each of them, my character finished the conference rather lonely.

It all came about abruptly; the playthrough took less than two hours, and some of the mechanics didn’t quite register with me. The star indicator didn’t help me make any informed decisions because I didn’t understand the gravity behind any of them. There aren’t any affinity meters or anything of the such to tell me how well I was doing with someone. Maybe that’s a result of playing Lovingly Evil too much like a game and less like a simulator.

That exhaustion and that lack of satisfaction from wanting to experience too many things at a convention or conference, juggling the professional with the personal and never spending enough time with any single thing, really is true to life.

Gayming Magazine was provided a code of Lovingly Evil by PR.

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