Outerloop Games has proven that it excels when it comes to telling stories, but Thirsty Suitors is an emotional, human tale that brings forth a perspective that the games industry has been in desperate need of for a very long time.
A stylish, turn-based adventure game, Thirsty Suitors follows South Asian protagonist Jala as she returns home to Timber Hills. We begin our tale on a coach, where it’s quickly established that Jala’s reason for returning is because she’s been dumped by her ex Jennifer and – with nowhere left to go – has no choice but to return to her hometown. That comes with its own worries, which further exacerbates Jala’s insecurities (signified by the voices she hears in her head) until they take the form of The Narrator – a figure that looks and takes the voice of Jala’s sister.
The Narrator first appears during a small segment at the beginning of the demo, where we’re asked to take a Thirstona Dating Quiz. Taking the quiz, we see Jala on a skateboard in a surreal world full of rails that players can use to go from place to place, or if you’d prefer to let the game do the skating for you, can be switched off. During the Thirstona quiz, the rails you take lead to different questions that are there to shape Jala’s personality and her perspective on dating, romance, and family. Your Thirstona changes depending on your choices, which can lead to different narrative choices for Jala.
During our time with the game, we also got the opportunity to speak with the creative director, Chandana Ekanayake who informed us on some of the choices and decisions that went into developing Thirsty Suitors.
“Thirsty Suitors is a very personal story, and we’re being very vulnerable about it. But there’s something unique about that.” Ekanayake told us. “We’re not trying to tell a story of the whole culture, but we want to tell a story from Jala’s point of view.”
Themes of intergenerational trauma, family, family, and mental health seemingly play a key role in Thirsty Suitors gameplay and narrative design. We didn’t get the chance to know too much about Jala’s parents in the preview, outside of being able to summon her Mom in a battle, but Jala’s hesitation to head back home hints of a strained relationship.
Another reason for her hesitation to be back at Timber Hills is revealed when Jala is guided toward a diner. After a brief interaction with a dog – who players can pet and high five, holy sh*t – Jala ends up running into Sergio, her ex-boyfriend from third grade. Despite it being such a long time since they’ve seen one another, Sergio is convinced the two of them are meant to be with one another. Players can either agree with him or blow him off, but either way it leads to a turn-based battle.
Combat in Thirsty Suitors may be broken up in between turns, but there is plenty of heart-pumping action, explosive colours, and dynamic dialogue to keep you engaged throughout. There is also very little actual violence, with the battles mostly being conversations but told in an over-the-top manner that resembles comic-book art at times. It’s a really dynamic way to handle battle – particularly emotion-orientated battles.
Midway between their verbal battle, Sergio and Jala are transported to Sergio’s ‘Inner World’ – a place in the character’s emotional chamber where they see themselves represented in a way that gives them comfort. This may sound nice, but it means that Jala needs to break that cocoon of comfort in a way that matters to who she is going up against. This leads to another of Jala’s abilities: summonings. In this case, Jala summons her mother to bring the smackdown on Sergio, breaking him from his inner world and making it possible to talk to him again.
Our preview of Thirsty Suitor’s combat section ends with Sergio apologizing, and driving Jala to her home. We also got the chance to find out a little more about Jala’s many exes, who may not be so evil, but we’re really not sure due to how short the scene was. What we can take away from it is that, in spite of Sergio’s insistence that Jala’s changed from how she was before, aka a bit of a heartbreaker, one ex is unable to believe it to be true. That ex is Tyler, whose grudge against Jala seems to hold no bounds. Why? It looks like we’ll need to wait for the game’s full release to find out.
While not a dating sim, Ekanayake explains that romance does play a part. However, instead of focusing on dating and whatnot, players will invest in Jala repairing relationships, and growing as a person within those relationships – something that plays a key part in the linear structure of Thirsty Suitors.
During our short time with Thirsty Suitors, we can reliably say that this looks to be a game that’ll not only pull in gamers due to its emotional maturity and cooking/skating minigames but because it just looks too damn fun not to want to spend time with Jala, her family and her tangled, messy relationships.
While Thirsty Suitors doesn’t currently have a release date outside of ‘Coming Soon’, you can wishlist the game over on Steam.