For every saint, there’s a sinner and in the capitalistic hellscape that is the city of Love Shore, that rings truer than ever.
The cyberpunk genre has always been incredibly queer, even from just a casual read of its source material. The appeal of the future is through the many possibilities that it brings, particularly when it comes to bodies and how they are formed to express the individual. In Perfect Garbage’s Love Shore, protagonists Farah and Sam do not get the same opportunity. They are S.Humans, beings created by a biotech firm called Life S. Incorporated after a fertility crisis threatens to consume the city whole. S.Humans are fully formed with thoughts, feelings, and morality of their own thanks to their parent’s DNA, but they are ‘born’ through the use of artificial bodies. If that sounds confusing, then let us sum it up: they are unable to age like a human but are able to be broken apart like a child separating LEGO pieces.
The moment we step forth into Love Shore, we’re given a choice of picking Farah or Sam. On the surface level it may feel as though you’re picking a self-insert character for you to step into for about an hour or two of fun, but that is far from the case. While both Farah and Sam are S.Human, and each has four individual plotlines that have similar story beats, they are two fully-fleshed-out characters with their own backstory that led them to the city of Love Shore. Sam is hired muscle for one of Love Shore’s criminal families (who just so happens to be an actual God), whereas Farah is an ex-military grunt trying to reimmerse herself back into society. Despite these differences between them, they start off at the same place: as a convict that just got out of prison. The who and the what and why they were both in there at the same time, at the same place, isn’t really given a real sense of importance, but their connection to one another is. As we said, these characters are not self-inserts, and both Farah and Sam exist outside of each other. You may have chosen Farah, but Sam will also pop up every now and then, and vice versa.
Regardless of who you choose, players are thrust into a brief introduction of the characters they’ll meet on this route and some of the locations. Then after a certain life-changing event for Sam and Farah, the route splits into 4 different options. For Farah there’s Imani, Talia, Maia, and Jo, and for Sam there’s Aziz, Conrad, Alyosha, and Viv. Each route has a good and bad end, and each character has their own hidden approval system of you. As far as we were able to tell through our multiple playthroughs of the game, approval is ultimately what leads to characters either betraying you, or sticking by you when the going gets tough.
In spite of the differences between the protagonists, some of these stories can overlap, which, while understandable considering it takes a lot of time and effort to make 4 completely different storylines, can feel like a cop-out if you’ve just finished another route that’s similar to it. For example, I played Farah’s Talia route and then went on to play Sam’s Conrad route, which follows the same beats almost word-for-word with only marginal differences. It also breaks the illusion that each love interest (or friend, if you’re not interested in romance) has a unique route, and while we, again, understand it, I did find it majorly disappointing to go from one route to another just to play through the same thing over again.
As a visual novel, Love Shore is mostly sound. Despite my frustration with some routes, Perfect Garbage knows what their audience needs. There are more than a handful of different save slots, perfect for when you want to save at the start of each day and try a new way to play the route again, and a fast-forward button that you have access to from the very start. There is also a very handy feature that’s accessible via the player’s phone, where you can look at your stats (Strength, Courage, and Intelligence) as you progress. Some of your dialogue options are locked behind these stats and open up new and exciting differences to how the world and people of Love Shore react to you. Unfortunately, it’s these strides towards usability for the player that makes some of the more technical shortcomings stand out even more, such as a bug that sometimes skips over dialogue despite me not having pressed the fast-forward button, missing words and letters, as well as a lack of a dialogue log that is often so necessary when reading text in visual novels. None of these things are dealbreakers, but it certainly stemmed some of my enjoyment.
And what a shame that is, because for all my grievances with the game, Love Shore is undoubtedly a queer adventure that actively understands what makes the cyberpunk genre so captivating in the first place. Each character you meet has their own reason for being stuck between the sharp jaws of Love Shore city, and the desire to escape or to hit back against the all-seeing, all-powerful gods that have left humanity weak and vulnerable is so prominent with each choice they make. They want to break from the masses and claw their way to the top, to live, to be free. This level of desperation for freedom is such a stark theme throughout all of these routes, and the way it’s portrayed through the game’s writing is nothing short of masterful.
As for what makes the game so queer, the answer is, uh, well, all of it. Cyberpunk is a queer and transitory genre and always has been. Love Shore itself is an ever-changing, open-minded place, with most of its antagonistic nature being due to literal gods and their link to hulking, predatory corporations that our protagonists and companions have no choice but to live under. One damning incident of this is the toxic relationship between S.Human Maia and the goddess Persephone who exists as the owner of the night club/gym Maia works at. Because of how Persephone helped with Maia’s transition, Maia feels indebted to her and is often used as a spy to help keep Persephone’s interests safe and secure. The gods rule here, and the little people are crushed underfoot.
It isn’t just Maia’s story that queer gamers will feel invested in, however. Both Farah and Sam have their own defined sexualities that is reflected via their love interests. Farah is only able to romance women and the majority of Sam’s love interests are men, with Viv being his only female love interest. We do love a lesbian queen and a short bi king. But even then, this is only surface level, with the full-depth of how queerness plays a part in the story being something that players should find out for themselves. Let’s just say that we don’t think you’ll be disappointed.
Love Shore is an intriguing visual novel that strives to be different and, for the most part, succeeds. It’s an electrifying adventure with an immersive cast of characters and a setting that you’ll want to revisit again and again, but ultimately falls short of being the masterpiece that it’s so capable of being due to its poor pacing with certain routes and needing just a little more time for it to be technically sound.
Love Shore is available to play now on Xbox Series X/S, and PC via itch.io and Steam.
A copy of Love Shore for PC was provided to Gayming Magazine by the developer.