Thirsty Suitors is a stylish story-driven action title that puts a new spin on relationships, family pressures, culture and self-expression — all in the framework of a turn-based fighting game.
Coming to PC via Steam, the game has you playing as Jala Jayratnae, a young woman who’s come back home for her sister’s wedding. Jala’s exes get wind that the notorious heartbreaker is back in town and confrontations abound. Jala suddenly finds herself face-to-face with broken friendships, broken hearts, the demands of her parents, and perhaps the biggest question of all: What kind of person does Jala want to be?
Ahead of the release, I got to see a preview of the game. It’s from Chandana Ekanayake, the creative director for indie, minority-led studio Outerloop Games.
In terms of gameplay, Thirsty Suitors presents this story in a fresh way by mixing elements of role-playing games and dating sims with exciting turn-based combat. You begin by determining your in-game stats via the sort of short quiz you might encounter in a teen romance magazine. This is also where players get familiar with Jala’s skateboard, her main method of transportation. Along the way, Jala and her sister Aruni (presented as the game’s narrator and Jala’s inner voice) banter with razor sharp, witty dialogue that smartly delivers exposition without feeling like an information dump.
Jala has barely arrived in town when she faces her first battle, with Sergio, her boyfriend from third grade. The confrontation is hilariously creative and dynamic, with options to flirt with Sergio or spurn his advances, ways to use his “thirst” against him with Quick-Time Events, and more. With every battle, Jala can level up and earn rewards.
Check out the trailer here:
This might be reminiscent of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, but Thirsty Suitors is far from a knockoff. In Jala’s battle with Sergio, vulnerabilities and honesty start seeping through his macho persona, and the player sees him as a person instead of a stereotype. In addition, Thirsty Suitors puts a spotlight on consent and emotional maturity. The exes all respect Jala’s rejection, and not every ex wants to rekindle the romance.
Thirsty Suitors examines relatable issues through a unique, often overlooked perspective: Jala is a queer woman of South Asian descent. This carefully considered perspective lines up with Outloop Games’ mission to tell stories of underrepresented cultures and themes.
According to Ekanayake, many parts of the game are based on the team’s personal experiences. Ekanayake, who came to the US from Sri Lanka, said he hadn’t seen many positive characters representing South Asia.
“Usually I was one of — or sometimes the only one — of a few minorities on a team,” Ekanayake said of his two and a half decades in the video game industry. “Over the years, I’ve wanted to see more stories that represent myself and other minorities.”
Ekanayake said that sharing immigrant stories, like his own parents’ journey to the US, is important to him. Now as a parent himself, Ekanayake said he has a better understanding of the sacrifice his parents made for their children.
Family seems to be a big theme in Thirsty Suitors. For instance, during Jala’s battle with Sergio, she summons a giant specter of her mother, who deals Sergio a mighty blow with her shoe. Jala’s relationship with her parents is strained, and players learn this when she second-guesses calling her folks to ask for a ride home.
In addition to reconciling with her former flames, Jala must try to repair her familial relationships. This is done through action-packed cooking segments similar to how the ex battles play out.
Like the battles with her exes, the cooking segments look like they’ll also be a bit over the top. Juxtaposing these funny, hyperbolic situations with serious issues of generational trauma, heartbreak, love and reconciliation makes Thirsty Suitors feel like something new.
“Even in dire situations, humans survive because they find moments of connectedness or humor, and I feel like there’s a place [for that] in games,” Ekanayake said.
Thirsty Suitors doesn’t present answers with clear-cut rights and wrongs, nor will players find any outright bad guys. You’ll merely encounter characters who’ve made mistakes and who try to figure out what comes next.