Love Shore is a visual novel by Perfect Garbage Studios set in a bustling city of the same name. Love Shore operates 24 hours a day and becomes a different place when the sun goes down. For example, a bakery by day transforms into a porn shop at night. Love Shore’s population is mostly human, though limited numbers of cybernetically enhanced “S-humans” walk among them. Unbeknownst to most, a cabal of powerful ancient gods clandestinely runs the city behind the scenes.
Fishy happenings are never in short supply. People vanishing without a trace, gods on the precipice of war, and defunct corporations hiding sordid secrets are but a few examples of Love Shore’s seediness. In the middle of it all are Sam and Farah, our two protagonists. Both are S-humans who were recently released from incarceration. Sam and Farah may live in the same apartment complex and share a few mutual acquaintances, but they do not care for each other at all. This is because Sam was a fixer in the criminal underworld whereas Farah was in the military.
Despite Sam and Farah’s overlapping social circles, some characters play more prominently in one protagonist’s plotline over the other. Sam and Farah each have four paths to follow with distinct companion characters, and completing each path peels back a layer of the bigger picture. Something that might not have made sense or felt incomplete in one path might come to light in another. That being said, I did still need to exercise a little hand-wavium here and there when some plot progression felt disjointed.
Between the protagonists, the companion characters whose paths they follow, and the side characters they meet along the way, Love Shore has a strong ensemble cast. In proverbial visual novel style, each character’s path that Sam and Farah follows has multiple endings depending on the decisions made. Some choices boost one of three stats (strength, courage, intelligence), others determine how much a companion character likes you, and both influence outcomes throughout the narrative. Sam’s possible routes are with one of three men or a woman; Farah’s possible routes are with one of three women or a non-binary. With eight unique character paths lasting 2–3 hours apiece, Love Shore offers plenty of play time.
Speaking of character relationships, Love Shore‘s most ambitious feature is that a few paths let you determine whether relationships play out platonically or romantically with no story penalty. I appreciate that, because not every meaningful relationship has to involve coupling off. Sometimes you care deeply for a person but aren’t romantically attracted. This idea is tricky to pull off and, despite a valiant effort, is not always successful in Love Shore. Some character paths lend themselves better to platonic-good progressions than others, some endings are still coded as couple endings even if platonic choices are made, and some storylines simply wouldn’t work without the characters coupling off. Despite these imperfections, I admire Love Shore‘s attempt at allowing players to choose the nature of their relationships. I hope more visual novels incorporate platonic-good, cuddly romantic-good, and steamy romantic-good pathways and endings into their narratives rather than relying on the simple “good path/ending= romantic, bad path/ending= everything else” dichotomy.
Despite many decision junctures, including some quick ways to bad endings, I couldn’t help but feel that some storylines wanted me to make decisions the game deemed canon. There were noticeable moments when dialogue played out as if I’d made a different choice from the one I selected. Regardless, I still wanted to follow every character path to get the full picture of what’s happening in Love Shore.
Love Shore controls the way I expect a visual novel to. I prefer using a mouse to navigate the UI and the keyboard to scroll through text, but the game can also be comfortably played with a gamepad. My only issues are with rewinding and fast-forwarding dialogue. There is no way to rewind previously seen text and fast-forward speeds through everything and not just previously seen dialogue. These quality-of-life features are must-haves in visual novels, and Love Shore lacks them.
There is no denying that Love Shore has style. Expressive comic-book-style character art and sleek-looking backgrounds give Love Shore its visual appeal. Vividly drawn CGs punctuate key cutscenes. Do note that several of those CGs have gore and/or horror elements that, while compelling to look at, are intense enough to rattle those sensitive to such content. Love Shore contains content warnings for a reason. Between the horror/gore elements, expletive-filled writing, and other mature content, Love Shore is undoubtedly an M-rated game.
The excellent sound design features nicely composed electronic music that is atmospheric during moments the plot needs to shine, catchy during those moments that need a little boost, and appropriately grimy when sinister stuff goes down. I also like the way sound effects are utilized, making particular scenes and moments feel more immersive. When playing Love Shore, the music and sonic textures make you feel like you’re in Love Shore.
Playing Love Shore is like a trip to a big city. The litter and grime may be off-putting, but if you look past that and feel the city’s energy, it will grow on you. In much the same way, Love Shore has its messy parts, but its vibe grew on me and I wonder what Perfect Garbage Studios will do next. If you fancy a suspenseful, cyberpunk visual novel with a variety of companionship options, Love Shore is worth a visit.