GAME REVIEW | Find Love and Laughs in "Cupid Parasite"
“From your first encounter to your final vows.”
That’s the motto of Cupid Corp, Los York City’s premier matchmaking service for the affluent and elite. If you’re looking for love, there's no better place, because their top bridal advisor is none other than the goddess Cupid herself! She’s an expert on hooking humans up, but when she’s assigned five of the worst clients Cupid Corp has ever seen, they put her godly skills to the ultimate test. Can she help them find love - or will she end up falling for them herself?
That’s the premise of Cupid Parasite, a romantic comedy visual novel and Idea Factory’s International's latest dive into the otome market, following their brief hiatus from the genre post-Amnesia: Memories and the Hakuoki series. Available exclusively for the Nintendo Switch, Cupid Parasite released in Japan mid-2020 and made a splash with its vibrant visuals, wacky premise, and over-the-top soundtrack. Since then, its been a hotly requested title for localization in the West. Fastforward one year and those pleas have been answered; Cupid Parasite here and dressed to impress, available in both a standard and swanky limited edition.
After spending two weeks sinking fifty hours into my copy, and I can confidently say it lives up to the hype. Not only did the game impress me, but its a serious contender for my favorite otome game of the year (you better step up your game, Dairoku: Agents of Sakuratani). It's a bright, stylish romp full of beautiful boys, uproarious laughs, and surprising sincerity. Dating sim fans owe it to themselves to check it out - even if its overall localization quality leaves a lot to be desired. So let's stop beating around the bush and dig straight into the details, shall we?
Cupid Parasite begins in the realm of Celestia, where ancient gods watch over humankind: Jupiter, Juno, Mars, Venus...they're known by many names, but all play a part in guiding mortals through their daily lives. The same goes for Cupid, the goddess of love, armed with her mythical bow and arrows. Bringing compatible humans together into fulfilling, long-lasting relationships is her specialty.
So...why is the human marriage rate so low?
Despite her best efforts, her targets are refusing to stick together! No matter how many arrows she lets fly, couples are breaking up left and right. She begins to wonder: could there be more to successful human relationships than just compatibility? Could the mortals know themselves better than the gods do? She asks her father this, but he vehemently disagrees. So the two make a bet: Cupid will masquerade as a human, and if she can become the world's top bridal advisor without using her powers, he'll admit he was wrong about humanity.
(Yes, this premise is absurd, and yes, I love it.)
Thankfully, Cupid Corp exists: a human matchmaking/bridal service consultation firm, and the perfect metric by way to gauge her progress on Earth. She ditches Celesia and reinvents herself as Lynette Mirror, your average twenty-something go-getter with dreams of making it in the big city. Adjusting to mortal life is hard, but she quickly moves up the ranks at work - until her biggest promotion yet hinges on the marital status of the "Parasite 5": Cupid Corps’ most infamous lost causes. She needs to get them hitched, but that’s far easier said than done.
These five hopeless men repel women with their overbearing personalities, impossible standards, and outrageous quirks. Each is a headache to deal with on a good day, but all five at once? She has her work cut out for her. Still, Lynette is determined to find them perfect partners - but as she gets to know them, the only woman they seem to be falling for is...her?!
Hijinks of the mundane and divine variety ensue. Sparks fly, mysteries are revealed, and smooches are had. From slice-of-life office shenanigans, to high-stakes magical conflict, Cupid Parasite has a little something for everyone to enjoy.
Visually, it oozes glamor and flair. From the word go, bold color and even bolder character designs assault the player from every direction. Everything is stylized - from the background art to the UI design and menu transitions. Lead artist Yuuya (best known for their work on Pub Encounter, Cafe Enchante, and the Hanayaki Nari series) and director Takematsu Fumiyoshi’s overall aesthetic lies somewhere between peak Vogue magazine and Lisa Frank, complemented by an OST full of high-energy vocals, sick guitar licks, bombastic trumpets, and an absolute banger of an opening theme by The Biscats.
It's impossible not to smile at the sheer personality on screen at any given time, or find yourself pausing the action just to jam out.
The outlandish music and visuals complement Cupid Parasite’s comedic writing to a T. On the sliding scale of comedy and drama, the game leans more toward making you laugh than cry. It doesn't take itself too seriously (a route ends in a mecha versus kaiju-style fight - no, seriously) but its jokes never undermine its romance, or feel obtrusive or cringey. There are moments of angst - especially in the more story-heavy latter routes - but the overall tone remains consistently light. It's a strong (but welcome) contrast to the more self-serious tone of other otome releases like Piofiore, Olympia Soirée, or Collar x Malice.
The Parasite 5 are a riot. They’re named such based on their vices - ie, their biggest hangups keeping them single. For example: Shelby, the Prestige Parasite, is obsessed with work and status; Allan, the Thieving Parasite, only wants to be with women already in relationships, and Gill, the Lovelorn Parasite, can’t get over his first love. Some of the Parasite 5 have prior connections to Lynette, while others are meeting her for the first time, but they all have instant chemistry with her. They’re charming, hilarious, and given a pleasant amount of depth as you progress their routes. How they each approach concepts like intimacy (things do get spicy) and commitment are surprisingly mature despite their comedic setting.
Lynette herself (her default name can be changed to anything you want, but will be voiced aloud by other characters if left alone) is a phenomenal protagonist. She’s headstrong, passionate, and endearingly oblivious to the many men falling head over heels for her. Like the Parasite 5, there’s more to her than meets the eye, and the eventual reveals about her character were my favorite of the game.
Gameplay is what you’d expect for a narrative-heavy dating sim. Dialog choices affect your relationship status with each of the Parasite 5, and the higher their affection, the better endings you achieve. Tiny heart icons appear after dialogue choices to indicate whether or not affection is raised, and the game allows you to save at every crossroad. Most choices are fairly obvious - and those that aren’t can be easily returned to be way of a flowchart mechanic.
During the common route (introductory chapters) you get to take a “love type” test (personality quiz) that influences which Parasite’s route you’ll play. This is fun to do exactly once. It's fourteen questions long, and quickly became tedious to answer after my second playthrough. There’s a strong narrative incentive to play routes in a very specific order, so it’s annoying to have it consistently impede your progress.
The “suggested” route order is: Shelby ⇒ Ryuki ⇒ Gill ⇒ Raul ⇒ Allan ⇒ [Secret Character]. Completion of the first three routes is necessary to unlock the final two, and completion of all five unlock the secret route. While I’m all for player freedom, this order has no right being optional. Revelations had in Gill, Raul, and Allan’s routes significantly re-contextualize the entire narrative - Allan’s especially. Do yourself a favor and save him for last, if nothing else.
Unfortunately, IFI’s localization is where my praise for Cupid Parasite must end. Misspellings, formatting bugs, and glitched-out text boxes are abundant. While the common route's translation is near-perfect, the latter half of all Parasite routes take a sharp nosedive in quality. It feels like the editors gave up halfway through. I could still tell what was going on (being able to check the text backlog is a godsend - especially when lines of text occasionally ran offscreen), but the errors are mildly irritating at best and distracting at worst. IFI has since announced a post-release patch will fix these errors, but I have to dock half a star off an otherwise perfect score until then.
- Stylish visuals and catchy OST
- Laugh out loud comedy and excellent writing
- Charming characters and delightfully absurd premise
- Significant localization errors/mistakes
Despite its myriad of translation errors, Cupid Parasite manages to tell a hilarious and engaging story that dazzles players with its style and flair. I can't recommend it enough for gamers looking for a lighter shade a romance with a ton of heart that boldly stands out against the crowd.
Reviewed on the Nintendo Switch