Sometimes, games can get a little too real. They can cover topics you’ve experienced in your personal life that may still feel raw. They can also lead to introspections that push you to become a better person or just learn more about yourself. While video games can never replace therapy (speaking of which, go to therapy even if you think you are fine), they find ways to connect to you even if you may not relate to the main character. Thirsty Suitors by Outerloop Games and Annapurna Interactive found ways to do all three in its deep story and simplistic gameplay.
Thirsty Suitors puts you in the shoes of Jala as she returns home three years after running away from her old life. Not only does she have to confront her parents and their judgment of her life decisions, but all relationships she shattered because of her choices, from exes whom Jala led on or had conflicting feelings for, to a sister whose impending wedding could be ruined by her presence. There is a lot that Jala needs to make amends with, all before her grandmother shows up for the big event.
Many ways make the relationships and culture welcoming to those who may not be familiar with it. Particularly the cooking mini-game where Jala learns new recipes from her mom, Rukmini, and dad, Arvind, where they each share deeply personal experiences related to their family histories, how they grew as a couple, and how being parents to their two kids have affected them throughout the years. And the generational trauma they experienced (may have unconsciously put on their kids) as well as the personal trauma they experienced through what Jala has put them through because of her past mistakes.
The cooking minigame itself requires you to complete quick time events (QTEs) with a high enough rating to create the recipe. Many recipes have the same actions, so the more you do them, the better you become at completing the tasks. They each have their own twists to make them stand out. Jala loves to add her flair to what she does, like flipping the pan around when trying to shake ingredients or (don’t try this at home), throwing the knife around to get ready to chop ingredients. Each action can be enhanced, depending on how well you do, with generated heat to perform “super moves,” which add even more of a challenge to the QTEs, causing them to be faster or just more of them to complete.
While the bulk of the recipes are not required to progress, you should do them all. They not only are enjoyable breaks from the main game itself, but they’re also, as mentioned before, how you really connect with Jala, learning what she’s done in the past to cause the current rough yet loving situation with her parents and family, and how she’s going to fix either it or herself for the better. Also, every recipe you complete, you keep as a tool for combat for free (and unlimited) ways to get health or willpower (WP, the game’s shorthand for willpower) back.
To get around, Jala does the game’s other main activity, skateboarding. This will be your main mode of transportation between objectives. You can also push yourself by finding Soundie, the leader of the skatepunk cult. Soundie will challenge Jala to do specific tasks in the area and grade her on how well she did. These involve getting a specific amount of points in a certain time or on a specific course, racing to collect objects in a certain amount of time, or doing a trick X number of times. Besides the first one, just about all of these are optional to complete the game, and thank goodness for that. Skateboarding feels more tedious than it should be, being a big feature and all.
It’s hard to control, and the point system doesn’t really make sense. In fact, if you aren’t a fan of skateboarding games or skating mechanics in games, you can mostly ignore it. Just skate to your next objective to keep going. The only standout part of it is the quick tricks you can do around an area to collect health or WP ups to recover those in between fights.
Speaking of combat, even with it being a major focus of the game, it feels fairly bare. Combat is turn-based, where you just control Jala. You face off against two main different enemy types, from the thirsty suitors sent by your grandmother to woo you over for marriage or young skater kids who are trying to fight the system that’s trying to take down their skate park. Most encounters are done at your pace by interacting with specific objects scattered in either the skate park or the town square. Every fight is stylish, with Jala adding pizzazz and flair to every one of her attacks. She could just be talking or telling these people off, but in her head, they look like epic fights from comic books.
There are three main things to do during combat: taunting, performing skills, and doing basic attacks to get more WP to use the former two moves. Every person you fight is vulnerable to specific moods, with taunting putting them into that mood. Each mood also gives you and your enemy bonuses. Like Thirsty causes you or the enemy to do 75% less damage, most other attacks are blocked, and thirsty skills deal more damage. Or Shocking, which causes the base attack to become “stare” and shocking skills to deal more damage. In summary, you want to find the right mood to put someone in for a couple of turns so you can lay on the associated skill to knock out your opponent quickly. The issue is, there isn’t really any way to tell which mood the enemy is most weak to when you start combat. It’s a guessing game.
If you’re bad at guessing, and since most enemies are weak to two to three moods, you may spend your WP quickly and have to recharge it. Additionally, every attack can be enhanced by QTEs, which are the same for each mode. So, if you perform the Raging taunt twice, you’ll be doing the same QTE each time. The same goes for enemies attacking you. With a QTE, the damage you receive can be lowered, or a taunt will not work as effectively against you. In the first couple of hours, where you are slowly unlocking different mood attacks and taunts with each level up, the system can be exciting. Later on, though, as you’re fighting the same-looking suitor with a different name, it just gets tedious. With a system like this, it would definitely be improved with some signs, like in their pre-fight spat with Jala that gives signs about what they’re weak to.
These issues aren’t applicable to the different boss fights. The boss fights to feel like the real selling point and focus of the game. Occasionally, you’ll need to fight one of Jala’s exes, who reappears as part of a grand scheme between the exes to hurt her emotionally for what she did to them in the past. Every single one of them is a beautiful fight full of great quips between the two parties and setpieces that change up as the fight goes on.
My favorite one by far was Andile, who transforms throughout the fight to reflect different parts of their history. You see their emotional side, their true side, and the side that is rooted deeply in how they are shaped by their ancestors. Every transformation throws curveballs that force you to approach the fight in a new/different way you may not have thought about before. These times are when the game really has you experiment with all the different types of mood skills and taunts you’ve unlocked until that point.
Plus, the soundtrack for just about every fight rocks so much. Every boss has a specific song that plays during the fight and is an extension of Jala’s past with them as well as them as a character. They’re so fitting, and you may find yourself just sitting there during a fight just to listen to the music. This is the case for just about every aspect of Thirsty Suitors. Every part of the game is supported by great music, and it’s impressive how little of it misses to set the mood of what you’re doing, what Jala and who she’s talking to is feeling.
The odd thing is there is a major focus on the exes and how Jala has hurt them. But they all just come and go. There isn’t much lead-up to a fight. You just get a call out of the blue or are approached by an ex, have a chat with them, and then fight them. Many fights just end in what feels like just before the big climax or before you can land a satisfying last hit on them. In some ways, they feel more narrative-driven than skill-based. So, if you survive long enough and pass specific damage thresholds, you can move on with the game. Jala can also deepen that recovered friendship briefly by doing mundane tasks for them around the town, but once that’s done, and you get their special gift to Jala, they don’t really have any more weight to the story.
The main connections between Jala and her family are where the best moments of this narrative adventure happen. Just the other aspects of the story feel really disjointed, like the aforementioned exes. The other main part of the story, the skatepark and why these kids have joined a skating cult, ends without any conclusion. It isn’t even an unsatisfying conclusion; there is just no continuation of it after a specific point, which is a major letdown because Jala helping these kids to learn that they don’t need the cult to live their lives, and as an allegory for how Jala grew up full of angst and thinking the world revolved around her was a great way to grow her character outside of the family dynamics.
Thirsty Suitors’s main story is deep and really aims right at the heart, even if it feels disjointed at times. Regardless of your relationship with your parents, loved ones, and past friends, you will find ways to connect with Jala’s troubles. Beyond that, the game feels quite simplistic, for better or worse. The combat is stylish and fun but quickly gets repetitive. Skateboarding is a fun way to get around but doesn’t have a real push to master unless you explicitly want to. Yet the rocking soundtrack, fun visuals, cooking, and its core story make up for its faults.
Thirsty Suitors’s main story is deep and really aims right at the heart, even if it feels disjointed at times. Regardless of your relationship with your parents, loved ones, and past friends, you will find ways to connect with Jala’s troubles. Beyond that, the game feels quite simplistic, for better or worse. The combat is stylish and fun but quickly gets repetitive.