Starcolt’s Best Friend Forever is a game that aims to bring two very different things together in one experience. On one hand, it’s a lighthearted dating sim in which you try to woo a character of your choosing via various story choices and options to create a perfect romance. On the other hand, a big part of it is that you also get a dog, look after them, and try to help them be the best doggo they can be. Best Friend Forever would present a very interesting wrinkle to the dating sim genre if it two separate parts interlocked to make a full and unique experience. Unfortunately, they don’t, and it feels more like two separate games that don’t really rely on each other at all.
A new life in Rainbow Bay
The story of Best Friend Forever is convenient to say the least, but it knows exactly what it wants to be and isn’t ashamed to bring the player along for the ride. Players take up the role of a new arrival in the fictional town of Rainbow Bay where pretty much everyone has a dog and the love life opportunities are vibrant. Your character comes in from a bad situation looking to start fresh and make the most out of their new life in Rainbow Bay. That starts with adopting a dog of your own. It continues with looking into the dating scene.
You have some say in the matter of nearly all things in Best Friend Forever. You choose your character look, answer some questions to dictate their personality, and even get suggestions of the game’s dateable characters based on how you answered. Later on, you also get to adopt a dog, choosing between several pups and getting to rename them from their default names if you wish. Moreover, once you have those choices settled, you’ll slip into a routine of deciding how to interact with your dog to help raise their stats, as well as keep them nourished, hydrated, clean, and happy in accordance with the guildlines of the Paws Academy organization in-game. There are also opportunities to hang out with various characters, get involved in situations and choices associated with them, and boost your social standing with them.
The game runs on a 15-week timer in which every activity and choice you make will move you forward. The timer is particularly attached to the care and well-being of your dog aside from the romantic subplots, but these don’t necessarily affect each other. More on that later. Ultimately, it boils down to schmoozing the character that interests you, and taking care of your pup along the way. Who you end up with and how the powers that be judge your pet care skills is dependent upon how you divide your time among the various choices of activities and encounters. It helps that the story remains pretty lighthearted and fun (to the point of overly corny), but it also takes some dramatic turns (also sometimes to the point of corny). That said, the whole thing is passable and even got a good chuckle and emotional investment out of me through my play, which is arguably what this type of game ought to do.
Separate ways, games apart
I think Best Friend Forever has an interesting angle to this type of game. Putting a dog sim in a dating sim is certainly a twist I haven’t seen before. The issue I have with it is that these things really don’t connect or affect each other as much as I would have liked them to. Don’t get me wrong. I looked after my doggo Spud and made him as happy and well-taken care of as the options would allow (don’t believe the lying Paw Academy), but even at his best, Spud only played a tertiary role in my character’s love life. On the flipside, no matter who I went with, Spud’s particular state of care didn’t really play into the equation. No character really cared that much about how hard I was trying to impress the Paw Academy or take care of Spud.
Ultimately, what I’m getting at is that Best Friend Forever plays like it’s two games inhabiting the same space that only briefly come into contact with one another. Not taking care of your dog will only get you a mechanical slap on the wrist and your dog doesn’t really care who you get involved with or play a hefty role in it. For all of the choices and build-up in both the dating sim and pet care sim side of Best Friend Forever, I would have liked to see the results of these matters more meaningfully intertwine here and there. It just doesn’t happen, and so I experienced what I would describe as a dog care sim and a dating sim hanging out in the same space, instead of a proper marriage of the two.
Best Friend Forever isn’t bad in either of its areas. As far as a dating sim goes, it’s not the worst I’ve seen, and I would go so far as to say the stories of some characters drew me in at times and made me laugh at others, even if some of it was still an eye-rolling level of writing. On the other end, the dog care angle is also enjoyable and raising your furry friend’s stats to make them the best puppo they can be wasn’t a bad time. Constantly being asked to engage with the dog in the midst of narrative makes sense because dogs demand love and attention, even in the most inconvenient of situations (even if the insistence was sometimes annoying). What I was missing in all of this was a better relationship between the two things Best Friend Forever does adequately. Without that meaningful interconnection, they’re just two different experiences constantly fighting for your attention under the same name.
This review is based on a digital Steam edition of the game provided by the publisher. Best Friend Forever is available now on PC and Nintendo Switch.
Best Friend Forever
- Passable, lighthearted story
- Lots of choices throughout
- Good dating sim with multiple directions
- Engaging pet care aspect
- Extremely corny at times
- Dog activities can feel insistent and pushy throughout
- Pet care and dating sim barely affect one another