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 context of a turn-based fighting game.
Coming to PC via Steam, the game lets you play as Jala Jayratnae, a young woman who has returned home for her sister’s wedding. Jala’s ex-boyfriends get wind that the infamous heartthrob is back in town, and numerous confrontations ensue. Jala is suddenly faced with broken friendships, broken hearts, demands from her parents and perhaps the biggest question of all: what kind of person does Jala want to be?
I got a preview of the game before it was released. It’s by Chandana Ekanayake, the creative director of minority-owned indie studio Outerloop Games.
In terms of gameplay, Thirsty Suitors presents this story in a fresh way, mixing elements of RPGs and dating sims with exciting turn-based combat. You start off by finding out your in-game stats with a short quiz you might come across in a young adult fiction magazine. Here, players will also learn about Jala’s skateboard, her main mode of transport. Along the way, Jala and her sister Aruni (portrayed as the game’s narrator and Jala’s inner voice) banter with razor-sharp, witty dialogue that intelligently delivers performance without feeling like an information repository.
As soon as Jala arrives in town, she faces her first fight with Sergio, her friend from third grade. The confrontation is incredibly creative and dynamic, with options to flirt with Sergio or reject his advances, ways to use his “thirst” against him with quick time events, and more. With each battle, Jala can level up and earn rewards.
Watch the trailer here:
This may be reminiscent of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, but Thirsty Suitors is far from fake. In Jala’s fight with Sergio, vulnerability and honesty seep through his macho personality, and the player sees him as a person rather than a stereotype. Additionally, Thirsty Suitors highlights approval and emotional maturity. The exes all respect Jala’s rejection, and not every ex wants to rekindle the romance.
Thirsty Suitors examines relevant issues from a unique, often overlooked perspective: Jala is a queer woman of South Asian descent. This carefully considered perspective fits Outloop Games’ mission to tell stories about underrepresented cultures and issues.
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 – 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 it’s important to him to share immigrant stories, like his own parents’ journey to the United States. Now that he’s 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 example, during Jala’s fight with Sergio, she summons a giant specter of her mother that delivers a powerful punch to Sergio with her shoe. Jala’s relationship with her parents is strained, and players learn this when, when in doubt, she calls her parents to give her a ride home.
In addition to reconciling with her former flames, Jala must also try to restore her family ties. This is done through action-packed cooking segments, similar to how the ex-fights play out.
Like the fights with her exes, the cooking segments look like they’re going to be a little over the top. Juxtaposing these hilarious, over-the-top situations with serious themes of generational trauma, heartbreak, love and reconciliation makes Thirsty Suitors feel like something new.
“Even in dire situations, people survive because they find moments of connection or humor, and I feel like there’s a place [for that] in games,” said Ekanayake.
Thirsty Suitors doesn’t present answers with clearly defined rights and wrongs, nor will players find any outright villains. You’ll just encounter characters who made mistakes and try to figure out what’s next.