Estimated reading time: 9 minute(s)

Save the Date is an English-language freeware visual novel created by Mr. Chris Cornell under the Paper Dino Software label. It was originally made available for download on May 27, 2013. Save the Date is a short visual novel that begins with the protagonist deciding which restaurant to invite a woman by the name of Felicia to for a date night. The player character soon discovers that no matter the chosen location of the date, it (and life) tends to end poorly for poor Felicia. As the absurd deaths pile up, Save the Date quickly transmogrifies from an innocuous dating visual novel into a meta-commentary on video games and visual novels broadly. It is true that one ordinarily expects to be able to win a game or, as here “to “save the date,” but what if the game designer sets out to subvert those expectations?

The first choice in the Save the Date visual novel where the player has to choose where to take his date, Felicia.
The first choice in Save the Date, complete with the window border from my AmigaOS-inspired theme for XFWM4.

Whether the protagonist can save his date from a terrible ending is an open question – but there is no question that we will review Save the Date here at The New Leaf Journal in a special review for White Day.

(Lack of) Spoiler Note

Save the Date is free to download and enjoy on Windows, Mac, and Linux. It can be completed by most readers within an hour. Because I also think that it is a good game that is worth playing, I will refrain from discussing game-ruining spoilers in this article. To the extent that I “spoil” anything, it is nothing that a player will not have discovered within the first five-to-ten minutes of gameplay.

However, if you are interested in trying the visual novel based solely on my introduction and the game’s homepage, you may prefer to play it for yourself before reading the rest of my review.

Save the Date Details

Official logo for the Save the Date visual novel.

Save the Date can be downloaded for Windows, Mac, and Linux from the developer’s website. It is entirely free to download and play – and there is no commercial version of the game. I played the Windows version in 2013 or 2014 on a computer running Windows 7, and I played the Linux version in March 2022. Both worked perfectly and without issues. The instant review is based on my playing the native Linux version of Save the Date on a desktop computer running Manjaro Linux.

Unlike some of the games that I am reviewing as part of my al|together project, the Save the Date downloads are direct downloads. You can download the correct version for your device from the Paper Dino website.

The Developer’s Description of Save the Date

The developer described Save the Date as follows on the game’s homepage:

It’s a perfectly normal evening, and you have a quiet dinner planned with one of your friends. And so begins one of my weirder games. Save the Date is a game about a lot of things. Friendship. Stories. Hope. Destiny. And above all else, dinner. This is actually kind of hard. I know what I think the game is about, but the game is kind of weird and experimental, even by my standards, and I don’t really want to say too much in advance. Probably best for people to play it without knowing what they’re getting into.

Indeed, it is not an easy game to summarize – especially in a spoiler-free way, so I kindly thank the developer for this gentle introduction.

General Overview of Save the Date

Save the Date begins with the unnamed protagonist calling Felicia about meeting for a date. The player can choose to go to one of three locations for the date. Regardless of the player’s choice, the date, and life, will end poorly for poor Felicia very shortly after the game begins.

The burger joint in the Save the Date visual novel.
The burger joint in Save the Date.

Unlike Felicia, you carry your memory of what happened to Felicia from one play-through to the next. As the player re-plays different scenes, new dialogue options become available to help Felicia avoid a hard-coded death. However, as the player will learn – saving Felicia from one death does not foreclose another death. As the deaths pile up and become increasingly improbable, one may start to be concerned that the issue is not that the light at the end of the tunnel is dim, but instead that there is no light in the date night tunnel at all.

Game-Play of Save the Date

A single play-through of Save the Date is typically completed within a few minutes. Most runs end when Felicia ends. The game features a large number of choices – seldom making the player read for more than 30-45 seconds without introducing a choice. As I noted above, Save the Date introduces new choices and dialogue options based on previous runs. Seeing Felicia die a certain way in one run may introduce a dialogue option to help Felicia avoid that same death at the same juncture in a different run. One of the game’s key mechanics is found in its giving the player the option to use things that Felicia says in one run to talk to her, or convince her of something, in another run.

Saves and Skipping

Save the Date includes two tools that make it easy to test different choices and approaches without having to read through previously seen text repeatedly. Firstly, Save the Date provides the player with one Quick Save slot (it can be accessed from the right-click menu or from the keyboard) andnine Save slots. By making use of these opportunities to save , it is easy to navigate to different points in the game and see and try the new dialogue options that appear based on previously seen events. Secondly, the player can skip through previously-read text by pressing Ctrl. By default, Save the Date will always stop skipping both at a choice – regardless of whether the player has already encountered that choice – and after the choice is made. The game’s Preferences menu offers options to modify the behavior of the skip functionality.

Save the Date Visuals

Save the Date’s visuals consist entirely of five backgrounds – one for the player’s room, three for the possible date locations, and one that I will not disclose in this review. Other than an animation of a flip phone opening in the first scene, all of Save the Date visuals consist of text boxes and static backgrounds – similar to two of my previous visual novel reviews, The Poor Little Bird and Night of the Forget-Me-Nots.

A flip phone animation in the Save the Date visual novel.
Fancy effect and fancy phone.

The backgrounds are consistent, vibrant, and have a distinct aesthetic in the use of colors and polygons.

The taco bar in the Save the Date visual novel.
The Taco restaurant in Save the Date.

The people in the backgrounds make me think of a tech start-up website.

Save the Date Music

Save the Date has distinct background music and sound tracks for each of the game’s five locations – along with a jingle that plays when the player achieves one of the game’s many bad endings. The soundtrack – created by Mr. Francisco Cerda – is a definite mark in the game’s favor. All of the tunes are catchy and fit their locations. The burger joint is supposed to be a bit shady – and the background music – which reminded me a bit of the background music for the President Tanaka social link in Persona 3 – fits the bill. The tracks for the Thai and Taco restaurants are upbeat and fitting for the locations.

One note is that the tracks are generally long enough that one is unlikely to hear them in their entirety while playing through the game naturally. If you enjoy the music – I recommend letting the game run a bit at each location to hear the entire track – especially for the Taco Restaurant.

Writing and Story

Save the Date is well-written. Although the protagonist and Felicia are seldom given much time to get to know each other, their dialogue is snappy and natural. Players who are familiar with video games will find many clever references in Felicia’s dialogue – especially toward the end of the final path (if it can be called that). Harry Potter fans may find some dialogue to like – but I can attest from someone who has never read that series that the reference made is accessible to all (some of the game references may be a bit more opaque to some – although not in a way that detracts from the story).

The Thai restaurant in the Save the Date  visual novel.
The Thai restaurant in Save the Date.

Save the Date makes clever use of its wall-breaking mechanics. The player is presented with dialogue choices that make clear reference to the fact that the player remembers what happens from one play-through to the next. New choices based on previous events and information gleaned from conversations with Felicia are introduced in a clear and logical manner. A reasonably astute player should have no trouble working through everything the game has to offer within an hour.

Themes

I cannot say too much about the themes in Save the Date without spoiling it. However, it is not a spoiler to say that it is hard to see any light at the end of the tunnel for poor Felicia. If the player diligently exhausts all of the options to open a path that is only available to someone who has tried and failed to save Felicia many times – the author of Save the Date will finally tip his hand – largely through the character of Felicia herself – with some meta commentary on the nature of expectations and objectives in video games. Is there a sort of contract between game designers and players? What if one side does not play by the ordinary rules?

I will leave for you to discover whether the game’s deeper questions help Felicia avoid death if you decide to try the game for yourself.

Easter Eggs

While I will neither confirm nor deny that Save the Date contains Easter Eggs, I recommend taking a look at the game’s files once you have seen everything that it has to offer. If you happen to be familiar with the popular Doki Doki Literature Club, you should have an idea of what I am referring to – although it is played more for a joke in Save the Date.

Conclusion and Recommendation

Paper Dino’s Save the Date is a dark comedy – constantly thwarting the player’s efforts to save his date, the unfortunate Felicia, in increasingly absurd ways. Players may begin to wonder if a psychic time traveling wizard hacker is up to what seems to be an existentially difficult job. Players who challenge Felicia’s unfortunate fate will ultimately be rewarded with a meta-commentary on game design that one may reasonably suspect is coming from Mr. Chris Cornell himself.

Save the Date does not take long to download and read – I will venture that most readers will complete Save the Date within an hour. Whether that entails actually saving the date is another matter.

I think that my review should be sufficient to give you an idea of whether you want to take a bit of time to play and read Save the Date . I personally recommend it for its interesting mechanics, catchy music, and thoughtful commentary on game design. I will note that despite not having played Save the Date in seven or eight years prior to working through the game again for this review, I remembered a number of key events in the game in broad terms.

It is also a very easy visual novel to recommend to people who have played and enjoyed Doki Doki Literature Club. It is shorter and lacks Doki Doki’s production values and Japanese animation aesthetic (albeit, some may consider the latter point a plus), but it touches on some of the same ideas and offers some similarly interesting meta-ideas about video games and visual novel story-telling.

A Note on Save the Date and Discovery

I originally downloaded and played Save the Date in 2013 or 2014 – close to when it was actually released. I do not remember how I came across it originally, but I recall it was written about a bit at that time.

I do not know how well known Save the Date is in the grand scheme of things, but I hope that Mr. Cornell (or a volunteer) makes it available on a platform such as Steam or (more in the game’s DRM-free spirit) Itch. The success of Doki Doki Literature Club, another freeware English visual novel, makes me think that there is a substantial untapped audience for Save the Date today that may have missed it when it was released many years ago. As I noted in the previous section, that Save the Date lacks Doki Doki’s anime aesthetic and tropes may make it more appealing and accessible to some players.

The Paper Dino website is well-maintained, albeit no-longer updated, but I do not think that people are likely to stumble on it or Save the Date – especially in light of the fact that the number of quality visual novels in English (combining native English visual novels and official translations) is substantially greater now than it was in 2013.

Consider this review my small contribution to introducing new readers and gamers to a very unique and interesting visual novel.

More Visual Novel Reviews

I have reviewed, and will continue to review, a number of visual novels here at The New Leaf Journal. While I have reviewed a few commercial visual novels, the majority of my reviews are of freeware visual novels like Save the Date. You can see all of my visual novel reviews in our category archive (add /feed to the end of the archive URL if you want to follow my reviews with your favorite feed reader).