Half Past Fate: Romantic Distancing is a surreal exploration of dating during the pandemic

I dont like it when shows or movies make COVID-19 a part of their storylines while we’re still dealing with the pandemic. Im also not too interested in playing any games that want to reflect our collective trauma so soon; The Last of Us Part II already hit too close to home with its fictional outbreak. 

But if developers can pull it off in a smart way like in Half Past Fate: Romantic Distancing, I wouldnt mind seeing more of it. Out now on PC and Nintendo Switch for $6, this spin-off of Serenity Forges rom-com series is a short but charming examination of what its like to find love during quarantine. Your goal is to help the two protagonists, Stephen Xi and Robin Winters, keep their relationship alive via virtual dating.

While Romantic Distancings premise is uncomfortably familiar, the 2.5D art style makes it much easier to digest. It helps that the characters dont mention COVID-19 by name (they just call it the virus). The story also doesnt spend too much time retelling the events that led to the first wave of lockdowns, and instead focuses on how Stephen and Robin are adjusting to quarantine life.

The two are in a tricky position at the beginning of the game. They only met each other once in person before shelter-in-place kicked in, and now they have to settle for virtual hangouts over Zoom-like video chats. Much of the game involves shifting back and forth between their perspectives as they try to start their new relationship.

The Trials of Virtual Courtship

Not surprisingly, they run into some issues. As many of us have learned by now, pandemic time strips a lot of the fun and pageantry out of holidays and other special events, and dating is no exception.

While you can get a sense of who someone is over a video call, how do you know for sure if youre compatible without spending more time with them in real life? Thats one of the challenges Stephen and Robin try to overcome. In lieu of in-person dates, they chat, listen to music together, watch movies, and even exercise.

But theres only so much you can do with virtual dates before they start feeling tiring or stale. And its not just romantic relationships that suffer under these extreme circumstances: The game also touches on some of the negative effects that extended months of quarantine can have on the people you live with.

At one point, Robin seems a little frustrated at her two roommates, whove been together for a few years. Its unfair that theyre able to cuddle and watch TV while she can only interact with Stephen through a screen. This soon leads to another conflict between the characters.

One side wants to finally hang out in person (in a safe way with masks on), while the other is still hesitant and just wants to stay home.

Its Okay To Not Be Okay

I wont spoil how this gets resolved. But one thing Romantic Distancing makes clear is that neither Stephen nor Robin are wrong — both have valid reasons about why they should or shouldnt meet up. Its a painfully accurate depiction of the social quandaries we face every day. We all have different comfort levels when it comes to doing what used to be considered normal activities, like meeting with friends or just eating at a restaurant. 

New couples like Stephen and Robin have to be on the same page when it comes to at least some of those boundaries, otherwise, the relationship might not last. Its a unique problem to have in the dating world, one that previous generations never had to face before. And most, if not all of us, can relate to the loneliness and isolation that the characters go through, and how they end up relying on each other for emotional support.

Thats what Romantic Distancing does best: Despite the upbeat chiptune soundtrack and cute pixel art, its a poignant reminder of how unusual it is to be living through this particular moment in time. Hopefully, its one we wont have to endure for much longer.