Thirsty Suitors Review - "I'm Jala Goddamn Jayaratne!"
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Thirsty Suitors Review - "I'm Jala Goddamn Jayaratne!"

At a glance, Thirsty Suitors is a game about revenge. Its story follows the recently heartbroken Jala Jayaratne, who returns to her hometown only to be relentlessly attacked by a league of evil exes. But it is also so much more than that. As the story progresses, we come to discover that none of these exes are evil per se, and Jala herself is incredibly fallible. She left scorched earth in all of her previous relationships in Timber Hills, and her only option now is to reconcile and take accountability with each of these exes. Her attempts to make good take the form of turn-based combat built upon RPG progression that has a unique flavor and is fun to engage with. There's even a surprisingly enjoyable skateboarding mechanic. In so many ways, Thirsty Suitors is unique and creative, but when all is said and done, what makes a lasting impact is a personal, vulnerable, and culturally nuanced tale about making things right.

As previously mentioned, you will be fighting each of Jala's exes throughout the game in turn-based combat, leveling up stats, learning new skills to make fights easier, and using summons that can be unlocked through sidequests or the main story. Each fight is a conversation, a puzzle, and a battle in one where the objective is to discover the weakness of an opponent through a process of trial and error. Once you've identified that weakness, you can inflict status ailments or deal additional damage to chip away at their health. The RPG mechanics and the process of exploring and exploiting weakness are presented as a back-and-forth between Jala and her interlocutor where old wounds are reopened and issues are hashed out until the dynamic between them evolves or resolves. This system manages to work in the foundational element of RPGs but cleverly rethinks it to also give it narrative weight. The trial and error process is one of picking dialogue options, and these can have an impact beyond the battle too. Make the right decisions and you'll come up with a plan that'll pinpoint the enemies' weaknesses through taunts, so you can easily trounce them with the use of the correct skills.

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Jala's initial ambition and awareness of her wrongdoings are unique for the main character of an RPG, let alone one spearheaded by a queer South Asian woman. Jala conveys her self-awareness by internalizing that she is the one at fault in all of her previous relationships, which manifests in the game as a banter between herself and a narrator. The narrator is a voice she has conjured up that is reminiscent of her sister, Aruni, in looks, voice, and tone. This, it turns out, is also a way for Jala to grapple with her strained relationship with her sister while still having guidance internally. The dialogue between them had me laughing throughout the game's 17-hour runtime. The snide, direct, and reassuring nature of this narrator figure allows Jala to convey her struggles effectively by presenting these challenges to another entity in a candid way. The Narrator offers the guidance she seeks throughout the game even though her actual sister avoids confronting Jala. Each of Jala's exes also has a coping mechanism such as Irfan and what other characters call his “obsession with his cat” to the point of carrying his pet around wherever he goes.

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