It’s the end of the world, but no one else knows it and you’re not even allowed to explain it to them. You’ve seen how it’s going to go down and there’s no feasible way to save the day...unless you count helping a few superheroes fall for each other to generate a laser powered by their love. That’s Mission: It’s Complicated, a new free visual novel dating sim releasing on Steam for Valentine’s day. With a fetching comic book art style and a design that sets it apart from many other games in the genre, it’s absolutely worth the free download and will definitely put a smile on your face.

The “you” that knows the end of the world is positioned as, well, you yourself, the player. Waking up from a disturbing premonition, your future alternate-world self briefly appears to inform you that this earth-ending omen is real and true. Tasked with assembling a superhero team in a city quite familiar with them as a standard, you’re left to play convincing superhero-matchmaker, while also magically unable to tell anyone the real reason for this quest. At least this superhero team offers health insurance.

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It’s a heady premise with reasonable precedent to be found in the comic book culture it’s gleefully playing off of, with a sensibility that becomes even more enlivened by the five heroes you’ll manage. You never get to see yourself on the screen—which allows you more freedom to roleplay as any male, female, or enby character you like—but the rest of the cast is drawn in vibrant, cheery detail, featuring a good mix of different sexual orientations and pronouns. This also means that they all can’t fall in romantic love, which turns the matchmaking premise into something of a dating puzzle. For instance: gay characters won’t romance a different gender no matter what, but they can always befriend someone who’s not their type and form a strong platonic bond.

Celebration and Kudos must go out to the Mission: It’s Complicated team, who manage to make the socialization and dialogue in their game cheeky but smart and informed. A sensitivity reader is even prominently mentioned in the credits (Mey Rude), and the presence of LGBTQ characters and themes is closely tied to the plot and the way relationships are presented. It feels welcoming and warm, but never toothless, and many characters are absolutely honest to a fault, and then some.

The gameplay is fairly straightforward, but it amounts to selecting individual heroes to go out on missions, ranging from high-tech danger to the amusingly mundane. Throughout these engagements, you manage your team via comms, deciding on which hero takes the lead in a given scenario. Wifi has the ability to talk to electronics, so she’s usually a smart pick for a mad scientist’s technological threat, while Nightgaunt can hide in the shadows and stealthily pick off henchmen or quietly sneak into a villain’s lair. It’s not incredibly complex, but it’s also designed to throw off predictions, with some missions seeming at first like an obvious vote for a given hero, then confounding their abilities with a surprise twist.

There’s no real adjustments that can be made after a team is picked and sent, and after each mission you’re given a grade, with better-performing pairs seeing a faster increase to their “bond” gauge. As this value gets higher, they unlock the ability to go on dates and get to know each other better, which also requires some nudging on your part if things are going to go well. Sometimes this all feels a little bit “stalker-y” and voyeuristic, but it’s in genuine good fun. And, y’know, the fate of the world rests on a successful pairing to be divined within a two-week window, so it also makes narrative sense.

The writing is very much in line with dating sims, but amps up the banter quotient as a result of both the superhero and romance themes. Sometimes the game is laugh-out-loud funny in a squirmy way, watching two clumsy characters crush on each other but fumble their words no matter what you do to try and help. On occasion it’s even quite poignant, especially in those moments when characters reveal a very private and intimate detail with another as their defenses melt. Each of the characters manage to be effective foils for any other, and they all have very relatable hangups and baggage that ground the otherwise fantastical genre premise.

Additionally, it’s a game designed to be replayed several times, with a successful run only taking an hour or two and revealing approximately 25% of the total content. On restarts, you can try nudging other characters into pairings, choosing different dialogue responses and mission approaches, and attempt to collect all the special artwork, including comic paneled insights into each hero and portraits of romance like coffee dates and walks in the park (there’s nothing risque or NSFW in the images at all, though).

While the sound effects fit well with the themes, the soundtrack is a little bit lacking. It’s not a poor or thoughtless score, but sometimes it crosses the line into muzak, and it’s just nowhere near as characterful as the artwork and writing (note that both the sound effects and OST can be adjusted in the settings menu through sliders). The UI itself is bright and clean, ditching that somewhat common visual novel characters-posing-above-text-box style in lieu of something more like a text message scroll, with each character presented in bubble portraits. Missions are selected through a map view and hotspots are sunny, readable, and easy to find.

Beyond its presentation, though, Mission: It’s Complicated musters an intelligent and thoughtful series of statements about friendship, socialization, and dating life. Each of the heroes features considerable depth of character and a healthy subversion of tropes, and the entire game feels like, well, a labor of love, through and through. The developers could easily have charged for the game but are instead offering it up for free, and there’s simply no reason at all not to get it. Even if you’re not a regular player of dating sims, they’re rarely as approachable, charming, and clever as this one. Check it out.

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Mission: It’s Complicated is available now on Steam as a free digital download. A digital copy was provided to Screen Rant ahead of release, for purposes of review.