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This gives the games more replay value, since the player can focus on a different girl each time, trying to get a different ending.
Dating sims often revolve almost entirely around relationship-building, usually featuring complex character interactions and branching dialogue trees, and often presenting the player's possible responses word-for-word as the player character would say them.
These dating sim elements are often referred to as Romance Sidequests in the RPG genre.
Life Simulation Games also tend to feature dating sim elements.
In fact, many romance games are Visual Novels, which is a much different game style.
(See for example, the difference between the series, which is the closest thing to a true Dating Sim with mass-market appeal in the US.) If the game plays out like a Gamebook, that's a Visual Novel.
The player must befriend and carefully build and maintain a relationship with one or more characters.
These games also often involve raising stats that reflect the player's skills.
These games often feature a day-night cycle with a time scheduling system that provides context and relevance to character interactions, allowing players to choose when and if to interact with certain characters, which in turn influences their responses during later conversations.
The term later expanded to encompass any game with romantic simulation elements, even when combined with other genres.
Series such as Sakura Wars combine tactical RPG gameplay with dating sim gameplay.
Some Sim Date games have been made into Harem anime, though the result is usually nothing special due to the removal of sex and the fact that the narrative can no longer focus on any single character.
Because there is almost no market for true Dating Sim games outside of Japan, it's a frequent misunderstanding among western gamers that "Dating Sim" is the general term for all ren'ai (romantic love) games.