Dating sims such as Tokimeki Memorial 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.

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The most common objective of dating sims is to date, usually choosing from among several characters, and to achieve a romantic relationship.

The term "dating sim" is also often used incorrectly in English as a generic term for romance-driven games (ren'ai games), a subject matter which is stereotypically associated with the visual novel genre.

The Star Ocean series of RPGs also feature dating sim elements in a similar manner.

Some Japanese dating sims may allow the player to have romantic or sexual relationships with characters in their teens.

When the game ends, the player either loses the game if he failed to properly win over any of the girls, or "finishes" one of the girls, often by having sex with her, marrying her (as in Magical Date), and/or achieving eternal love.

This gives the games more replay value, since the player can focus on a different girl each time, trying to get a different ending.

The technical definition of a dating simulation game, known as a romantic simulation game in Japan, can involve several technical elements such as a time limit, several statistics such as looks and charm which can be boosted through exercise, or an "attraction meter" which can increase or decrease depending on one's decisions.

Some original-English dating sims include Sim Girls, In a typical dating sim, the player controls a male avatar surrounded by female characters.

The degree of sexual content varies, but may often include intercourse.