Upgrading a character's social rank unlocks cutscenes where character pursue romantic relationships or improve their friendships.A higher social rank also means that characters will give each other better benefits (higher dodge rate and higher attack skill, for example), with the S rank as the highest.
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The most basic definition of the dating sim is a game where the protagonist must choose between multiple potential romantic partners and attempt to woo them.
Unlike with the Visual Novel genre, Dating Sims place a lot of emphasis on rpg type elements, such as statistics, shown by keeping a girl's affection levels up and boosting up stats (intelligence, strength, etc.) through taking classes or participating in activities.
Dating sims are almost exclusively Japanese, to the point where popular Japanese media can recognizably parody aspects of the dating sim genre.
In the West, dating sims are still seen as a niche market.
Despite Western thought, dating sims are not necessarily pornographic.
In fact, pornographic dating sims are a sharp minority in commercial dating games.
While the genre started in the 1980s, arguably the first dating sim to make it big is Tokimeki Memorial, first released for the PC in 1994. Due to its popularity, the game been remade multiple times (Tokimeki Memorial: Forever With You, Tokimeki Memorial: Densetsu no Ki no Shita de, etc.) and has been ported to multiple systems (Game Boy Color, Play Station, Super Famicom, mobile phones, PSP).
There have been multiple spin-offs (such as puzzle games) and multiple adaptations (such as an anime, Tokimeki Memorial Only Love.) Aspects of dating sims have been transferred into modern non-dating sim games.
Modern games have optional "social link" features, where you can build up relationships between supporting characters granting different benefits.
These are often found in Tactical RPG games, where unlocking a social link can boost certain stats.
For example: in Fire Emblem: Awakening, pairing up two units in battle improves their relationship, which can grant "rank" upgrades in the Social menu.