One thing I’ve noticed from lurking on this site’s WIP forum for a while is that the sample of ROs I end up enjoying the most is incongruous with my actual IRL type.
Originally I thought this was because of backstory, but eventually I realized that the common thread was details. Not as in “six foot tall” and “finely manicured lower back” or whatever, but like the little things that let you know that fool you into thinking that this is a person, that they have a life outside of the plot and the MC; that they’re three-dimensional.
For example, the RO I liked the most, Alessa from Golden Rose, isn’t my phenotypical type at all, which originally discouraged me from pursuing that story path. But I vividly remember this one rice pudding scene (if you know it you know it) which absolutely endeared me to the character.
There’s other examples of this dimensionality, like the characters in Mind Blind, but I think one thing made that romance stick out in particular: the RO being willing to share a vulnerability with the MC. It’s not just a character having lots of dimensionality, but also that they can expose parts of it to the reader. I would call it simulated intimacy.
In contrast, in a lot of the more popular romance games, like Wayhaven or Keeper of the Day and Night, the constant flirtatious banter was fun, but it didn’t feel like I had any real understanding of who the ROs were as a person or felt like I was actually very close to them. Instead of simulated intimacy, I like to call this moreso escalation of sexuality, because really, most of the time, the paths just escalate in dirtier flirtation, eventually culminating in sex. There’s dates sometimes, I suppose, but I don’t feel any real emotional bond to them as a character, they’re just a ball of raw personality and quips floating in space. The reader doesn’t get to learn about the stupid hijinks they got up to in high school, or how they just love that one food dish cooked this specific way for no particular reason; they only exist to banter and produce fanart and do NSFW. It can be a fun experience with a good writer, as with Wayhaven and Keeper, but I don’t come out of the game really remembering who these people are.
That’s just my two cents, really. Not sure if anyone else feels this way about gamebooks, and of course, not disparaging writers just because the experiences they create aren’t my cup of tea.