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 gameplay involves conversing with a selection of girls, attempting to increase their internal "love meter" through correct choices of dialogue.

The game lasts for a fixed period of game time, such as one month or three years.

This can lead to confusion, as visual novels are considered a subgenre of adventure games and are not technically included in the dating sim genre.

While the two genres often share a common visual presentation, dating sims are sometimes considered to be more statistically based than the "choose your own adventure" style of visual novels.

There are also GL games, which focus on female/female relationships, and BL Games, which focus on male/male pairings.

There are many variations on this theme: high-school romances are the most common, but a dating sim may also take place in a fantasy setting and involve such challenges as defending one's girl from monsters.

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.

Dating sims such as Tokimeki Memorial, and some role-playing games with similar relationship based mechanics to the genre such as Persona, often give choices that have a different number of associated "mood points" which influence a player character's relationship and future conversations with a non-player character.

The censored version contains far more endings and new added scenes due to the absence of sexual scenes.

If love can bloom on the battlefield, then by God, it can bloom anywhere it damn well pleases.

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.