It’s the third Monday of August – which means we detail our favourite games featuring romance. Some are straight forward, others are unrequited and others are in a form of love triangle. Some are doomed from the start and others end with a tear from the player. So what are we waiting for? Let’s dive in to our list of love in games.
Final Fantasy games have always been littered with interesting relationships for the characters. Final Fantasy VIII had Squall chasing after Rinoa again and again. Final Fantasy X had Tidus following Yuna to her death, and convincing her not to. Final Fantasy XIII was a bit more interesting with the Lightning trying to free her sister and Snow was the romantic one.
But before all that there was the love triangle between Cloud, Aeris and Tifa. Final Fantasy VII is a confusing game in of itself (though to be fair, all Final Fantasy games are). Despite the fact that I can’t remember an explicit line which says they were interested in each other, it’s kind of assumed that there’s a romance between them. In fact, the romance is very subtle in this game – especially with Tifa’s feelings towards Cloud. Couple that with the fact that you can actually go on a date with anyone in your party apart from Cid or Vincent (I think), it’s not a game that flaunts the romance in your face. But the obvious elephant in the room is [blackout]Aeris dies[/blackout].
This leads many to actually care less about her and virtually not bother with her as a character, which minimises the amount of time she’s in your party and therefore restricts the romantic interaction between Cloud and her. The first time [blackout]Aeris dies[/blackout], when you were unprepared for it, it really does bring a sadness few games at the time could achieve – especially apparent when the battle straight afterwards carries on with her theme music. It’s such a powerful moment, and it says a lot about human behaviour that replaying through, we don’t want to become as attached to the character. Final Fantasy VII is a game that will always be close to my heart.
There are a lot of great romances in computer games that I could have written about. I toyed with the idea of writing about Guybrush Threepwood and Elaine Marley, Kyle Katarn and Jan Ors, Jim Raynor and Sarah Kerrigan, Revan and Bastila Shan, but in the end I picked a computer game romance that was a little different to all the others that I had thought about covering. In the end I picked a romance that didn’t feature a game’s main character, I picked Joker and EDI from Mass Effect 3.
Their relationship first started back in Mass Effect 2, while EDI was a disembodied AI and Joker was resentful of her presence, and over the course of the game slowly grew into grudging respect and then into genuine friendship, and it was very sweet to watch. In Mass Effect 3, the moment EDI transferred her consciousness into a robotic body (and a very shapely one at that), it was blindingly obvious where her and Joker’s storyline was going to go from there.
And while the two of them do form that inevitable romantic relationship, the writers at BioWare manage to keep the storyline free of clichés and full of genuine heart and emotion, as EDI slowly learns to feel real emotion rather than just replicate it and Joker comes to see EDI as more than just a walking, talking sex toy. As the main character, the player takes a backseat roll in their romance and watching their sweet relationship unfurl and blossom in the background of a main storyline full of death and destruction brings a much needed levity and tenderness to the game.
Starbreeze’s interpretation of Top Cow’s Darkness comic book series was a far less sleazy representation of the comic’s characters than much of the comics had ever achieved. As such this meant that the relationship between Jackie Estacado and his in-game girlfriend Jenny Romano (who’s more of an unrequited love figure in much of the comics) was quite restrained, but also very intense.
Instead of the all too typical relationships found in M/18 rated videogames whereby the end goal is sex, the game’s main romantic encounter focuses on Jackie and Jenny cuddling up on a sofa together. And there is a time limit on this together time, but it’s the entire length of the film you’re watching together – To Kill a Mockingbird.
Maybe it seems a bit cheesy now, but the time Jenny and Jackie spend together on that sofa is far more real and sincere than almost any other representation of romance in a videogame. They’re not off bringing down a whole society together. They’re not having desperate, last minute sex before the apocalypse. They’re not enacting some gamified dating side-mission. They’re just two people watching a film together.
And it’s beautiful.
First things first: Half-Life 2 is probably the best computer-game ever made. It’s certainly the best shooter ever made. And it probably always will be, unless Valve learn to count to three.
A big part of Half-Life’s success is its incredible sense of immersion. And a big part of that immersion is the fact that Gordon Freeman is the most boring protagonist of all time. He’s the blankest of blank slates – the emptiest of audience surrogates – a character so devoid of personality that he makes Bella Swan look well-rounded.
And it’s brilliant! This characterless approach is perfect for making us feel like we, the player, are physically there, experiencing and doing all these crazy things. What it isn’t perfect for is character relationships. So it’s kind of amazing, then, that Gordon’s relationship with resistance fighter Alyx Vance works so well.
On paper Gordon has no chemistry with Alyx at all. He never even speaks to her for gods’ sake! Yet when her father, Eli Vance, jokes about grandkids three games in – the first time any kind of relationship is even acknowledged – you don’t question it. In fact, if you’re anything like me, you blush as hard as Alyx does. Because, the truth is, it’s not Gordon who’s falling for Alyx – it’s you.
And that’s the beauty of such a hollow protagonist. Gordon doesn’t have feelings for Alyx, because Gordon doesn’t have feelings full-stop. But the player does. You find yourself chatting to her, even though she can’t hear you, and you worry and miss her when she’s not around. Half-Life 2 doesn’t just show you an affecting romance, it makes you experience one – and that’s just one more reason this game is the best.