It’s Valentine’s Day once again, and love is in the air. The strength of a romance subplot can propel a good game to a great one, several famous series have tugged our heartstrings throughout the years, painting vivid pictures of blooming romance, the pain of loss, and the joy growing with another person.
“Can love bloom, even on the battlefield?” Otacon once asked Solid Snake. According to these famous video game romances, they certainly can. Let’s reflect on some of the most passionate romances that video games have offered us.
Squall and Rinoa (Final Fantasy VIII)
At the beginning of Final Fantasy VIII, Squall is a self-centered and unlikable teenager, who speaks more in ellipses than words. That all begins to change with a lighthearted dance at a graduation ceremony with Rinoa. While she is dating his arch-rival Seifer, they meet again during a mission and become entangled in conflict. The two grow closer as the game progresses, with Squall gradually becoming a better, more well-rounded person thanks to Rinoa. The emotional embrace the two share while drifting in space is one of the most memorable scenes in Final Fantasy.
Ellie & Riley (The Last Of Us: Left Behind)
The horrifying universe of The Last of Us doesn’t leave a lot of room for love, but the beautifully crafted Left Behind DLC managed to create an intense tale of affection between Ellie and Riley. The two spend an ‘off day’ together, exploring an abandoned mall, taking pictures, playing games in an arcade, and visiting a costume shop. The underlying teenage curiosity and the heartwarming moments result in the thought “Is there more to this than friendship?” A single kiss between the two melts away the second-guesses. The slow buildup to the kiss leads to a surprising amount of emotional weight, standing just as tall as The Last of Us main story.
Nathan and Elena (Uncharted)
Nathan is a treasure hunter extraordinaire, and Elena is a hotshot journalist looking for the next big scoop. On the surface, neither of them could be more independent. Drake is initially impressed by Elena’s ability to handle herself in a fight and Elena finds herself drawn to Drake’s limitless heroism. Several expeditions later, and a whole lot of tension, the two finally kiss. Their relationship isn’t entirely rainbows though – Drake’s relationship with adventure continues to lead to conflict between the two. They are finally wed in the finale of Drake’s Deception, but not without fighting Drake’s fear to “settle down.”
Zidane and Garnet (Final Fantasy IX)
Most romances don’t blossom after a kidnapping, even if it’s a willing one. The happy-go-lucky Zidane and the prim-and-proper Garnet couldn’t be less compatible as the game begins. However, Zidane teaches Garnet to relax from her noble duties, while Garnet teaches Zidane that it’s okay to rely on others when you need them. The fantastic “You’re Not Alone” moment perfectly culminates the bond between the two. It’s easy to feel your heart swell watching the final cutscene of Final Fantasy IX as Garnet flees to Zidane to give him a long, desperate hug.
Yuri and Alice (Shadow Hearts)
This underrated JRPG series features a memorable tale of love and loss. Yuri and Alice are brought together by strange voices in their heads. Meeting Alice changes Yuri from a conceited jerk to someone who cares about others and the fate of the world. Alice dies at the end of the game to save Yuri’s soul, and the sequel finds Yuri desperate to bring her back using a ritual. However, his efforts come up short. Yuri must make a choice between what matters more – his love for Alice or his desire to exist.
Johnny and River (To The Moon)
To The Moon crafts a heart wrenching story of love lost. Near the end of his life, Johnny’s last wish is to go to the moon, something he hasn’t been able to accomplish in his lifetime. By using a special machine, he is able to enter his memories and alter them so he can live out the life he’s always wanted. Johnny’s wife, River, has passed away a few years before the game begins. The machine allows him to re-experience all of the good and bad times that made their relationship so special. To The Moon could be one of the best modern love-stories in gaming, and so we’ll keep the details vague. This is a touching indie game everyone should play.
Guybrush Threepwood and Elaine (Monkey Island)
Whether Guybrush Threepwood is a mighty pirate or not is open to interpretation. The classic point-and-click adventure series features a budding romance between the hapless Guybrush and the headstrong island governor, Elaine. Their romance grows over the course of three games, with Guybrush miraculously finding the courage to rescue Elaine from the undead pirate LeChuck, who also happens to fancy her. After a romantic proposal turns Elaine into a solid gold statue, Guybrush goes on a desperate mission to remove the curse. Their romance reaches its romantic conclusion when two are wed in the finale of The Curse of Monkey Island.
Mario and Peach (Mario series)
Mario and Princess Peach could be considered the most iconic video game couple in the medium’s history. The selfless devotion Mario has for Peach is apparent: no number of castles is too great. Not to mention, the couple easily puts aside their romance in the name of competitive spirit, whether it’s kart racing, tennis, or golf. After three long decades of romance, these two lovebirds continue to show the world that a great relationship takes hard work, sacrifice, and a few modest kisses to maintain.
Honorable Mentions: Player-Choice Romances
The romance subplots in games such as Mass Effect, Dragon Age, and Persona can be considered “player-choice romances” and offer each player their own personal choice in who to romantically pursue. Over the last several years, these games have become very popular due to the intense favoritism players develop for their selections. It’s easy to get into debates over which romance subplot is the most natural or fleshed out. The biggest strength these stories have is their ability to offer compelling romance narratives, no matter which NPC catches your eye. Whether you’re heartthrob is Garrus or Tali, Alistair or Cassandra, Chie or Akihiko, chances are you’re devoted to your romantic choice.