Video games are often accused of being perverted and violent; it’s not often that people bring up how much they can teach us about love. Gaming has never shied away from the topic, however, and there are a plethora of romances spread across nearly every genre.
Today is, of course, Valentine’s Day, and we at Power Up Gaming can’t help but fall victim to the soppy consumerist holiday. So grab a hot chocolate and some heart-shaped candy, put down your copy of Fifty Shades of Grey, switch off The Notebook, and turn down Aerosmith; here are some of our favourite romantic relationships in gaming.
10. Niko and Kate (Grand Theft Auto IV)
While in GTA: San Andreas, CJ has a girl in every city – and plainly never listens to anything any of them have to say – Niko’s dating options are a little more grown up, though not lacking in humour. With the oddly agreeable Michelle, the vain Carmen, the bleeding-heart Kiki and the vapid party girl Alex, Niko certainly goes out with some interesting women. But the one that steals his heart is the one he never technically dates at all.
Niko meets Kate McReary through his criminal work with her brother, Packie. Right away, they have a kind of amused (or bemused) chemistry, and at Packie’s suggestion (with an overt death threat mixed in should things get too raunchy), Niko asks her out. While they frequently have a good time eating, drinking and playing darts, hanging out is all it will ever be; Kate makes it clear from the start that she could never date a man like her brother, and so no amount of dates will get Niko invited in for coffee.
Even so, Kate becomes Niko’s closest confidant, the person he turns to for advice when faced with a difficult decision. When she agrees to accompany him to his cousin’s funeral (depending on the player’s decisions), it’s clear that she likes him too. Even though they never get together in earnest, if someone as ruined as Niko can find the one truly good person in Liberty City and fall in love, there’s hope for all of us.
9. U-1 and Kirah (Gitaroo Man)
U-1’s tale is a bizarre one, in which he bears down his surreal guitar’s blaring sounds upon a range of outlandish foes spanning across several music genres. However, the surreal task of saving a far-off planet seems like more of a subplot to the story of a young boy gaining a sense of self-worth, and a big part of this is realising that he does have what it takes to find love.
There are two love interests in the story, but the one we learn more of is Kirah. The brief love tale can be summed up in two levels involving U-1 and Kirah. And, out of both of them, it’s the first one, the acoustic guitar melody on a near-empty beach on a faraway planet, which oozes romance. It’s one of the most rewarding songs to play, and stands out as unique in that to miss a single note causes a string to unceremoniously break. If you break all of them, Kirah walks away, while if you win, she falls asleep in your arms, next to the flames of the campfire.
8. Viconia and the Protagonist (Baldur’s Gate II)
Oh, Viconia de Vir, you saucy wench, evil temptress, daughter of the Underdark. You simultaneously encouraged and reviled our advances with a confusing mix of heady lust and hatred. Worst of all, you made fun of Minsc’s face paint! But something about you was compelling. Was it your dark blue skin? Your slim yet curvaceous paper doll? Your delightful sarcasm?
The player character’s romance with Viconia de Vir is one of the most tragic doomed romances out there. You play a direct role in Viconia’s fate and how you treat her affects how her alignment develops. Does she become even more bitter about humankind or is there hope that, despite her tragic past, she can find peace? Be forewarned: No matter what you do, there is no happy ending.
7. Zidane and Dagger (Final Fantasy IX)
From the first moment that he sees her, Zidane falls head-over-heels for the beautiful princess. Dagger, however, hardly shows any real outward signs of affection towards Zidane until near the end of the game. But we all know how you feel, Dagger! Just say it!
As Zidane and Dagger grow through their experiences and trials, their feelings for each other evolve and mature as well. At the start of FF9, Zidane is extremely flirtatious, and his relationship with Dagger is cute, lighthearted, and fun. But as they challenge more and more threatening enemies together, Zidane’s love for Dagger causes him to become more selfless and less prideful, and he always has her well-being in mind. Their love story is paced very well, and doesn’t reach its pinnacle until the very last gorgeous and emotional scene.
6. Wander and Mono (Shadow of the Colossus)
One of the joys of Valentine’s Day is boyfriends and girlfriends gushing about their one and only. But, after all the sweet words and fluffy phrases, what did either party really do for the other: send roses to their work?
For his love, Wander manages not only to defeat 16 lumbering colossi (some of which shoot lasers and poisonous dust pellets in his general direction), but he also gives the gift that we thought only a mother could give – the gift of life! Not only that, but he watches his most loyal friend, in such a desolate, lonely place, fall to what he must presume is his death.
Love is not a contest. But if it was, Wander would easily have taken top prize of boyfriend/husband/interested party of the year. We can imagine it now: to commemorate Valentine’s Day, all the video game princesses are chatting on Facebook about how each of their man-friends captured their hearts.
Peach: My boyfriend killed a giant turtle for me. *swoon* Who knew I could ever love a plumber so much? #MyManMario
Zelda: My cutie pie slayed a magical pig to save ME! Hero of Time? More like hero of mine! #LinkedToMyHeart
Mono: That’s cute. My dude stole a sacred sword, took me to a forbidden land, scaled and defeated 16 monsters that were as big as buildings, got turned into a demon, and then shortly after he was killed and reincarnated as an infant. All to bring me back to life. Oh, and I’m pretty much his mom now, so he’ll never have a chance with me again. #RealTalk
Moral of the story? If you want to win someone’s heart, you just have to wait until they die and kill giant monsters to resurrect them. That’s true love.
5. Alistair and the Hero of Ferelden (Dragon Age: Origins)
No matter how you begin your story in Dragon Age: Origins, the would-be Hero of Ferelden finds themselves joining the mysterious group known as the Grey Wardens. By their side from the very beginning of a long adventure is a fairly new recruit himself, Alistair.
This bumbling, snarky knight has a few secrets of his own, but one thing he is almost never too subtle about is his feelings if a female Hero romances him. Though his jokes may make more than just Morrigan groan, his character is one that is written so well that every conversation with him feels genuine and as heartfelt as his emotional journey itself.
Alistair compares his love for the Hero to a rose, saying: “How could something so beautiful exist in a place with so much despair and ugliness – in a lot of ways, I think the same thing when I look at you.”
4. Varric and Hawke (Dragon Age 2)
We don’t care that he’s not a romance option; we don’t care about Bianca and we don’t care about reality. In a perfect world, Varric leaves the Inquisition when things are settled and goes to snuggle in the plushy bosoms of Hawke.
In all seriousness, while Dragon Age 2 does offer a good bit in the way of romance – the brooding Fenris; the also brooding, possibly nutters Anders; the super religious Sebastian; the sexy, saucy Isabella and the adorable, blood-mage Merrill – who can really deny that the chemistry between Lady Hawke and the merchant prince isn’t sizzling at the temperature of a thousand suns?
The first true companion outside of their own family and Aveline, Varric swaggers into Hawke’s life with a proposition to make them all a good bit of coin. The deal is struck and the smooth-talking storyteller joins up on the soon-to-be clusterfuck that is Hawke’s adventure.
With a silver tongue, a clever mind and chest hair that could be combed into a fine bouffant, the smirking dwarf from Kirkwall becomes a best friend to Hawke almost straight away. Best friends who flirt constantly.
3. Ellie and Riley (The Last of Us: Left Behind)
The story DLC for Naughty Dog’s critically acclaimed post-apocalyptic epic The Last of Us certainly had big shoes to fill. Rather than attempting the almost-impossible task of trumping the main story with more dramatic set-pieces and high intensity action, the game’s developers opted for a slower, more character-driven approach in Left Behind, which mostly served as a prequel to the main game.
What resulted was one of the most authentic adolescent romantic stories we’ve ever seen. Left Behind, fittingly released on Valentine’s Day last year, focuses on the touching friendship between Ellie and Riley, two young women who also happen to harbour romantic feelings for one another.
In what turns out to be the last of their time together, the two share some truly beautiful moments together; their deep connection and chemistry becoming ever more apparent as the game progresses, starkly juxtaposed with the harrowing world around them. Left Behind manages to poignantly explore their relationship without it ever feeling tokenistic or forced, and has rightly drawn praise from GLAAD for its portrayals.
2. Squall and Rinoa (Final Fantasy VIII)
Final Fantasy VIII’s protagonist Squall developed from an introverted loner into the leader of a military-esque school, and in the end played a crucial part in saving the world; all in a day’s work for a Final Fantasy game. But, what caused Squall to change was his relationship with Rinoa, and what makes the relationship so powerful is how it was told.
It begins, in beautiful CGI, with Rinoa dragging an awkward Squall onto the dance floor. They begin weaving awkwardly until Squall, looking into Rinoa’s eyes, miraculously gains the grace of an experienced ballroom dancer. The relationship continues to grow in a dramatic fashion, and one of the romance’s strongest moments takes place when Rinoa falls into a coma. In this harrowing moment, Squall takes it upon himself to carry her for help across a lengthy railway line, and in the process opens up about himself.
1. Garrus and Shepard (Mass Effect)
It’s no secret that Bioware have written some of the best romances in RPG games, and the Mass Effect series is on the list of crowning gems.
Garrus Vakarian, the most loveable sharp-eyed avian dinosaur-looking alien in the universe, has become one of the most well-known romance partners from the series. Similar to Alistair in a lot of ways, Garrus goes from a frustrated C-Sec officer to a notorious rebel gunning down baddies on Omega.
Suicide mission looming, if a FemShep decides on a bit of flirting, they’ll be met with that loveable nervous laughter and sense of humour that makes Garrus so endearing; followed up by a surprisingly genuine and heartfelt moment that truly blossoms in Mass Effect 3. Even when the end of the world is looming, Garrus is there to try to get FemShep to relax a little. And working on calibrating giant guns. Guy’s gotta have a hobby, right? Intimate, rebellious, funny and charming, a romance with Garrus is always a must for a FemShep on at least one playthrough.
It’s just one of the many romantic relationships that elevate the Mass Effect series. Other love interests, who deserve just as much recognition, include the pragmatic assassin Thane and the tech expert Tali’Zorah nar Rayah. Each adds something new and each helps grow Bioware’s continuously expanding roster roster.
So there you have it, some of our picks for the greatest video game romances. But we’re sure that there are some of you crying in agony at your screens that your favourite in-game couple wasn’t mentioned. Or perhaps some of our picks resonate with your own? Whatever the case, please don’t hesitate to comment below.