Fun Fact: Saint Valentine is the patron of bee keepers, plague, and epilepsy. Ok, so maybe that fact wasn’t so fun, but such is the Valentine’s Day experience for many a sad single. In order to cheer those people up, I have constructed a completely arbitrary list of the greatest romances in the history of video games.
Since we got all of that “other” romance out of our system, it’s time to dive into the good stuff. The rules this time: 1. One entry per franchise 2. No inanimate objects or entities incapable of emotion are eligible (Sorry, Master Chief and Cortana) 3. Entrants are disqualified if the characters originate in another medium (Sorry, Jackie Estacado and Jenny Romano) 4. Entrants are also disqualified if there is no actual evidence for a relationship between the two characters. The last point seems obvious, but you know damn well that you’re expecting Mario and Peach in this list. On a similar note, Gordon Freeman and Alyx Vance have yet to demonstrate anything beyond the utmost respect for one another.
Also, spoilers will most assuredly ensure. With that in mind, let us begin.
Plenty of video game characters have taken on the legions of hell itself to save their loved ones. If that was the only qualification for a touching romance, then Visceral Games’ Dante’s Inferno would have made the cut. What makes the love story between Garcia and Paula in Shadows of the Damned much more impressive is the fact that Hotspur intends to continue fighting the demonic hordes until his inevitable death.
The final cutscene of the game makes it clear that Fleming, Lord of the Underworld, is immortal and will hunt the couple as long as it takes to kill Garcia and reclaim Paula, who is actually a reincarnation of his mistress, The Unbreakable Huntress. It’s one thing to fight your way through the legions of the damned to save your significant other, but it’s another thing entirely to commit to doing so for the rest of your life immediately after she serves you human flesh.
That’s real love.
Professor Layton is a puzzle franchise starring the titular teacher, as he solves increasingly silly mysteries. You would never expect any kind of mature love story in such a comedic setting, nor in a genre known for being so cold and mechanical. But all of that changed in Unwound Future. Warning: Even without context, the final scene of the game is pretty tear-jerking.
What can I possibly add to that? Heartbreaking endings to promising romances are perhaps a shortcut to poignancy (e.g. James Cameron’s Titanic), but it’s impossible not to feel something for Layton after spending three whole games with him up until that point. Every protagonist Level-5 puts in its Layton games are genuinely wonderful people and it is an utter tragedy to see them so unhappy. Hopefully Hershel will be able to find love again some day….
There is an interpretation of Shadow of the Colossus that says its protagonist defeats the eponymous giants in order to restore life to his lover, Mono. If you look at it this way, Colossus is a sad fable about sacrificing everything for the one you love. Of course, my understanding of the game is much different and involves a lot more religious symbolism. Even so, this reading is a love story in its own way–an expression of love between man and God that is actually far less sexual than the Bible itself.
Whether Wander and Mono are husband and wife, boyfriend and girlfriend, brother and sister, just friends, or obscure scriptural metaphors, the relationship between them is a piece of minimalist genius. With little to no dialogue, Team ICO is able to convey the bond between these two in a few key scenes and make them resonate with the audience. If you happen to prefer hand-holding to colossi stabbing, then Ico & Yorda are also an acceptable substitute.
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time was a landmark release for many reasons, but while its gameplay and visuals have been far surpassed by modern titles, the relationship between its unnamed hero and Princess Farah remains relevant. They are the prototypical romantic comedy couple in numerous respects–they don’t like each other at first, they slowly grow more attached, etc.–but their banter is lively and rings true to the ear. By the end of the adventure, you want to see them end up together.
While the Sands of Time trilogy would eventually reunite Prince and Farah, I much prefer the ambiguous, bittersweet conclusion to the first game. The player manages to avert the coming catastrophe, save his love interest from death, and defeat the bad guy, but the resulting time travel undoes all of her memories of their courtship. Its poetic, sad, and a little bit hopeful–a strong combination that fits their character dynamic well.
As an aside, 2008′s Prince of Persia reboot is also a fantastic game with strong rapport between The Prince and Elika. Once again, the fitting downer ending is ruined by a coda, this time in the form of downloadable content. Why can’t we just have sad endings?
The story of Lunar: The Silver Star is a bit complicated, which isn’t helped by the differences in translation across several updates and remakes. However, the core of the classic JRPG is the love story between Alex and Luna. Just try to ignore that they were raised as siblings….
Anyway, as you find out during the course of your epic quest, Luna is actually an incarnation of the goddess Althena. This plays a crucial role in the story, but it also gives rise to some great romantic moments. First, the party comes across the Blue Dragon Shrine, which can only be opened by a song of true love. Luna has been kidnapped by this point in the plot, but they are able to open it anyway when their deep bond allows them to synchronize songs from miles away. Finally, there’s the climax of the game, which involves another display of the power of love, along with a side of the power of music.
It’s a bit cheesy, sure, but it’s good stuff.